Alumni Blog

alumniblog

Welcome to the CVV alumni blog where we invite interested alumni to submit reflections of their lived experiences as they intersect with the four pillars of CVV (Direct Service & Advocacy, Community, Spirituality, Reflection & Discussion). Our hope is to draw from a wide breadth of perspectives, to share one new reflection on the first Friday of each month. If you are interested in submitting a blog entry, we would welcome your insight. Please direct inquiries and submissions to rjtoledo@covivo.org.

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Holy Week and April 2017

Sarah Ault, CVV 18

Well friends, we have somehow made it to the end of Lent. As I sit here to write a reflection on Holy Week, I cannot help but be struck by the parallels between the Triduum and our year of service. I am especially struck by how Jesus’ praised journey into Jerusalem and subsequent crucifixion by those same humans plays out in our world today so often.

I am currently a full-time graduate student pursuing an MBA and Master of Science in International Business. Recently, I was featured in a publication for our school and talked about my year at CVV and how it has influenced me to pursue my degrees. A surprising number of people (surprising because I had no idea that many people actually read their school emails) congratulated me for the piece, particularly highlighting how interesting my service year was and how proud they were that I did this. This praise is something I know we can all relate to—I remember countless times during and after my year of service that people would praise me for what I was doing and thank me for the hard work…sound like Jesus and his palm frond red carpet?

The struggle for me comes from some of these same individuals who were so proud of my working with people on the margins turn around and support policies and post things on social media and etc, etc, etc, that do they exact opposite (in my not-so-humble-opinion) of what my year of service tried to accomplish. I hear these classmates in class talk about supporting policies that defund crucial services for people on the margins; I watch people on social media praise budget cuts and initiatives that continue the cycle of oppression. And, in all of this, I cannot help but see Christ crucified again and again by the same people who claim to love Him.

The possible worst part about it is that Jesus’ example to us on how to respond is so counter intuitive! Just as the Jews were awaiting a militarized champion who would tear down the Roman empire, am I not tempted to look for the same thing? My visceral response is to get angry and say something (which, certainly, has its place); but the message Jesus leaves us is to continue to serve others and to speak the truth in love. It’s this “in love” part that is so hard for me; I often just want to tell people they are being dumb and that I don’t have time for that. But I am challenged by the gospel to be Christ to others; to speak to them in a way that they would understand and to love them when they fall short (as I ask so many people to do for me!)

The good news? The Good News! Holy Week doesn’t end on Good Friday, and neither will our continued battle for those on the margins. Jesus triumphantly defeats death! Good wins over evil! This is the ending I have to remind myself when the trenches are filled with dirty words and human hardness. The Resurrection is our promise that if we keep fighting the good fight, we will triumph! Maybe not in our lifetimes, but in the end. I leave you with Galatians 6:9 “Do not grow weary in doing what is good, for in due time you will reap a harvest IF YOU DO NOT GIVE UP.” Jesus did not give up on his journey to Jerusalem or in the garden or on the cross and neither should we! 

 

Lent 2017 Week 5 – Heather McCormack

Lent 2017 Week 4 – Michael Thomson

Lent 2017 Week 3 – Josie Johnson

Lent 2017 Week 2 – Christy (Titus) Thomson

Lent 2017 Week 1 – Diane Smith

February 2017 – Cassie Price

January 2017 – Dan Walsh

December 2016 – Shaughnessy Miller

November 2016 – Nikki Murillo and Kara Schmitt

October 2016 – Lynne Baumann

September 2016 – Brian Sheehan

August 2016 – John Taylor

July 2016 – Katie Cassady

June 2016- Jenna Carbone

May 2016- Tara (Bradley) Williams

April 2016- Alyson Hankwitz

March 2016- Kyle Earlywine

February 2016- Erin Kennedy

January 2016- Josh Wise

December 2015- Alison Mercier

November 2015- Mary (O’Neill) McManus

October 2015- Sister Mallorie Gerwitz

September 2015- Christy (Titus) Thomson

August 2015- Chris Morgan

July 2015- Casey Sharp

June 2015- Jennay Smith

Lent 2017 – Week 5

Heather McCormack, CVV 20

Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. – Matthew 17:7-8

Have you ever had a moment when you realized that for the past few days (months, hours, weeks, or years) you’ve been consumed with anxiety and fear? I think most people of course have, but for me in particular I know when I’m happy and I know when I’m sad.  That self-knowledge gives me peace.  However, the past few weeks I was surprised by my own lack of self-reflection, a skill I thought I’d “perfected” in CVV, when I realized I was lost.

