“Changing lives through education.” This message is posted on the home page of the Notre Dame Mission Volunteers website. In many ways, Notre Dame AmeriCorps (NDA) members not only change the lives of the people they serve, but are also transformed themselves. This was evident during NDA’s annual mid-year conference where hundreds of Notre Dame AmeriCorps members traveled to Baltimore, Maryland to learn, grow, and connect with one another.
The life changing process began with an enlightening keynote address by Dr. Heber Brown. Dr. Brown is a pastor and founder of the Orita’s Cross Freedom School, a youth development program that equips youth with the skills to embrace their full humanity and be agents of social change in their communities. He has facilitated workshops during the conference in the past and returned this year to deliver the opening message, which set in motion an inspirational and supportive energy that spanned throughout the following days.
In just a short time, Dr. Brown encouraged members to look inward, to make mistakes, to learn from those mistakes, and to never settle for less than what we dream for ourselves. He shared with the conference participants a quote by Parker Palmer that reads, “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.” The crowd of nearly 400 members and site supervisors snapped their fingers with resounding agreement and acceptance. The NDA members acknowledged that they should trust in life’s journey in these trying times, and believe that they are in the right place. After the speech, many members in the audience felt affirmed in their decision to serve and to give back.
“Dance to your own music,” says Dr. Brown as he started to groove and move his body on the stage. “It will encourage others to dance along with you.” He invited members to maintain their desire to volunteer rather than fall in line with the life they may feel pressured to live. With the hope that others will understand and be inspired. Dr. Brown shared his personal journal entries that documented his growth through trying times. The strokes in Dr. Brown’s penmanship displayed his stress and frustration throughout his journey. But, as he flipped the page, he revealed his own images and words that eventually manifested into his biggest dreams. He never gave up on his dreams and reinforced the understanding that others shouldn’t either, encouraging the participants to write and draw their goals and aspirations on paper to commence the manifestation of those ambitions.
Dr. Heber Brown’s keynote was inspiring and transformative, which set the tone for the rest of the three-day conference that included informational and training workshops. The workshops featured information on everything from how to develop a self-care routine, ways that we can see one another as humans despite one’s social identities, and a workshop facilitated by HCC’s very own Lashae Copeland, who led a discussion on identifying and combating Anti-Blackness within ourselves and our communities. This weekend was the perfect opportunity for Notre Dame AmeriCorps members to take a step back and to remove themselves from the challenging work at their service sites with the purpose of re-evaluating and recharging. After the mid-year retreat members return to work with new ways of taking care of themselves and of the people they serve. Recharged and re-energized members return to their service site to form deep connections with those they teach and with those with whom they can learn.
Start your own enriching experience with Notre Dame AmeriCorps. NDA offers plenty of opportunities for people to serve in over 30 communities in the United States as well as internationally. One of these communities is right here in Apopka, FL! The Apopka service site is currently recruiting Notre Dame AmeriCorps members for the 2018-2019 year. For more information. Please call or email Laura Firtel at [email protected] or 407-880-4673.