From Chris Swain '04: The Diary of a Lasallian Volunteer

Lasallian Volunteers: Frequently Asked Questions

As soon as I first began considering becoming a Lasallian Volunteer, the questions began to come from friends and family members. Many people still wonder the same thing. In this column, I hope to answer some of those questions, and I invite you, the reader, to dialogue with me by emailing me your own questions or comments. I will get back to you either individually or in another column.

Q: Why did you sign up to volunteer-getting paid next to nothing-for a year after your college graduation?

A: Looking back on my experiences growing up, I came to appreciate the numerous investments people made in me. I knew volunteering was a starting point in giving back what I had been given. Also, the opportunity and experience that volunteering provides is transformational in the way I see the world and my role in it.

Q: You signed up to work in Camden? Why?

A: As I mentioned in my last column, there is something special about this place, the young people here and the community in which I live. The students are full of energy and are very sharp. They have to be. In late November, for example, Camden was named the "nation's most dangerous city."

Some days the students walk into school believing that they are just as smart if not smarter than the next kid. But, there are also days when being from Camden becomes a debilitating crutch to which they cling.

There is something about growing up in Camden that at times tells the students nothing is possible and at times tells them everything is possible. There is something about growing up and having things not go your way that gives these students a certain resiliency, an attitude that no matter what hits them, they'll bounce back. There is something about growing up in a place with so much violence that makes them sharp. Some students may not know their times tables, but in their world, they know 12 x 9. The moral of this story: The students I get to teach are remarkable.

Q: What is the appeal of living in a religious community with Brothers?

A: The Brothers bring energy to their work that inspires me to want to learn from them to become a better teacher and, above all, a better person. The energy they bring isn't only toward their work, but toward their lives in prayer and community.

Five of us live in community together: three Brothers, two volunteers. We live together, pray together, work together, and eat together-what could be better than that? I had the opportunity to meet someone who had been working with the Brothers for a number of years. He remarked to me, "They are the finest group of men I know."

I agree.

Q: Why teach middle school?

A: When I tell people I teach in a middle school, they respond by:

a) raising their eyebrows
b) chuckling
c) saying "God bless you."
d) saying "They must have their challenges."
e) all of the above.

In college, I volunteered at a couple of after-school programs for children in middle school, and I find something very cool about that age group. Their ideas are not yet so firm they can't be molded. Some of these young people are looking for guidance, for a push, for someone to believe in them, for someone to listen to them or for someone who will take them seriously.

They are starved for attention, not wanting to be forgotten or told that in the future they will be forgotten.

Each day these students energize me and teach me more than I ever imagined.

Repeating to myself, "Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God" and looking up to see the face of a student I just asked for the fifth time to stop tapping on the desk, I'm reminded that the student who shakes my hand in the morning or holds the door open is a day-to-day reminder of God's presence in my life.


I hope my answers provided some insight or prompted more questions that you might have. Send them to me at the e-mail address below.

Chris Swain
Lasallian Volunteer, Camden, New Jersey

The Lasallian Volunteer program offers a unique opportunity for an individual to respond to Christ's call to serve others, especially the poor. The response is a one- to three-year experience in the field of Christian education or related human development service. During this period of service, Lasallian Volunteers work in ministries of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, sharing fully in the ministry and community life of the Brothers and their Lasallian Partners, the lay people who have joined in the Brothers' work. Saint Mary's College has eleven alumni currently serving as Lasallian Volunteers, and more than eighty Lasallian Volunteers have come from Saint Mary's College in the program's fifteen-year history. To learn more about the Lasallian Volunteers, go to: