The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Service-seekers turn to Holy Cross Associates

Adrienne Ruffner | Wednesday, April 12, 2006

For 2005 Notre Dame graduates Matt Kuczora and Petula Fernandes, entering the real world meant confronting and working to solve real problems.

Both alums are working for Holy Cross Associates (HCA), a post-graduate service program that gives graduates the opportunity to both serve the community and to grow in faith.

“HCA allows you the freedom and space to decide how you will live your life as individual and as a community during your year of service,” Fernandes said.

Each year, about two-thirds of the 30 to 35 associates come from Notre Dame, with the remaining third drawn from colleges around the country.

HCA sends its associates to six sites across the United States, including one in South Bend and one international site in Chile. At each site, four to seven associates live together in communities and work for non-profit agencies.

“I believe [HCA] is important to the Holy Cross Congregation because it gets young people involved in work that previously priests would only do,” said Mark Druyos, assistant director of Holy Cross Associates. “The purpose is to get lay people involved in Holy Cross ministries.”

The Congregation of the Holy Cross founded HCA in 1978 in order to encourage lay people to dedicate themselves to service. Each associate serves a one-year term, receives health insurance and is eligible for an Americorps grant of more than $4,000.

Kuczora works in Coachella, Calif. for the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition, a non-profit housing developer that has built more than 2,700 homes for low-income families.

“With gorgeous scenery, year-round warm weather and tremendous wealth, the Coachella Valley is also home to some of the poorest communities in the country, all within about 30 miles of each other,” Kuczora said.

Kuczora said he works on “the structural side of service.” He writes grants and researches housing trends and legislation. An accountancy major at Notre Dame, he said he was especially prepared for this position because he learned business skills that have proved crucial to his new job.

“Business majors can do a year of service too,” Kuczora said. “Actually, having a business degree of any type is very valuable in the non-profit world and much sought after.”

Fernandes is involved with Catholic Charities in Phoenix, where she works for a refugee resettlement program.

“I do not have any specific day-to-day duties, but I get lots of direct client contact and I have learned quite a bit about adjusting to life in the [United States] as a refugee and a lot about basic human need,” she said.

HCA’s mission stands upon four pillars – service, spirituality, community and simple lifestyle. Associates embrace these pillars in their work, social lives and living arrangements.

“I wanted an experience that would incorporate different aspects of my life into the daily

service work that I would be doing,” Kuczora said. “I found the simple living in a spiritual community to be a unique aspect that wasn’t part of many other service programs.”

Kuczora said he chose HCA over other post-graduation service organizations because he was attracted to HCA’s dedication to faith. Fernandes said HCA provides a good foundation for a life committed to social justice.

HCA has received 21 applications for the 2006-07 year, Druyos said. But interested students still have until mid-May to apply, he said, although the priority due date is April 15.

In addition to filing an application, applicants must supply two essays and three references along with an interview.

“Usually students are accepted into the program,” Druyos said. “We have lots of positions available, and if you’re a good candidate, we’re going to find a place for you.”

Both Fernandes and Kuczora testified to the value of HCA, both for the associates and the people they serve.

“The structural side of service is not the traditional idea of a year of service but it can be just as rewarding,” Kuczora said. “Last week, for example, we completed a ten million dollar grant application to fund a new 200-unit affordable housing development …

“Ten million dollars to help a thousand people – that certainly gives you a sense of accomplishment.”