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SCHOOLS-VOLUNTEER Aug-11-2009 (930 words) With photo. xxxn

Agencies say number of college graduates volunteering is on the rise

By Ed Langlois
Catholic News Service

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Across the country, hundreds of college graduates are opting to spend their first year out of school doing community service either in response to the tight job market or simply from a desire to do some good.

The Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, which places volunteers in rural and urban areas in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, accepted 101 volunteers at the start of the 2009-10 service term, a 40 percent increase from the previous year.

Teach for America and the Peace Corps also have tracked big surges in volunteer numbers since the nation's economic downturn began in the fall of 2008 -- about 40 percent for Teach for America and 16 percent for the Peace Corps.

Smaller programs such as the Downtown Chapel in Portland, which sponsors a summer internship among the neighborhood's poor and homeless, also are attracting more helpers.

Jeanne Haster, director of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, said the job market has prompted some young people to follow a path of service. But she also credited the generosity of this generation, which has grown up doing service work.

President Barack Obama's call for people to get involved in community service also has resonated deeply, she said. In April he signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which will increase the number of positions in the national AmeriCorps service program from 75,000 to 250,000 by 2017.

"This bill will dramatically increase the amount of support for service opportunities throughout the United States, enabling more Americans to volunteer during a time when so many in our country are in need," said Jim Lindsay, executive director of the Maryland-based Catholic Network of Volunteer Service.

The network, with more than 200 member-programs, hosts an online directory of full-time service opportunities. Those logging on to search the opportunities have increased by 32 percent from a year ago. In a recent poll of network members, two thirds reported a "significant" increase in applications from previous years, he told the Catholic Sentinel, Portland's archdiocesan newspaper.

"The volunteers very much want to get some work experience of some sort," Nikki Rohling, associate director of the volunteer network, told the Catholic Sentinel. "They don't want to sit around without a job. They want to get a foot in the door."

Many volunteers end up working in church ministry or the nonprofit sector addressing poverty, addiction and the need for better education.

"Young people are realizing the need for their generation to respond to people in need during this economic upheaval," said Holy Cross Father Ron Raab, who serves at the Downtown Chapel in Portland. "They want their faith to mean something, to be honest, real and practical. Service offers this faith opportunity."

These youths, who lived through 9/11 and the nation's response to the tragedy, want to help people who are suffering, Father Raab said.

"Young people are realizing more in their generation the need for honest community, that we cannot survive any crisis alone," he added.

Sometimes the volunteers come from a family tradition of service.

Colleen Miller, a graduate of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., who rebuilt homes in Birmingham, Ala., with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, followed the example of her parents. The Millers, parishioners of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Anchorage, Alaska, were Jesuit volunteers in the 1970s. Another daughter, Jean, served with the Peace Corps in Africa.

"I was excited about doing volunteer work," said Colleen Miller, "but I wanted the community aspect that the Jesuit Volunteer Corps offered. It opened my eyes to a lot of things, and it's a great way to meet people with similar values."

This past year, eight college graduates served in Anchorage with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

Molly Weber, one of the participants, is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She stressed that a key part of the service work is living in community with other volunteers and making the connection between faith and work.

"Spirituality is definitely a huge thing for me," she told the Catholic Anchor, Anchorage's archdiocesan newspaper. "I wouldn't be able to do what I do without my faith."

Several participants with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Boise, Idaho, told the Idaho Catholic Register, newspaper of the Boise Diocese, that they're convinced their efforts will have a lasting impact.

Sara Wells, a graduate of Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, spent the past year working at Corpus Christi House, a day shelter where many of the clients are homeless. Although her title was services coordinator, she said the primary focus of her ministry was listening.

Wells, an English major, said the experience made her realize she wants to do this type of work in the future.

Jennifer Popp, who earned a degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee, spent the past year working with a transitional housing program in Boise where she helped low-income clients manage their money and work on job skills. She also assisted women in transitional homes who were recovering from substance abuse.

Despite her accounting background, she said she knew she wanted to work for a nonprofit group. Her supervisors are hoping to entice her to stay with the work after her volunteer term is over.

Margaret McLean, a parishioner at Risen Christ Parish in Boise, said seeing the volunteers at work in the local community and in the parish was "awe inspiring."

"It's been terrific, just to hear about the benefits," she said. "It's everything we dreamed of."

- - -

Contributing to this story were Mike Brown in Boise and Effie Caldarola in Anchorage.


Copyright (c) 2009 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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