“The goal of the conference is to provide space for those who are involved in faith-based service to come together, share knowledge and think about how [they] can make service an expectation and an opportunity for all people in the U.S.,” says planner Sarah Hammel.
The conference is open to college and university campus personnel who oversee volunteer service, career center staff and staff from the approximately 200 organizations that belong to the Catholic Volunteer Network.
The gathering is held for two full days and two half days in a different city each year, with the 2017 event at Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark and the 2018 conference happening Nov. 8-11 in Baltimore. Last year’s event marked the conference’s 40th anniversary, with a theme of "Gateways to Healing: Practicing Compassion and Reconciliation.”
Programming includes workshops and keynote addresses from speakers from the region who are working in social justice from a faith-based viewpoint. Homeboy Industries founder Father Greg Boyle, Interfaith Youth Core Founder and President Eboo Patel, and Sojourners magazine founder and political activist Jim Wallis have spoken at recent conferences. Workshops cover a range of topics relevant to program management and operation such as fundraising, volunteer recruitment and retention, board development, social media and self-care.
Conference registration includes all sessions, supporting documents and most meals. A discounted registration fee is available for staff of member organizations, and the Catholic Volunteer Network also offers a prorated cost for those who can only attend for a day.
Though “Catholic” is in the name of the facilitating organization, its members come from Christian communities of all backgrounds.
“Over the years we’ve become more ecumenical,” Hammel says.
To become a member of the network, an organization must coordinate long-term, full-time mission or volunteer service roles that last at least one year. Those who join the network gain access to a broad base of knowledge thanks to other members, along with discounts on health services, background checks and car rentals for volunteers.
Member organizations coordinate roles such as teaching in inner-city schools, working on farms in Appalachia or serving as caseworkers for refugee populations, for example. Before joining the network staff, Hammel was serving refugees in Clarkston, Georgia, outside of Atlanta, with member organization Dominican Volunteers USA.
Other member organizations have generalized assignments, introducing participants to a variety of fields during their term of service.
Good Shepherd Volunteers, for example, invites participants to serve as teachers, counselors to youth, trainers and rehabilitators for victims of domestic violence or supporters of foster families.
International service organizations belong to the network as well, and staff members often travel to attend the annual conference. Bilingual Education for Central America assigns English-speaking volunteers to teach in low-income schools in Honduras. Another member organization, Salesian Lay Missioners, places volunteers in roles ranging from animal husbandry specialists to plumbers for one to three years in a list of countries spanning three continents.
“In addition to serving these organizations’ staff, the network provides resources for potential volunteers to help guide them to the right program,” Hammel says. The network website has a comprehensive database of member organizations that can be searched with filters such as location, area of service and living arrangements. “[The network coordinates] alumni support too,” she says.
Currently Hammel and her team at the Maryland-based Catholic Volunteer Network just finalized details for their 2018 event, themed “Lead with Courage, Follow with Faith.” The conference will be held at Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards.
“[The conference is] all about [identifying] tools to make your volunteer program the best it can be,” Hammel says. “Our mission and vision is to advocate for faith-based volunteer service so everyone knows about the opportunity to impact the world and be transformed through service rooted in faith.”