Notes from the Field includes reports from young people volunteering in ministries of Catholic sisters. A partnership with Catholic Volunteer Network, the project began in the summer of 2015. This is our ninth round of bloggers: Samantha Wirth is the public policy fellow for Good Shepherd Services in New York City and Adele McKiernan is a Loretto Volunteer at Missouri Health Care for All in St. Louis. This is Samantha's final blog post. Read all of her blog posts.
When I first discovered Good Shepherd Volunteers, I spent a lot of time scouring the program website. In my hunt for information, I came across a page titled "10 Reasons to Become a GSV." The list that followed was enough to inform my confirmation bias but still left me a little lost.
Now, as we approach the end of our year and promote the new GSV recruiting process, I've been thinking about what I would say about those 10 reasons. If I could go through this process all over again, what would accurately explain why I fell in love with Good Shepherd Volunteers?
Samantha's 10 Reasons to Become a Good Shepherd Volunteer:
1. We've got you covered
Arguably the most underrated benefit of our program, the stipend lifestyle allows just enough money to meet my basic needs but not enough to leave me trying to think of all the ways I can spend it. Living with health insurance, transportation and housing needs covered and a regular small stipend supports living without the worry of balancing all my finances. A limited ability to splurge has helped me discover a healthier relationship with money.
2. The greater Good Shepherd flock
When you enter the GSV community, you really enter the greater Good Shepherd community. Not only do you gain a new, close-knit network of program staff, sisters and community-mates, but an entire world filled with connections just as inspired by zeal as you are. In our work, we know we are not alone.
3. Supportive environment
Transitions are hard. Transitions into unfamiliar program areas and new cities, states or even countries are especially hard. GSV provides support throughout the process as it connects you with alumni, locally-based community support and caring supervisors. These supporters help guide you through the process of handling participants, cultivating relationships and embracing individual growth.
4. Program size
When I first looked into a year of service, I thought I wanted to be a part of a large international program with lots of name recognition and glory. After meeting some alumni from those programs in person, I knew it wasn't the right fit for me. When I found GSV, I found the close-knit community experience I was looking for.
5. Quarterly retreats
Because we are small in number, we are able to hold space during our program-wide retreats to spend time simply relishing in the camaraderie of our fellow volunteers. These retreats help us stay grounded in work and reflection.
From personal experience, I am also happy to say these retreats can help you build out a regulated daily routine to encourage zeal in a way that feels natural.
6. Our slogan, "Just Love"
This is a concept I never truly understood before this program and one I now can't believe I ever lived without. Learning how to Just Love becomes an indispensable gift during a year in community. Good Shepherd Volunteers are able to bring a life made of Just Love with them long into the future. (We have St. Mary Euphrasia to thank for that.)
7. An attitude of gratitude
A year of service has a way of putting things into perspective. As we live in solidarity with those we serve, as we become aware of all the environmental factors affecting our lives, we learn how to frame and reframe our own experiences. In the end, we grow better at finding contentment.
8. The tenet of simplicity
A friend of gratitude, simplicity becomes integral to our life as volunteers. When I first applied to this program, I admitted I was most unsure about the tenet of simplicity. I didn't know what it would look like in practice, and I was worried I would be forced to become a minimalist. However, that was not so. Each volunteer is able to practice simplicity at the level they both want and need, and only they can truly know what that means.
Now, simplicity translates into my daily life in the way I think about recycling materials, in water usage, in my consumer awareness of ethical clothing brands and other sustainable goods, and even the chemicals in the skincare I use. Without a doubt, the tenet of simplicity has turned me into a more informed consumer.
9. Interfaith dialogue
Although affiliated with the Catholic Church, all are welcome in GSV. Our dedicated community and spirituality nights provide platforms for interfaith sharing in a supportive, nonjudgmental environment. The kinds of conversations and activities my community-mates and other support people have led allowed me to put my own faith into perspective, strengthening and morphing it in exactly the ways I didn't know I needed.
10. Discerning your vocation
In my experience, prospective volunteers tend to choose their program based on desired location, field of work or faith alignment. The added benefit of GSV is that in addition to those, a volunteer can truly learn to discern their vocation. With a lens of gratitude, with lots of support, as a more conscious consumer and everything else that doesn't fit into a top 10 list, GSVs learn so much about themselves and their needs.
Even if we aren't able to understand the revelations until well after our time has ended (I'm having some of the biggest realizations from my first year of service only now), this service year changes you. You walk out of this year with much more than just a year of work experience on your resume. By the end of a year (or two), I guarantee you will be able to say that this provided not just a gap year or a break from reality, but a year that brought you even closer to discovering your true vocation.
Bonus: yearly renewal
I can't leave out the importance of having an opportunity to engage in a second year. Whether you fell in love with your first placement, want to serve at another, or for any of the reasons mentioned above, GSV offers the opportunity to renew your commitment to service. As a second-year, I can say I knew I needed more time to Just Love and Just Be. Plus, you get more sheep paraphernalia.
"There was a time when I was broken and disheartened by adverse criticism and contradictions. Now, I listen, and with God's grace I remain serene and in peace." — St. Mary Euphrasia
[Samantha Wirth is the public policy fellow for Good Shepherd Services in New York City.]