Routines and Restless Hearts: Actions begun by and ended in Christ

by s.dunbar / 21. September 2014 13:24

Weekday mornings here in Ventura have fallen into a comfortable routine. My alarm goes off at 6:45, which I promptly snooze with the reward of five more minutes of sleep, I get up and dressed in the appropriate dress code, emerge from my room to pour some of the coffee Mike has brewed into my Augustinian Volunteer mug, and grab something to eat before Mikey and I are on our way to Ojai. There’s always energy during these mornings, no matter how tired we may be, as everyone is preparing for another day. It’s another way we’ve learned to function as a community- one member brewing the necessary caffeine, one leaving inspirational quotes on the bathroom mirror, one making an extra peanut butter sandwich if another is running late. Even though we will all spend our days very differently, we always begin and end them together at 39 Coronado Street. 

Once I am dropped off at Villanova Prep’s campus, I make my way to the Campus Ministry office between hellos, brief conversations, and bells warning the start of classes. I unlock the door, drop my bag and wait for the familiar sound of the students’ voices saying over the PA system, “Good morning, Villanova. Please stand for prayer and the pledge.” 

The morning prayer, although different every day, has become a special time of the day for me. Because although my morning routine has become familiar, it can still be rushed or preoccupied by worries about the coming day. And I find so much value in pausing, together with the entire Villanova community, to begin the day with reflection and prayer. I didn't always feel this was during morning prayer at my own high school, but it's funny the difference a few years can make. Often, our morning prayer contains this attributed to St. Augustine:

"Direct we beseech you, O Lord, all our actions by Your holy inspiration, and carry them out by Your gracious assistance, so that every prayer and good work of ours may always begin from You, and by You be happily ended through Christ our Lord, Amen."

At first, when I wrote these morning prayers, I would copy and paste St. Augustine’s portion from a previous day and simply add it onto whatever I had written. But when I looked more closely at it and prayed it aloud during morning prayer, I realized how it paralleled recent thoughts about my spirituality. 

I have always found it easier to understand my faith through tangible actions. This comes easily to me through service or music ministry or group prayer and reflection. Given this, it is not surprising that I find myself in a Catholic volunteer program this year after my graduation. I wanted to know that I can keep these parts of my faith that are so important to me a part of my life, and am anxious to explore them more deeply over this year. This prayer, in which we daily ask God to guide our actions and work gives me comfort that I can continue to act through God in ways that deepen my faith, both this year and in those to come. 

We end this prayer with another classic from St. Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” I am glad that I have already found a routine here in Ventura, but I am also aware that each day brings its own unique opportunities and gifts. I hope that by following the restlessness in my heart that led me here, I can make the most of each day here to grow, hoping and trusting that my actions will begin and be ended in God’s love along the way.

Sarah Dunbar

Ventura, CA 2014-2015


Domestics 2014-2015

Faces I Will Never Forget

by a.thomas / 31. August 2014 11:12

At this point, I’ve been in Peru for almost eight months, working as a teacher at the community women’s center, CETPRO Betania. The mission of CETPRO is to promote the dignity and independence of women. The center offers affordable, two-year degrees in computers, tailoring, or cooking and my primary job is teaching the first-year computer students. I have the same students every day throughout the year. This consistency gives me the unique opportunity of looking back at the year and noticing the growth and progress that has occurred. 

Working with the same thirty students has allowed me to get to know each and every student very well. I’ve learned who needs extra help, who learns fast, who is timid, who gets easily distracted and who works better in groups. I treasure my relationships with each of my students and truly care about their futures. The majority of my students are from the countryside surrounding the city of Chulucanas and entered the class with little or no experience handling computers. For example, earlier in the year, a handful of students did not know how to right-click a mouse or highlight text in a document. Now, these same students are creating Excel budgets and PowerPoint presentations!

However, aside from just an increase in their computer abilities, I have noticed an incredible increase in my students’ confidence. At the beginning of the year, the majority of my students were reserved in the classroom and hesitated showing me their work, out of fear that it wasn’t up to par or incorrect. Now, friendships have blossomed in the classroom and the students are much more comfortable interacting with me and others. The classroom has transformed into an open, accepting, and friendly environment. They show me their work with confidence and pride. It is this increase in confidence and ambition to succeed that gives me the greatest joy at my work site.

