From left, Francisco Gonzales, Marissa Baca Gonzales, Nicole Fusco and Guadalupe Avila just arrived in San Francisco for their yearlong roles of service at Bay Area nonprofits.
Mercy Volunteer Corps: The energy of giving
October 3rd, 2016
By Liz Dossa
Mercy Volunteer Corps members are bringing fresh energy for Catholic social justice to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Guadalupe Avila, Nicole Fusco, Francisco Gonzales, and Marissa Baca Gonzales, all in their 20s, are part of the one-year program sponsored by Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. This year 44 Mercy Volunteer Corps members are serving throughout the U.S. and South America.
Nicole’s tasks at Faithful Fools Street Ministry in San Francisco’s Tenderloin vary daily. The nonprofit welcomes people from the neighborhood with healing art, Tai Chi, meditation, and creative writing. “I go where they need me. I have facilitated the 12-step program and like today, welcomed people at the front door,” she said.
Nicole, recently graduated from the Jesuits’ Canisius College, Buffalo, New York, where she went to major in chemistry and where Campus Ministry Immersion changed her.
“After CMI, I realized I was passionate about chemistry but also passionate about working with others,” she said, her eyes sparkling behind her black rimmed glasses.
Marissa Gonzales’ assignment is the third grade classroom of Cindy Gonzales, a 40-year veteran teacher at St. Peter School, San Francisco. “Cindy is a wonderful mentor,” Marissa said. “I’ve taken on phonics and do lots of administrative work in the classroom. I’m learning classroom management.” She eyes the 33 active, squirmy but polite kids at their desks, all in full uniform.
Finishing her degree in elementary education and special education, Marissa learned about Mercy Volunteer Corps at New Mexico Highlands College where she balanced multiple volunteer roles: president of the Newman Club, volunteer at Samaritan House, and mentor for students with disabilities. One factor made her hesitate: She and Francisco Gonzales were to be married in June. Fortunately, he was eager to apply as well, and MVC found spots for both of them in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Francisco begins his work at 7:15 a.m. at Mercy Retirement and Care Center in Oakland on trucks with pallets of food to be delivered to low income seniors in Alameda County. He helps the volunteers at each site organize and pack food that adds up to 1 million pounds in a year. Afternoons he does activities with facility residents.
Mercy Sister Judy Carle, one of his mentors, says, “He does not speak Spanish or Chinese, but he finds a gentle way to communicate with the residents. He is very creative in his approach.” Francisco’s favorite task is leading yoga. He’s not really a certified yoga instructor, but he uses his experience with stretching in sports. “I ask them for suggestions. They really like that,” he says.
Guadalupe Avila, called Lupita by everyone, has slipped easily into her roles at St. Peter School. She assists in science lab, with CYO sports and campus ministry. She found MVC at Mercy- sponsored St. Xavier University in Chicago where she was studying for her degree in speech pathology. Like the other three, she loves the Catholic setting and loves volunteering. “I wanted a year to give my time, to give help that I can.”
Living on small stipends, the four nourish each other through community living in rooms across from St Mary’s Medical Center originally designed to house nurses. Nicole describes their community as “close-knit.” At meals, cellphones are not allowed. “We have dinner together every week night and breakfast on the weekends. We actually talk face-to-face.” They have movie nights, spirituality nights and a “bucket list” of things to see and do in the area. “It feels like we were meant to be here. It is like home already,” said Marissa.
Dossa is manager of communications, Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community.
From October 6, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.