I was in a conversation with a woman in our community who has known me most of my life. She is a retired teacher, as am I. She knew I had been in Poland after college but didn’t know it was through BVS. She asked me if I could say one thing about that experience that influenced me. Without thinking, I said it changed my whole life. On reflection, I realize that it’s the best answer I could have given. It influenced my decision about graduate school and helped focus my career, but more importantly it influenced my way of dealing with all the people I have encountered since then, students, friends, colleagues, people with whom I disagree, and the list goes on. It’s impossible to say how many times things that I learned through my experience in BVS have popped into my mind as I have lived my life. I am so thankful I took that step after Manchester to enter BVS.

Larry Klingler, Unit 93, Brethren Agricultural Exchange Program (1971-1973)

I can say with all honesty that BVS literally changed my life. My project was at Woodland Altars Outdoor Education Center in the Southern Ohio District where I served mainly as Office Manager. And I must’ve made a decent impression on the Center’s Director because he asked me to stay on as a salaried employee after my year was up – which I did, and I stayed for another 7 years. The things I learned and the friendships I made at Woodland Altars have lasted me right into my life now – and that was back in 1980!

On another note entirely, I recall a cop stopping the BVS bus for speeding during my Orientation in southern Illinois. Not to name names, but that was Bev Weaver driving. (She did not get a ticket, by the way, and to this day, some of us might still call her out for the way she batted her eyes at the officer. Oh, har!)

Diane Bellomo, Unit 145, Woodland Altars (1980-1981)

BVS gave me incredible experiences connecting with multiple communities of people in different settings, all working to make their world better for those who lived there.

First, I participated in 2 orientations on the South Side of Chicago which taught me about the wide variety of communities that makes up the US. We worshipped and lived in African American communities, which was an education to me, having grown up in the suburbs.

Next, I spent 2 years at Church and Peace in Germany, which was seeking to be faithful Christians by encouraging Christian communities for nonviolence and advocating against the arms race. This gave me to opportunity to visit Christian communities in Germany, France, and the Netherlands.

Finally, I worked in Iowa at a community action office assisting families to overcome poverty, and which started an advocacy program against domestic violence and sexual assault. This taught me to respect and be supportive of all persons and seek to empower them to be their best selves. This also gave me job skills to begin working in human services following BVS. I have always been grateful for the variety of experiences and people I met through BVS. I don’t think I would have had these experiences had I not been a volunteer through Brethren Volunteer Service. It taught me to see the world through others’ eyes and be inspired by their efforts to improve their lives and the lives of others in their community.

Myrna Frantz, Unit 159, Church and Peace Office (1983-1985)

I loved my time serving in Brethren Volunteer Service March 2014-January 2016 in The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. During my time volunteering at L’Arche Kilkenny and incredABLE (formerly Enable NI), I really grew as a person. I learned how to take care of others, learned about two different, yet similar cultures, and got to experience what it is like to live the village life for the first time. In my first year of BVS, I enjoyed all the traveling around The Republic of Ireland at L’Arche Kilkenny and how the community there cared for me and helped me when I needed support the most.

My second year of BVS ended up being a blessing in disguise. I loved working at incredABLE and it ended up being the best job and one of the best years of my life. My current job is a close second. I wished I could have stayed on longer. The director of incredABLE was the best boss I ever had. My current director at my current job is a close second as she also is emphatic and understanding when it comes to work with people from various backgrounds. I loved the opportunities to learn more about the cultural differences between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I enjoyed learning more Protestantism and Catholicism at both jobs. I enjoyed learning the deep history of the island of Ireland and sometimes get more homesick for it than I do for the US.

My time spent on these two BVS projects gave me a buffer chance to grow up more, become more responsible, and learn about how to care for others and to care for myself. I really needed that intentional poverty lifestyle to learn how to be responsible financially especially. I learned about teamwork, how to help others when they need it, and to ask for help when I need it. I learned how to be patient and care for others who sometimes could not communicate their wants and needs effectively. These skills helped me tremendously with my current job teaching kindergarten at a private English academy in South Korea.