I’m happy to see the students turning their dreams into realities. It is common in Peru for teenage girls to move away with their boyfriends and start a family at the age of seventeen or eighteen. However, I have had the blessing of hearing the young teenage girls in my class talk about choosing a different, less common path for themselves. They talk about their ambitions of becoming professionals so they can be independent and not have to depend on anyone in the future. A couple of the young mothers are studying in order to be positive role models for their children and provide a better future for their families. These women have the desire and confidence to alter their futures and are taking the necessary steps to make these dreams a reality. These are the stories that make all the frustrations and challenges that come along with being a new teacher worthwhile. When I look back at my service in Peru, I won’t picture my lesson plans or the computers in my classroom, but I will picture the bright, determined faces of each of my students. These are the faces I will never forget.


Anna Thomas

Chulucanas, Peru 2014


Internationals 2014

The “Opposite of Tensions” with the Joys and Challenges of Community Life

by t.gostomski / 9. August 2014 18:21

In the popular book Tuesdays with Morrie, main character Morrie speaks of something he calls “the opposite of tensions.”  He observes that life often has two opposing forces and we are generally caught in the middle getting pulled between the two.

Ever since reading that book by Mitch Albom several years ago, that idea of the opposite of tensions has become more and more relevant in my life—perhaps the author put into words something I had been experiencing and struggling with for some time.  In every area of my life I experience the opposite of tensions.   During my year of service as an Augustinian Volunteer, one of the ways I am reminded of the opposite of tensions most is through community life and the two sides of it:  the challenges and the joys.

I initially thought community life would have its up and downs like everyone talked about at orientation whether it was the directors or past AV alum.  We’re only human and no matter how wonderful an individual or a community might think they are, tensions are going to arise whether they are major or minor.  I imagined these tensions would come and go like waves in the ocean—perhaps weeks or months of joy in community life, followed by a couple weeks or maybe a month of challenging times in community, followed by another period of joy, etc.  However, I’ve found the community life to be much less like waves of an ocean and much more like the opposite of tensions balance Morrie talks about.  That is to say probably every single day I am reminded of the joys and challenges of community and the constant “tension” between the two that reveals itself daily.  One moment, our community has an experience where we are greatly enjoying ourselves without much effort and then within hours, sometimes within minutes, I find myself being tested to my limits by the challenges of community life whether it’s disagreeing with someone, resolving a disagreement, holding my ground or, when necessary, surrendering it.

Anytime I am asked about how community life is, I am cautious to answer, as I know the opposite of tensions lies just around the corner.  When I say it’s going well, not long after I’m reminded of how much hard work community life takes to be successful (having patience, managing my ego, etc).  When I say it’s more of a struggle, I am reminded of how joyful it can be (being able to be vulnerable with others yet feel safe, sharing a special bond only your community can understand, etc.).  So, when I usually answer about how community life is, I answer in a way that reveals both the highs and lows—the opposite of tensions of life and community life.

Unlike what I had anticipated, I’ve found the joys and challenges, the highs and lows of community life to reveal themselves much more frequently and more so in pairs or “opposites” rather than happening occasionally and as individual elements.  Just about daily I am fortunate to experience the positives of community life, and forced to confront the negative.  And despite some days really not wanting to take on another challenge of community life, I know I am being pushed to my limits and being sharpened as a person who is trying to live successfully in harmony with others whether it’s in my Peru community or in this greater world.


