A Face of Homelessness

by augustinian.volunteers / 11. November 2015 10:32

Father Joe’s Village helps over 1,000 people off the streets of San Diego everyday. Some of our homeless neighbors are Veterans, others have been trapped in the cycle of homelessness for most of their lives, and yet others lost their jobs and were unable to make their next month’s rent. There are many different faces of homelessness. These are the faces that I see every day in Father’s Joes Health Clinic.  

Vienna is one of the patients that comes into the clinic for regular follow up appointments throughout the week. She is a beautiful woman with a gentle grace that is unwavering. She has endured unimaginable pain and suffering throughout her life. She came to the United States after escaping the Rwandan Genocide only two years ago. She has recently moved into Father Joe’s Village to live. She said that this is the first time in her life that she is on her own and feels completely free. She often walks around the city just to experience the freedom that such a new place has to offer. Father Joe’s has given her that freedom. She has a home and a community that supports her at the Village. She has made a family for herself in the roommates that she lives with. Her healthcare needs are being met at the clinic.  She is learning coping skills through her therapy as she struggles with the agony of her past. Although Vienna still has many emotions about her suffering in the past, she told me that she tries to live her life like a baby – forgetting the past, with only hope for the future.

Vienna inspires me. I feel honored to be able to talk to her when she comes into the clinic. I also feel blessed to work in a place where lives are changed each and every day. The Village provides a home and community to those who would be living alone on the streets. My patients are the most joyful part of my day. I am inspired each day by their stories. Vienna’s face has influenced my perspective on homelessness.

Martha Pannepacker
San Diego, CA 2015-2016


Domestics 2015-2016

I Haven't Worked a Single Day This Year

by augustinian.volunteers / 18. October 2015 19:23

To say that my very first day at LCA was a whirlwind is perhaps the understatement of the year. I was under the impression that I would be working directly with kids, but I was told that there was a need for me to be in the front office answering parent phone calls for the first few weeks, and so that is where I would be doing most of my service unless they said otherwise. Two different teachers asked me what colleges I was considering going to next year as if I was a high school senior. The rest of the teachers seemingly did not understand my role at school until I said I was "the new Brittany", the AV at LCA last year. One boy in the after school program told me he did not have to listen to me because I was not a real teacher. I was as close to that "freshman who eats lunch in the bathroom stall" as you can get.

Something changed, though, and I couldn't tell you what it was. Maybe it was the honest and candid conversations that I've had with teachers on the way to field trips. Perhaps it was helping a student work through addition problems, and seeing the smile radiate from his face when he got the questions right. It could have been sitting at the dinner table with my community members, simply talking about how our day went and seeing that they too had similar struggles and successes that day. No matter what the reason for this change, I know now that this is exactly where I should be.

I know I am truly blessed for the simple fact that going into work everyday is my favorite part of the day. I have been working with the nursery students (age 3) a lot for the past three weeks, and that has been a blessing beyond anything else. Here I was, a stranger to them, but they were already attacking me with hugs on the playground and innocently walking up next to me as if they had a question, just to tap me on the leg and say, "Tag! You're it!". Working with the nursery kids has also given me some much needed street cred with the teachers. Whenever others see me working with them, they give me a sincere "Oh God bless you for it" and say they could never do that because they feel as they are not teaching but babysitting. I disagree, and say that they are the ones that are teaching me things on a daily basis. They teach me the importance of forgiveness. One girl came up to me, in tears, and said another girl took her toy and said they were no longer best friends. I told them both, honestly only half paying attention to them at the moment, that they should apologize to each other and keep playing. They did just that, and were holding hands in the playground not even ten minutes later. While this may be partly credited to the  average attention span of a three year old, there is still an awe-inspiring innocence in this. 

Recently, when people ask me what my favorite part of my job is, I try hard not to keep rambling for half an hour. I have felt so welcome both by those making a conscious effort to do so, be it the Augustinians or the greater community, as well as the kids at school who have no idea the impact their smiles and high fives make. Do I tell them about about the great staff, or perhaps the incredibly smart and funny students? Maybe the parents who are so invested in seeing their children receive a quality Catholic education?

