Friday, January 22, 2016

Why Volunteer Anyway?

Hello everyone!

The volunteers had a photoshoot... we think we're soooo cool!
January is bringing some of our coldest weather this season, even though it has not been a typical winter. As I consider how wacky the weather patterns have been, I find myself feeling extremely grateful for safety and warmth. Just because it is not the typical winter weather doesn't mean its not cold!

Speaking of typical, I also find myself wondering about what a "typical" year for me would have looked like. Late 2015-2016 could have very well been the beginning of graduate school or a job. This year I find myself as a volunteer at the MBCE. Not "typical" to most folks, but something I feel is important.

Often enough, I answer questions from friends or family who ask me why I have decided to volunteer at the MBCE for a period of 1 year. A pet peeve of mine is when someone calls it "a year off"! I must pause, however, and answer graciously. "Why volunteer anyway?"

My first experience with the Center was in 2008 on a sophomore retreat. I was a student at Mount Saint Michael Academy in the Bronx. One of my first impressions was that this location was HUGE! A path to the river, outdoor elements, a big main retreat house (with a gym, rec hall, and chapel), and a whole lot more. Suffice it to say, I was stunned. The change of pace from city life, and the content of the retreat programs kept me coming back.

As I went off to college, I maintained a connection to the Marist world and the Center through the Marist Young Adult Program. Service days, gatherings, retreats and other programs that happened here allowed me to connect with the Center in a different way: as a leader. Throughout my junior and senior years of college, I started to think seriously about what the future might hold for me. Did I want to possibly continue studies and become a teacher? Maybe I could study something completely different after undergrad. What about volunteering?

As time went on, I continued to pray and research. By the beginning of senior year, I felt a strong call to become a volunteer at the MBCE. The idea of giving time, energy, and sharing of what God has given me excited me! It also presented a few challenges. Living in community for the first time, cooking in the house, and learning about the property in ways I had never known before. There was a lot to learn and get used to.

Being a part of the mission of the MBCE allows me to be in contact with a diverse group of people. You would be amazed who you meet here, and at the variety of programs that come to the Center. It is an experience of learning, and an experience of growth. As many volunteer experiences do, it will stretch you! Everything is not easy, but things do get easier. I still have a lot to learn! For example, I have never experienced a summer camp program. That is something that I am very much looking forward to. Another example would be learning to start a leaf blower or  an engine on a power tool. Our facilities director Michael Trainor taught me by telling me how engines work, then demonstrating with a leaf blower. Did I think I'd learn about engines when I signed up? No. Did I? YES! And it was awesome.

With all the responsibility and work that comes with being a resident volunteer (for any amount of time), you might also be surprised at how much time there is for you to learn about yourself as an individual and in relation to others. I still get to visit friends and family, enjoy events,go explore the Hudson Valley, and spend time with the people who live here on property.

Meeting people is a huge part of my life as a volunteer. On a weekly basis I could potentially meet 50-100 new people depending on what groups pass through the Center. Not only does this help me build relationships and learn from others, but it can be really good networking! I get to ask people about their careers, education, and how they have navigated life after college.

On the spiritual level, the program I am in is very beneficial. We are offered the opportunity to meet with a spiritual director, someone who accompanies you on your journey of faith and facilitates a session of sharing and examination what is going on in your life with God. Youth ministry is also part of our work here, as we lead and support different retreat programs geared towards high school and sometimes college aged students. The opportunities to grow in community (prayer, worship, shared work) and as an individual (prayer, meditation, journaling, spiritual direction) are abundant.

So why volunteer? Because it gives me life! This is just one step on the journey of my own life. Coming to the MBCE means contributing to and living out the mission of the Center. It is not a job, it is not a career, it is not a year off. It is a call, a joy, and exactly where I need to be this year.

What people asked me during my later years of college is exactly what I would pose to anyone wondering what comes next in their life: What do you feel called to? Where should your energy and talent go? What does God say? If volunteering is possibly a part of that, look into it! See what is out there.

I will say, I highly recommend the Marist Volunteer Community! Not exactly an impartial opinion, but an informed one! Could this maybe be you soon? Peace.