A Day in the Life of a Cap Corps Volunteer

Walking to School5:45am – An early start to the day! I mozy my way out of bed to shower, get dressed, and eat the most important rushed meal of the day. Then I catch my bus to my placement at Sacred Heart School.

7:30am – Here they come! With coffee in hand, my daily commitment of greeting our (sometimes drowsy) students and their parents at the door begins.  With a warm smile and a “Buenos Dias”, this everyday moment, has become a great joy for me.

8:00am – Time to transition to morning prayer in the theater and homeroom. Although, classes are in session, I am still greeting our late comers by name and answer any parent questions.

11:30am – After a few quiet moments in the office and preparing for enrollment events, lunch and recess begin. It is time for the to kids let go of their stored up energy. Thursdays are my days to cover lunch with the spontaneous, fun loving 1st and 2nd graders, which I very much look forward to!

1:15pm – Time to take a breather outside to spend time with our 7th and 8th graders SHGardenduring their recess time. Ms. Heil, our principal, takes a moment to water our community garden during this time.The Sacred Heart community takes pride in taking time to stop and enjoy the beauty of what has been given to them, and what they have received.

3:15pm- Greet Sacred Heart’s parents in the car pick up line to send off our kids home. Then I rush off to go finish up any last minute work and respond to emails.

4:07pm –  My afternoon commute begins. Depending on the crowded bus in rush hour wasn’t always pleasant but this is an experience that I will never forget. It really put into perspective the life of those that Cap Corps serves. Seeing mothers, fathers, children, and the frail elderly all depend on the bus because it was their only option, was a life changing experience. If it was hot, cold, raining, or snowing, they had to be on that bus to provide for themselves and family. Ministry of presence happens as I take all the different walks of like all on one bus.  

6:30pm – Our house friar, Br. Phil arrives for community night. All the volunteers gather around our round table to share about their days whether there were highs or lows. This moment is Cap Corps.  Having a simple meal, enjoying time with community with the support of our house friar, talking about our volunteer experience.

Praying with Paint8:00pm- Community prayer and our community activity tonight is praying with paint!  I will always treasure these nights because every conversation helped me reflect on my year and formed connections between those that I was serving with.

10:00pm – Packing lunch session in the kitchen with other volunteers to recap the night,  and share our hopes for tomorrow.

10:20pm- Finally off to bed, to do it all again. Doing this year of service may be tedious at times, but my days were always filled with honest joy and self-giving love.

Cap Corps isn’t just a year of service. It is a program that is filled with limitless possibilities, concrete friendships and community, and meaningful challenges that help you grow into a self aware and faithfully sustaining individual.

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Shenelle Sanoir graduated from Marymount University and worked at Sacred Heart School as a Cap Corps Volunteer for the 2015-2016 Volunteer Year. She continues to work at the school as a teacher and project manager.

For one year, Cap Corps Volunteers work full time in education, healthcare, and social service placements while living simply in community with other volunteers. Our education placement at Sacred Heart School includes a balanced opportunity of teaching and support services. www.capcorpseast.com

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A Different Kind of Service Year

Serving at Don Bosco Cristo Rey has been a unique year of service opportunity. Typically, when one thinks of a year of service, they envision direct contact with the poor and the homeless; working at a soup kitchen, working in a donations center, or another ministry akin to those. However, at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School and Corporate Work Study Program, there is not that same feel. I am working in an office setting, wearing a shirt and tie every day. One must look deeper than the surface to see the service being done here. The students with whom I have had the pleasure of working with this year are extraordinary. Don Bosco is a low income high school, but our students do not let financial setbacks define who they are, but instead use it as a catalyst to take advantage of the college preparatory education presented to them at Don Bosco.

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Cap Corps Volunteer, John Sorice, and Ana Chapa, Director of the Corporate Work Study Program, with the statue of school patron, St. John Bosco.