Taylor Gostomski


Chulucanas, Peru 2014


Internationals 2014

Growing through Vulnerability in Community

by c.papuga / 2. July 2014 07:32

I do not think I could ever actually verbalize how truly thankful I am for my community. The idea of being here in Peru, participating in my year of service, without the support of a community is absolutely laughable. In the beginning, during the search for a year of service program the idea of living in a community was equivalent to cohabitating with fellow volunteers, similar to college dorm life. Living half a year in community, has absolutely shattered this perception and not only has constructed a new definition of community for me, but also directly resulted in the discovery of  new aspects of myself. Community is not cohabitation; it is the creation of a family, sanctuary, safe zone, and support team. In my community members I have found more than just fellow likeminded volunteers; I have found: dance partners, food tasters, best friends, sisters and brothers, people who know they can laugh both at you and with you, people who both offer you a shoulder to cry on and seek yours, people who will stay up with you despite how tired they are, my own personal Google team when I have questions ranging from Spanish translations to deep spiritual meaning of life inquiries, maternal and paternal figures to keep me in line, and basically any other occupation you could think of.  Community is more than just living within the same physical confines; it is learning to respect, love, be patient, communicate, experience, and truly live with other people. 

Community life has propelled my own personal growth. It is impossible to not be altered and grow in some way while living in community. Living in community takes guts, it pushes you right into the deep end of vulnerability. Forget the floaty devices. No one likes to be vulnerable; but, I truly knew this was a weakness of mine. Living in community, there is no hiding. You are exposed to your community members from the trivial quirky morning routines you have, all the way to your deep personal belief systems that support the reasons you get up each day and start those morning routines. It is scary to be vulnerable and to let other people in and know you fully, but when you do it is rewarding. Community life has given me an environment where I can be vulnerable and through this vulnerability I have been able to learn more about myself through my community members, while simultaneously learning about them. In community everyone is equalized on this front, everyone is vulnerable. This exchange of beliefs, quirks, secrets, stories, likes, dislikes, intellect, ideologies, is symbiotic. I have discovered parts of myself I would never have found if I had not opened up to my community and welcomed their perspectives. Community makes you vulnerable, but through this openness with your community comes the creation of a fortifying sense of security and safety through the bonds built in between you and your community members. After all, they are the ones that can truly relate to what is going on in your life, know you truly, have seen your ups and downs, and will always support you whether you are making a major life decision or contemplating what flavor ice cream you want.


Casey Papuga


Chulucanas, Peru 2014


Internationals 2014

Trust: Let go and Let God...

by b.lemke / 15. May 2014 06:40

Trust: Let go and Let God…..

I began my year as an AV strongly believing that I was following God’s plan for me. The moment when I opened my acceptance e-mail I felt my heart scream out, YES! My life has had some bumps and turns, but I have faith that I am on the right path. Arriving at my work site, HELP of Ojai, a social services agency, I felt closer to God than I ever have before. HELP works to meet the basic needs of the community, so here I am following Christ’s teachings every day: clothing, feeding, and loving the poor. I experience God every day at my work site through my clients and my co-workers. Many clients quote scripture to me and express their gratitude for the Lord’s love even when they are dealing with great hardships. HELP is not a religiously affiliated organization, and I do not tell many of my clients about my own faith, so it is very interesting how often they tell me about their faith. Even when people are not talking about their faith, I witness it as my co-workers sort out how to help our clients without enabling them, so that their lives can truly be improved. It’s like we are constantly trying to sort out the proper way to love our clients so that our resources are used to efficiently help the most people. Yet we cannot fully know what the outcome of our assistance will be. Therefore, as my boss Karen tells me, as social workers, our job is not to judge our clients when they live so differently than we do. Honestly, this can be really hard sometimes when I just want someone to do what I think is best for him or her. 

I genuinely want the best for my clients and it can be frustrating when they make choices that set them back. This is where my faith is challenged; if I believe that God has a plan for me, then I need to believe that I am doing all that God has intended me to be doing at this time.  So when I am working constantly to help my clients, and that only does so much- I must have faith that God will take care of the rest - some way, somehow - and I may not ever know about it. Trust. I am learning to Trust in God more deeply. I see so many people who I am unable to help as much as I want to due to our limited resources, or circumstances which are just out of my control. When I feel sad or frustrated by this, I remind myself that I am doing all that I can right now and that must be what God wants from me. Trusting in God over these past months has given me the strength to stay positive and not get too down about the sad circumstances I hear about each day. Yes, I still think about my clients when I leave the office but I pray for them instead of worry about them. In the last month I have really been able to let go and let God’s will be done. A weight has been lifted off of my shoulders as I come to fully realize that we are not in this alone - and as I walk more lightly, I am able to move more freely and work more efficiently to serve my clients. 