I work with young people experiencing homelessness in Denver managing a thrift store, I live in an intentional community with three other CVV alumnae, and I just recently fell in love with a wonderful man.  All these things together make up my beautiful life, but like all gifts they also provide the greatest stresses in my life.  Without realizing, my busyness, my falling in love, my hectic lifestyle has led me to finally opening my eyes to how very anxious and scared I was.  I couldn’t see Jesus anymore and I was afraid. 

I’ve never liked Lent.  Ever.  Lent comes around and I immediately resist, “I want what I want! Why would God want me to suffer! I won’t do it!” No matter how many books I read or prayers I pray, I’m always intimidated by Lent.  The fear of failure looms bigger and bigger with every Sunday, bringing me closer to Good Friday, that day of death.  I tell myself, “This year I have to be ready! I will be ready!”  Without fail I eat meat on Fridays, I break my Lenten sacrifices, I zone out, I wander.  And without fail I arrive that Friday feeling worthless. 

This Lent in particular when I opened my eyes I was repulsed by what I saw I myself.  At work, I resented my responsibilities and I’d been unkind to my coworkers and customers.  At home, I’d neglected my community forgetting important dates and generally being absent.  In my relationship, I’d flung myself headfirst without prayer or reflection.  I thought to myself, “I have to do this on my own.”  It took breaking down on my floor with my community members to be reminded I need not do anything alone, ever.

That moment of despair gave birth to a change in perspective for me this Lent.  Without falling I would never have risen to where I am this moment typing away in my house surrounded by my community members, filled with anticipation for work tomorrow and confident in my relationship.  In the past week I feel I’ve seen God from many angles.  I went on a world religion tour yesterday, my boyfriend took me to a synagogue, a mosque, a Buddhist temple and a Hare Krishna temple, and today I went to my Catholic mass.  In these five places of worship I saw the vast and varied ways people come to find God.  I felt affirmed in my faith and soothed by the network of believers striving against the obstacles that face all of us to make the world a more peaceful place.  The lesson I took away from my tour was: God loves me, I am worthy, and God is good.

I will never be “perfect.”  My Lents will always be flawed and broken, just as I am.  Luckily for me I’m a devotee of Jesus, who loves me as I am.  Jesus invites us all to rise and walk back into the wilderness, but we needn’t fear.  It is when we let go of our fear that we look up and see Jesus alone, our comfort. 

Lent 2017 – Week 4

Becoming a Unicorn in Lent

Michael Thomson, CVV 17

Change.  A word that we throw around a lot.  To make or become different.  An act or process through which something becomes different.  In the startup tech space that I work in now, change is often viewed as something highly desired.  In fact, everyone is looking for that “unicorn” that doesn’t just change things, but will totally disrupt an industry.  

The thing about change is that it’s sort of “sexy”.  In business, startups are “sexy” because they hold a potential to change the world.  Startups receive high valuation because they use a technology in a different way and change the way we address different problems.  

Change is something that we strive for in our personal lives as well.  If I look at where I was two and half years I go, I observe a very different life.  Then single, now married to a beautiful strong, independent woman (also a CVV alumna); then a social worker, now in business at a tech startup; then living in Denver, now living in Paris, France.  These changes came relatively quickly.  I mean, how does this not sound “sexy”.  

But are these life changes equivalent to a “unicorn” startup?  Or maybe this is all a bust?  As I think about what makes an Uber, an Airbnb or similar company successful, I observe two key things.  

  1. They pursue growth, understanding that they need to adapt and develop over time.  
  2. At their core is a well-built business model and technology and they work to maintain this and not lose sight of this.

Many companies put themselves at risk by not identifying their core values and assets, being highly opportunistic towards growth saying yes to everything and then cloud their business over time that they lose who they are.  But what does this have to do with me and what does this have to do with Lent?

Leaving CVV several years ago, I felt comfortable with my self-understanding because my relationship with God was intentional and nurtured.  I remained in Denver, tied to the same routines and the same community.  The past two and a half years, so many changes came into my life all at once, that I lost my routines and my communities.  In the change, I forgot my relationship with God, and over time lost myself.  I chose to pursue growth and change for all the right reasons, but in the process lost sight of my core self.

