FrancisCorps | Syracuse, NY

Discovering the next step

By Natalie Smith, FC 22

The term “post-grad service” didn’t enter my vocabulary until my sophomore year at the University of Portland in conversation with a campus minister, Beth Barsotti. She spoke with me about her experience doing a year of service with L’Arche in Washington DC, and how it grew from a simple “year of service” to a four-year experience that transformed her way of life. She made me promise to prayerfully consider post-grad service for myself. With her inspiration in mind, during my senior year as a nursing major and social justice minor, I spent many evenings and weekends flipping through pages of the Catholic “Response” magazine and searching the online “Catholic Volunteer Network”. 

When I found a brief description of the FrancisCorps program and explored their website, I was immediately drawn to the playful and authentic energy it radiated. The FrancisCorps application and subsequent interview enticed me further by emphasizing a way of life in community and service inspired by the humble and radically hospitable spirit of St. Francis. With an abundance of joy and gratitude, I accepted the position as soon as it was offered to me.

As the entire word is well aware, from the time I accepted the position in January of 2020 to my scheduled arrival in Syracuse at the end of July, everything seemed to turn upside down. This made for an ocean of uncertainty, which I continued treading through as calmly as possible. Transitioning to online classes, switching to a virtual graduation ceremony, going into quarantine, wearing facemasks, practicing social distancing, and fighting for racial justice; it was a series of events for which nobody was adequately prepared. 

I did my best to ride the waves and take each day as it came. Of course, some days hit harder than others, and yet, I found moments of joy, laughter, and peace while playing with my nieces and nephews, visiting friends from an appropriate distance, and going on long bike rides around my hometown of Bellingham, Washington. I grew through the pervasive pain and overwhelming uncertainty by continuing to educate myself on subjects that were dividing our nation and center myself on values and beliefs that had weathered the past storms of life. 

Finally, on July 24th, I said goodbye to my family and made the long and stuffy flight from Seattle to Syracuse and began another two weeks of strict quarantine; however, this time it was with five other young women who would become some my closest friends in a matter of weeks. Although the first week of orientation had its standard share of awkwardness, there was a sense of openness and authenticity from both the volunteers and directors which offered familiarity and genuine love. By the end of our two-week quarantine, I was confident our small new community would be a place of sincere vulnerability, trust, kindness, and compassion. 

When the day finally came to begin working at our service sites, I felt excited and a just bit nervous. I would be at the Catholic Charities Men’s Shelter functioning as both a nurse and a caseworker. While these roles came with essential and valuable tasks, I have most enjoyed the opportunity to listen to each man’s story and recognize how we can help one another discover the next step to take or the lesson to be learned. As I glance back on the uncertainty, pain, joy, and significant changes that have marked the last several months, I am reminded of the simple and beautiful lesson to cherish people. Every last one of them.

Natalie is a Shelter Worker at Catholic Charities Men’s Shelter. Visit our service sites page to learn more about Natalie’s site and others we offer. 

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