NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network)—From Apr. 28-29, a group of alumni volunteers, community partners, and congregation members gathered in Alamosa, Colorado, to reconnect, share, and celebrate 35 years of Mennonite Voluntary Service in the San Luis Valley. The weekend was marked by a tour of the MVS unit house and an evening of music and storytelling as well as a Sunday worship service.
The celebration provided an opportunity to not only reconnect with old friends, but also for community partners to gather and share how MVS volunteers have helped build and strengthen their nonprofit organizations. "It was so beautiful to hear stories and reflections from our local placement agencies about how vital MVS has been to their work," said Lizzy Diaz, MVS program director.
MVS first came to the San Luis Valley in 1983 through a partnership with the United Church of La Jara. The church is a joint Presbyterian and Mennonite congregation. In 2010, the unit house was moved from La Jara to Alamosa because most of the volunteer placements were based in Alamosa. Along with the move, a church fellowship was started at the new MVS unit house, which grew and joined the Mountain States Mennonite Conference in 2011 as the Anabaptist Fellowship of Alamosa, and now serves as the sponsor and home church to the Alamosa MVS unit.
The San Luis Valley MVS location has brought more than 120 volunteers into the La Jara and Alamosa communities. They have connected with more than 35 local nonprofit and public organizations in the fields of environmental restoration, health care, economic development, immigration, and many others.
"The volunteers who have come in over the years have provided an enormous boost to small community projects," said Alice Price, who serves as the local MVS program coordinator for the Alamosa unit. Since many of the nonprofit organizations in the area have a small core staff, an MVS volunteer can quickly become an essential member of the team, said Price. "A lot of our volunteers have ended up having really high-level responsibility and professional-level experience. They're doing very critical work, and I think they feel that."
Grantley Showalter, a current volunteer with the Alamosa unit, serves with the Center for Restorative Programs, where he works with the adult diversion program for people convicted of heroin use. After graduating college, Showalter sought out MVS hoping to get some real-world work experience. "This year has definitely helped me to … get a sense of what I'm good at, what I enjoy, and what future steps might be," said Showalter. After his MVS term ends this summer, he plans to continue working at the Center for Restorative Programs, with a paid position starting in August. "I think I've found a home here."
The weekend activities concluded with a church service at the Alamosa Presbyterian Church, hosted by the Anabaptist Fellowship of Alamosa. The group sang, shared communion, and hung a prayer flag along the wall, which was pieced together from squares of cloth that the group had decorated with statements and images of gratitude the evening before.
"It was good for [the congregation] to have that celebration of MVS," recalled Alice Price. "To be reminded of how important this has been in our community … and just celebrating that long history ... whatever the future holds, it's a rich history."