To save people my long winded rambling, when someone asks me my favorite part about my job, I will simply say that the greatest joy lies in it not feeling like work at all.

Derik Velasco
Lawrence, MA 2015-2016


Domestics 2015-2016

I am where I am supposed to be.

by augustinian.volunteers / 9. October 2015 19:07

When I was preparing to leave for my year of service with the AVs a little under two months ago, I had very little idea what to expect and my mind raced through all of the experiences this next year could possibly bring. I was certain that there would be good fun and hard work, excitement and homesickness, growth and challenges. I was certain I would learn how to do a new job, discover things about myself I never knew, and serve others while navigating how to live in community. As I pondered this upcoming year, the possibilities seemed nearly endless; however, one thing that never crossed my mind was that I would have to deal with the death of a close friend while living seven hundred miles away from the comfort of home. Yet, on Tuesday, September 15th, my friend Mark was tragically killed in an automobile accident and I suddenly found myself in the deepest and darkest parts of my own mind that I have ever known.

I went home to Pennsylvania for the viewing and funeral and I have never before felt such sadness and such anger. I couldn’t help but ask why Mark? Why one of the most loveable and loving people this world has ever known? Why is this possibly happening to such good people—to Mark’s family and his closest friends? I could not stop crying for them, could not stop imagining the grief they were feeling deep in their cores. I had absolutely no desire to return to Chicago; I felt that my place was at home with the people I love, in the place I know. I thought returning to Chicago was selfish, that I would be leaving Mark behind, rendering his death inconsequential. I was mad at God, at times doubting that He is even real; I questioned why I would even want to go back and do service in the name of somebody who allows these things to happen to such good people. I asked basically every person I’ve ever met what they thought I should do—should I honor my commitment and return to Chicago or should I stay home—desperately hoping that they would tell me it was right to stay home. People offered different answers, but ultimately it came to the same conclusion of “Do what you feel is right.” This was virtually no help whatsoever as I had no idea what I felt was right, but I found myself on a plane from Philadelphia to Chicago the following Sunday.

The next few days were downright miserable and I was confident I wanted to go home. At this point, I was barely thinking or reflecting—I was just angry that I was here. That Wednesday, we had a community meeting with our site supervisor Father Bill, who encouraged me to simply pray. I was reluctant and I definitely wouldn’t call it prayer. During our AV orientation, we shared our "faith journeys" with one another and one of the things I shared is that I most doubt that God exists when I think about the fact that He would allow horrible things to happen to good people so you can imagine how far I felt from God when I saw a terrible thing happen to not only good people, but to good people whom I love deeply. However, that night of our meeting with Fr. Bill, I decided to just lay in my bed, sans Netflix and cell phone, and just be alone with my thoughts, something I probably would not have done if I were still at home. I barely remember what it was I thought that night, but the next morning I woke up feeling oddly at peace. That day I realized how much I love working at Habitat and how grateful I am to be in this position. The people are incredible and the work is empowering; every single person in the office has been so supportive and understanding. I just cannot imagine being in a better place, in an environment that allows me to process the death of a friend so openly and safely, while also providing a reprieve from the overwhelming grief I often feel in the forms of busyness and laughter and profound work.

I have no idea why Mark died and I still am incredibly sad and mad and confused, but the one thing I do know is that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, that there is a reason I am doing this year of service while simultaneously undergoing the greatest struggle with my faith that I have ever experienced.

Deena Prescavage
Chicago, IL 2015-2016


Domestics 2015-2016

I am surrounded by God's Love

by augustinian.volunteers / 22. September 2015 18:08

I officially have two weeks in the books at my service site, St. Augustine’s High School (Saints), but it feels like I have been here forever. I truly have been welcomed into this amazing community with open arms from the administration, the faculty, the students, the alumni, and the Augustinians. 

I have felt God’s presence in the administration and faculty who have made sure that not only myself but also all of my community members have been adjusting well. They continually invite us to be a part of the Saints community with tickets to games, invites to Family Mass at the school, and continually checking in to see if there is anything that they can do for us.  I am slowly but surely beginning to remember the other teacher’s names, and they are all wonderful to me, stopping in for the endless supply of snacks that our office has and staying to chat for a few minutes. 

