“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Arielle Capurso, who served with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, a member organization of Catholic Volunteer Network.
A Year of Service, A Lifetime of Lessons
The year after graduating college is a time like no other in a person’s life. Much of senior year of college is spent agonizing over the transition from the structure of school to the independence of supporting oneself. Most pursue careers, some continue with graduate school, but a growing number are making a different choice- doing a year of service.
Arielle Capurso, now a twenty three-year-old native of Massachusetts and 2014 graduate of the Catholic University of America, had no intention of doing a year of service when she was preparing for her next step after college. Arielle, a Biology major, planned to get a job and work in order to save up for Physician Assistant school. At her alma mater there is a big culture of service, with annual events such as the “Long Term Service Fair” and an active Campus Ministry with ample service opportunities. Arielle herself served as a Student Minister on campus during her senior year, working with upperclassmen women in their residence halls. But she had still never seriously considered a year of service after graduation. Despite this, in the fall of her senior year, she decided to stop by the Long Term Service Fair just to get some information. She figured a year of service could at least be a good back up plan. She talked to Bill from the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers program, among other representatives, but still wasn’t seriously considering a year of service.
As senior year went on and planning intensified for the next steps after graduation, Arielle found herself more and more drawn to a year of service. She loved the community, fellowship, and prayer that were all part of her daily life as she served in Student Ministry, and the more she thought about it, the more she realized that she would love to have the chance to do ministry full-time for a year, rather than juggle it with the demands of being a student.
About the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers
Arielle ultimately chose to apply to the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers because she liked all the aspects of their mission, their location in Denver, Colorado, and the variety of service sites. She also liked the small size of the co-ed program, which she is now a part of, with 4 men and 15 other women.
In her own words, Arielle explained that “CVV is centered around the spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul which focuses on serving the poor and marginalized community and living in simplicity as an act of solidarity. It is through this service that volunteers may both give and receive, see the face of Christ in others and also be a witness to Christ by loving their neighbor. CVV lives out this spirituality through four main pillars: 1) Direct Service & Advocacy, 2) Reflection & Discussion, 3) Community, and 4) Spirituality & Prayer. Each service site volunteers work at promotes social justice and serves the marginalized in society –whether it be the homeless, the sick, those with developmental disabilities, or immigrants and refugees. Another aspect of the CVV community is simplicity, one of the five Vincentian virtues. Volunteers strive to live simply and in solidarity with those they serve by only receiving a small monthly stipend, a food budget, and trying to cut back on spending and extravagances.”
Currently, Arielle is serving primarily at the Stout Street Health Center, a clinic for the
homeless in Denver. Though her year of service has had its challenges, she has found it to be an invaluable experience. Reflecting on her service, Arielle said, “I think I always had a passion for helping people in need but this year has taught me so much more about how I can carry out that passion and what serving Christ in the marginalized, those in the shadows, really means. I am currently applying to nursing school. My time with CVV and at the clinic has helped me realize that in the future I want to serve the homeless and poor community as a nurse.” Arielle is not alone in her change in perspective, as many other members of her CVV community have also changed plans they had going into the year. Considering this, Arielle noted that “the twenty-something years are an awesome time, when you have the chance to be a little selfish…but also a little selfless. Take advantage of it.”
At the clinic, Arielle serves as a Health Operations Associate, welcoming clients and helping them schedule appointments and answering their questions. At first, this was a discouraging role. Arielle didn’t feel fulfilled in her service site as she didn’t have much opportunity for direct ministry with the clients. But after speaking with her supervisor and CVV staff, she had a renewed approach to her position. “I am the welcoming face to every homeless client that enters the clinic. A lot of them are sick, have been off their medications, haven’t slept the night before, and are used to being told “no” a lot and having to fight for the simplest things to stay alive. It’s easy for me to see Christ in those that greet me with a smile or strike up a conversation but not always for those who curse and yell at me when I’m just trying to calmly help them. But I’ve learned a lot. I cannot tell you how many of those angry, yelling clients later come back to me to personally apologize and make amends. In mission, you don’t just learn about society but you learn a lot about yourself, and where and how your faith fits in. To say it builds character is an understatement. You grow in your understanding of the world, your faith, your love for others, and so much more.”
Casting Light into the Darkness
Arielle’s biggest lesson from her year has been that “despite what common, secular society tells us we are truly all Brothers and Sisters in Christ and we must attempt to make this visible -to break down those divisions and injustices that put others in the shadows and unheard.” Thinking in terms of her science background, she reflected, “The size of shadows depends greatly upon light. All my physics lab experiments have taught me that the more the light is blocked out by an object, the bigger the shadow gets. In our daily life, we must try to bring light to those who have blocked out the light, the joy, the love of Christ, and make those shadows smaller. This can be done in the simplest of ways, even if you feel you may not be helping and your light is somewhat dim. And in serving God through bringing light to others, He will bring you light and grace in return.”