Don Bosco is a part of a 30 school nationwide Cristo Rey network. Being a low income high school, students must demonstrate a financial need to attend. To offset the cost of tuition, students participate in the work study program, through which they work a corporate job 5 days a month. After first learning about the mission of Don Bosco, I did not really understand how high school students could work in the corporate world, or at what types of companies they would be working. However, not long after being here, I quickly realized that our students contribute real work to real law firms, government agencies, accounting firms, and many other businesses across the Washington D.C. metro area. In my position as a Program Assistant in the Corporate Work Study Office, I am constantly able to engage with the students. Seeing them in school, at work, and during their afterschool activities has given me a deep appreciation for what it means to be a member of the Don Bosco family. At a placement like Don Bosco, it is easy to be content with the plethora of paperwork and excel spreadsheets that need to be completed. At times, it can be difficult to see the service. However, there are so many opportunities to engage in the service at Don Bosco if you are open to taking advantages of the opportunities presented. Throughout the course of the year, I volunteered to chaperone the homecoming dance and prom. I volunteered as a baseball coach, and played in the school futbal league. These opportunities to engage with the students outside of the classroom and work environment helped me to develop a relationship with the students built on trust and mutual respect, which truly reflect the Salesian approach to education.

When making the decision to participate in a service program, you expect to make a difference in the lives of those you serve. However, my experience here at Don Bosco has felt a bit backwards. It is difficult to appreciate the impact you are having on young lives while volunteering, I am confident this is something I will be able to reflect upon once my service year is complete. However, what I feel on a daily basis is the positive impact that each one of my students is having on me. Despite their financial circumstances, their home lives, or the obstacles they face each day to succeed, the students of Don Bosco Cristo Rey come to school and work with an incredibly positive outlook on life. Their ability to thrive when people have told them they cannot has pushed me to be a better person, and to appreciate the gifts and talents I have been blessed with. I cannot imagine my year of service anywhere other than Don Bosco, and am thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of a school tasked with a mission to change lives.

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John Sorice graduated from Villanova University and worked at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School as a Cap Corps Volunteer for the 2015-2016 Volunteer Year. He supported students directly in their roles at work, providing mentoring and guidance, as well as communication with supervisors. He was offered a position at the end of his service year and is currently on staff at the high school.

Moments of Epiphany

I love helping students understand things. That’s something I only discovered this fall, during my tenure volunteering at St Francis International School.

Elementary school kids aren’t too thrilled when you drill them on grammar. Nor arithmetic, multiplication tables, or spelling. Trust me, I know. I’ve been drilling these subjects into the kids at St Francis International School since August. They squirm uncomfortably in their chairs, stubbornly insisting that they get it, that no, they really don’t need my help, that wrong answer they just wrote down was a fluke. A former chair-squirmer myself, I override each student’s objections, plop myself down stubbornly in the nearest teeny-tiny chair, and drill grammar and multiplication until, seemingly magically, my students get it.

That’s the moment I live for- the one when something clunks into place, and suddenly my student understands something he or she didn’t two seconds earlier. It’s wonderfully clear when that epiphany moment happens. There’s this shy smile that overtakes the student’s formerly haughty expression.

I saw it when cool eighth grader Brian, already grumpy at being forced to spend his precious recess practicing for the Catholic high school admissions test, suddenly understood the mysterious pattern behind using commas to connect clauses. For a moment, the haughty expression masking his day dreams of throwing a football were replaced by a shy smile towards his desk.

I saw it when Veronica, a mathematically struggling fifth grader, suddenly understood subtracting mixed numbers. Ignoring her fluttery insistence that she needed no help, I sat beside her until she too wore a shy smile, emboldened by five correct answers in a row.

On days when I have those encounters, I leave St Francis School feeling no less exhilarated than my students. I helped someone understand something! I taught a child something that I myself didn’t understand when I was his or her age! That day, a child wouldn’t have to suffer a pain I’m still familiar with: the embarrassment and frustration of not understanding something that seemingly everybody else got easily.

Volunteering at St Francis reminds me of perhaps the most basic principal of ministry: Ministry begins in using your own experiences to make someone else’s life a bit better, even if your own experience was nothing more than confusion and self-doubt.

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Christiana Gellert is a graduate of Catholic University. Her placement is at St. Francis International School in Washington, DC.