WASHINGTON (CNS) — While on a spring semester trip in southern Chile, Shantha Ready found her life’s work — social work.
While a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, she participated in the Maryknoll Rural Life Seminar for three weeks. It was offered by Maryknoll Lay Missioners, made up of single men and women, couples and families working in 17 countries.
She spent a week learning intensive language skills. During the afternoons and evenings, she learned about the history of the church in Chile and shared her culture with her host family.
“I was interested in rural life in Chile,” said Ready, 22.
In a telephone interview with Catholic News Service, the South Bend, Ind., resident said she enjoyed spending time with her host family and discussing the differences between American and Chilean culture.
She became interested in mental health issues while working with a nonprofit organization and the Santiago Catholic Church.
After graduation, she went to Coachella Valley, Calif., as a Holy Cross associate with the Holy Cross Fathers. She and three other associates did community organizing and pastoral and social work. Ready plans on studying social work at Washington University in St. Louis.
Ready recommended all students do mission work, adding that the goal is to learn, not convert.
She advised mission trip prospects to “go into it with an open mind and begin to learn.”
One resource for finding volunteer opportunities at home and abroad is the Washington-based Catholic Network of Volunteer Service; its online address is http://www.cnvs.org/ . It is a nonprofit membership organization of 200 domestic and international volunteer and lay mission programs.
Currently, more than 10,000 volunteers and lay missioners serve in these programs throughout the U.S. and in 108 other countries, according to the site.
At Notre Dame, 10 percent of students do full-time volunteer service, said Andrew Thompson, national director of the St. Vincent Pallotti Center in Washington.
For college graduates, the university offers ACE — Alliance for Catholic Education. Participants spend two years as full-time teachers at under-resourced U.S. Catholic schools. The earn a cost-free master of education degree from Notre Dame.
This year, around 180 people served in the program. Volunteers receive a stipend, health insurance and eligibility for the deferment of undergraduate student loans.
Karen Kosinski is associate director of Passionist Volunteers International, a program that sends volunteers to Honduras and Jamaica. She said most volunteers earning less than minimum wage can obtain an economic hardship deferment to postpone payment of student loans, which can be an obstacle to new graduates who want to volunteer.
The Kentucky-based Christian Appalachian Project offers volunteer opportunities for college groups, which are usually organized through campus ministry, said Kim Otto, manager of the Christian Appalachian Project.
Students usually work on a home-repair project or with the elderly. Students have to pay their own expenses to participate, so schools do fundraisers for the trips, Otto said.
Often referred to as “hope repair,” repairing a house for a family allows volunteers to get to know them, she said, and the interaction with families is what makes the program so great.
Although it’s a short-term experience, volunteers get long-term results.
“You can make a difference in a short amount of time,” Otto said.