I would highly recommend BVS to anyone who is ready for adventure, but needs a bit more time to grow up after studying at university.

Rosemary Sorg, Unit 304, L’Arche Kilkenny and incredABLE (2014-2016)

It’s been a while. 50 years to be exact. The flow of life was different back then. Practically everyone attended a church of their choice, and life was less rushed. The country was part way through the Vietnam War, and the BVS units were large due to conscription. We were given $15.00 a month stipend, which was plenty to see us through the month. Not being a member of the Brethren denomination I was not familiar with BVS, but Helen Herr came to my church to talk about Church World Service, and she mentioned being in one of the first BVS units. I went home feeling called, so I applied and took a year’s unpaid leave of absence from my job. After 5 weeks of training in New Windsor, MD, I landed on a project in the inner city of Chicago.

My BVS experience was life changing for me, but I have often wondered how my decision to join BVS impacted the lives of those I journeyed with throughout that year. Some of that impact was evident immediately as I watched a child’s face break into a smile, helped a teen pitch a tent under the stars they had never seen because the lights of the city blocked them, or shared the joy of the mom who just finished sewing her first item of clothing. But most of the impact will remain unknown, as it should be.

There are endless memorable moments, but one that stands out is the summertime preschool we started for the kids scheduled to begin school in the Fall. We asked the local Kindergarten teacher what we could teach the children that would be most helpful to her. (The community was culturally diverse and at least half of the kids spoke only Spanish and we spoke only English). She advised us to teach them their ABC’s, numbers, colors, and shapes. It sounds like such a simple thing, but starting school without knowing those basics, with a language barrier besides, puts them behind from the get-go. The children learned those things, and more, very quickly. Helping them was such a joy. The teacher was grateful.

You see, being a part of BVS isn’t just about what it can do for you. It’s all about what you can offer to others while showing acceptance, grace, love, and compassion. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

Susan Frost, Unit 90, Douglas Park Church of the Brethren (1971)

I have 5 years of BVS and 4 different projects that helped form who I am today and the life I have lived.

My first project I was 18, just out of high school and went to the Douglas Park Church on the west side of Chicago. (My guess is that Susan Frost and I were in the same apartment one year after the other). It was an eye opening and life changing time for me to get to know the families and especially the kids in the neighborhood.

40 years later I found my “favorite family” on FB and drove out to meet up with 4 of the 5 Stafford children. Soon afterwards, I found myself heading to Northern Ireland to work in a youth club in Ardoyne, a Catholic neighborhood of West Belfast. I stayed about 15 months and loved my time with the neighborhood youth running discos, driving the van, arranging various cooking or craft classes and playing pool.

I then went to Glebe House, a small farm in Co Down where children from Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods were brought to the countryside for adventures together. We had volunteers from England, the US, France, Germany, and India. I learned how to milk goats along with many other practical skills.

When I returned to the states at the end of 79, I was soon called to Elgin to work a year as an assistant to the Orientation Director as well as the Recruitment Director. A wonderful opportunity to get a bit more behind the scenes of the Church of the Brethren and BVS to welcome and help orient new volunteers. Driving the big bus, preparing training sessions and practice projects, as well as helping folks when choosing their projects were all extremely rewarding and valuable life lessons for me.

Twenty years later I got to be a BVS Project Director as the Recruiter for Innisfree Village, a life sharing community with adults with disabilities at the foothills of Shenandoah National Forest. I still enjoy inspiring and being inspired by folks who choose a life of service, peace and simplicity.

My parents, Bill and Jeanne Chappell were BVSers for 13 years and my sister Deborah Chappell Kristensen for 2 years in Germany. It’s a family thing.

Nancy Chappell, Unit 99, Douglas Park Church of the Brethren (1972-1974), European Program (1977-1979), BVS Offices (1980)