18 young adults commissioned to serve as Colorado Vincentian Volunteers in Denver
By Cody Meinhardt
Photo courtesy Colorado Vincentian Volunteers
On Aug. 19, the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers (CVV) celebrated a milestone at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in downtown Denver, commissioning their 18th group of young adults into a yearlong process of companionship with those who are poor, in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul.
These 18 volunteers have agreed to spend a year living in community at two locations in Denver’s Capital Hill area, giving service to the poor through local nonprofit agencies, and integrating their service experiences with spiritual formation.
Colorado Vincentian Volunteers was formed in 1994 by married couple Bill and Mary Frances Jaster, after two decades of work in youth ministry. In the 18 years since the program’s founding, 227 volunteers have completed the program, and more than 50 nonprofit agencies have received volunteer service through the organization.
The recently commissioned volunteers will provide more than 31,000 hours of apostolate in the coming year, serving thousands of Denver’s most needy individuals through 18 local nonprofits, and saving those agencies approximately $270,000.
However, the hours served and dollars saved do not alone fully convey the spirit of CVV. At its core, the organization is a process of coming to understand the meaning of being a “companion on the journey.”
When Gerald Espinosa came to Denver nearly three weeks ago from Mission Viejo, Calif., he hoped to be taken out of his comfort zone. Espinoza, a graduate of Stonehill College with a background in law and advocacy, was led to Colorado Vincentian Volunteers by a feeling that something was missing in his life.
“I wanted the human component. I wanted those daily interactions, seeing the small victories in people’s lives,” Espinoza said. “CVV can take you off the path of living a conventional life, toward living life in service to others.”
Through Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, Espinoza will work as an assistant and mentor at Annunciation School. He recognizes the importance of being a positive Latino role model at the school.
“My whole life I was a minority in school. I faced a lot of barriers and stigmas, but I’ve never shied away from those challenges,” he said.
Having lived through many of the same experiences his students currently face, Espinoza has a unique opportunity to make an impact and an eagerness to work hard.
“I want to be shaken up,” he said. “I want to feel the fire under my feet. And I don’t want to lose that passion.”
Maureen “Mo” Brabec comes to Colorado Vincentian Volunteers from Homewood, Ill., to join the staff at Sacred Heart House of Denver, a shelter for homeless women and their children. After graduating from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Brabec faced a tough decision.
“It would’ve been easy to just go right to grad school,” she said, “but in college I saw myself being very self-involved. I didn’t want to continue down that path.”
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Brabec hopes that a year as a Vincentian Volunteer will be a turning point in her life. After only a few days on staff at the shelter, she has already been touched by the lives of her clients.
“These women truly want to get back on their feet,” she said.
The first glimpse of hope at her worksite was all the confirmation Brabec needed to know she had made the right decision.
“I love people, and this is my calling,” she said.
Espinoza and Brabec shared their optimism and desire to make a difference with their fellow volunteers.
The commissioning at St. Elizabeth’s marked the beginning of their journey with the CVV, but the full meaning of the commissioning is even greater. It extends to the entire Denver community. It is a call to turn outward, to serve and be served by those living on the margins, and to reflect deeply on our lives as brothers and sisters in Christ.
It’s an invitation to become “companions on the journey.”
Cody Meinhardt is a former volunteer with Colorado Vincentian Volunteers.