By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
As an aspiring physician’s assistant attending the University of Iowa, Ben Pohl was eager to go on a medical mission trip to Latin America with a few of his fellow students and teachers. The school required him to come up with the funding for this trip – not easy for the 25-year-old already burdened by student debt, and unable to work full-time due to his rigorous school schedule.
Thanks to a grant from the Diocesan Volunteer Pro-gram, Pohl, a parishioner at Ss. Mary & Mathias in Muscatine, was able to go on the mission trip this year. During his 12-day stay in Mazatlan, Mexico, he provided medical care and encouragement to an impoverished population.
“It was all on the students (financially),” Pohl said. “I had to take out a loan and it was still not enough to get all the way there. The Diocesan Volunteer Program was there to help me seal the deal. … I was able to take my vocational knowledge and serve others.”
The Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action Department recently re-launched its Diocesan Volunteer Program (DVP) in hopes of helping other Catholics in the diocese to be able to serve underprivileged populations in Latin America. Persons interested in applying for grants to assist with mission work can contact the Social Action office.
Ferris said the impetus of this re-launch is to raise awareness of the need for volunteers. Many of the current volunteers are reaching retirement age, and the diocese hopes to increase interest in the younger generation to participate in volunteer efforts in Latin America.
Pope Francis has been encouraging Catholics to participate in worldwide ministry and, in response to this call, Glenn Leach of the diocesan Social Action office said, “We are trying to encourage people to think in terms of global solidarity, to see people in other countries as their fellow parishioners. … We all share the dignity of having been made by God.”
The primary focus of the volunteer program grant is to assist in providing support to individuals for short-term mission work, and to support new and existing global projects and partnerships within the Diocese of Davenport.
Special consideration will be given to projects that not only serve Latin Americans, but also empower them to become more self-sufficient, said Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action.
“There is no rigorous definition of the type or length of program appropriate for support because we want to encourage innovations,” said Ferris. He added that group school and parish mission trip initiatives will not be affected by the Diocesan Volunteer Program.
The Social Action department recently took over administrative responsibilities for the Diocesan Volunteer Program, which was previously part of the Diocesan Volunteer Program and Latin America. Ferris said this will allow streamlining of outreach efforts and a central location for the ease of those wanting to receive grants.
Initially, the program will be funded by residual funds from the Diocesan Volunteer Program and Latin America collection. The re-launched program is now separate from the Latin America collection taken up in parishes. That money will go solely to the national office, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, for the purpose of sharing faith with the Church in Latin America. As interest in the Diocesan Volunteer Program grows, a plan to raise more funds specifically for that program will be discussed.
The Diocesan Volunteer Program is not a primary source of mission opportunities, and Ferris encourages people to be creative in figuring out how they can use their skills to help others. A provision of the grant assistance is the requirement to share the experience of the mission work throughout the diocese.
Ferris said helping volunteers like Pohl serve God and others through the Diocesan Volunteer Program “brings me incredible joy, not just for the Church, but for the diocese.”
For more information or to receive a volunteer form, contact the diocesan Social Action deparment at (563)-324-1911 or firstname.lastname@example.org