I have felt God’s presence through the students who are starting to warm up to the new girl. From telling me their plans of how they are asking their dates to homecoming, to throwing a bucket of water on me during the water balloon fight at the Orphanage. The first week of work, there was not a day that went by that our office wasn’t graced by the presence of a Saints Alumni. Each were excited to meet the new Augustinian Volunteer and were eager to tell me stories of the Volunteers from their years at Saints. This Saints spirit is something so contagious that I have felt at the football games, at the pep rally’s, and everyday as I walk through campus.

I have felt God’s presence through all of the Augustinians who we have met. We may joke that we have met too many priests to remember all their names, but that is something really amazing to be able to say. The Augustinians truly take so much pride in this program and it is really wonderful to feel their continual support. I am fortunate enough to work with three on a daily basis in the office, and have really been able to learn so much about the Augustinian tradition through them. From random adventures in Mexico, to daily check ins from Deac, we constantly feel their support and love for us and this program. 

And lastly, I have felt God’s presence through the Love of my community. Each of us may be different in our own ways, but we are all so eager to come together and learn from one another. We have a loud community for sure; for those of you who know me, I am the quietest of the bunch, and that says a lot; but it is a community filled with so much love and support. During the day we do our own things at work, but afternoons and evenings are always spent together, generally with a big bowl of stove-top popcorn. 

Transitions are never the easiest, but with the continual love and support of the Saints Community and our AV community, this transition has been one filled with so much of God’s wonderful Love.

Nicole Quirk
San Diego, CA 2015-2016


Domestics 2015-2016

"Estás acostumbrado?"

by m.donovan / 10. August 2015 12:15

Coming to Peru for the first time I had little if any idea what I was getting myself into, but even knowing that going in I was very surprised with what I found. When we first arrived especially, and even on occasion now people ask "¿Estás acostumbrado?" which means "Have you acclimated?" I always answer with apprehension because to me they were asking if all of this seemed normal, if Chulucanas was really my home or if I was still a North American living in South America. This acclimation has been a slow process for me and the truth is I will always be a missionary in a foreign land, but at least I can say I am no longer just a visitor.

This process of moving from visitor to missionary, has been gradual. Things that I thought would help me to acclimate, proved to be great hurdles for me to overcome. Things that I thought I might struggle with became the things that supported and comforted me. Spanish, which I considered to be a strength of mine going in proved to be a great challenge, acclimating to dialects and accents and encountering new situations with new vocabularies and grammar, made me quickly realize how limited my "conversational" Spanish really was. But with time and patience, I have been able to improve. I can have deep and meaningful conversations in Spanish now instead of merely polite casual exchanges as I had had in the past. Another major hurdle for me became the Mass, having traveled to Europe and Central America before, I was no stranger to the Mass in foreign languages, and had attended Mass many times in Spanish. When traveling I always found comfort in the familiarity of the Mass, and even though I couldn't understand it often, I still enjoyed it. But in Peru, the unfamiliarity of something that should have been so familiar only served to further demonstrate how far from home I really was. However, this too would pass. The strength I received from the Bread of Life and the Blood of Salvation in the Eucharist sustained me in my studies of the ordinaries and the learning of the responses. With time I have even acclimated to the singing style, and the clapping and cheering during Mass. 

My work has proved to be an incredible source or strength for me. While extremely challenging and frustrating, having the opportunity to see the rewards of my labor have been indescribable. Before the year started, I was very concerned about my ability to help in Peru, I am not a doctor, I am not a priest, I am not a teacher, I am not a social worker, I am not a pharmacist, but to the people of Peru I am all those things. And while I don't do surgery or hear confession, I am treated with the same level of respect and expected to have the same level of expertise as if I did. The skills that I brought with me were simple, I speak English and I work hard. How I was going to translate that into tangible good for the people of Chulucanas was a mystery to me. I put my faith in God and asked him to make me an imperfect tool in his perfect hands, that he may work through me and that I have the strength to follow his will. 

