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Welcoming new volunteers at Mercy Volunteer Corps!

September 12, 2011

By: Marie Schultz-Stebel

As a staff member of Mercy Volunteer Corps, I had the privilege of welcoming 28 new volunteers to our annual orientation event in early August. Orientation marks the beginning of the volunteer’s commitment to a year or two with Mercy Volunteer Corps.

The week offers an opportunity for the volunteers to further learn about and reflect upon the mission and tenets of Mercy Volunteer Corps. They meet their community members and begin building a foundation for their shared life in community. During Orientation, Sisters, Associates, Companions, and Co-ministers visit the volunteers, sharing the vision of Catherine McAuley, the work of Mercy, and the heartfelt welcome and support of the community.

For me, Orientation always stands as a highlight of the year. Following an extensive application and placement process and various exchanges about preparations for the coming year, I finally meet the volunteers at Orientation! This moment holds special significance because the volunteers become “alive” in a whole new way. What is modeled by the volunteers in the experience of Orientation – their enthusiasm and excitement for a new adventure, their sincerity and trust in sharing, their openness to taking a risk, and their budding awareness of their connection to Catherine and the Mercy community – is energizing to my ministry, my personal relationships, and the deepening of my own call to be a disciple of Jesus.

The application season, which stretches from February to June, can feel like a roller coaster at times. Some days bring an enthusiastic “yes” from applicants in response to the invitation to join Mercy Volunteer Corps while other days yield an apologetic “no.”  During our opening ritual at Orientation, the ride of the application process becomes a memory and an affirmation of the Spirit’s movement takes hold – those present in the circle have been chosen and gathered for this journey.

What a sacred privilege to be a companion for the volunteers in this journey!  In the experience, the volunteers are challenged to be attentive to the needs of those they serve, to be generous and authentic in their relationships in community and to the Earth, and to nurture and share their spirituality. To make oneself available and present to a person in the midst of such a formative experience is a gift. In my ministry, I have been strengthened and stretched by the volunteer’s honest sharing of her or his journey.

At the end of the year or two of the commitment, it is often apparent to see the change in the volunteer’s life. A volunteer may have been surprised to discover a passion for an issue or kinship with a population to which she now wants to devote herself. A volunteer may have found himself or herself more confident and equipped to confront a lingering issue in a relationship. A volunteer who has struggled with feeling a sense of belonging in the institutional church discovers a home in the Mercy community.  However, the volunteer is not the only one who has grown from the year’s experience; I, too, have been changed through my relationship with the volunteer. Witnessing and reflecting upon the journey of the volunteers invites me to be more authentic and loving in my ministry, with my husband and children, and in my relationship with God.

At Orientation several years ago, a site supervisor shared that his commitment to MercyVolunteer Corps was not only because of the service the volunteers performed or the change he saw in them, but also because of the impact the experience had on the lives of the volunteers’ family and friends. The volunteers share their stories – about their misconceptions and unwarranted fears, about the richness of a culture, about the struggles and adversities of those marginalized and forgotten, about the gift of the people.  The transformative energy extends beyond the singular experience of the volunteer.  How hopeful and inspiring to know that the experience and the sharing of the experience helps in bringing more compassion and understanding to our suffering world community.

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