For me, this Lenten season is about rediscovering all of this.  The simplicity of Lent is found in eliminating the clutter in our life so that we can find our centers again and utilize our energy in areas that are meaningful.  It allows us to remind ourselves that Jesus has made the ultimate sacrifice for us because he believes we are all “unicorns”.  

I find it easy to understand that God sacrifices his son for our salvation because as someone who is married, it is easy to imagine ourselves as the “lover”.  What has been increasingly difficult is to understand why us?  Why me?  Taking the understanding from the perspective of the “loved” is a challenge.  Perhaps it is because I have spent two years measuring myself with the metrics of business and the job market, when I should be measuring myself with the metric of God’s love.  An unconditional love that is all-encompassing and can envelop every aspect of our life if we recognize it and allow it.  Although it is an unwavering love that is always present, it has been something that I have not intentionally sought out in the years full of change.  It is that love that allows us to understand our core selves as children of God.  It is that very love that inspired me to create changes in my life, but I got so caught up in the changes that I lost sight of why those changes were meaningful in the first place.  

Different times in my life, have reflected different relationships with myself and with God.  The one clear thing is that the times when I was intentional and actively reflecting, that “unicorn” status was not far from reach.  This relationship ebbs and flows with the changes in life, but as with all relationships we must be intentional in nurturing it even when everything around us starts to look different.  We all have the potential to be the “unicorns” of this world because:

  1. We grow overtime; adapting and learning while impacting more and more people with our lives.
  2. Through R&D, prayer and simplicity we can do amazing things because we understand that we are children of God who are deeply loved.

Lent 2017 – Week 3

Josie Johnson, CVV 16

When I found out I was pregnant I really questioned God’s plan for me. Surely He who knows me best didn’t just do that; God didn’t just give me a child to take care of when I still consider myself a child. This must be some mistake; I thought, this child inside of me was supposed to be sent to one of my siblings or really, anyone besides me. Kids are too much work, and I really like my life of traveling. How am I supposed to be a mother?

Well, it wasn’t a joke. God gave me Luna Cecilia on November 2, 2016, and now that she is here, my love for her is overwhelming. There is no longer a “me”, there is now a “we”. When I make my decisions about where I travel and where I live, I make them not just for myself but for us. And that’s a responsibility that makes me pray for wisdom harder than I’ve ever prayed before. It’s a good thing that my faith and my understanding of God has broadened as my role of mother has unfurled.

When I was in my early 20s and questioning my faith, I was given a book titled From the Pews in the Back: Young Women and Catholicism, a collection of essays written by Catholic and former Catholic women from the Midwest. Many of the essays were extremely relatable, but there was one in particular that, while it didn’t apply to me then, I can’t stop thinking of now. Kerry Egan wrote:

On this night a thought seeped through. By the time I noticed it, I had been repeating a phrase over and over again: “Take this and eat it. This is my body.”

I looked down at Jimmy and he clung to me. “Oh,” I nearly shouted. He stirred, lifted his half closed eyes to me, and then rooted around until he found the nipple again and settled back into my armpit.

“So that’s what this means,” I said out loud.

After thirty-one years as a cradle Catholic, the Eucharist finally made sense.

 Wow.

Every single time that I’m breastfeeding Luna (okay, maybe only 85% of the time) I think of Egan’s words. Luna, take my body, eat it, it’s yours. The milk that I produce for her is perfect in every way. It has all the antibodies, the nutrients, the fat, and the special ingredient of my own spicy pizazz. If she is sick, my body will change the milk it produces to be more perfect for her. If I’m not watching my diet, my body only takes the best from what I have to give to her.

This is my Body, Take and Eat.

Jesus did and does this exact same thing for us every Sunday (or every day if you are like my parents). Every single time we go to Mass, listen to the word of God and receive the Eucharist, we are receiving Christ’s perfect body, adapted for each one of us personally. We only get the best from God and we are each given exactly what we need at that moment. When we are sick, God gives us the words from the disciples and from the Holy Bible to help us get better. When we try to push the Church away, it’s God who says, oh no! Feeding time is not over yet! You get back here and latch on or you will just be very hungry and cranky in a short amount of time. Just as I know what is best for Luna, God knows what is best for each one of us.

