Marquette Wire

Volunteer work adds options for graduates

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CloserLook4Amanda Wolff is calling her entire senior year a time of discernment.

She doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do after graduation, but she knows she wants to volunteer.

Wolff, a student in the College of Arts & Sciences, will be going to the Post Graduate Volunteer Fair Sept. 22 and is prepared to talk to representatives from all 20 organizations expected to come.

Talking to everyone, she said, will help the process of discernment.

“You don’t have anything to lose by talking to everybody,” Wolff said. “Who knows? There could be this small organization that’s just perfect.”

Although Wolff and other Marquette seniors might find a “perfect fit” at the Post Graduate Volunteer Fair, the discernment process continues into their time as volunteers.

A renewed interest

Despite concerns surrounding the economy, at least 441,000 more young adults (ages 16-24) volunteered from 2007 to 2008, according to a July 2009 study by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The number of national volunteers increased by 1 million to 61.8 million from 2007 to 2008, according to CNCS.

Maggie Conley, the senior director of outreach and communication for Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a national and international volunteer organization, said the organization saw close to 60 percent more applicants for the 2009 year than the year before.

Conley said this might have to do with the struggling economy and the political climate that brought service to the national conversation.

“Folks are nervous they will not have a paying job after school,” Conley said. “And the language and enthusiasm around service after the Obama campaign heightened the idea of postgraduate service.”

Last summer, the Obama administration established the “United We Serve” initiative. The Web site Serve.gov functioned as a resource to find and create volunteer projects, promoting volunteerism and community service in the daily lives of Americans.

The Alliance for Catholic Education saw its most competitive year to date last year, said Sarah Greene, assistant director for the Service Through Teaching Program.

Through ACE, college graduates have the opportunity to work toward a Masters of Education from the University of Notre Dame while simultaneously volunteering at 31 schools across the southern United States.

“It seems to me that word is spreading through campuses,” Greene said. “I think there is a renewed interest in taking the time to give back to one’s community and to contribute to the common good in a very real and profound way.”

For three Marquette graduates at different stages of their volunteer experience, their lives and vocations have forever been changed.

Gretchen: Setting off

The nervousness and the excitement are settling in, but Gretchen Geerts is no stranger to life-changing experiences.

Two years ago, Geerts lived and worked for a semester in Cape Town through Marquette’s South Africa Service Learning Program. It was there, living in community and working with children, that her passion for teaching came alive.

In early December, the 2009 graduate will return to the African continent for the next two years as an elementary school teacher with Jesuit Volunteers International in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Through studying sociology and theology at Marquette and her time in South Africa, Geerts learned how education allows people to take agency and work for change in their lives and communities.

“I wholeheartedly believe that there is no better way to fight for justice than through education,” she said.

Geerts hopes she will return to the United States with a greater understanding of the Christian faith’s relationship with social justice. After Geerts returns, she said she wants to attend graduate school to study moral theology.

“My ultimate goal in life is to bring justice to the church,” Geerts said. “For the church to recognize it has a huge role in creating justice.”

Garrett: Fitting in

In the heart of the Rose City, Portland, Ore., 2009 Marquette graduate Garrett Gundlach works alongside members of Downtown Chapel Roman Catholic Parish to serve the needs of the poor and marginalized.

After graduation last May, Gundlach did not pursue postgraduate studies nor enter the work force. Instead, he chose to spend a year as a Jesuit volunteer.

Living in a close-knit, faith-based community, Gundlach said he calls the six women and two men of the Portland community “irreplaceable companions.”

During his first months of service, Gundlach said the Downtown Chapel’s ministry to the neighborhood’s poor and marginalized has shown him how hospitality engenders healing.

Gundlach said he is challenged to live more authentically by the chapel’s continual devotion of time and resources to people typically isolated and shunned on the streets.

“To have continued interaction and to realize on a deep level that we’re all on this human journey striving for wholeness — to have that manifested and validated every day in conversation is a very powerful thing,” Gundlach said.

For Gundlach, this year is far from just “time off” between graduation and the next step of his life.

It is here, in one of the poorest areas of the Rose City, Gundlach found his vocation beginning to unfold like petals of a blossom.

Cassie: Moving on

Until the school year ends next May, Cassie Brownell will wait, patiently trusting in God for her future to unfold.

The 2008 Marquette graduate said her experience teaching second grade in New Orleans through the ACE Service Through Teaching Program has been one of the most challenging but rewarding experiences of her life.

“Every day you walk into the classroom and you have to be ready, because you don’t know where the kids are coming from,” Brownell said. “At the end of the day, you just pray and give them love all the time.”

Brownell said she has witnessed the growing power of faith in her students and is encouraged by the resiliency and spirit of the children and their parents in the lingering aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“You grow in your faith because they have this energy and excitement for it,” Brownell said of the children, adding that she sometimes forgets they are still just 7 years old.

Although she once said she would never teach, Brownell said she will stay in education, whether as a teacher or policymaker.

Coming from a family of at least 20 teachers, Brownell has followed a path of her own through her volunteering experience.

Following her own path, students like Amanda Wolff might even begin to see the opportunities unfold before them. She said volunteering is a good way for graduates to put their gifts and experiences into action, all while discerning the next steps toward their vocations.

“You don’t have many opportunities in life to do something like this,” Wolff said. “You can work for the rest of your life, but you can’t always come back and say, ‘I’ll do JVC another time.’ ”

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