Dominican alumni volunteer time around the country after graduation

By Melissa Ramirez

November 13, 2013

Week after week, projects and papers are assigned and students come to find that there are not enough hours in the day for their own personal time to do whatever they want.  

Through the education received at Dominican, many students have gone on to incorporate aspects of diversity, social justice and mentorship in their lives after graduation, sacrificing that free time they once wanted so badly.

Class of 2013 alumna Tina Cisarik, chose to do a year of volunteer service after graduating through Dominican Volunteers USA, a lay mission program sponsored by Dominican sisters and friars. She is currently volunteering at the Siena House located in Bronx, N.Y., a transitional shelter for pregnant women and women with children younger than 3-years-old.

“Being part of a university that was so deeply rooted in justice and relationship-building played a major role in deciding to spend a year doing service,” Cisarik said. “Dominican University taught me the value in recognizing each neighbor as a brother or sister, in letting others into your heart.”

A typical day for Cisarik includes catching up with emails, checking in with her supervisor and having casual conversations with the women at the shelter. She also assists the nurses on staff and guest speakers with workshops that tackle topics such as kicking a smoking addiction or teaching CPR. Cisarik says she has gained knowledge through her experience.

“I’ve learned that each and every person you meet – regardless of circumstance – shares the same basic human desire: To be nurtured and loved as a whole person, regardless of the rocky road they’ve traveled,” Cisarik said.

Class of 2013 alumnus Rene Howard-Paez also chose a year of volunteering after graduating.

“A year of ago, if you would have told me I would be volunteering in the inner-city of Boston I would have chuckled,” Paez admitted. “This journey has been a peculiar and fast one, but I have not once regretted it. To be able to give yourself completely to a cause, to a school, to a group of students is beyond fulfilling.”

Paez works at Cristo Rey High School in Boston as an AmeriCorps Volunteer and is also part of the Catholic Volunteer network. While his official title is Assistant Director of Admissions at Cristo Rey, a typical day involves many other tasks.  Paez helps teach classes, serve lunch and coach the women’s basketball team.

Paez admits though that it can be difficult at times.

“It’s important to remember to create some balance for yourself. I’ve caught myself saying yes to so many things that ultimately I neglect some necessary personal time,” Paez said.

Dominican’s mission statement still plays a big part in Paez’s everyday life.

“Not only was the mission integral in my discernment and decision process, but people at Dominican were critical in that as well,” Paez said. “Faculty, staff, sisters and many others all had a part in helping me figure out what I wanted to do and how to do it the best way.”

Graduates aren’t limited to one year as volunteers with an option to continue, even after the first year.

Class of 2012 Dominican alumna and second year volunteer, Cynthia Velasquez, like Cisarik, joined Volunteers USA at the Siena House last year and is currently ministering at the St. Francis Center in Redwood City, Calif. She teaches ESL and helps develops students’ computer skills. Additionally, she assists in the center’s Social Services by sorting through donated clothes for their clothing store and she also ministers at the Siena Youth Center in the afternoons as a tutor for grade school students and a teacher for intervention classes.

“There is no easy way to sum up what I have learned through my service.   However, something Sr. Diane Kennedy once said comes close, ‘At the heart of ministry is relationship.’ I could try to know everything and try to be the best at my job, but what it comes down to is the relationship,” Velasquez said. “Many people just want to be heard, given a voice and to feel loved. Through my presence, I am giving them a chance to have a voice and to be heard.”

MaDonna Thelen, Director of Service Learning, has worked alongside undergraduate students through service learning abroad and in Illinois. She agrees that Dominican is unique in the way it motivates its students to give compassionate service.

“I believe there are two things that really contribute to a student’s education,” Thelen said. “One is the mission and the second are the experiences that we provide for our students that let our students know that happiness is about more than just making money. Happiness is really found by fulfilling ourselves as human beings in relating to other human beings through service and through giving back to our local communities.”