A different kind of 5-year plan

by Kara Hansen

LAWRENCE — Staying on a fifth year at a college campus usually means two things: more time to finish a degree program and a heftier college price tag.

Four 20-somethings who graduated last May from the University of Kansas, however, are on a different kind of five-year plan — one that involves donating a year of their time after graduation.

“Our students receive really good formation here at St. Lawrence,” said Catholic campus center chaplain and director Father Steven Beseau, “and we have quite a few go on to be seminarians and religious, or work in the church, or go out to live their faith in the working world. Our goal is for students to be well-formed in life, whatever their vocation is.”

Father Beseau, now in his third year as director, had begun to believe that some students — particularly ones considering working for the church or going on for a graduate degree in theology — might benefit from additional formation opportunities.

So, together with the staff at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center, Father Beseau began mulling over a volunteer program that would allow recent graduates to make a one-year volunteer commitment to the center itself.

“The staff and I talked about what kinds of opportunities we thought we would be able to provide volunteers and what they could do for us,” said

Father Beseau. “And we looked at other organizations like the Jesuit Volunteer Program and FOCUS that were already using a similar model.”

Once they had developed their model for the volunteer program, all they needed were some volunteers.

Father Beseau was hoping for two. He got four.

“I considered some other mission work, but volunteering at St. Lawrence was really appealing because only a select few can do it,” said volunteer Chris Walters, of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa. “You have to know the center really well, and this was a good chance for me to give back.”

In his senior year at KU, Walters was considering going on to graduate school, but had the nagging feeling it just was not the right thing for him to do at the time. He began looking at yearlong volunteer commitments and applied for the St. Lawrence Center Volunteer Program.

Anna Warfield, also a volunteer in the inaugural year of the program, first heard about it during spring of her senior year.

“I was talking with Father Steve . . . trying to decide what to do, with graduation coming up,” said Warfield. “I was considering going on for my master’s or doing some sort of mission work, but there was so much to pick from.”

For Warfield, the St. Lawrence Center Volunteer Program was the perfect fit.

“It’s a chance for me to discover and develop talents and skills, and it gives me time to take a step back from the anxiety of deciding where I’m going to go and what I’m going to do,” said Warfield, whose home parish is St. Matthew in Topeka.

As with most Catholic volunteer opportunities, spiritual formation is integral to the larger vision of the program. Volunteers commit to not only a regular workweek of service, but also a daily Holy Hour, Mass, spiritual direction, theology classes, and a monthly half-day of recollection.

In exchange for their commitment, Warfield, Walters, Matt Nagle, a member of Curé of Ars in Leawood, and Jasmine Pasimio, from St. Rose Parish in Columbus, receive room and board, health insurance, and a stipend.

The four volunteers have responsibilities that are fairly fluid, since the program is in its first year and changes are made as needs arise.

“I like to call them my guinea pigs,” said Father Beseau with a laugh. “Since this is the first year, we have to be really open to change and new ideas as they arise. There is a lot of fine-tuning.”

Office tasks, helping with religious education, leading a Bible study, and scheduling and organizing major events for the students at St. Lawrence are all a part of the regular checklist of each volunteer.

Yet the most important part of their work is one that is less tangible, the volunteers say.

“The best part about doing this is just being there at St. Lawrence, building friendships with the students,” said Walters. “It’s amazing to be there for them and help them grow in their faith.”

“Being there” for the students can mean anything from networking on Facebook (an Internet social utility) to going out for a cup of coffee to simply being available in the office in case someone wants to drop by and talk — all in the name of outreach and evangelization.

According to Father Beseau, one of the primary reasons this program was created was to forge a deeper link between students and staff.

“The primary work of the volunteers is to evangelize, and a big part of that is ministry of presence. The volunteers are available to reach more students at later hours and in a different way than many of our staff,” said Father Beseau. “They have created a presence at St. Lawrence in the evenings, when most of our staff goes home to their families.”

Originally the plan was to have just two volunteers physically at St. Lawrence. Any other volunteers who applied for the program would be sent out to parishes in need of help with their ministries or religious education programs, especially urban and rural parishes in the archdiocese. Though that plan did not gel for this year, the intention is to eventually expand the volunteer program to serve not just the St. Lawrence Center but the archdiocese as well.

Regardless of where the program goes in coming years, it could easily be called a success in its first year.

“We have the four very best people for this. They are setting the tone and example for our volunteer program for years to come,” said Father Beseau.

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