Volunteers in the St. Joseph Worker Program Use Their Year of Service to Live Their Faith and Values

By Cathi Douglas     8/2/2019

Genny  Say graduated in spring 2017 from the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, with a bachelor’s degree in social work, but she wasn’t sure of her next step. 

More than anything, she wanted to discern God’s plan for her life. 

“Especially as a young adult, it’s easy to get wrapped up in your job and the high stressors of success,” Say says. “I wanted to be grounded in my faith and discover how my professional, personal, and faith lives could be integrated. Beyond monetary success, I wanted to take more time to listen to where God wants me to be.” 

That’s when serendipity intervened. Through the Catholic Volunteer Network, Say was connected with Sr. Joanna Rosciszewska and the St. Joseph Worker Program, and her next move became clear. 

First begun by the Sisters of St. Joseph in 2002 in Minnesota, the St. Joseph Worker Program offers women ages 21 to 35 a yearlong service opportunity in various sites in California, New York, and Minnesota dedicated to teaching, health care, social service, and other social causes.  

The women enrolled in the St. Joseph Worker Program live in communities, provide 36 hours a week of service in their chosen field, and participate in various enrichment opportunities on such varied self-improvement and societal topics as leadership, prayer styles, human trafficking, immigration, and strengths-finder courses. Say is one of three women who recently completed the program. 

According to its Vision Statement, the program prepares participants for life-long commitments to social change and personal transformation.  

“Women interested in the St. Joseph Worker Program need a personal dedication and a real heart for service,” Sister Rosciszewska says. “This very intentional year in community changes women – they benefit personally, spiritually, and intellectually. We’ve seen amazing work from 16 women serving 9,000 people in the last few years.” 

Today, Say is a social worker at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, Calif., where she is part of the community outreach team that offers health care, transportation, and administrative assistance to the homeless. In the fall she will be pursuing her master’s degree in social work at Baylor University with the goal of further social service. 

“The biggest lesson I learned was the value of the Eucharist in my life,” she states. “Faith is the central motivator of how I live my life, how I treat others. All ordinary things can be extraordinary when I offer them up and take the time to see my life through the lens of Christ.” 

Her year of service helped Say realize that she is powerless without her faith. 

Fernanda Velazco, who wrapped up her St. Joseph Worker experience last summer, is a patient and community advocate for St. Joseph Hospital in Orange.  

Velazco earned a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from USC but quickly realized that medical research was not going to provide her with her desired opportunity to directly serve vulnerable people. Just as she was searching for answers, her campus Catholic minister connected her with the St. Joseph Worker program. 

In her work with the La Amistad Clinic during her year of service, she notes that she was able to learn without fear of making mistakes and develop the necessary skills to work with the needy. 

“I’m so glad I did my year of service,” she says. “The program really changed the direction of my life, and I’m so grateful to the Sisters of St. Joseph for the opportunity. Because of them, I gave my ‘yes’ to God and it’s altered my life forever.” 

Velazco is working to earn a master’s degree in health policy and management from St. Mary’s University at its Doheny campus in her quest to help and serve. 

Each woman serves from August to the following June, is offered a $12,000 stipend, and lives in a small community with four or five others serving in the program, says Gena Cinemato, a program alumna who serves as its program manager. 

“Our team finds the best place for women to grow, enthusiastically serve, and see their future for helping and loving others,” says Sister Rosciszewska. 

California sites where St. Joseph Workers serve include Mission Hospital’s Community Education & Outreach program; St. Jude Neighborhood Health Centers; Hurtt Family Health Clinic; Orange County Rescue Mission; Mary’s Kitchen; Isaiah House; St. Joseph School and St. Anne School in Santa Ana; and Taller San Jose, as well as Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa. 

The sisters are recruiting this year’s volunteers for the St. Joseph Worker program. Cinemato encourages women who are interested in a year of service to visit  www.sjworange.org  for videos, blogs and podcasts from the St. Joseph Workers. For more information, email  [email protected]  or call Sr. Joanna Rosciszewska at 714-515-0471 for more information.