PHILADELPHIA — The Franciscan Volunteer Ministry (FVM) wants Province members to know that they’ll be hearing a lot more about the program in the days to come.
That is, in part, because the ministry recently created the position of FVM promoter, hiring 2006-07 volunteer alumnus Michael Smith.
The Massachusetts native began on Oct. 15. Smith had been part of the FVM community in nearby Camden, N.J., according to program director Katie Sullivan. He will work from home, touching base by email and phone with Sullivan.
Smith’s objective is to make FVM as widely known as other established Catholic volunteer programs, such as the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. “My main responsibility is to reach out to prospective volunteers looking for a program that speaks to them,” he said. “My job is to be the mouthpiece for FVM that verbalizes what our program acts upon, and how it operates.”
Role of the Promoter
Smith, a 2006 graduate of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., said that one way to accomplish this is by outreach to campus ministry offices at colleges and universities.
“I am beginning to organize a packet of information for these campus ministers, detailing our program and ideas on how we can reassure the student population that volunteerism isn’t some foreign concept but one entirely possible and natural as a next step during or after college.”
Smith, shown in photo, said he feels blessed to have this opportunity, which he describes as “unquantifiably” valuable. “Additionally, I have a responsibility to educate our Franciscan universities, and other nondenominational, secular, or religiously-affiliated schools about the blessed experience that volunteerism in FVM provides.”
He said that he “is eager to help ensure the FVM’s success and continued ability to serve local communities.”
Michael Duffy, OFM, team leader of St. Francis Inn, served as chair of the search committee. He said that because “the FVM is a solid program, we need to work more on promoting the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry. This staff member will compliment the excellent work done by the FVM program director.”
In his first official on-the-job duty, Smith traveled to Portland, Ore., where he and Sullivan participated in the annual Catholic Network of Volunteer Service Conference. When they returned from Oregon, they each attended volunteer fairs.
Sullivan is working with three volunteers this year: one who is returning for another year, one who is from El Salvador, and one who is a recent graduate of St. Bonaventure University.
Volunteers this year are Katelyn Bagtaz, Noe Granados and Amanda Lengauer, who are working at the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen and St. Benedict’s Thrift Store.
This is the 20th year that St. Francis Inn has benefited from the “vital presence” of the Franciscan volunteers, according to the October 2008 issue of The Pilgrim, the newsletter of the four ministries associated with St. Francis Inn.
“The volunteers are living, serving and praying as part of the Eucharistic-based community of Franciscans at St. Francis Inn,” said Sullivan.
“Their ministries include preparing/coordinating/serving the meals at the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen,” she added, “where they feed the bodies and the spirits of guests ranging in age from newborns through their 90s. They also orient and support the day/week-long volunteers, pick up donated food, deliver food baskets, and staff the St. Benedict’s Thrift Store, where people come to shop and are able to receive free clothes and home goods.”
Sullivan said the FVMs also establish relationships with Inn guests, supporting them in making healthy decisions, and assisting those ready to connect with drug and alcohol detox/treatment programs, and similar services. They also plan and coordinate children’s events.
Welcoming the Volunteers
Katelyn Bagtaz, a St. Anselm College graduate, is back for her second year with the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry.
“My time with FVM and St. Francis Inn afforded me many life-changing experiences that I was not quite ready to let go of yet,” she said. “While my ministry is the same, my experience has already been drastically different from last year, and I am excited about all the new opportunities and growth that lie before me.”
In her second year, the New Hampshire native said she seeks more depth in her faith and relationship with God. “Last year taught me about strength, faith, perseverance, hope, and above all, love. I am eager to see how these incredible virtues manifest themselves in my life in the coming year.”
“Every day at the Inn presents new and interesting lessons and gifts. It is because of this, that I am humbled, and realize how little I know and how much more I have to learn. I do not know where this year will take me, but I am certain that through my new community and with God, I will be supported and loved along the journey.”
Noe Granados, 28, is a native of El Salvador who has lived in the United States for nine years. Granados initially planned to stay for three years to make money to support his family back home.
“For many reasons, I could not return, so I decided to stay.” He said he felt called by God to follow Jesus. So he went to Saint Camillus in Silver Spring, Md., where he worked with a young adult group for eight years. “Two years ago, my pastor told me about FVM,” he said. “I felt like God was giving me a very important opportunity to serve others.” He said she already feels closer to God. “I know he is going to help me in my personal life. I am trying to enjoy every moment here with FVM. Every day, God has something new for us.”
Amanda Lengauer, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., is a 2008 graduate of St. Bonaventure University, where she earned a degree in physical education. While at St. Bonaventure, she participated in two hurricane relief service trips to Mississippi and the Bahamas.
“These trips encouraged me to deeply consider volunteer work,” she said. “What really turned me in the direction of the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry was when one of the St. Bonaventure volunteer alumni said to me, ‘Why not give a year back to God?’ ”
Already, Lengauer said she has been moved by her work. “Praying with our amazing team and meeting guests are simple treasures I get to experience each day.”
“So when people ask me why I decided to volunteer for a year, I would respond, ‘Why not?’ and I would tell them that I hope I can bring a smile to the face of everyone I meet and to give inspiration to others.”
A Day in the Life of a Volunteer
In addition to their daily work, the volunteers attend Evening Prayer three nights a week and daily Mass, said Sullivan. Once a week, the entire Franciscan community eats dinner together.
The volunteers share a home down the block from St. Francis Inn, where they commit to praying together at least once a week, eating together at least once a week, and having a community fun night at least once a week.
Four times a year, they go on retreat to reflect on and pray about their experiences.
More information about the volunteers can be found in the October 2008 issue of The Pilgrim. Additional information about the FVM can be found in the Aug. 6 issue of HNP Today.
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today.