FVMs Have Low Numbers, High Spirits

HNP Communications Features

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — While volunteer ministries are experiencing a drop in participation all over the country, Katie Sullivan, program director for the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry (FVM) here, isn’t daunted by that fact. 

With only six volunteers this year, the FVM was forced to eliminate one site this year and only run ministries in Camden, N.J., and Philadelphia. It closed the Wilmington, Del., ministry after the friars there graciously volunteered to close down — but only temporarily. 

Sullivan hopes to have strength in numbers again next year, and is recruiting heavily. Meantime, she said, she is concentrating on the six volunteers who are teaching and ministering to children at St. Anthony’s School and adults in the parish in Camden, and serving at the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen in Philadelphia. 

“You can’t guarantee the number of people you’ll have,” Sullivan smiled. “Last year, we had 13 volunteers, and this year, six. There is constant ebb and flow.”

National Trend Shows Volunteerism Declining
She said that the FVM is experiencing the same trend as national volunteer ministries, which statistics show are down about 3,000 people over the last three years..

One of the nice features about having only two sites in close proximity this year, she said, is the extended camaraderie that the volunteers share. “They get together once a month for prayer.” 

Volunteers serving Camden this year are St. Bonaventure University graduates Kelly Zientek and Ivelisse Taveras, and Joanne Lannan, from the University of Georgia. The supervising friar at their Camden site is John Coughlin, OFM, shown in photo. The young women are working with St. Anthony’s ministries, which include HIV/AIDS ministry at Francis House,  ESL, religious education and in the teacher aide and after-school programs at St. Anthony School. 

When HNP Today caught up with Sullivan by phone, she was preparing to attend the St. Anthony School Christmas play that evening, in which the volunteers coached the students in writing the script and directing the performance. 

Six Volunteers Serving in Philadelphia and Camden
Volunteers serving in Philadelphia are Katelyn Bagtaz, Maureen Herlihy and Emily Michaelson, from St. Anselm College, Gannon University and Siena College, respectively. The site supervisor is Michael Duffy, OFM, overseeing the women’s ministry at the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen and Women’s Center.

This is the first time in the program’s 18-year history that all volunteers are women, according to Sullivan, who has been at her job for 10 years and still loves it. “When I first began, lay people in this type of position stayed one to two years,” said the Holy Cross graduate and FVM alumnae. “I love my job; it’s true.”

Sullivan said that she grew up in a household that lived the volunteer spirit, where her mother was an active volunteer. Parents today, she said, have a harder time encouraging their college graduate children to do volunteer work, making $75 a month, and living in the inner city. They want their kids to graduate from college and get well-paying jobs. This, she believes, is  one of the reasons why volunteerism is down, especially in full-time ministries like the FVM.

“I’m disappointed that we’re not larger this year, and that we had to close a site, but I’m trying to look at the broader picture,” Sullivan said.  “Across the board,  volunteer programs are smaller than last year.” 

But while enrollment in the program is down this year, Sullivan still proudly boasts of FVM’s 160 alums in the past 18 years. Over the years, FVM participation has ranged from five to 16 volunteers. Alumni of the program are today serving in vocations all over the country, mostly in social services, social work, medical and education fields.

FVM Alumni in Jobs that Make a Difference 

Six people have taken vows, including two in the Province, Kevin Kriso, OFM, and Steve Patti, OFM.

Alums Jamie Ryder and Renee Willey recently joined the team at St. Francis Inn, and Melissa Weise is in her second year teaching fourth grade at St. Paul’s School, Wilmington. 

In addition, Karen Pushaw and Barb Salapek are also team members at St. Francis Inn.  Diana McHugh is in admissions at Siena College, Debbie Holihan works with an ESL program in Wilmington, Miguel Gutierrez is a pastoral associate at St. Paul’s Parish in Wilmington, Leo Fitzsimmons teaches at Immaculate Conception in Durham, N.C.,  Danny Bourdua continues to volunteer at St. Anthony’s while working in Camden and Katie Anderson is working with friars at St. Anthony Shrine while in graduate school at Boston College. Other alumni, said Sullivan, are working with the Catholic Church, but not in Holy Name Province. 

Sullivan’s goal next year is to have 12-16 volunteers and to run the three sites once again. 

“This was an incredible experience that I loved and that changed me,” said Sullivan, and she intends to keep it that way for others for a long time to come.

“It’s eye-opening and heart-opening. People can be channels for God’s spirit.”

 Wendy Healy, a freelance writer based in Danbury, Conn., is an occasional contributor to HNP Today.