This is particularly true when it comes to tummy time. I’m not sure how many of you reading this have experience with infants and tummy time, but it’s the practice of laying Luna on her stomach so she is forced to lift her head off of the ground, thereby strengthening her arms, back, and leg muscles. Some babies love tummy time, Luna is not one of them. She has gotten much better as she has gotten older. She is more trusting now. It comes easier to her and so she doesn’t hate it as much. But in the beginning, she would cry and cry and say, “Mom! What are you doing to me! Why am I like this? How dare you not pick me up! I can’t see you, have you abandoned me? Waaaah” And I would sit there and watch her, I’d try and sing and soothe her, I’d rub her back and her feet and say “Luna, calm down! This is only for 3-5 minutes! I promise you will do much harder things in life. I am here for you, I love you. I know you hate tummy time but we have to do this to make you stronger. This hurts you more than it hurts me because I can see the future, I know that this is only 6-8 months of your life before you start crawling and you won’t hate tummy time then. You don’t understand now, but one day you will.”

And then I think to myself, I am like Luna in the fact that I cry and whine and complain when I am forced to do the uncomfortable and unknown; when I can’t see the future and it feels like someone has just taken me from my happy place and forced me face down on a blanket. But I know that God is there, rubbing my feet, saying “I love you. I hear you cry. I am not leaving your side but I’m also not flipping you back over yet because you need to do this to make yourself strong. You cannot see the end game, but I know the end game, and this is just a short moment in your life.”

God is wise.

Mothers are wise.

Babies are cute.

We are just on the beginning of this journey, Luna and I. She knows nothing about being a person and I know nothing about being a mother. Together we learn and grow each day. And I know God is watching down on the both of us, saying Hang in there! You’re just beginning.

Madonna Lactans 12th Century Rome

Disclaimer: I want to recognize that Breastfeeding is not easy. It is actually incredibly hard and it takes a lot of work, patience, and luck to successfully breastfeed. I myself suffer from low supply while others suffer with cracked nipples, plugged ducts, mastitis, poor latch, tongue tie, or babies who push away and refuse the breast all together. It is frustrating work that leaves a mother thinking we are inadequate or cringing at the realization that it’s been 3 hours and we must breastfeed again. Sometimes it borderlines on resentment of our child and their complete dependence on us. It is in these times that we must realize, this is why God is God and we are only human. When we are the fussy children who refuse to nurse or who cause our mother so much pain, God is never resentful. God is never angry. God is pure patience and pure love. We can never hope to reach his level of goodness, but we can strive to do our best.

Lent 2017 – Week 2

Christy (Titus) Thomson, CVV 17

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. 

-Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

I am alone a lot, probably too often in fact, for a brain which never seems to stop thinking, worrying, correcting.  Many people ask what it’s like, day to day, working as an artist, and usually I don’t tell them the truth about it—it means you are alone. a lot. 

I do, in fact, enjoy being alone—typically not one to feel lonely with myself, these moments provide space and opportunity for reflection, time to journal, get thoughts on paper, draw.  But sometimes, during the workday, in the moments of reflection questions seem to constantly reappear within my heart: are you doing anything meaningful? How is the creation of new pictures benefiting anyone’s life? Is this what God is really calling you to do with your life? 

I have no answers to these questions, or more truthfully, I have no answers to these questions which I feel are real; which really answer the question.  Its become almost a mantra, these questions, some days they seem to haunt me and other days I allow myself to embrace them like old friends, comfortable in my uncertainty. 

Throughout the Lenten season, a time of anticipation and preparation for both life and death, learning to live with uncertainty in life is one which constantly challenges me to grow, reflect, and trust in God.  While I often doubt if whether I am living life in a positively impactful manner, if I’m learning and listening enough to those around me, if I’m selfishly following my own path, rather than God’s, Thomas Merton’s prayer rings through my ears.

As we take this Lenten season to prepare for the celebration of Easter, how can we learn to live with uncertainty, further reflect on how we are living our lives and deepen our trust in God’s love for us? 

 

Lent 2017 – Week 1

Diane Smith, CVV 16

“Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else,” (Exodus 4:13).

Moses’s words at the burning bush have always resonated with me, in younger years before I appreciated the audacity of his request, I was struck by his humility and humanity. Moreover, I was inspired by how God used a person who clearly does not identify as a natural leader to change history. 

