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Reflections on Service

Why we serve, what we learn, how service changes us ...

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One Year of Volunteer Service Leads to Another for 2010 CUA Grad

By John Pierce
Class of 2010

  John Pierce
  John Pierce works on a Habitat for Humanity project in New York City.

After graduating from CUA in 2010, I moved to New York City to serve an AmeriCorps year with City Year. Originally attracted to the program for its commitment to underserved youth, emphasis on collaboration, and social justice, I served out my term immersed in the culture of Mott Haven, a neighborhood in the South Bronx. While the struggling public school proved to be a challenging work environment, I served out my City Year commitment with the conviction to reduce unjust social and economic disparities.

After logging over 1,700 hours, the majority of them spent serving disadvantaged students, I began working with Habitat for Humanity as a construction site leader. While helping to construct a 12-unit affordable housing development in Brooklyn, I have learned much about construction and the nuts and bolts of architectural assemblies. While working with diverse sets of volunteers – ranging from corporations and church groups to student clubs – I have overseen the interior construction from structural shell to finished home. Seeing such passionate volunteers unite for a common cause has been the most rewarding aspect of working for Habitat for Humanity.

In September, I was elected to serve on the Board of Directors of Architecture for Humanity New York City, the local chapter of the Architecture for Humanity which mobilizes architects and designers in humanitarian projects around the world. In addition to pairing volunteers with projects, I lead and organize the chapter meetings, and have contributed to youth education projects.
 

Service Brings Meaning and Purpose to Student's Life

By Katie Reilly
Class of 2013

Serving at Little Sister's of the Poor every Wednesday has allowed me to give back to the surrounding community, even if just in a small way. John W. Gardner once said, "When people are serving, life is no longer meaningless." The relationships that I have developed with the residents of the Little Sister's of the Poor nursing home have brought meaning and purpose to my life. I enjoy listening to their life stories and learning from their wealth of knowledge. Many times I think they have given me more than I have given them.
 

Serving the Poor, Alumna Learns That the Greatest Need Is Love

By Laura Hehman
Class of 2005

  Laura and Ryan Hehman
  Laura and Ryan Hehman work full-time at A Simple House in Washington, D.C.

I became a full-time volunteer at A Simple House of Sts. Francis and Alphonsus after I graduated from Catholic University. I thought I would stay for only a few months.

A Simple House is an outreach ministry that addresses the material and spiritual needs of the poor. We befriend the poor and respond to their various individual needs with love and creativity. Our work might include grocery or diaper delivery, driving a mom to visit her son in jail, accompanying someone to a job interview, encouraging moms to make good choices, inviting someone to Church or to a Bible study, or simply visiting with a lonely person.

At A Simple House I have learned that the problems of the poor cannot be fixed by material solutions alone. Many people are in need of things, but hurt and despair are worse problems. Love is the greatest need.

One woman who has helped teach me this is Donna. When I first met Donna, she was sick nearly to the point of death, and we would visit her to encourage her and bring her family some food. She recovered, but some time later, she stole my father’s credit card and went on a spending spree.

For the next two years we hardly spoke. One day Donna called out of the blue and we reconciled, but I still did not want to spend time with her. I thought she was too rude and demanding. When she called, she would curse at us or try guilt tripping us. We sometimes helped Donna by bringing her furniture or clothes. Rather than satisfy her, this seemed to fuel further demands. Meanwhile, I was growing more bitter. I was caught off-guard when she requested a weekly Bible study to learn about Jesus.

After a few weeks of Bible study, Donna became kinder, and she stopped harassing us over the phone. I realized that the regular visits made Donna feel less anxious, and she was able to let down her guard. She seemed less depressed. For me, it was an opportunity to grow in humility and let go of a grudge. I even started to look forward to seeing her! One day Donna told us that her life is better when we come around and I realized that although she is poor, friendship is really what Donna wants.

I have been at A Simple House for six years now. Last March, I married Ryan Hehman, who is also a Simple House volunteer and Catholic University graduate. A Simple House has been a place for us to learn humility and sow deep friendships; we plan to continue our work here.

 

Visiting the Elderly Teaches Lessons of Faith and Gratitude

By Andrew Laux
Class of 2012

I started to get involved with service at CUA the beginning of my Freshmen year. I tried a few things and found some that I really enjoyed and others that I wasn't so comfortable with. I found my niche in serving the Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home.

Being a service leader for Little Sisters has made me really appreciate the act of conversation and to realize how important the conversation that I have with the residents is to my own faith. They are constantly teaching me things about myself, my faith, and my life.

I serve because of the joy that it brings others. How can you pass up seeing a huge smile on the face of an elderly resident when you ask them to dance at the Fall Ball! I have also learned a great deal about how to talk to the elderly. I have learned what questions they enjoy and what questions might not be the best to ask anymore.

Service has strengthened my relationship with God. I find myself praying more often and realizing how blessed I am to have my family so close and so supportive. It has also helped me to see that God is using me to bless others by a simple act of talking.

 

JVC Year of Service Making a "Big" Difference in "Little" Lives

By Stephanie Snopek
Class of 2011

  Stephanie Snopek
  Stephanie Snopek works with the Jesuit Volunteer Corp helping to run a Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Montana.

I wish I had made more of an effort to do service work while at Catholic, but like most students I somehow always found myself having something else to do. While at school, I heard much about service work and social justice, but I never thought about my role in either one.

I had been thinking a little about service but never really considered it an option after undergraduate school. Then I heard about the long-term service fair, and went to check it out not expecting much. I looked around and talked to a few different programs. I ended up applying to three different service opportunities by the end of January.

I was chosen in April to be a full-time volunteer with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest. My placement is with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Billings, Montana. As a full time volunteer, my job is to work with the school-based program we have. High school students from four local high schools take “Bigs” as a class. Each student gets two "littles," one they see on Monday and Wednesday, and one on Tuesday and Thursday. They do this during school time. On Fridays, all of them meet throughout the day for class at our office.

We serve about 200 "littles" at eight local schools (including Headstart, elementary, and middle schools). The “littles” are children who are faced with a variety of different situations. They may have social or academic problems, or come from a home of poverty, violence, or incarcerated parents. Other than teaching the high school students on Fridays, I meet with all the "littles" individually every month to check in and make sure the match with their "big" is going well.

I graduated with an architecture degree, and found myself working in social work. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Currently, I have been here for two months and I know that this program makes a significant difference in the lives of children, and the high school students who are "bigs."

Recently, I went to a school to check in with a "little" who has behavioral problems at school. The "big" who was assigned to work with this “little" had heard many different things about the her. She had attacked a teacher, is unpredictable, and has extreme emotional problems due to an unpredictable home environment. However, regardless the "big" said she wants to stay matched with her "little" because she feels the "little" needs her. When I asked the "little" what her favorite thing was about her "big," the response was: “My favorite thing about my "big" is that no one bullies me when she is with me.”

For some kids they just need the motivation to go to school, and for others they need just a friend. The "bigs" really make a difference in the life of a "little." I knew hardly anything about this program before I got here, and I am glad that I am apart of it. It makes me happy when I hear about the relationships that the high school students form with their "littles." They feed off of one another. For a “little,” a "big" helps them discover their potential, but in turn the "littles" give "bigs" a chance to discover themselves.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.”
– Benjamin Disraeli