The Little Organization That Can-And Does

By Lindsay, Jim | USA TODAY, November 2013 | Go to article overview

The Little Organization That Can-And Does


Lindsay, Jim, USA TODAY


SMALL THINGS sometimes lead to great ones. This certainly was the case for a young New Jersey priest whose sister, moved by a sense of service, set out to find a way to give back. That priest, Father George Mader, and his sister, Patricia Mader, scarcely could have known back then that their unified efforts to find a station for her work would lead to the founding of what now is the leading nonprofit faith-based volunteer organization in the country.

Patricia's journey to Statesville, N.C., to bring assistance to a small tobacco farming community lasted only a year, but that year was transformative for Pat and inspirational for her brother. Her zeal sparked George with a sense of mission--a mission to enable and encourage other people of faith to go out across the country and around the world to help the less fortunate. So began what then was known as the Newark Liaison Foreign and Domestic Lay Apostolate--now the Catholic Volunteer Network (CVN).

From a small office in Bloomfield, N.J., and later at Seton Hall University, the Maders launched a very big idea. Within eight years, the organization placed more than 400 volunteers--and recognized enormous opportunities to grow.

The modern version of Catholic Volunteer Network emerged from Father Mader's very personal vision, which underscored the important role lay people could play in advancing the cause of social justice, even while deepening their own faith. Today, the organization that I have the privilege of leading still is recruiting those volunteers with a sense of faith-driven mission, but it also is teaching, training, and publishing materials to support the many and varied philanthropic organizations and programs that carry on "Church Peace Corps" ideals. In 2012 alone, CVN processed more than 18,000 volunteers and worked successfully with 215 independent programs in the U.S. and around the world.

To better understand the character and determination of a CVN volunteer, one has to look no further than Lawmen McBride. CVN helped McBride connect with the Society of African Missions' Lay Missionary Program where she served in the Shaloom AIDS project in Mwanza, Tanzania. Originally from New York, and having graduated from Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, McBride always possessed a heart for service. How that service changed her life and impacted the lives of Tanzanians with whom she interacted is as straightforward as her story of helping a mother with AIDS and her near-dying baby.

On what she thought would be a routine day at the AIDS project, McBride spotted a girl sitting next to what she described as a little gray doll. When McBride drew closer, she realized that the "doll" was an infant. The girl, who was 14 and sick with AIDS and tuberculosis, was the infant's mother. Too sick to hold the child, the mother had simply placed him alongside her and was walling for medical help. McBride held the baby, who, at four months, looked malnourished and sickly, and comforted both mother and child as best she could. She accompanied them to two different hospitals seeking treatment--finally succeeding in having the mother, Lucia, admitted to Bugando Hospital, and her son, Adamu, to the babies ward.

McBride was determined to provide further help to both Lucia and Adamu. Hospitalization was a beginning, but she knew that, without good follow-up care, there was little hope that either of them would survive. She visited the "home" where Lucia and Adamu lived--a concrete-floored house with no furniture, eight little children sitting on the floor, and four or five teenagers; there were no adults present. Clearly, this was not an environment where either Lucia or Adamu could expect to flourish.

McBride stepped up to find that most elusive element--a solution. McBride identified an organization in Mwanza called Forever Angels. The group takes in babies who are orphaned or ill and provides specialized care. Adamu was released into the facility with approval from his mother. …

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