Bridget Lemke 


Ventura, CA 2013-2014


Domestics 2013-2014

Like MasterCard, This Year is Priceless

by l.heurich / 25. April 2014 07:24

If I did my math correctly, then I have been working at Merrimack College for a little longer than 230 days--less than two-thirds of a year. If I did my math correctly for a second time, then I have a little more than 55 days left at Merrimack—less than two months. In the last 230 days, I have traveled more than 640 miles in one three-day weekend with seven students to do service in Philadelphia. In the last 230 days, I helped to organize the Thanksgiving Basket Drive which succeeded in bringing in 90 complete Thanksgiving dinners for families in need. In the last 230 days, I helped to organize the Christmas Gift Card Drive which collected over 25 gift cards for at-risk youths. In the last 230 days, I organized the Alternative Spring Break program which sent out five trips and 59 Merrimack students and staff members to places like the Bronx and West Virginia. In the last 230 days, I have traveled over 636 miles with nine other members of the Merrimack community to serve at the Romero Center in Camden for Alternative Spring Break. In the past 230 days, I have sent out 398 tweets and have Instagrammed 69 photos on behalf of the Campus Ministry social media accounts (shameless plug to follow us: @MC_GODisLOVE). In the past 230 days, I have logged over 125 service hours at five different service sites with 49 students through our weekly service program.

When I reflect on the numbers, I feel accomplished. Yet these are not the highlights of my time as the Augustinian Volunteer in the Grace J. Palmisano Center for Campus Ministry at Merrimack College. My greatest joy this year has stemmed from the relationships that I have built with various members of the Merrimack community and the surrounding communities where we serve.

Ministering to students and serving alongside students has created strong bonds. The students who come to and through our office are passionate, dedicated, caring, funny, genuine, and well-rounded young men and women. When some of our first year students were interested in starting a meditation group through our office, they made it happen. When some of our second year students were interested in adding weekend service days, they made it happen. It has been a pleasure to be alongside these students for part of their journey through the college experience. At times, they are the ones who are ministering to me.

As the organizer and a participant of our weekly service program, I have also been able to form relationships in unexpected places. If in the beginning of this year, you had told me that some of the people I would become closest with this year included a brother and sister pair from the Boys and Girls Club or a middle-aged women with disabilities or a fourth-grader from Lawrence Catholic Academy I probably would have laughed in your face. Yet something special has formed at each of these service sites where I spend most of my afternoons.  

Rarely does my job seem like a job because I am learning, serving, laughing, praying and living alongside my brothers and sisters. These relationships are immeasurable.  I cannot put a number to the laughs and tears I have shared with others. I cannot count the ways in which I have grown and the ways in which I have seen others grow. The next 55 days at Merrimack will continue to tick by, but this experience has been priceless. 

Lizzy Heurich 

Lawrence, MA 2013-2014


Domestics 2013-2014

Who knew homework could be so fun?

by a.monaco / 14. April 2014 06:38

Yes, I did mean to write homework. When I think about my favorite moments from this year, the moments during which I’ve experienced the most joy and affirmation of my call to serve as an Augustinian Volunteer, I’m always reminded of my afternoons spent helping the children of Hogar Infantil La Gloria with their homework.

Homework time is chaotic. It’s full of lots of shouting, groaning, and pencils and paper flying through the air, as about 5-10 children gather around the table, eager to get back outside to play or make it to fútbol practice ASAP. And so it begins—the math, the science, the history, the reading, and the dreaded English. On a good day, only one or two of the kids with whom I work will cry, as they struggle to comprehend the material they’re learning and stay focused in spite of their burning desires to do absolutely anything else besides homework. Every afternoon brings some sort of disagreement. “Stop running around the room, Eliseo, and sit down and start your homework with me.” “Yukari, are you listening to me? Don’t worry about what your older sister is doing right now.” “I know you have fútbol in 10 minutes, Cruz, but we need to study this vocabulary for your test tomorrow.”