Unlike Moses, I did not initially acquiesce to God’s calling for my life. Prior to my year of service, God called me to become a doctor. Like Moses, I questioned God that he had chosen the wrong person and deferred medical school, choosing to instead join CVV.  Ironically, throughout our year with CVV, my companions and I routinely and masterfully completed tasks for which our resumes would suggest we were unqualified to even attempt.

Now, several years later, I am a family physician and feel blessed by the opportunities my job affords: delivering babies, watching children grow, and witnessing people tackle obstacles in their lives with courage.  Despite my initial reluctance, I am competent, confident and able to provide appropriate medical care all the while maintaining a demeanor that brings God’s light to my patients and coworkers. Nevertheless, occasional moments of feeling unqualified are inevitable.

 At 28 years old, I find myself guiding families through tragedies that I have not personally experienced: cancer diagnoses, withdrawal of life support, resuscitations, death pronouncements, and stillbirth deliveries. Moreover, I work in an immigrant city that is predominantly Spanish-speaking and although I am proficient in Spanish, I often need to tenderly guide families through these difficult situations without the gentle nuances that only come with full fluency. Yet at 2AM, when no one else deemed, “more qualified,” is around to perform these tasks, I find that in fact God is there working through me to do it Himself.  Like with Moses, God provides the needed words and transforms my anxieties into peace, allowing me to maintain my focus on the needed medical care and patients’ family’s needs. With each new situation, God qualifies me a little more to complete the work He has called me to do. Indeed, this theme of God qualifying the called rather than calling the qualified is also very intimately experienced by every Colorado Vincentian Volunteer. 

At the start of 2017, a dear friend asked a very good question; what are you going to do in the following year to better experience God’s joy? The week prior, I had vented more than I would have liked to regarding work load and regretted not inviting God into that struggle and not embracing the challenge. This especially tugged at my heart because maintaining integrity is my predominant form of evangelism at my work place. I realized, although I have been praying during the difficult life or death moments, I had not been inviting God into the day to day busyness and decided to combat this lapse by making my goal the simple act of saying grace with every meal. Now, I again have a regular reminder of God’s presence and provisions in my life and regularly am overwhelmed by His joy.

For many Christians, lent is a season of more fully experiencing God’s presence day to day. For me, this often came in the form of reflecting on His sacrifices as I denied temptations to indulge my sweet tooth. This year, I hope to instead focus on experiencing God’s joy by the simple act of continuing to say grace and challenge you to consider joining me. I did not trust God when He initially revealed His plan for my vocation, instead uttering Moses’s words at the burning bush, yet now I could not imagine being happier doing anything else.  God is working through us in ways we cannot imagine, all the while preparing us to further His kingdom and the simple act of saying grace significantly enhances our Communion with Him.

February 2017

Image result for spelling out hope

Holding Hope Accountable

Cassie Price, CVV ’15, has been living and working in Chicago since 2012. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and serves as the Associate Director at the Elam Davies Social Service Center which provides drop-in supportive services to adults experiencing housing instability and homelessness.  Cassie and her spouse, Drew Rindfleisch, are expecting a new baby any day now!  Her diverse background and family history gift her and then us as she reflects on life.

 “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept…”  -Angela Y. Davis

Since leaving the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers in Denver and returning to the Midwest, the power of different communities has continued to ground, guide and fuel me as a clinical social worker, activist and soon to be parent.  From indigenous women’s rights in Chiapas, Mexico to the racial segregation of neighborhoods and spaces that persists throughout Chicago, there is a shared human struggle that I’ve found to be rooted in the collective need for liberation from systems of oppression, greed and isolation. As I continue to participate in the ongoing struggle for liberation in our world, I recognize the need within for healing which can only happen where there is genuine community.

What is genuine community? I used to think it was about maintaining a sense of peace and harmony amongst friends or neighbors. The hope-filled and progressive core of me would strive to not make assumptions when approaching unfamiliar people or differing points of view. Lately, it has become increasingly difficult to remain open to those with whom I disagree as old and new forms of violence pour over my friends, neighbors, communities and self (as a woman, daughter of an immigrant, and Latina) each day.   I question whether community requires remaining open to opinions that are rooted in another’s oppression?  

