New Directory of Faith Based Service Opportunities Available

Response 2010, the directory of Christian service opportunities published by Catholic Network of Link to search opportunitiesVolunteer Service (CNVS), is now available in print and online versions.

Response 2010 lists nearly 200 service programs in the United States and around the world, representing countless more individual service opportunities.

Participation in many of these opportunities is not contingent on your own faith background (but you should ask each program you’re looking into), and in many cases opportunities are open to non-U.S. citizens. Programs included range from larger organizations with hundreds of opportunities to serve, like my alma mater Notre Dame Mission Volunteers which has both international and domestic service opportunities — to more intimate programs like FrancisCorps, which offers a total of a dozen or so year-long volunteer opportunities at sites in Syracuse and Puerto Rico.

In addition to offering you the tools to find a good program match for your situation and goals, CNVS also offers reflection questions to help you confirm your commitment to service, and to help you decide which program to choose.

Link to order a print copyIf you work with potential volunteers in a school, faith community, retreat center, or informally in your own way, you can order free copies of the Response Directory for your resource library, or to share. Order online or send an email to cnvsinfo [at]

CNVS, established in 1963, is a non-profit membership organization of 200 domestic and international volunteer and lay mission programs. Currently, more than 10,000 volunteers and lay missioners serve in these programs throughout the United States and in 108 other countries.

Have you served in a CNVS member program? Or taken a look at the Response Directory? What have been your experiences?

Choosing a Service Corps: Questions to Ask

To bring the most to your community, and to get the most out of your service experience, ask good questions before you even sign on.

Enlisting in a service corps is a great commitment: long hours, little pay, intense investment in the people you serve, and often close quarters with other corps members or colleagues.

On top of that, you have easily over a thousand program options available to you if you are a U.S. person. (I don’t have an exact number for you but I am working on that.) Domestic and international, secular and faith-based, direct service and indirect service, famous and obscure, individual placement and team-based placement—so many options! (See Corps and Coalitions in the sidebar of this blog for a partial list.)

You owe it to yourself and the corps to investigate your short list of programs thoroughly. But you also have to know yourself, your preferences, your requirements, and your goals. Be smart about your search!

Listed below are questions that I adapted from the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service, a member association of Christian service programs, which offers these lists of questions for you to ask yourself and to ask program staff when you are researching programs.

Questions to ask yourself:


You should enter a service program keeping in mind personal and professional goals, so that when you encounter challenges at site, you remember why you joined in the first place. Some responses may fall into categories such as:

  • Commitment to changing my community for the better
  • Professional development/ skill building
  • Spiritual path
  • Personal growth
  • Experience before career and grad school


  • Of myself
  • Of the program
  • Of my work

Really spend some time figuring out your assumptions and expectations. Do you envision yourself helping  people in your community directly? — or are you expecting an office job? Do you anticipate using some skills you’ve already got, or learning everything from scratch? Are you hoping your service program staff will be very involved with your work—observing, offering feedback—or removed from your day-to-day activities?

Listing assets will help you apply for a position, craft your resume, etc. Let your list influence — at least in part — where you choose to serve. Searching for a program that takes advantage of your current abilities will help you find a good match — one that’s beneficial to your community, your service site, and you. Consider what you’re bringing to the conversation:

  • Professionally
  • Personally – talents/gifts
  • Strengths/weaknesses

You’ll encounter stresses. Are you sure you are ready for them?:

  • Moving/ leaving support system
  • New supervisor, constituents, community, job, and environment
  • Low-income lifestyle
  • Cultural adjustments


Consider not only groceries, rent, and entertainment. Once you know what your living allowance would be in the corps, work out a budget. Can you make ends meet? Read more on financial management for the corps member.

  • Options for forbearing or deferring student loans
  • Managing other debt you’re bringing with you to the program
  • Child care expenses
  • Transportation

Questions to ask the service program director and/or site manager before joining

Generally speaking, it’s preferable to research the program’s web site and literature thoroughly before asking any questions of program staff. To learn more about preparing for an interview, check out Chapter Nine of the Guide to Nonprofit Careers.


  • Issue areas (poverty, environment, education, etc.)
  • Function (do corps members serve as grant writers, construction workers, educators, program developers, communications, etc.)
  • What other service programs are doing what yours does?/What’s the difference between your program and [another program you are considering]?

It’s important for you to find a supervisor who can balance attention to you, with freedom for creativity and autonomy. Once at site, you can get what you need from your supervisors by asking for it clearly.

