Franciscan Community Volunteers surpass 50,000 hours of service

How did 43 young adults volunteer more than 50,000 hours in eight years?

“With hard work, dedication and servant hearts,” said Pat Flicker, director of the Franciscan Community Volunteers program in St. Cloud. “And by being committed to the three pillars of our program: meaningful service, intentional community living and Franciscan spirituality.”

Most Mondays, the Franciscan Community Volunteers enjoy “Community Night,” where the sisters, FCV staff and the volunteers come together for discussion, reflection, prayer and a shared meal. From left, Sister Karen Niedzielski, John-Caleb Vacheresse, Laura Shrode (FCV program assistant), Anna Taylor, Jennifer Wonsever, Isaac Vacheresse, Sister Michelle L’Allier and Sister Rose Mae Rausch. Seated on the floor are Ann Anosike and FVC program director, Pat Flicker.

Located in the former Holy Spirit convent on the south side of St. Cloud, the Franciscan Welcoming House is home to three Franciscan sisters and, currently, five young adults who have committed to a year of service in the local community.

This group makes up the Franciscan Community Volunteers program, which began in 2009 with the vision of Franciscan Sister Clara Stang.

“I wanted to create something that would appeal to young adults in a way that would connect Franciscan values to their own personal search for meaning,” Sister Clara explained.

“Believing that many young people today want something more in life than what society generally holds up to them, we decided to create an experiential program that would offer opportunities to live Gospel values in a Franciscan setting.

“We envisioned a context where they could relate to experienced adults who live these values themselves and where they would have structured opportunities to apply these values in service to, and with, others.”

In 2013, Flicker became the program director and continued to build on the work Sister Clara had begun.

“Mission and service has always been my passion and I lead with that passion,” Flicker said. “This allows me to be present to the volunteers, to really listen to them and to help them as they discern their gifts and where God is calling them, all in the spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare. It’s a great privilege to walk on this journey with them.”

Pillar of service

By partnering with local agencies as service sites for the Franciscan Community Volunteers, the young adults, usually ages 21-30, work in areas like homeless outreach, after-school youth programs and domestic abuse programs.

Isaac Vacheresse, originally from Birmingham, Alabama, spent half a year during the 2015-2016 session working with the Boys & Girls Club in St. Cloud and returned for a full term with FCV in 2016-2017. He currently volunteers at St. Benedict Senior Community in St. Cloud in therapeutic recreation where he participates in activities with the residents, visits them one-on-one and plays guitar and sings to them.

“I was trying to find somewhere I could integrate faith into my service,” Vacheresse said. “Working at St. Benedict Center, especially with the one-on-one visits, we can talk about faith — they can be honest with me and I can be honest with them. It’s really what drew me to come back for another year.”

Vacheresse said that initially he thought he’d be the one to bring joy and purpose to the residents, but that’s really what they’ve given him.

“They’ve also taught me how to listen as well as the ability to be present in the moment,” he said. “Just sitting down and listening and knowing that they are going through so much more than I am and that many have lost so much in coming to this place … it’s just become more of being a friend to them instead of me having this idea that I’m going to come in and change the world.”

Like Vacheresse, Anna Taylor came to the FCV program to spend time in service and was especially interested in serving with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, one of the FCV service sites, because it had a Spanish component. She moved to Minnesota to be part of FCV after graduating from Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, where she is from, with degrees in Spanish and business management.

She has been serving as a MNsure Navigator at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid helping clients apply for insurance coverage.

“Anna is a really good fit for us, because of her Spanish language skills as well as her general aptitude and attention to detail,” said Ralonda Mason, supervising attorney at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid.

“We were particularly interested in being more responsive to the growing Spanish-speaking communities, especially in Wright and Sherburne counties and we needed someone who had Spanish language skills who also could learn and do the very detailed work that is required to navigate through the health insurance process,” Mason said. “A lot takes place out of the office so we also needed someone who could work independently. Anna really presented all of those skills and we are very happy with the inroads she has made within the Spanish-speaking communities, and that’s exactly what we were hoping for.”

Taylor is the second FCV to serve with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, and Mason said the agency is still reaping the benefits from the first volunteer who served there.

“Whenever you take on someone coming right out of school, who has made a one-year commitment, you wonder, ‘Are they going to be dedicated?’ They have moved away from their families and friends and you wonder, ‘Are they going to be happy?’

“What we have found with FCV is that we have received exceptionally high-quality people with high-quality skills and abilities who get a lot of emotional support from the sisters and the community they live in, and that just makes a world of difference,” Mason said. “They are very solid folks and that’s what we want in an employee and that also makes it really hard to see them leave.”

Pillar of community living

Franciscan Sisters Michelle L’Allier, Karen Niedzielski and Rose Mae Rausch live in community with the volunteers at the Franciscan Welcoming House. It was structured this way to provide a stable, secure environment for the volunteers as they engage in their service work, while also giving them the tools to become independent. The sisters are “anchors” for the volunteers, providing a sense of stability and a listening presence for them after their day’s work.

