Their diplomas may be in hand, but not all graduates go straight to work or graduate school. For many Catholic college graduates, life after graduation includes time for volunteering — and they have found what Pope Benedict XVI commented on in his latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). “Openness to God makes us open towards our brothers and sisters and towards an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity,” he wrote.
The spirit of service was shared by Jenny Meyer, who spent this past summer volunteering with Students for Life of Illinois, a nonprofit organization committed to bringing about a culture of life on college and university campuses in the Midwest. “I decided to volunteer because I saw a great need for the work SFLI was doing, and I wanted to be a part of it,” said Meyer, who graduated in May from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I had spent previous summers earning modest pay in the typical summer jobs, and although those experiences were valuable, I wanted to devote my energies to this particular cause.”
Meyer’s college experience also influenced her decision. “The U of I had a great impact on my decision. I was involved at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center on campus, and I found myself surrounded by students and staff committed to living out the message of the Gospel. The witness of faithful priests, religious and friends made the decision to serve with SFLI rather easy.”
Her time with Students for Life allowed her to gain in her spiritual life. “Spiritually, I’ve learned to pray consistently for our nation and for the pro-life cause,” she said.
Meyer, an economics major (with a business minor), is now pursuing a Master of Science in agricultural economics. She will remember her time volunteering because of the witness of the other volunteers. “I have learned the most from the people I met. I have had the opportunity to work with so many whom I am confident will join the ranks of the saints, having devoted their entire lives to serving others.”
Merrimack College in Massachusetts has had many students volunteer with the Augustinian Volunteers, which send young adults 21-29 to San Diego, Chicago, the Bronx, and Lawrence, Mass. (for a 10-month commitment) and internationally to Peru and South Africa (11-month commitment). The volunteers work in schools, youth ministry, soup kitchens and other social-service ministries.
One such volunteer is Kaitlyn Kupski, who graduated this past May with a degree in business administration and a concentration in management. She is in San Diego, working as a physical education and computer teacher at a Catholic elementary school.
Volunteering after college wasn’t a difficult decision for Kupski. “I really loved all of the service trips and retreats I had participated in (during college) and couldn’t imagine a better way to spend the year following graduation,” she said. “I think my time at Merrimack really made the decision for me.”
Her college community instilled a sense of service in her. “It’s a small Augustinian college that really focuses on community, and that is exactly what the AV program is all about,” Kupski said. “Everything I did at Merrimack, especially within campus ministry, really made volunteering once college was over feel like the right choice.”
Kupski hopes the months she spends in California will be fruitful for personal and spiritual growth: “Throughout the year I really hope to learn a lot about myself and those who will surround me, both the community I will be living with and the Augustinian community in San Diego. I hope that throughout the year I can really grow within my faith and see what has brought me to this point.”
As for the future, Kupski’s not making any definite plans. “I know that I want to work in the management field, either nonprofit or retail, and eventually get my MBA,” she said. “But who knows — another year of volunteering is even possible in my mind.”
Thankful for the Opportunity
Gretchen Sneegas is currently serving with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, a 10-month community service commitment for 18- to 24-year-olds. Members complete a series of six to eight weeklong projects in their region, from disaster relief, public safety and unmet needs, to environmental and educational projects.
“In today’s economic recession, the need for community service is greater than ever,” said Sneegas, a graduate of Indiana University with majors in Germanic studies, theater and drama.
“Being a good Catholic means more than just going to Mass once a week. My parents made sure I learned this lesson — and learned it well,” she said. She did a variety of volunteer work growing up, and she felt that should continue: “Shortly after graduating college in May 2008, I made the decision to postpone applying for grad school. Instead, I decided that I wanted to devote at least two years of my life doing community service.”
“I have done things I will never have the chance to do again,” she reflected. “I have rebuilt homes damaged in Hurricane Katrina, salvaged flooded houses, demolished vacant buildings and played with dozens of children. My work has taken me from urban Baltimore to laid-back Georgia, from the mountains of West Virginia to the beaches of Mississippi.”
As for the future, Sneegas hopes to serve as a team leader for next year, and then attend graduate school to study writing. But for now, she’s thankful for this opportunity — and the change of perspective it has given her. “The past few months have really opened up my communication with God through prayer,” she noted. “This kind of work makes me incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have, for my talents and my ability to help others. Working for those less fortunate, who are unemployed or disabled or simply unable to do this kind of work, has thrown my entire life into sharp relief. My happiness no longer hinges upon whether I can afford to buy new clothes or get drinks at Starbucks. I appreciate small things so much more — nice weather, the chance to relax and read for an hour. And I make sure to take time to thank God for these things.”
Amy Smith is the
Register’s copy editor.
On the Web