Ask Glenmary volunteer director Joe Grosek why he does what he does and he’ll point in two directions: to the volunteers he directs, and to the people of East Tennessee whom they serve.
Joe, a Glenmary lay co-worker, has directed Glenmary’s volunteer program for nearly 20 years, first in Lewis County, Kentucky (for 13 years) and now in Grainger and Union counties in Tennessee. There, on Joppa Mountain, is a house for short-term volunteers and a few “tiny houses” for the Mountain Managers who run the program alongside Joe.
Those Mountain Managers, who come live at Joppa Mountain for up to 24 months, are key to the program. “They serve as a bridge between the community of people in Grainger and Union counties and the volunteers-—high school, college and adults—who come to serve. They’re responsible not only for the service and mission work that Glenmary does in the community, but also for the growth of the volunteers,” he says.
The volunteers are typically newcomers to the region, so education is a big part of their service project. What is it like to live in poverty, they might learn. How are the cards stacked against the powerless? How does a life of faith empower both these people and the volunteers who come to serve? How does their volunteer service fit into the missionary role of the entire Church? Those are some of the central questions that volunteers might consider and pray about during their visit to Joppa Mountain. It is the Mountain Managers who help guide the volunteer groups on this journey of discovery.
There may be as many as five Mountain Managers living at the Glenmary house on Joppa Mountain, but more typically it’s two or three. They can be men or women, young or old, explains Joe: “It’s more common to have mixed generations here at once.”
Why come? “There are different draws for everybody. Some people love the ministry that we do from working with the Latinos, doing construction labor. Other people feel called to work with youth. Some managers take a year with us as a time of discernment. Some are just dedicated to the mission of the Catholic Church and Glenmary. There are lots of reasons.”
Joe has a desire for the people, young and old, who come to live at Joppa Mountain with Glenmary. “My dream is they get the charism of Glenmary.” Charism is biblical talk from St. Paul, referring to the extraordinary power given by the Holy Spirit, a spiritual gift, to fulfill the mission of the Church. A charism of Glenmary, the “Glenmary spirit,” is hopefulness and joy, that you experience among Glenmarians. But it’s also a deeper spirit, the very grace of God, that animates Glenmary ministry.
It’s that grace that Joe wishes for his Mountain Managers, Glenmary’s long-term volunteers, “I hope they find the good in others, and find Christ in all people,” says Joe. And he has a dream for those groups whom the Mountain Managers direct. “The idea behind the volunteer program is to give people a taste of mission, and a taste of the mission regions of the United States. I want them make a connection between service and faith. I want them to learn to build community.”
This story first appeared in the August edition of Glenmary’s Boost-a-Month Club newsletter.