Volunteer Ministry Program: Pursuing Healthier, Stronger Communities

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Reposting a spotlight on BSVM from our colleagues in the Bon Secours Mercy Health System! Read on to find out more about the history of BSVM, its impact in Baltimore and Richmond, and how it’s been important in the lives of our alumni.

Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry (BSVM), sponsored by the Sisters of Bon Secours, is a service-focused, faith-based year of ministry where about a dozen full-time volunteers serve in various public health roles within our ministry. These recent college graduate volunteers are usually split between our Baltimore, Md. and Richmond, Va. markets where they live in intentional community.

For 11 months, they commit to grow spiritually, live simply, learn through service with others, develop community and practice God’s justice. They receive extensive staff support in growing through these pillars. The BSVM program also provides housing, health insurance, transportation, a monthly stipend and assistance with loan deferment.

How did BSVM start?

Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry began in 1999 at the invitation of the Sisters of Bon Secours. They wanted to create a way for lay women and men to participate in the Congregation of Bon Secours’ commitment to justice in radical solidarity with the poor, the suffering and those most in need.

The placement of these volunteers is focused on improving the social determinants of health for neighbors and are located in both clinical and non-clinical settings. Examples of placements include roles as an early childhood center aide, mobile health clinic assistant, emergency room patient liaison, middle or high school student support and neighborhood community organizer. All in all, it takes about $16,000 to support one volunteer for the year.

Volunteers who participate in our BSVM program are typically interested in pursuing further schooling in health care. The ministry is holistic, encouraging each volunteer to reflect regularly and deepen their spiritual growth through the whole year. BSVM is also very intentional about where volunteer houses are based and purposefully plants them in communities that have experienced oppression and marginalization. This way, our ministry volunteers can learn through relationships about injustice and systemic inequalities.

“I love being part of this formative experience because of the way that living in community shaped my life and helped me understand myself in deeper and clearer ways,” Emily Thrush, BSVM site leader, shares. “I lean on my own volunteer experience in DC from years ago when I was a recent college graduate, as well as the subsequent years I spent living in intentional community outside of a specific program. I’ve worked in nonprofits for 15 years and feel gratitude to now work in a role with BSVM that allows me to build relationships, encourage good questions, engage in meaningful practices and invite volunteers to go all in with this immersive, challenging, joyful experience. We get to celebrate the journeys of incredible young adults becoming who they are meant to be.”

BSVM’s impact in our Richmond market

While the program has been present in West Baltimore, Md. for more than 20 years now, in 2018 at the urging of the Sisters of Bon Secours, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry expanded to include a volunteer house in Richmond, Va. Volunteers live within walking distance of most of their placement sites and spend 80 percent of their time working directly with patients, students, clients or program participants. The program often places volunteers in Richmond’s East End where they have served assignments at the Care-A-VanRichmond Community Hospital and Cristo Rey. In filling their roles and building relationships with their neighbors, volunteers tackle barriers like poverty, racism and other forms of oppression, and chip away at these injustices in pursuit of healthier, stronger neighborhoods.

Firsthand thoughts from BSVM alums

Christian Wood (2018-2019): “Bon Secours does a fantastic job of providing me opportunities to reflect on day-to-day life and the work that I’m doing. I found with my other friends who have graduated, and just in life in general, that it can sometimes be hard to be intentional about reflecting and understanding why you’re doing things when you sort of settled into this routine of going into a nine-to-five job, day in and day out. Being a part of Bon Secours and having that opportunity to reflect has provided me with a structure that I think I’m going to take with me the rest of my life.”

Mara Scarbrough (2018-2019): “One of the things that was important to me when I was discerning which faith-based program I wanted to be a part of was finding a place that was intentional about placing our service in the community in which we lived and worked.”

Jenna Vrable (2019-2020): “I went on a really life-changing journey personally with BSVM. I feel like I am a really different person than I was before in a really positive way. This year is an intentional year that isn’t just a resume-building thing. It’s not just something that you do half-heartedly and it’s not just a typical 40 hours of being at this service site and that’s what you do. There is so much giving of yourself and sharing with other people in a really vulnerable and deep way that I don’t think I really expected. This is so much about figuring out how to engage your heart and mind in a way that can be sustainable. Because service work isn’t just about us ‘offering healing’ to other people. It’s so much about reciprocity and mutuality and allowing yourself to be reached by other people, too.”

If you know of a recent college graduate who is looking to make an impact in the Baltimore or Richmond communities, let them know about our Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry.

Also, learn more about our ministry at BonSecours.com.