This faith has been most rewarded in my work with the First Hand Foundation, a non-profit from the U.S. primarily funded through Cerner which gives money to children in need of medical treatment who would otherwise be unable to receive treatment because of their economic situation. Through this program I met Josner a two year old from the countryside who has cerebral palsy, a condition that will greatly impair his mental and physical development and will prevent him from living a normal life. And while no one can cure him of this, as a result of this he had a seized left achilles tendon which prevents him from walking. Through Firsthand I was able to get the funding for him to have surgery to repair his achilles and one day soon he will be able to walk. The process of applying for this funding was arduous as every document, of which there were many and some of which were hand written doctors notes (unfortunately poor handwriting among doctors seems to be a cross cultural phenomenon), had to be translated into English. To be able to go from an initial interview with Josner and his mother when we were both trying to figure out how this was all going to work, and then a few months to be at the hospital with the same mother waiting for her son to come out of the surgery that was going to dramatically improve his life was an unbelievably wonderful and rewarding experience. My work has given me a purpose, a reason to be in this foreign land and though I may never completely acclimate to Peru, I have found a home in Chulucanas.

Michael Donovan

Chulucanas, Peru 2015


Internationals 2015

Making a Difference

by a.mall / 5. July 2015 14:15

This past June I had the privilege of working as a medical translator for Global Health Ministry´s mission in Chulucanas, Peru. Translating was a challenging but rewarding experience. 

Throughout the two weeks of the medical campaign, I translated for the same pediatrician. Day after day, we saw lots and lots of sick kids together, and we formed a very special bond.

She mentioned to me that this was her third campaign. When I asked her about her first experience abroad, she said, “To be honest, it took me most of the two weeks to decide that I would do it again.” When I asked her why, she said, “Well, I suppose that I was incredibly ignorant, and kind of thinking that I was just such a nice person, and going to save the world or something like that. And then for two weeks all I treated or saw was worms, worms, and worms. You know, what the surgery team does- that really fixes something. I would like to be able to do that.” 

Throughout the week, I had been inspired by this pediatrician. She had used her vacation time and her own money to come to Chulucanas on this mission, and even with my limited medical background, it was obvious to me that she was an excellent practitioner. 

At different times, my community members and I have discussed our common sentiment of not feeling useful enough in our service here in Peru. Although we are all grateful for our jobs and the good that they do, we see the huge needs that exist and wish that we could do more. 

My conversation with this pediatrician made me realize that no one, not even the most accomplished of doctors, has the privilege of seeing or totally understanding the final product of their service. 

Yet, although prescribing worm medication is not nearly as dramatic as providing a cleft lip surgery, freeing a child from parasites does substantially affect his day-to-day reality. 

For me, this moment I shared with the pediatrician held the lesson that as volunteers or professionals, all of us will sometimes wonder whether we are truly making a difference. However, if we continue doing “the next right thing,” to the best of our abilities, we have good reason to be hopeful. Mother Teresa’s wise observation on the significance and limitations of our service is especially pertinent in light of this year:  “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Lyssa Mall
Chulucanas, Peru 2015


Internationals 2015

Directing the Fourth

by b.dillon / 4. June 2015 02:31

One of my greatest joys of this year was when I was allowed to direct the final Kairos retreat of the year, as is customary for the St. Augustine High School AV to do.  Though it was challenging at times, I was lucky enough to very much enjoy the process as a whole and even found joy in the challenges themselves.

The previous Kairos that myself and others in Campus Ministry had helped lead was the biggest Kairos in a few years, with 36 retreatants. As that Kairos had not gone quite as smoothly as I would have hoped logistically speaking, I was weary about accepting more students on this final one. Despite this, my supervisor, Fr. Mark, and I went ahead and decided to allow 42 retreatants to attend. It seemed almost absurd, then, when I considered adding the additional five seniors who were on the waiting list. I talked to one of the assistant principals about the matter. He strongly recommended I not take the last five. I talked to the former head of Campus Ministry. She recommended that I absolutely should. In the end I finally decided that despite the logistical problems it might pose, it was worth to give those seniors the chance to go.  Thus, including the student and adult leaders attending, the total number of people coming on the retreat was now 62.  Soon after, of course, it was learned that one of the rooms where we would be meeting had a listed capacity of 38 people.

