I learned about volunteering from my mother. She was an immigrant from Argentina, born and raised on a farm, and came from a time and place where neighbors formed a closely knit community. I used to accompany her when she delivered meals to the elderly in our neighborhood and checked in on them as a daughter would. She taught me that giving enriches everyone, especially the giver.
I've been a hospice volunteer and read to the chronically ill in intensive care wards. For the past five years, I volunteered at an amazing place called Buen Pastor. When I decided to take a one year leave of absence from work to transition to another career, I knew that I would want to spend time at Buen Pastor. I've also had the opportunity to volunteer at Santa Julia, an orphanage for girls, and work with Proyecto Itzaes, an early childhood education and literacy program in Yucatán, Mexico.
Buen Pastor, or "Good Shepherd", is a convent located in central Mexico, in the colonial town of Guanajuato. The convent is 104 years old. There are six programs divided between five madres, all over the age of 65. The eldest madres are in their 80's and are taken care of by the younger ones. They are incredibly busy!My main focus at Buen Pastor is the women in the shelter. The convent protects the lives of abused women and their children. During their three-month stay at Buen Pastor, the women are given psychological and legal counseling. They’re also taught a trade so they can gain independence from their abusive husbands. Through healing and compassionate massage, I restore the relationship they have to their own bodies. During our work, they release the pain and anger held in their bodies and begin to trust touch again. Over a three month period, the change in their self-esteem is incredible. Last year, I was awarded a grant by Mary's Pence to provide "compassionate touch therapy" for the women.
I also work with the girls that live in Buen Pastor's weekly foster care. The convent cares for 29 girls, ages 3-18. These girls come from violent homes and/or from dire poverty. Most spend the week at the convent and go home on the weekends. The convent pays for their basic needs: food, school tuition, uniforms, and clothing, and offers a nurturing home during the week. I spend time with the girls helping with homework, playing basketball, and just hanging out. I also built a small library of over 100 picture books, a dozen games, and computer lab which includes 10 computers and educational software. I've written grants and sought out donors to help with the girl's expenses. And I created a website for Buen Pastor, http://buenpastor.weebly.com/ - in both English and Spanish versions.
Casa Hogar Santa Julia is an orphanage for forty girls located in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. It's run by four Dominican nuns without the financial support of either the church or the government. I was able to get involved in their "Cre-SER!" program as a mentor. Cre-SER is a play on words which translates to grow and to be. For three months, I met with a group of adolescent girls weekly to talk about issues regarding self-esteem. We journaled together, shared stories, and role-played all in the effort to build interpersonal skills and foster a high self-regard.
In December of 2008, I flew to Yucatán, Mexico, to learn more about the work of Proyecto Itzaes. I was especially interested in two of their projects: recording Maya oral histories and building libraries in fishing villages to promote early childhood literacy. When I returned, I collaborated with a Serbian designer to redesign the Proyecto Itzaes website. Today’s web is much different than it was just a few years ago. Not only does a website have to be intuitive to navigate and friendly to use, it needs to be social. So we included tools like a Flickr photo stream, Twitter, and a blog. The content was updated and merged it to the new site. I also created short videos, like the two featured in my portfolio , to give people a feel for the work and the impact it has on kids.