SILVER SPRING, MD. * It rarely gets into the news, but behind some 18,800 U.S. Catholics who volunteered their time and talent in 2011 through 208 local, national and international Catholic organizations is the Catholic Volunteer Network, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2013.
The nationwide network, based in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, "exists to help promote faith-based volunteerism," said its executive director, James Lindsay.
"We do that in a variety of ways," he said, among them:
* A "Response Directory" published yearly since 1965, listing the network's member programs and their service opportunities;
* The website www.catholicvolunteernetwork.org, which includes a searchable database for the information in the directory;
* Recruiters who visit some 100 colleges and universities every year, going to volunteer fairs, meeting with student groups and with faculty and administration.
Volunteering stints in member programs can be as long as three years in an overseas mission to as short as a weeklong service project by adults or by students still in high school, Lindsay said.
Member organizations range from the internationally known Jesuit Volunteer Corps to lesser-known, often local groups, such as the three programs profiled in the accompanying sidebars (see Pages 2a-3a). Or Catholic Charities Service Corps, an arm of the Buffalo. N.Y., diocesan Catholic Charities.
Or Rostro de Cristo ("face of Christ"), founded by Boston priest Fr. James Ronan, which in the past 24 years has sent more than 145 U.S. lay volunteers to Ecuador for a year of service among the poor in the Guayaquil archdiocese.
Or Bethlehem Farm in Talcott, W.Va., which offers community living, simplicity of lifestyle and reflection on Catholic social teaching while participants serve the needs of the poor in the region (NCR, Aug. 31-Sept. 13). Participation can be as short as one or two weeks or, for those willing to undergo requisite training, one or more years as a caretaker, mentoring and overseeing short-term volunteers.
(Bethlehem Farm was one of 12 possibilities this reporter got by clicking "0-3 weeks" and "accepts applicants 17 and under" to see what opportunities were available for teenagers interested in volunteer service but not ready to, or in a position to, make a major time commitment.)
"Most people think it's cookie-cutter" that all programs have more or less identical requirements for time and terms of service, "but it's not, and it's nice to let people know that," Lindsay said.
He said the network's Web database lets people bring a mountain of different programs down to a manageable size by entering criteria such as the type of work, the length of service, your geographical preference, and so on. "So instead of dealing with over 200 programs, you're dealing with 15 or so that meet the criteria you're looking for," Lindsay said.
The other side of what the Catholic Volunteer Network does is helping member programs to operate more effectively.
An annual Catholic Volunteer Network conference in November typically draws representatives from about half the member programs, who use the opportunity to network, share resources and attend workshops, Lindsay said. A monthly e-newsletter keeps members abreast of news and developments in the Catholic volunteer world.
On its listserv, an Internet exchange open only to registered members, leaders of member programs can raise questions and get feedback from their peers. "Just about every day there's at least one or two different topics that come up on the listserv," Lindsay said.
"We do workshops throughout the year," he added. "We do workshops for brand-new programs that are just in the startup phase [or] that are just even thinking about starting a program, to make sure that they're off on a good footing."
Every March, he said, the network holds a special three-day workshop just for such startup groups. …