“We sisters offer these young adults a broad vision of the world,” said Sister Rose Mae. “We’ve been in so many places and done so many things, so we can identify with practically anything they bring up.

“I am sincerely interested in hearing about their ministries and the work they do each day,” Sister Rose Mae said. “In fact, I see it like years ago, when we sisters would have our morning prayer and then go out into the world to teach, to nurse, to be social workers, whatever we were doing.

“It’s such a privilege and a wonder to see that we are supporting the younger generation to go out and do what we used to do so that our work of charity with people is continuous through the next generation,” she said.

Both the volunteers and the sisters are amazed at how they can be open to each other across the generations. Vacheresse said he’s grown a lot from the diversity of the people living in the community.

“The sisters have a welcoming presence in the house,” Vacheresse said. “They’ve been through the transitions of different people coming into the house and they see what works and what doesn’t and then they are able to offer that wisdom.

“And they are our friends,” he added. “It’s wonderful to be friends with the sisters we live with. I think we’ve done a very good job of growing over time and of being attentive to each other. It is amazing because we are all very different.”

Pillar of Franciscan spirituality

Woven through every element of the program are threads of Franciscan spirituality, most visibly demonstrated by the Franciscan sisters who are part of the program.

In addition to Sisters Michelle, Rose Mae and Karen, each volunteer also has his or her own “praying sister” at the motherhouse in Little Falls who prays daily for his or her needs.

“That is a really neat aspect of the program,” Vacheresse said. “I’m pretty sure we are the only volunteer community that has the sisters who are not far away who we are able to go and visit. The relationship with the praying sisters is important for the spiritual aspect, of course, but also for the time we get to spend with them.”

Franciscan Community Volunteer Isaac Vacheresse visits with Mary, a resident at St. Benedict’s Senior Community in St. Cloud, March 14. Vacheresse chose the center as his service site so he could share his faith and his gift of music with the residents there.

There also is a sister who prays for the whole program, Sister Annella Bieniek, who is 93-years-old. Praying sisters receive photos and information about the volunteer they are praying for, as well as visits from the volunteers throughout the year as their schedule allows.

“Each group of volunteers has its own personality, and I’ve loved them all,” Sister Annella said. “The program provides a real growth experience for the volunteers. My role is prayer and presence. When I hear of a special intention, I go deeper into prayer. The volunteers are fun, and their stories are interesting. I thank God for the valuable service FCV provides to the St. Cloud community. Fifty thousand hours is amazing.”

Each volunteer also has a “companion sister,” whose role is to act as a spiritual mentor. This cycle, Sister Cordy Korkowski is matched with Taylor.

“When I met Anna Taylor for the first time on August 21, 2016, I knew this was a great match,” Sister Cordy said. “The conversation flowed easily and I soon came to know her dreams for her 11 months as a Franciscan Community Volunteer. Anna has a heart for adventure.

“I enjoy listening to how she has handled her position, even driving through ice and snow to the Elk River office,” Sister Cordy said. “I look for ways to support her in this ministry, through interest and remembrances on special days, attendance at events where we sister companions meet to share and have fun. It has been an enriching relationship and honor to walk with Anna as friend and companion.”

In addition, volunteers are also matched with companion families — couples or individuals who support the volunteers through prayer and social activities.

Vacheresse first met his companion couple — Roger and Sue Linz of Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids — on a special trip to Mexico in January 2016. The Franciscan sisters have a ministry at San Rafael Parish in Nuevo Leon and the volunteers helped to build a house there.

“Roger and I laid block together and that’s a real quick way to get to know each other,” Vacheresse said. “That bonding has just carried over throughout the year. Roger and Sue are wonderful people and we’re really great friends. Having friends of a different generation, you can gain a lot from each other.”

Roger and Sue have been a companion couple for five years.

“Many of the volunteers come from out of state or other countries and are not familiar with the area,” Sue said. “Our job is to spend time with them, show them around and be a companion to them.”

They visit the volunteers’ house monthly and have taken their companions out for dinner, to church, invited them over for game nights and attended a St. John’s University football game.

“I really enjoy getting to know them — who they are, where they’re from, their background,” Sue said. “I’ve grown so much spiritually from being a part of this program. Just to see their desire to do this, how they’ve grown in their faith throughout the year in this process, all of that has been a great opportunity for us.”

Making a difference

All the volunteers give their time to work with those on the margins. Flicker believes that their young “servant hearts” are cultivated by their experiences with FCV and that as they grow through the program and return to their communities, their mission and passion continues to thrive in the world.

“Most of the volunteers come here thinking they are going to change the world,” she said, “Really, at the end of the year, they are the ones who are changed forever.”

More information is available online at fcvonline.org or by calling 320-229-0307.

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

1 comments

Great article Kristi! You truly captured the spirit and strength of the FCV program. Thanks for all you put into this article!
Sister Cordy

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