The Coronavirus pandemic has affected all aspects of life, and the work of Mercy Volunteer Corps is no exception. In this extraordinary April, when we celebrate National Volunteer Month, Mercy Volunteers are more committed than ever to serving the most marginalized members of our communities. They continue to do so, some from community houses that have been deemed essential, to ensure that each person living on the margins continues to receive care and is not forgotten. During this special month of commemorating volunteers, follow along on our blog to read stories by alumni of Mercy Volunteer Corps whose lives have been forever changed through Mercy service.
By Amy Thomas
When I joined Mercy Volunteer Corps in 2011, I assumed that it would bring me closer to Mercy’s mission for the next year of my life. It is now 2020, and I am even more ingrained in the Mercy spirit than ever before! Mercy has truly become my home.
I accepted a placement in Detroit, Michigan, working at a nonprofit theater, teaching children to write plays about their community. After that one year, the theater brought me on to work full time, and I eventually became the director of education. After six years of working at the theatre, and learning the ins and outs of writing grants, recruitment strategies and leading trainings, I felt prepared for whatever would come next.
I am so thankful for the incredible Sisters of Mercy, Mercy volunteers and Mercy associates I met while in Detroit. They truly emphasized that everyone is capable of contributing to our world and that we need all voices to make positive changes in our communities. The people I met were involved in their neighborhood associations, went to protests against water shut-offs and actively reached out to bring newcomers into the fold. I was welcomed into Mercy Association while in Detroit, and my Mercy mentor is still someone I speak with every month. The Mercy Detroit community taught me that it is important to branch out, and to meet people where they are.
After returning to my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, knowing that I wanted to stay involved in the Mercy mission, I applied to and was accepted into the Mercy Global Action Emerging Leaders Fellowship for 2019–20. This group of 10 women spans the globe, and I have learned from them about how Mercy and justice are affecting their countries. It has been a transformative experience to meet with them monthly on webinars where we learn about global issues, and to see what works and does not work in their communities. I’m a firm believer that we need to consistently be learning from others, and this experience has helped us all do precisely that.
At the beginning of my year as a Mercy fellow, there was a small moment, but it is one I have really held onto. When on our first experience in Cambodia, in August 2019, I went to a local market with a group of the women. I put my purchases in the bag at the counter. I then noticed a woman from our group put all her items in her hat. I was truly baffled for a moment and asked if she wanted a bag. She said, “Oh no, I don’t use plastic bags.” My gut dropped and I thought, “Oh no, how could I be so unaware?!” Moments like that can make a big change in your life. Since that experience, I no longer go into a store without my reusable bags.
As part of this group, I am currently putting together a final project focused on the displacement of people as it relates to refugees. I have become involved in a group called Restoring Dignity that works to meet the needs of refugees in Omaha through empowerment, education and advocacy partnerships. I have always been fascinated about what “home” truly looks like, and for many who have fled their home countries from violence and persecution, home is difficult to establish. Restoring Dignity provides a storage unit with donations for families to pick up beds, washers/dryers, tables and even art to make their house into a home. The group also offers classes to teach new families how to use cleaning supplies to maintain their homes—if you look at any of your household cleaners, the directions are all in English. A skilled team of multilingual volunteers reaches out to families to ensure they maintain the standards set by their landlords, and to ensure they live in a place that is clean.
I have clearly found a home in the Mercy community, and I am extremely grateful that one year of volunteering turned into a life dedicated to service, learning and education. Home is where Mercy is!