  • Highly directive
  • Hands off
  • Adaptive of the corps member’s needs throughout the year


You must balance what you have heard about the program, with what the program truly offers.

  • Domestic/ international
  • Rural/ urban
  • Professional skills required
  • Length of commitment
  • Direct or indirect service
  • What will I spend my day doing


  • Paperwork involved
  • Apply to the service program headquarters, or to the host site/agency
  • Personal interview/ phone interview; how many
  • Medical and dental examinations
  • Documentation (If your program is affiliated with an academic degree program, will I apply separately to each? Do I need to take any standardized tests? Do you need to see my undergraduate transcripts?)


  • Citizenship
  • Education level
  • Undergraduate Grade Point Average
  • Volunteer experience?


Sometimes the true benefits cannot be listed on a page.

  • Opportunity to serve; work for social justice
  • Training and networking opportunities
  • Career transitions support
  • Community and peer support
  • Cultural education
  • Language training (when applicable)
  • Room and board
  • Stipend or living allowance
  • Health insurance (Does it exclude coverage of pre-existing conditions and certain prescriptions? Does it cover mental health services, if I need access to that?)
  • Child care allowance
  • Student loan deferment/forbearance (Are these allowances compatible with my student loans?)
  • Scholarship or fellowship opportunities


This is helpful in getting a different perspective from someone who has completed the program.

  • What kind of support did the service program staff offer (skills training, conflict resolution, access to benefits, career transitions, etc.)
  • What did you do every day?
  • Did you feel you could see a difference in your community through your service?
  • How did you live on the stipend?


Treat your search for a service corps as you would a job search—cast your net widely, and make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. For more on nonprofit careers, see the Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers. Chapter Five includes a table that compares a handful of the most famous corps: service programs for early-career professionals (PDF), service programs open to mid-career professionals (PDF).

Transforming Your World through Service and Faith

The world over, people of faith — every faith — are called to action, to answer the plea of a neighbor in need, or to make the world a more just place. Some people volunteer through their place of worship, others through community and grassroots organizations.

For people who want to live out their beliefs through service, and to commit to full-time service in the United States or abroad, participating in a faith-based service program offers training, a connection to people in need, and a team for reflecting with on issues of religious and moral importance.

The Jewish Coalition for Service is a coalition of faith-based organizations whose mission is to inspire Jewish people to take part in a full-time term of volunteer service and to mobilize the alumni of service. JCS connects people with over 75 full-time service opportunities some of which are also AmeriCorps programs, including Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps.

Avodah engages young adults in direct service at in Chicago, New York, Washington, and New Orleans.

Watch this video about Avodah:

Another Jewish service group, the American Jewish World Service, offers committed citizens the opportunity to serve abroad in community organizations.

Next week, the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service will gather its program directors for a multi-day conference in Portland, OR. I’ll be there, partly because I am offering a workshop on supporting volunteer career transitions, but also because I am an alumni of one of CNVS’s member programs, Notre Dame Mission AmeriCorps Volunteers AmeriCorps (NDMVA).

CNVS is a national membership association of 200 faith-based domestic and international volunteer programs, some of which are either AmeriCorps-funded, or which offer the Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award to its members upon completion of service. It publishes a directory of its programs called The Response Directory in print, and as a searchable directory on its web site. Regardless of your faith, you should check out this list of questions you should ask before joining a service program.

I joined the Notre Dame AmeriCorps program in 2000, immediately after finishing out my term of Peace Corps service.  In Peace Corps, I had taught English to Chinese college students, and the Notre Dame program allowed me to come back to the States and teach English and citizenship skills to Asian immigrants and refugees living in Lowell, MA. I couldn’t have found a better way to transition back to the States. (Plus I met my future husband through the program.)

Another prominent Catholic service program is the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, including Jesuit Volunteers International.

If you are seeking a faith-based program to join, you may not need to be an adherent of the faith — be sure to ask. And your service may or may not include missionary activities. AmeriCorps-funded programs are open to people regardless of faith and members do not proselytize during their service.

I have looked for Muslim term of service programs (AmeriCorps-funded or not) and haven’t found anything — if you have heard of one, or a service program run by any other religion, I’d love to hear about it.

Oct. 20 update: Also at the CNVS Conference I heard about Eboo Patel‘s Interfaith Youth Core Faiths Act Fellows, a group of young people from the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, who serve to meet Millenium Development Goals.