Throughout all of this chaos, however, I really did enjoy the work. While new problems seemed to arise nearly everyday, I found myself able to view them more as challenges that would be solved rather than obstacles that could not be overcome. Running around and seeking various opinions was not only exciting, but I felt that the work I was doing was something that actually mattered, as in the end it could result in making some difference in students’ lives. I knew God was on our side, and that with his help, it would all work out. And it did. The logistics ended up playing out fine and we were able to fit everyone into the meeting room snuggly. What are fire codes anyway?

Another part of retreat preparation I very much enjoyed was working with the team of student leaders.  It takes a lot for me to willingly interact with members of my own species at 7am, but these guys made the meetings worth it. They showed real humility and leadership skills, both following directions well and stepping up to take charge when appropriate.  Possibly most importantly, however, they were courageous. (If you are some overeager underclassmen and Googled my name or something, stop reading here, I am going to spoil some secret Kairos stuff). One thing required of the student leaders is that they all share their faith journey in front of the entire retreat group. As this often includes sharing some of the most challenging times in many of their lives, they were all understandably nervous to give their talks. Working with them on this was certainly difficult at times, but once again, it was also a really great process to watch unfold.  After encouraging them to be open, honest, and brave, they all came through and delivered wonderful talks on the retreat. It was awesome to watch them not only give their talks but the confidence boost they received from being able to share their stories in front of everyone. Therefore, all in all, I considered the retreat a success.

Brendan Dillon
San Diego 2014-2015


Domestics 2014-2015

Voices of the City

by b.larose / 15. May 2015 15:48

Philadelphia VIP is a nonprofit legal service agency. At VIP I have worked with a variety of clients seeking assistance with a multitude of legal problems. I have been honored to hear the stories of so many lives. I’ve witnessed family reunions in our office, and seen the pride that comes when a client has finally signed their name on a deed giving them title to a home they have lived in for twenty years. I have even signed as a witness to these documents- leaving my mark on Philly forever!

I spend a large amount of each day calling clients and gathering information on their lives. I obtain documents from city hall, and pull dockets from online portals, and most importantly I ask extensive questions. Through these questions and documents I am able to catch a glimpse of my client’s life. Although I work with some clients longer than others, a relationship of trust is always built and managed. As a case progresses I start to look for a volunteer attorney to carry out the legal work that needs to be done for the client. Once a volunteer generously accepts my client’s case, I have the privilege of calling the client to let them know.

The joy in my clients’ voices makes all of the work that has taken to build their case worth it. I look forward to each and every one of these calls I make. At a time when it feels like I am giving something to the client, they are actually giving something to me. Each call giving a client good news makes up for any struggle or challenge that I am facing that day. It is a reminder that the work being done at VIP is so important and life changing and that I am a part of that work. That reminder, given by the client to me, gives me the motivation to wake up and go back to work day after day.

As my volunteer year is coming to an end, I carry worth a vast array of new knowledge and life skills. I am forever grateful to the clients who have challenged me and encouraged me. I am humbled to be surrounded by such an amazing group of colleagues and astounding number of eager and open hearted volunteers. I leave with the confidence that Philadelphia VIP is changing the world, one client at a time. 


Brittany LaRose

Philadelphia, PA (2014-2015)


Domestics 2014-2015

Standing at the Margins, Sitting down for Dinner

by m.bucaria / 4. May 2015 20:00
Each Wednesday the volunteers at Many Meals gather to pray before serving dinner to the 150 or so guests who assemble for dinner. The volunteers rarely change, except from the four or five students from St. Bonaventure High School who signed up to fulfill their service hours by working that week. Although these students differ weekly, their contributions at our post-project group reflection rarely change.

The students are moved by the guests’ cheerfulness and gratitude, are inspired by the volunteers who go week after week, and are thankful that such a program exists. As of last week I have brought students on 25 different Wednesdays, and even after that many Many Meals I am still stirred by this indigestibly profound experience. I have learned a lot while refilling glasses with punch or getting seconds of shepherd’s pie, but the most impactful morsel I have taken away is this: “I smile because I don’t have any reason to frown.”

