When I started looking into a post-graduation year of service, I never would have thought that I would have to make sure that I would be able to afford to do it. This time a year ago, I was browsing through the pages of the huge Catholic Volunteer Network program guide. I read about programs that seemed very interesting to me, but then had to immediately cross them out because they didn’t offer health insurance or a monthly stipend – things that I knew I needed.
It ended up being a frustrating process, because I realized that there wouldn’t be many programs that I would be able to participate in. I have been pretty independent; I relied on myself to pay for my college tuition, and I wasn’t able to turn to my family for financial help while doing a year of service. Because of this, I knew I needed to be part of a program that didn’t depend on me being able to fund my time doing it. I don’t think a lot of people think about the privilege associated with being able to do a year of service. For many, it’s not about taking a year off and figuring out what you want to do with your life, but a time to really offer up your service in whatever way it is needed. This is something that I knew I wanted to do once I graduated from college, but I hadn’t considered it would be so hard to decide to say yes to it.
I have many friends that have similarly struggled with these questions and thoughts of whether they would be able to do a year of service, even if it’s something they felt strongly about. There are a bunch of obstacles to doing a year of service: sometimes people aren’t able to afford it, sometimes it not something that their families approve of, and sometimes it’s not being able to take the time out from making loan payments or whatever else.
When I found out that the Catholic Volunteer Network didn’t get accepted for the AmeriCorps Education Award program this past year I was truly devastated because it meant Project SERVE couldn’t offer its members this amazing benefit. It was the one thing that was keeping me from feeling guilty about not going straight into a full-time career so that I could pay my loans and help my family. I went through a long period of discernment, however, and I knew that ultimately I had to work for Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities in Chicago helped my family with rent, utilities, food, and even furniture at different times when we weren’t in a good place. They never made us feel ashamed about our situation and truly kept us from becoming homeless. This was almost thirteen years ago and I never forgot it; I knew that if I was going to do a year of service it would have to be with Catholic Charities. Project SERVE is one of only two Catholic Charities year of service programs (the other is Catholic Charities of Buffalo). Currently being over halfway through my service year I couldn’t be more grateful that I was able to be part of the Project SERVE community and get the opportunity to work at the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center. There are many people that are still on the fence about whether this is something they want or can do, but I say, just do it! In the end it’s just a year of your time that you’re dedicating to service and there’s really no better organization to do it with than Catholic Charities of Baltimore. I have experienced a lot in my life and there may be things that none of my six housemates have had to work through, in the same way that they’ve had experiences that I have not. It is because of this that choosing to live in an intentional community allows you a way to grow personally while the service helps you grow professionally. I am a huge advocate for service and doing an intentional year of service, so if there are people thinking about doing it, please consider Project SERVE with Catholic Charities. I’m aware that it can be a difficult decision to make but I can guarantee it will be worth it!