As openness to others becomes difficult, I reflect back to what drove me to Denver to live in a house with 12 strangers and what has continued to drive me to pursue the discomfort that often comes with new relationships and community.  I have come to realize that my motivation is rooted in accountability in the relationships that nurture my ability to have hope and purpose despite the oppressive systems that persist.   It is accountability that makes me show up when I say I will show up. It is accountability that urges me to face myself with honesty and take responsibility for my limitations. What sustains me most in the struggle for liberation is this accountability that binds me to my neighbors, friends and allies working for justice. 

While I will continue to strive toward openness to others, I recognize the true challenge will be to speak out as a voice of accountability in my community.  I can listen to differing opinions but it is vital that I engage in the difficult work of challenging the assumptions of others that maintain an unjust status quo.  In order to remain accountable to  those who are being marginalized, I must continue to listen, speak out and act for justice despite fear and discomfort—that is where I will find genuine community.

January 2017

Seeds of Every Ordinary Moment

Dan Walsh (CVV16) absolutely loved his time at St. Francis Center during his CVV year. He holds Masters’ degrees in Social Work and Public Administration, and currently serves as program director for Nonprofit Association of the Midlands, helping nonprofits help their communities in Nebraska and Iowa.

We just celebrated Christmas – God is with us. This is one of my favorite times of the liturgical calendar, because of the invitation to prepare for the coming of Christ into our world and then to live Christ’s presence. This idea of preparing has been especially important to my current point of life, as my wife, Krissy, and I prepare for the coming of our first child.  While we dream about what how to be good parents, what kind of person our child will become, and pray that we do a good job, we also must do some hands-on preparation.  Rearranging the household, repainting walls, planning for maternity/paternity leave, and figuring out our childcare situation are just a few of the items on our checklist as we get ready for this BIG change headed our way.

The theme of ‘getting ready’ was prevalent in my time with CVV as well.  Preparing myself to receive the God’s presence in everyday life – both at my assignment with St. Francis Center and in our CVV community – was aided by weekly reflection groups, challenged by guests at St. Francis Center, and strengthened through intentional community life.

As I became more prepared during my time with CVV, I began to realize God’s presence all around me, through all God’s creation (although, I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes ‘fall asleep’ and miss his presence in everyday life).  Nowadays, I’m finding it easier to prepare for those profound moments where God’s presence is obvious, like the upcoming birth of our child. Other times, I feel like Elijah looking for God in loud earthquakes or brilliant fires, only to find God in a still, small voice.  I might have a checklist to get ready for a BIG life-changing events, but can I also make one to prepare for God’s presence in the still, small moments?

When I reflect back, I invested a lot of energy preparing to be a companion on the journey with guests at St. Francis Center, but I began to realize how companionship within our CVV community was equally important and how it can reveal God’s presence through the challenges and joys we experienced.  That challenge to receive God in the extraordinary AND ordinary moments continues with me today, and requires continual spiritual cultivation.

As Krissy and I excitedly await our baby, this gift that the wind carries towards our lives very soon, we prepare through prayer, work, and relationship. Do I prepare myself for the coming of God’s presence at every moment of my life with this same care and concern?  Another question I might ask myself is: Will I be as joyful to receive this gift when our baby smiles and laughs as when I’m changing her diapers? If you want to be prepared, you sometimes have to get your hands dirty!

In one of my favorite Thomas Merton quotes, he writes: “Every moment and every event of every person’s life on earth plants something in their soul.  For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of people.  Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because people are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love.”

I try to pray every day for that ‘good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love.’ It helps to put my daily work in context – it can be tempting to feel disconnected from the poor and marginalized when I’m working with nonprofit organizations rather than directly with the populations they serve or when I don’t have the structured community activities I had at CVV.  But when I step back and take the long view, I can prepare to receive the germs of spiritual vitality: I can be a companion on the journey by helping nonprofits have the organizational capacity to work towards achieving their missions, I can be a disciple of Christ by being a good husband to Krissy (and empty the dishwasher at least 50% of the time!), and I can form new intentional communities by staying connected to alums of similar volunteer programs in my own community.  The good soil awaits cultivation.  I am called to do the work.

December 2016

service

Going corporate and volunteering: they are not mutually exclusive

Shaughnessy Miller (CVV20)  is a thoughtful and loyal friend who believes in the healing powers of laughter, ice cream, and Broadway musicals. She is deeply intrigued by the world around her and sees every experience as an opportunity to learn more about herself and others.