Sue tells me this as she gives me a hug hello. She stops to greet everyone she sees on the way to her usual table with a hug, and one week I comment on how happy she is. She shrugs and tells me that she hugs because she’s happy, and she’s happy because she has no reason not to be. Sue sometimes struggles to be understood because a developmental disability affects her muscular control, including her speech. Although her speech sometimes challenges the listener, her smile never does.

By Wednesday afternoon, I’m usually pretty tired. I love St. Bonaventure High School and I love facilitating its Christian Service Program, but high schoolers can be – and usually are – exhausting. We participate in various types of service projects ranging from community garden cleanups to Special Olympics tournaments, but few energize and inspire both me and the students like Many Meals does.

Guests like Sue who always smiles, Peter who loves talking with teachers for their “stunning intellect” (how he confused me in this category I’ll never know), and Justice who may be the happiest baby I’ve ever met all shape Many Meals and make it unique. Unlike some assistance programs which merely pile on a tray and send people to quickly eat by themselves, Many Meals offers the community of a dinner table and the hospitality of a home… to 150 people from all corners of the community.

While chaperoning a group of students who went to LA Youth Day in March, I had the privilege of listening to the keynote speaker Fr. Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. He said that if we stand long enough with those at the margins, “we’ll notice the margins disappearing under our feet.” By encountering our neighbors who we may otherwise never meet, the students encounter the truer reality of what their community actually looks like and what their role in that can be.

When Wednesday at 5:15 (well, 5:20 since I’m usually running late) strikes, I’m definitely the most tired I will be that week, because after leaving Many Meals at 7:30 I am energized, inspired, and motivated to meet any challenges that the rest of the week and weekend may offer. Likewise, because of experiences like Many Meals, as my volunteer year draws to a close I feel energized to take this year worth of lessons with me to whatever comes next.

Mike Bucaria
Ventura, CA 2014-2015


Domestics 2014-2015

The Power of Children

by t.keefer / 13. April 2015 18:52

As I was getting ready to head into my volunteer year, I was pretty excited at the chance to work in a parochial elementary school. My own experience as a student in a parochial elementary was awesome, and I wanted to see what it was like from the other side, as a teacher. Little did I know that working in a grade school would be one of the most joyous experiences of my life.


This has been a tough year for my family, and being away from them has not been easy. Two of the biggest male influences of my life, my uncle and grandfather passed away within four months of each other. My uncle’s death was early in my volunteer year, September, and just as it seemed I was beginning to get comfortable at St. Augustine’s in Andover, I found myself on a train home wondering if I was going to be able to continue this year knowing the rest of my family would be miles and miles away mourning. On my first day back at school after being home for two weeks, I wasn’t sure what to expect and was nervous that the students would not respond well to my absence. I kept thinking to myself, “Should I be here right now?” My mom had just lost her youngest sibling and I wanted to be able to comfort her as much as I could. As these thoughts pondered in my head on the ride to work that morning, my answer came within a matter of seconds as soon as I walked into the schoolyard for morning prayer. A second grader named Emma ran up to me and immediately threw her arms around me as she shouted “Mr. Keefer I missed you!” She was quickly followed by a high-pitched voiced that came from a kindergartener named Kendall as she said “I’m so glad you’re back!” After her there was Sophia and Ben from first grade, Lauren from third grade, all the eighth grade boys whom I try to influence the best way I possibly can as they look up to me as a role model, and countless other students who made me feel right at home. That 15 minute period in the school yard before morning prayer took place completely erased any doubts I had about not continuing my volunteer year. It also would make my Grandfather’s passing that much more bearable.


The power of children is indescribable. They look at the world with such wonder, such beauty, such excitement. I find myself learning more and more from them each day than them learning from me. As soon as I walk into that school yard each morning, my mood is instantly changed positively and any tiredness is quickly turned into high energy. The students at St. Augustine have changed my life and I hope that when my year is over, they remember me well because they will be in my thoughts and heart for the rest of my life. 


Tom Keefer

Lawrence, MA 2014-2015


Domestics 2014-2015

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