Catholic Charities’ culture of volunteerism

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Samantha Astley, volunteer coordinator for Catholic Charities, works with a volunteer outside the Catholic Charities Cape May County office, where food is distributed to vulnerable populations twice a month with the help of volunteers she recruits. Photo by Mary McCusker

When Pope Francis addressed the jubilee audience for volunteers at Saint Peter’s Square in 2016, he said that volunteers are “among the most precious things the church has; you who every day, often silently and unassumingly, give shape and visibility to mercy.”

This statement is borne out locally for those who give their time and talent to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, according to the agency’s volunteer coordinator, Samantha Astley, who oversees the growing network of volunteers. 

Under Astley’s leadership over the course of the past three years, the number of volunteers at Catholic Charities has grown from five to over 100 individuals who serve in various capacities.

“Everyone has unique gifts and something that they can bring to the table,” Astley explained. “And being in a position to find a good role for them to flourish and use those gifts … there’s no job like it.”

Her ability to attract, engage and grow the number of volunteers was recognized nationally at the Catholic Charities USA annual gathering in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last month, where she delivered workshops to leaders from all over the country. As the co-chair of the Catholic Charities USA Volunteer Managers Network, Astley regularly discusses best practices for volunteerism with other members of the national organization.

Beyond finding an appropriate “match” for each volunteer, Astley recognizes the importance of retention. For example, rather than keeping volunteers separated from staff, she ensures that they are fully integrated into the workforce and mission of the agency, as well as the greater community. 

While directly encountering the vulnerable is a hallmark of Catholic social teaching, Astley explained that “some volunteers find their niche when it comes to tasks like organizing the food pantries, handling donations or filing paperwork. And it’s important that they know that every task, no matter how small, ultimately benefits clients who are in need, and that they are making a direct impact.” 

As a result, a wide variety of volunteers are drawn into the agency, from retirees who help teach English, to Catholic high school students who are trained to assist in tax filing services, to individuals who are placed with the agency through AmeriCorps and VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America).

One volunteer, Vincent Mancuso, was honored nationally as a Catholic Charities USA Volunteer of the Year finalist. He noted, “From when I first started here, [Astley] made me feel welcomed and valued. The work we do wouldn’t be possible without dedicated volunteers. Our program has grown to serve a lot of people because she empowered volunteers to use our gifts to help those we serve.”

To learn more about the volunteer opportunities at Catholic Charities, visit: www.catholiccharitiescamden.org/volunteer/