Corporate America gets a pretty bad rap. Images of stifling your personality and will to live in a cubicle prevail and are especially repulsive to the full-time volunteer. And while I won’t deny that full-time desk work is a challenge, it does not have to be soul-sucking. In fact, there are many ways to be connected with your community both through your workplace and individually.

Community involvement in the workplace

Chances are your employer already offers volunteer opportunities, time off to volunteer, and donation matching opportunities through United Way or their own program. Though many larger companies advertise this in their recruiting and as part of their marketing, other times it may not be as publicized. In doing your job search, look at the company’s website and social media for this information and be sure to ask about it in job interviews.

Still, if you do land a job (nice work, by the way!) that doesn’t seem to have many volunteering or giving options, remember that YOU have the power to change that. In my case, my company openly advertises our spirit of giving and puts our values of God, family, and community up front in our mission statement and on our website. Despite this focus, it was still lacking in communication and action surrounding these statements. Since company leadership knew of my volunteer commitments, they asked me to strengthen our commitment to the community.

I jumped at the opportunity. It went hand in hand with my marketing role and my interests. Now, I curate a page on our website with volunteering opportunities, put together company-wide events, and handle communication surrounding our giving and volunteering. Admittedly, I work for a small, family business, but I believe that you can still have an impact on the culture of your company regardless. You could start a fundraiser, involve your coworkers in a nonprofit you support, start a regular newsletter, or create a giving report.

Do your own thing!

Of course, you can always find a way to get involved outside of your workplace. After several months of living in my hometown and focusing on my job search, saving money, and finding community, I knew it was time to recommit myself to regularly volunteering.

As I thought about my interests and desires for how to give back, I knew it had to be relational. CVV focuses heavily on companionship and sharing our story, and that rubbed off on me. Though working with food banks and organizations like Habitat for Humanity is hugely important, I desired to have regular connection with members of the community. There are so many options in this field (see sidebar), but I honed in on Big Brothers Big Sisters. I first learned of this organization many years ago and have always had a strong interest. I started the match process back in May and was matched with my little sister in August.

As CVV alumni, you can relate when I say the experience has not been what I thought. I think I expected we would meet, become soul mates, and frolick through a field of sunflowers (we live near Kansas after all). Obviously that didn’t happen. We are as different as can be — which I should have expected given our difference in age and background — but we are constantly learning from each other. So despite the challenges and slow process to forming a deep relationship, the experience has been very rewarding.

Whether you have just finished your CVV experience or are several years out (or aren’t a member of the alumni at all!), there are ways to continue your spirit of service. So many ways that it makes a person like me overwhelmed. But if you focus in on your interests and skills, you can find a few opportunities that are meaningful to you.

Amazing organizations to spend your time with

This truly depends on where you live because each city has its own set of wonderful local organizations, including animal shelters, schools, museums, community gardens, national parks, and centers serving women, children, and the mentally ill, disabled, or abused. Nationally, here are just a few options you could explore:

Big Brothers Big Sisters (of course!)

Boys and Girls Club

Catholic Charities

Girls on the Run

A side note about staying in touch with the volunteer community

We all know leaving CVV can be lonely. We share so many values and experiences that we might feel isolated at times. But we aren’t the only ones who feel this way. My roommate was a Jesuit Volunteer, and discussions with her help me to continue to feel the spirit of my community. We have connected with current JV’s in Kansas City, as well as JVC alumni. I have also volunteered at an urban farm where members live in community and poverty, similarly to CVV. All these experiences help me reconnect with CVV values, and I’m sure these opportunities exist in your community.

November 2016

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Bridges Built of Stories and Forgiveness

Nikki Murillo (CVV 15, pictured bottom right) has continued her work with children at Denver Kids, after having worked as a CVVolunteer at Annunciation school. As you can read, Nikki is a passionate young woman who has turned that passion toward Social Work.  She will soon begin work on her MSW through Colorado State University. She helps the youth in her church to connect with developing countries by making annual pilgrimages to Honduras. The CVV Board of Directors is blessed to have her share wonderful insights as a new Board member. She accompanied other Board members on a recent pilgrimage of learning at the Border between El Paso, TX and Juarez, Mexico.

They say that patience is a virtue. Is forgiveness one as well?

                As we sat under the shade of a metal canopy talking to two border patrol agents, the hot Texas sun assaulted our faces.  The two border patrol agents who greeted us had last names that were of Latino decent.  They were kind, eloquent and informative.  Yet their words hung heavy on my heart.  “Pride for the job” that they felt, and “a calling” to serve their country.  The more I thought about it, I angrier I got. 

