“Much has been given, much needs to be returned,” Mike Buckley explained when asked why he and his wife Jeannette Suflita spend every Wednesday doing volunteer work at Our Daily Bread Employment Center. “Service is enriching. We’re enriched too.”
Mike and Jeannette began volunteering with Catholic Charities more than six years ago, in March of 2009. Jeannette had recently retired from Johns Hopkins Hospital when she read an article in The Catholic Review about the then recently-opened ODBEC building on Fallsway. The article also mentioned that Our Daily Bread was looking for volunteers to help people prepare to enter the work force. She told her husband Mike that she was interested, and to her surprise, he told her that he’d like to do the same.
“I wanted to explore it and see if this was something I could do,” she said. “Six years later, we’re still here.”
Jeannette and Mike spend each Wednesday volunteering in the Work 4 Success program, helping people write cover letters, develop their resumes, search for jobs and submit online applications. “For many of the clients, the computer is daunting; many don’t use email. Some don’t even have an email account,” said Jeannette.
Although their volunteer work is largely focused on helping people develop skills, it’s the personal interaction with the clients at ODBEC that is especially meaningful for both of them.
“When people first come here, they seem hopeless – they just want a job,” said Mike. “Some people have a very negative sense about themselves.” Added Jeannette: “The most gratifying part for me is when someone sees himself in a new light. So often they underrate themselves.”
Jeannette choked up momentarily as she related a particularly powerful story about a gentleman she encountered several years ago. “I was working with a man; I was helping him shape up his resume. We were talking, and he told me he fell into incarceration and homelessness and drug addiction after he saw his son shot and murdered. I was blown away, and I told him “I can only pray for you.” I realized in that moment how precious his life was, how precious his son’s life had been.”
“What a gift people give you when they share their lives with you,” she added. “We are privileged to hear their stories.”
After more than six years volunteering at Our Daily Bread, Mike and Jeannette still consider themselves “newcomers,” comparing themselves to some of the people who have been volunteering there for ten or 20 years or more.
They are also very active in their parish, St. John the Evangelist in Columbia. Mike chairs the Liturgy committee, and Jeannette is a lector at Mass. Their faith is an extremely important part of their lives and informs their desire to give back. Mike cited the parable of the Good Samaritan several times during the discussion, focusing on the question in the parable that inspires his desire to serve: “And who is my neighbor?”
They also continue to be inspired in their service by Pope Francis and his example of reaching out to people on the peripheries of society. Jeannette recalled especially his exhortation to the crowd gathered for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013: “Go make a difference!”