When Joseph Weekly was living in Memphis, he was a volunteer for an after-school refugee tutoring program. Since moving to Nashville, he's been able to continue volunteering in a similar program operated by Catholic Charities of Tennessee.
"I've been volunteering at Catholic Charities in Nashville for a little over a year now. It's been great to get to know Jeremie," Weekly said of the 15-year-old boy from Tanzania he has been mentoring.
"We do some school-related things and some fun things," Weekly explained. "I've been helping him with his English homework, his Spanish homework, his computer class work, and other academic stuff. But we've had a lot of fun too. We've gone to the Opry Mills Mall, to the movies, and the Frist Museum. We've gone to Predators games. And we're planning a day trip to the Chattanooga Aquarium."
Catholic Charities, not to mention Jeremie and all its clients, depend on volunteers like Weekly.
"Volunteers are tremendously important to the work of Catholic Charities in Middle Tennessee," said Mark Barry, Catholic Charities' director of marketing. "We have about 150 employees in all. We simply could not do all that we do if it was up to the employees alone.
"Our volunteers stretch our capabilities to serve in so many different ways, all for the benefit of our clients and their families," he said.
Catholic Charities serves approximately 70,000 people per year from many different walks of life. Clients include immigrants and refugees, the poor, the elderly, women and families in need of pregnancy and adoption services, children and the homeless.
Many volunteers are required to meet the needs of those turning to Catholic Charities for help with food, clothing, shelter and employment, among other things.
"We had about 7,500 volunteer opportunities available this past year," said Barry. "That includes people on the Loaves and Fishes kitchen crews, board members, Christmas Wishes gift wrappers, volunteers working with our Refugee Handicrafts ladies, Refugee Youth adult mentors, perishable food distribution helpers, people providing general office assistance, and the list goes on and on."
It is relatively easy to become a volunteer for Catholic Charities, although the difficulty of applying can vary depending on which department a potential volunteer wishes to serve.
"Our volunteer opportunities are as different as our services and clients are. There is no set rule. Applications and background checks are required for some, especially when children and elders are involved. In other cases, assisting with a perishable food distribution, for example, the requirements are not as detailed," Barry explained.
Applications and opportunities to serve can be accessed through the Catholic Charities website, www.cctenn.org/volunteer.cfm.
"We list upcoming volunteer opportunities on our home page down near the bottom of the page," Barry said. "We also have a page dedicated to volunteer information. That page is accessible by clicking ‘Volunteer' on the bar at the top of the home page.
"We have opportunities which are ‘one time' activities and opportunities which are more on-going in nature," he added. "It really depends on the time that the volunteer has available, the type of help he or she wishes to provide and where (geographically) the people want to serve."
Volunteering is an opportunity to receive as much as it is to give. Weekly says his volunteer work has enriched his life.
"It's been an incredible journey getting to know Jeremie and his family. Whether it's watching him play a tennis match on his school's team or hanging out with him outside of school, it's been exciting to see him and his family adjust to American culture and think of America as their new home," he said. "I think anyone who wants to get involved with Catholic Charities should check it out!"