A brief guide to volunteer service programs for Catholics
Faith-based volunteer programs are a unique way to live out the Gospel call to service leadership. Whether you want to serve for a week, a month or a year, there is a variety of options in different programs.
Many place individuals in small communities with other volunteers. Typically, each volunteer works full time at a different site, but they all share responsibilities at their community.
If you are interested in volunteering for a faith-based organization, a good resource is the Catholic Volunteer Network. Its online database at catholicvolunteernetwork.org lists more than 150 faith-based affiliate programs.
Most programs start accepting applications around this time of year and into the spring. Some have a rolling application process until positions are filled. Many programs provide room and board as well as monthly stipends that cover daily necessities, and they can help volunteers arrange student loan deferments for the length of their service. Some incentivize spending a year in full-time volunteer work by offering education grants to help pay for loans or future schooling.
I decided to volunteer full time for a year in 2013. The Catholic Volunteer Network was instrumental in helping me discover one of its member programs, the Franciscan Community Volunteers in St. Cloud, Minn. And that year changed my life.
I received an education award of over $5,000 at the end of my volunteer year, along with some tax breaks for loan deferment during that year. The bigger payoff, however, was the discernment for which this sort of intentional faith community provided space. That year opened my eyes to the possibility of entering religious life; I entered the Jesuits a year later.
Catholic Volunteer Network Programs by the Numbers
Of 157 faith-based volunteer programs, 63 are sponsored by religious communities: 38 women’s and 25 men’s.
- Programs are as small as 2 to 3 volunteers; others have multiple sites with 5 to 10 volunteers in each. J.V.C. is one of the largest programs, with around 200 to 250 volunteers per year. The average for any given service site is 5 to 7 volunteers.
- In 2018, C.V.N. tracked 18,000 volunteers serving through its member programs.
Where can you go?
- C.V.N. programs and/or service sites can be found in 45 states and 100 countries. There are 62 placement sites in Africa,14 in Asia, 7 in Central America, 25 in Europe, 4 in the Middle East and 11 in South America.
How can you serve?
- 26 member programs work in ministry to people with AIDS.
- 9 programs serve Asian-Americans; 36 serve African-American populations; 69 programs work in Hispanic ministries; 15 programs serve Native Americans.
- 35 programs place volunteers in domestic violence ministries; 99 programs are in education; 85 programs seek environmental justice; 66 programs are in general health care; 54 programs place volunteers in mental health ministries; 59 programs work in immigration and refugee services; 27 programs serve migrant workers; 35 programs place volunteers in racial justice work.
- 24 programs place volunteers in L.G.B.T. ministries.
How long can you serve?
- Program lengths range from “spring break” opportunities to more than two years.
Who can volunteer?
- 58 programs accept people between 18 and 20; 151 programs accept applicants 21 to 30; 81 programs accept people 31 to 54; 69 programs accept people 55 and over. Another program, which is not in the CVN, that allows people 50 and over to volunteer full time is the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. That program is preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2020.
How much does it pay (or cost) to volunteer?
- The current maximum education award amount is $5,920.
- Monthly stipends range between $100 and $200.
- Most programs do not require volunteers to pay their own way.
Source: This information is from the most current Catholic Volunteer Network directory, Response 2020. Information was also provided by Yonce Shelton, executive director of C.V.N.
This story was updated on 11/20/19 at 5:00 p.m. to include information on the Ignatian Volunteer Corps program.