Service Site: La Salle Academy, Philadelphia
College: Loyola University, Chicago
Community: Christian Brothers Spiritual Center Community, Philadelphia
Sara Vogelpohl, La Salle Academy, Philadelphia, is an art teacher and “jack of all trades”, including: assistant teacher to all, lunch lady, recess duty, fill-in secretary, sometimes substitute teacher.
Why did you choose to become a Lasallian Volunteer? Have your hopes about the Program been realized?
I considered a variety of Volunteer programs. The Lasallian Volunteers, however, made a very positive impression on me in my discernment process. Initially, I was drawn to the personal nature of the Program. I will never forget being called by my first name at a post-grad service fair before I ever introduced myself because the current Volunteers that were recruiting were told ahead of time that I might be stopping by to ask questions. After that, I was struck by the effort that was put forth by the staff to ensure I would have the best placement possible. No other program put so much time and effort into making sure that where I would serve would be the “right fit.”
Now almost over three months into my year, I am still amazed at the support systems and great organization of the Program. If I ever have a problem, I have more than one person to turn to for guidance or even just a listening ear. That personal nature I felt from the beginning has now become a fairly close network of people I call friends.
I think the most important “thing(s)” my students need from me are love and support. A lot of my students have already dealt with more in life than I have experienced. When we are at school, however, pretty much all that seems to fade away for them. Most of our students are kids that just want to be kids and treated like one. I believe that the reason they thrive at our school is because they receive a great deal of love and support. There are numerous times I have had students come up to me and randomly tell me something that is going on at home — whether positive or negative. I don’t think they necessarily want an answer or comment from me. They just want someone to listen. They want someone to laugh with and be proud of them. At times, they are so easy to love, that I find one of my hardest challenges is to not become so involved that I lose a sense of authority with them. Yet, I try to listen when I can, be patient (even on the hard days), and offer any bit of love I can for them.
If you could project ahead a few years and look back to now, how do you think your experiences with those you serve and with the Brothers will have changed you?
In the future, when I look back at this experience, I can confidently say that those I serve and the Brothers will have impacted my life deeply. The Brothers I live with, my co-workers, and students have all directly or indirectly asked me tough life questions that I may have never asked myself. They have helped me find myself absent of the physical presence of those I am accustomed, which has been somewhat difficult and rewarding. Working at LSA has made me realize that there are so many children that have wonderful dreams but may not be able to fulfill them because they were born into the cycle of poverty. I feel called to use my life to somehow help them achieve their dreams or at least have a chance. I still do not know where I am going next in life, but I feel that I will reflect back on my time with my students and the Brothers when making those decisions.
I would be honest. I was nervous to move in with the Brothers, particularly because I am the only female. But, I also felt strongly drawn to the LV Program, including living with the Brothers. I felt that there was something to be learned from this experience. Now, I just say that it is like living with four pretty cool uncles, with a lot of life experience!
Why would you recommend the LV Program to a college senior considering Volunteering?
The LV Program is personal, very supportive, caring and attentive to one’s needs and even wants. You will become a part of a group of people that are strongly committed to the Mission of the program and to making a positive difference for all involved (Volunteers and students/clients/guests).
I love my job as an art teacher. Honestly, sometimes I do not feel like it is a job because it is so fun working with the students at LSA. I even think some of my students like art some days! I believe that many people would love to be in my position. But, the reality is that as much as people would love the job description, they might not like the fact they get paid minimally. LSA is very blessed with donations, but unfortunately it could most likely not pay for an art teacher’s salary from its budget. Therefore, if I were not Volunteering this year, my students would not have art class. That is a thought that makes me sad because I believe that art is a creative outlet that children should have in their education process.
Having that in mind, the only way life as a busy Volunteer is bearable is if one has endless support systems and guidance. And unfortunately, those resources are not free. So by making a contribution to the LV Program, you are helping LVs to be at their best mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, so they can in turn make a difference or even go as far as to enhance the life of someone else.