Passing up a spinning class, preparations for a family wedding, or even sleeping in on a cold and rainy Saturday morning, past and present members of Catholic Volunteer Network member programs joined other volunteers and continued to serve by preparing and serving lunch — along with attention, community and dignity — to the guests of the Downtown Women’s Center on St. Patrick’s Day.Catholic Volunteer Network is the professional association for full-time, faith-based volunteer programs, including Lay Mission Helpers, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Maryknoll Missionaries, Claretian Volunteers and almost 200 other member programs. In the past year, more than 19,000 volunteers served in every state and in 100 countries. 

Serving in member programs from a week to many years, graduates of the member programs continue to make community service a part of their lives, as seen at a number of Alumnae/Alumni Service Days that Catholic Volunteer Network has held across the country this year. This particular Saturday it was Los Angeles’ turn. 

Originally from Boston, Annie Kelly served in the Good Shepherd Volunteers after graduating from Loyola College in Baltimore. She worked with domestic violence victims at Good Shepherd Shelter in downtown Los Angeles. After finishing her service year — and then working for Good Shepherd Volunteers in New York — Annie returned to Los Angeles and continues to work with victims of domestic violence, focusing on the healing power of the arts. And she passed up her usual Saturday morning spinning class to chop fruits and vegetables — and then serve lunch to over 100 homeless women.

Matt Aujero, an alumnus of Francis Corps who served in Costa Rica, joined Annie, staff and board members of Catholic Volunteer Network, and students from Loyola Marymount University at the Downtown Women’s Center in everything from washing dishes to boiling industrial-sized packages of chicken and pasta. 

Serving in Costa Rica after his graduation from the Catholic University of America, Matt was a service project coordinator for high school groups traveling to Costa Rica. He continues to serve as a recruiter for Catholic Volunteer Network member programs. As the only male volunteer in the group at the Alumnae/Alumni Service Day in Los Angeles, he recognized the importance of personal invitations to those considering full-time volunteering — especially to men, who usually only constitute one-fourth of volunteers.

Members of the PLACE Corps — current volunteers in LMU’s teacher corps — also chose to use their Saturday morning and early afternoon for others’ good. Mimi Cullari currently teaches Algebra I at Serra High School in Gardena. As a member of the PLACE Corps — another Catholic Volunteer Network member program — she is also earning a master’s degree in education.  

Joking that “everyone looks good in a hairnet,” these generous individuals donned hairnets, aprons and gloves to prepare a nutritious lunch of Mexican salad, salad with chicken and fruit salad. Taking turns washing dishes, wiping down counters and chopping seemingly-endless amounts of herbs, fruits and vegetables, they also used the kitchen’s open work space to talk to the women in the Day Center, both during the morning food preparation and the lunchtime service.  Founded in 1978, the Downtown Women’s Center is an award-winning, multi-faceted service center, the only one on Los Angeles’ Skid Row devoted solely to serving women and their unique needs, from meals to medical care, from case management to long-term sustainable housing.

At their reflection gathering after lunch, these current and past members of Catholic Volunteer Network member programs agreed that while people are aware of their communities’ needs, they may not know about the service opportunities that are available to meet those needs. It need not be three years in the African missions — like the Lay Mission Helpers commit to — but may be only one day. 

Steven Alvarez, volunteer coordinator at the Downtown Women’s Center, compared volunteering to exercise: Start out small, and choose the type of activity that fits one’s talents and resources. People may also volunteer more if they realize that they need not serve alone. 

All agreed that one of the best parts of the service day at the Downtown Women’s Center was the teamwork, joining with other people and working together toward a common goal: feeding homeless women, not only with food, but with dignity, attention and kindness.

Continuing a culture and habit of service, graduates of Catholic Volunteer Network member programs contribute to the common good, whether in their choice of profession or in volunteer work. Those serving at the Downtown Women’s Center that day included current volunteers, recent graduates, and even an alumna who finished her service over 20 years ago. The choice to serve can have long-lasting and positive impacts, both for volunteers and for their communities.

For more information about Catholic Volunteer Network, including its online searchable database of volunteer opportunities — with choices by geographic preference, ministry area, length of service, and other characteristics — access  HYPERLINK ""

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