                Meanwhile, back at home in Denver, I had a student who recently experienced the deportation of her grandmother.  The matriarch of the family, her grandmother had been in the country for nearly 25 years taking care of her family.

                It was all boiling over and I didn’t know how to turn these feelings into meaningful advocacy.  After speaking with another board member, who also works in education, he reminded me that forgiveness is the only way to stay sane.  He said, “I have to forgive all the time, every day.”

                As we met with Rafael and his family who experienced deportation, and Fr. Peter and Sister Betty who have tirelessly fought to remember all those who have lost their lives to the violence and tragedy that has plagued Juarez for years- my empty tank slowly began filling.  All of the faces, the stories, the statistics- they are real humans and they cry real tears.  They also experience real joy and have real families, and they forgive.  So I must forgive as well.  Every day, I will forgive because Carmen who lost her daughter, and Dr. Mendoza who opened a free clinic find forgiveness and love to keep doing what they do.  If I want to see real change I must forgive, and be patient.  I must share the stories of the incredible people I’ve met so that their journeys have not been made in vain.  I must believe that there is a place for the border patrol agents who are doing their job to enforce laws and protect our country, but I also believe that there is a place for dialogue around a broken system that needs fixing in order for awareness, connection and forgiveness to begin.

 

Kara Schmitt (pictured far right) was part of CVV 2 (1996-97), and worked at Urban Peak.  She is now a Social worker, mother of Mason and Molly and wife of Dave.  She brings so many gifts and such great energy to our Board of Directors. Having come here from the University of Texas, Kara made the wise decision to stay here and now lives in Evergreen!

“The power of storytelling is exactly this: to bridge the gaps where everything else has crumbled.” – Paulo Coelho

Since returning home from El Paso/ Juarez, I have found myself thinking less about immigration in the political context that the media seems to demand these days, and much more time meditating upon the stories that we were fortunate to hear.   It is in what I heard from Fr. Bob, Joe, Oscar, Shilani, Arjelia, Rafael, Kari, Dr. Mendoza, Bertha, Estella, Sister Betty, Fr. Peter, & Carmen that I was challenged to think about the many perspectives along the border.  I am moved to hold their stories sacred, but not to keep them to myself.  This is my challenge- to bear witness to the lessons each of them had to offer. 

I choose to believe that when we take the time to generously listen to one another, that is where we find truth.  I recognize this often means hearing stories that are painful, overwhelming, and uncomfortable.  It also means hearing stories of hope, faith and perseverance.

Each individual shared their gospel as we spent time listening, asking questions and breaking bread together.  I found myself wrestling with my own discomfort at times throughout the weekend as we were generously hosted and individuals unceasingly gave of themselves, all the while asking nothing of me.  They invited us in, they received us with love and without question. 

What am I being asked to do? How is God calling me to respond?

Every volunteer who has gone before us and the volunteers that will continue to make this pilgrimage will be blessed by their own unique encounters and experiences.  They will hear stories and they will have their own questions to reflect upon.

I am sincerely grateful for the time to be companions on the journey with my fellow board members.  In sharing this powerful experience together, we were also gifted the opportunity to share our own stories with one another. The reflection, prayer and ongoing desire to take action based on what we learned will continue to fuel our discussions throughout the coming months.

As Pope Francis noted this weekend, “”Walls that enclose some and banish others. Walled citizens, terrified on one side, excluded, exiled, and still more terrified on the other. Is that the life that our Father God wants for their children? Dear brothers and sisters — all walls fall. All of them. Do not be fooled.”” 

Where will we find the opportunities to create bridges in this space? For me it will always begin with stories.

 

October 2016 – Lynne Baumann

September 2016 – Brian Sheehan

August 2016 – John Taylor

July 2016 – Katie Cassady

June 2016- Jenna Carbone

May 2016- Tara (Bradley) Williams

April 2016- Alyson Hankwitz

March 2016- Kyle Earlywine

February 2016- Erin Kennedy

January 2016- Josh Wise

December 2015- Alison Mercier

November 2015- Mary (O’Neill) McManus

October 2015- Sister Mallorie Gerwitz

September 2015- Christy (Titus) Thomson

August 2015- Chris Morgan

July 2015- Casey Sharp

June 2015- Jennay Smith

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