October 20, 2008
Just when you’re up to here with the awful things going on all around us – the latest “celebrity” nonsense, the mindless spending on needless things, people’s pathetic emphasis on self rather than others – along comes a story about five young women and two guys who have formed a faith community, and spend their days working with homeless youth. It might not make the world perfect, but suddenly the picture looks a lot brighter.
I read about the Covenant House Faith Community in a feature article by Linda Busetti in The Tablet, the newspaper of the Brooklyn Diocese. The seven people she wrote about are all in their twenties and all are full-time volunteers. There’s a lot of the Franciscan tradition in what they do: living in community, sharing household chores and meals, laughing and going on retreats, and reflecting on what they do.
And one more thing: they’re having the time of their lives. As Michelle Regan explained it: It’s one thing to volunteer; it’s another to come home at night and discuss the day’s challenges with others who understand them. That’s what sets this community apart, and that’s what makes it click.
Michelle’s fellow volunteers are Shearl Young, Erin Wynne, Erika Fox, Jeni Brake, Clint Davis and Zack Canfield. Together they live in the former St. Joseph’s Convent in Astoria (in the borough of Queens) and travel each day to Manhattan for assignments at Covenant House, which serves homeless youth between the ages of 18 and 21.
There’s no shortage of them. Covenant House takes care of 4,000 young people each year, and that calls for a lot of volunteers. They fulfill many roles: case managers, resident advisors, pastoral ministers. They provide support services, or they might work in the Rites of Passage program, in which young people live at Covenant House while going to school or attending job training classes. But Covenant House can never have too many volunteers. In addition to the Manhattan center, the organization has other homes in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Anyone interested in the Faith Community, or in volunteering in general, can contact www.covenanthouse.org/faithcommunity.)
As Linda Busetti reported, all seven members of the Covenant House Faith Community agreed to serve from three to 12 months on a volunteer basis. They live simply but are provided with food, housing, a weekly stipend of $20, and receive vacation and severance pay. They also have medical and dental insurance.
At the outset of their service volunteers attend a four-day orientation, followed by a two-week formation period, focusing on community living, prayer and reflection, and service. The Franciscan pattern is no accident, explained Katrina Amman, coordinator of volunteers. “Then we can live in solidarity with those we serve,” she said.
One of the group, Zack Canfield, has performed a variety of roles, from leading Bible studies to taking residents on hikes. Shearl Young sees herself as a problem solver – helping someone, for example, put together a job resume. But community is central to the volunteers.
“We are created to live in community,” said Erika Fox, the house manager. “Our society is individualistic, but you need the support of other people to live out your life.”