What AmeriCorps Taught Me about Love
Today’s guest blog comes to us from AmeriCorps alum, Caitlin Morneau. Caitlin began serving in 2008 as an AmeriCorps Summer Servant with Bethlehem Farm, a member program of Catholic Volunteer Network. She is now the Operations Coordinator at the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts.
My love story with AmeriCorps didn’t start in a movie theater or a restaurant, but on a farm in rural Appalachia. We first met while repairing homes with Bethlehem Farm.
We got serious when I served as a caseworker at a homeless shelter through Catholic Charities Project SERVE. We went on wild adventures to college campuses across the country recruiting for Catholic Volunteer Network. We drew closer each day when I worked as a Program Assistant for the Catholic Volunteer Network AmeriCorps grant. And we walk side by side each day in my journey as a proud AmeriCorps Alum.
This ongoing relationship has impacted my career, deepened my faith in God, and enhanced my understanding of the world around me. I had once planned to be a professional opera singer, but increasingly felt called to a career serving others. Now, I work as an administrator at a non-profit arts and health organization. As a Christian, my service experiences opened my eyes to the ways that God’s love dwells in each and every person. Then, the more I learned about the amount of injustice in our world, the more empowered I felt to change it in whatever way that I could.
Admittedly, these are the aspects of my AmeriCorps experiences that I find it easy to talk about. However, it is often more difficult to articulate the way that they have infused my personal relationships. No, this is not a story about how I met my husband through AmeriCorps. This is a story about how AmeriCorps taught my husband and me to serve each other in marriage. Furthermore, it is about how making service a priority in our home has challenged us to be better stewards to our family, friends and community.
In each of my AmeriCorps experiences, I lived with others in intentional community, which is one of the pillars (along with faith, service and simplicity) of Catholic Volunteer Network programs. This meant that those I lived with were more than just roommates. We had weekly community reflections. We shared our grocery and household budgets. We rotated making dinner, and we were conscious of the equity of time that we spent with each community member. We humbly regarded others as more important than ourselves.
When I grew frustrated with myself because I knew absolutely nothing about home repair, when I broke down in tears after a difficult day at the shelter, when I felt completely lost for a sense of direction in my life … they held me up, they helped me process and they got me through. We fought over doing the dishes, became annoyed with various personality quirks and supported each other unconditionally. Does that sound like another type of relationship you may be familiar with?
I did not begin to understand how these community relationships would inform my marriage until September 2013. Two months after our wedding, my husband Aaron accepted a job, teaching band at a Title 1 middle school. With an undergraduate degree in music education, a master’s degree in saxophone performance and many years of private teaching under his belt, he was ready. Though we never could have anticipated the challenges that lay ahead for him in the classroom.
Watching Aaron struggle with limited resources and the ups and downs of teaching a disadvantaged population, I was reminded of my own struggles while serving. As he longed for the instruments his kids needed in order to practice and learn their craft, I remembered longing for well-paying jobs to be available for the mothers I served at the shelter. When he grew frustrated with his students’ lack of discipline in the classroom, I recalled my frustration with a client who refused to attend the parenting classes that I knew would benefit her and her son. When he rejoiced with his students for an “Excellent” score at their band competition, I remembered rejoicing the day that I moved my first client into permanent housing.
Each day that was taxing, exhausting and heart-breaking, I brought myself back to those moments in my service that felt bleak and insurmountable. From that place of darkness, I envisioned the light of hope that came when someone offered me the encouragement to keep going. I offered that same support to my husband, and in turn, he shared it with the students he served. Each day I do my best to humbly regard his needs as more important than my own. And when the shoe is on the other foot, he does the same for me.
Striving to put the other person’s needs before our own is how we approach our marriage, family, and community life. There are other ways, too, that we seek to create space for service in our family. We open our home to friends and family, whether they are joining us for dinner, or they need somewhere to stay and get their feet on the ground in a new place. For us, valuing service also means rescuing our dog from a shelter and participating in a Martin Luther King Day of Service activities together. It means setting a portion of our income aside to donate to our churches and beloved charities and planting a garden in our back yard to reduce our carbon footprint. Someday, we hope, this will include exposing our children to service at an early age and supporting them as they grow to become AmeriCorps Alums.
I don’t pretend to be a marriage expert, and I don’t expect that others will integrate service in their lives the same way that Aaron and I do. But I am truly grateful for the ways that AmeriCorps has taught me to be, not only, a worker for justice and peace, but, also, a better wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend and citizen of the world.