For every five minutes of work we do, we spend at least another five minutes talking about the events of the school day, what’s inside my backpack…pretty much any and every topic that can serve as a brief distraction from our task at hand. It’s a chorus of “I can’t do this”, “I don’t understand”, “I don’t care”. Sounds pretty miserable for all parties involved, right?

Wrong. For it is during these few hours of battling with the kids and their frustrations and impatience and my own lack of knowledge about teaching that I experience the simplest and purest forms of happiness, of love and appreciation. Like the time that Roberto, a second grader who, without fail, bursts into tears every time I work with him, ran up to me hours later to thank me for my help after we’d spent an hour doing English. I don’t know which was better—the thank you I received or the look of total satisfaction on Roberto’s face when he had finally gotten the last answer right on his practice quiz.

Or the time that Yoselin, a sixth grader who has never completely warmed up to me, let me spend just one afternoon helping her whiz through every subject. That smile on Yoselin’s face as I spoke in awe of her intelligence was the best smile I’ve ever seen.

And the time that I sat with the fourth graders doing set after set of multiplication problems with them. During that hour, tedious math homework transformed into the most fun activity ever, as we sat encouraging one another and laughing about how much faster they finished their problems than I could.

These are the moments that make all of the fighting, frustration and defeat worthwhile. That homework room has become my sanctuary, the place where I feel God’s presence most vividly. Because for just a few minutes, we aren’t a 22-year-old American woman and a 7-year-old Mexican boy trying desperately to connect despite a language barrier and two totally different backgrounds. Rather, we are just two kindred spirits, helping one another to develop a real sense of self-confidence as we attend to and express our appreciation for one another, enabling each other to realize just a little more fully how special, how loved and how capable we both truly are.

Angela Monaco

San Diego, CA 2013-2014


Domestics 2013-2014

Tomalo con calma.

by t.teofilo / 26. March 2014 10:09

As an international volunteer, I wasn't officially told what my service site would be until days before leaving the country. Two months in, I am still finding new responsibilities and titles almost daily. Officially I work at Central Pastoral, the health center headquarters for Chulucanas and the surrounding parishes/cities. Medicine is something I am passionately interested in, so coming in knowing I was working in some aspect of the medical field has made it very easy to maintain an open mind.

Every day I go into work 97% unsure of what the day will bring. I love it. It keeps excitement and anticipation rolling even after the initial “new volunteer” excitement slowly fades away. The plethora of assignments and responsibilities is what I really love about my service site. Some days I serve a nurse roll, checking blood pressures and sugars, wrapping wounds and offering advice. Other days I am a pharmacist organizing and distributing medicine to patients who come in with prescriptions. Still other days I am a social worker visiting the hospital to see children in need of surgeries whom I will represent and apply to try and get them funding. Finally I am a teacher, working to teach English to seminarians and college students who want so badly to learn the language.

But the bottom line is I get actual contact with real patients. I get to see the ailments and hear them talk about their symptoms. Some days are really hard, and that is another reason I love this job. Through the challenge, I know I am learning and growing with each and every day. Every single person I have worked with has given me a blessing of thanks and praise for taking the time to work with them. I am not even a medical professional and they are thanking me? This keeps me going and makes me want to do more. I don’t feel like I have done enough, and I want to make a difference in the lives of these selfless and gracious people that deserve it.

Sometimes the unknown is scary but this experience is making me truly appreciate it and remember it is a blessing nonetheless. Chulucanas has welcomed me into their city, their home. My working staff welcomes me to work with them every single day, even though they are the professionals. When I am having a hard time understanding they simply say, "Tomalo con calma" - be cool; don't worry about it. They take the time to explain everything to me and make me feel included and a part of the team. I am the lucky one, who is seeing my life and perspective change before my eyes. I can only hope I can give back to them half of the mark they have already left on me.

