By Eli Pacheco
Tim Cummings had finished college at Fairfield (Conn.) University but didn't know what to do next. Social impact and community health and wellness were important to him. Franciscan Volunteer Ministry gave him that and more.
Franciscan Volunteer Ministry is a group of laypeople living in community who dedicate themselves to ministry in collaboration with the Franciscan friars. They immerse themselves in the communities where they work, acting on the Gospel message to express love in action there.
Tim served two years at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia. Living in the community "was better than bouncing in and out. I would open the door, and there would be prostitutes – who were also your friends. They were people I felt incredible sorrow for, for the pain they experienced."
Where do Franciscan Volunteer Ministries serve?
FVM currently serves communities in Durham, North Carolina, and Philadelphia. Volunteers live together, sharing meals, space, and even a communal automobile. Depending on the site, FVM helps in:
Community outreach and organization
Peace and justice ministry
Restaurant-style soup kitchens
Social services for immigrants
“Most of our FVM ministries are for those who are marginalized in society,” said Katie Sullivan, executive director. “But ministry occurs wherever we are.”
Approximately 265 people have participated in the program since it was founded in 1989. Many work in service-related careers today – in education, social services, medicine, or religious life.
Katie encourages volunteers to share their gifts. FVMs include athletes who coach teams as well as people involved in art, music, theater, and more. One volunteer in aeronautics arranged to take inner-city kids on a ride in a small airplane.
"They use their passions well," Katie said of the volunteer ministers. "Every person has a voice; they don't always have the opportunity to use it. They’re not given a microphone or time and space. Our FVMs can help amplify their voices and create spaces for them."
Why choose Franciscan Volunteer Ministries?
Communities get what they need: food, fellowship, and hope. Volunteers serve in a meaningful way. And for some, it inspires a lifetime of service.
Marisabel Alonso learned of Franciscan Volunteer Ministry during her first year at Siena College in Loudonville, New York. She served two years – the program max – first in Camden, New Jersey, then at St. Francis Inn.
She tutored elementary school students, helped to feed the hungry and regularly visited a nursing home, spending time with people who might not have had many, if any, visitors. (“That was a ministry of presence,” Marisabel said.)
FVM seeks to serve people who are overlooked or forgotten by society. In her time, Marisabel served many people – an experience that touched her life in a profound way.
"I don’t know the type of person I would be today without this experience,” she said. “It was a full formation of me as a person."
After her time in FVM, Marisabel attended Drexel (Pa.) University Law School and qualified for a public interest scholarship. After a year working in Catholic social services for immigrants, she joined another firm, where she cemented her desire to make helping people her career.
"Seeing how structural inequities affect people put me over the edge to becoming a lawyer,” Marisabel said. "That Franciscan value of charism is still important to me.”
Like many who've volunteered at FVM, the experience shaped Tim's career path, too.
Throughout his career, he has focused on working with people in need, including homeless seniors and people suffering from addiction and mental illness. He's now consulting with nonprofits in New Jersey to help them thrive and support staff and clients.
"The greatest takeaways involve knowing every person is a person," he said. "It's about celebrating and honoring everyone's dignity and independence. Everyone deserves compassion and respect."
How can I get involved with Franciscan Volunteer Ministries?
You can read stories from past volunteers and learn more about the benefits. Contact the ministry with questions before applying. (The priority deadline is Jan. 18 for rolling applications. Volunteer placement happens in July or when all spots are filled.) You can also support their work with your donations.
“FVM is a movement down and away from the world as we’re taught to know it,” Br. Steve Patti, OFM, said. “It’s a movement toward and among people who are easy to miss, and by that, an immersion into God’s hidden and graced world."