Tina Teofilo

Chulucanas, Peru 2014


Internationals 2014

Planting the seeds: a practice in embracing the uncomfortable

by e.thompson / 9. March 2014 20:27

As I dial in to the school’s PA system, I hear my voice echo in the loud speaker: “Attention Villanova, Campus Ministry will now be praying the rosary at the Grotto. If you would like to join, please meet at the Grotto now.”

I hang up the phone, grab my rosary, and walk with purpose toward the heart of campus, where the Grotto stands, shining in the fading light of the afternoon sun. As I approach, I see that the space around the Grotto is unoccupied. I wait several minutes, and when nobody comes along, I begin in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

My demeanor is a far cry from the first time that I prayed the rosary at Villanova Prep. In the beginning, I approached this weekly Thursday ritual with an equal mixture of hesitancy and reluctance. It bothered me, to be seen praying so publicly, right in the middle of campus. I remember the uneasy, self-conscious feeling perfectly. I felt so vulnerable, so exposed. As people walked by, both students and faculty alike, I wondered, what do they think? 

Learning to be more open and honest about my faith has been one of the most significant, yet rewarding, challenges I’ve faced in my AV year. While the importance of my faith is no secret to those who know me, my position as Campus Minister at Villanova Prep has pushed me to express, explain, and at times, defend, my faith in ways that I never have before. While I don’t want to force it on them, I also can’t shy away. Part of my job is to (gently) challenge their way of thinking, to coax them out of their comfort zones so that they can be stretched and molded.  In order to reach kids, sometimes it requires a certain amount of awkward moments and uncomfortable conversations. Sometimes they go well, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it feels like they aren’t listening or “getting it,” and that’s okay. As Mother Teresa once said, “God does not call us to be successful; he calls us to be faithful.” We are workers in the field, and we may never know the fruits of the seeds we plant, be we still must plant them. 

Sometimes I wonder, what am I doing here? Who am I to these kids? What kind of impact can I make, only being here for one school year? What reason do they have to listen to me? But I realize that I have to plant those seeds, and just trust that someone, somewhere, will cultivate them. That is part of having faith. I cannot hold back because of the fear of being judged, rejected, or dismissed. Why should I be embarrassed by my faith? It is important to me. It is real, and true, and it is who I am. I have nothing to be ashamed of, and neither do the kids that I serve. What better way to encourage them in their faith then to be confident and unabashed in practicing my own?  

As I move to the last decade of the rosary, a freshmen boy approaches me. “Miss Thompson, can I pray with you?” he asks. “Yes,” I reply, handing him a rosary.  My window of opportunity may be small, but that’s all the more reason to make the most of it. 

Emily Thompson

Ventura, CA 2013-2014


Domestics 2013-2014

The Power of Presence

by a.dimarco / 8. March 2014 11:38

On a cold snowy day in Chicago, it allows for a perfect time to relax and reflect on my service year so far.  There have been many joys to this year with my community, friends, and my service site.  Working at an all male high school in the heart of the Southside brings me back to my high school days and it has been great to interact with the students and share my volunteer year with them.  Like anything, there are many ups and downs, good times and bad times, challenges and successes with my service site.  With my job, I have a few different responsibilities ranging from Campus Ministry work to Student Activities; but I see my most important responsibility being my greatest joy and that is my ministry of presence.

There is a lot that goes on in any given school day for the faculty and staff as well as for the students.  The students are challenged daily in the classroom, school activities, and athletics; leaving them at times stressed and overwhelmed.  Many times the students just need someone to talk too, someone that will listen and if need be to give advice.  That is where I find the greatest joy in my job.  I am able to be there for the students when they need a listening ear and to talk too and it is great when the students come up to me and just asks to talk.  I spend time in every lunch period where I am able to interact with them in a different setting and create a more personal relationship with countless students.

Along with the students, I have been able to connect with many of the schools faculty and staff.  At times I have been able to be a listening ear for them and for someone just to simply talk too.  The combination of this has been a blessing for me, as I love getting to know people and talking to them about anything and everything.  I greatly enjoy getting to know the students at a deeper level and certainly look forward to the last few months of my time as an Augustinian Volunteer and my presence of ministry.

Andrew DiMarco

Chicago, IL 2013-2014


Domestics 2013-2014

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