Where will I stay?
Volunteers typically sleep in the houses where they are assigned to work. Most volunteers have their own room, though occasionally two volunteers might share a room (especially in summer, when we tend to have the most volunteers). Volunteer bedrooms are private, either in a volunteer section of the house or with a door that can be locked. Accommodations are simple, in keeping with the spirit of the house. They usually contain a twin bed and a dresser or shelves for clothes.
Do you offer a stipend?
Yes. Because Annunciation House provides an experience of solidarity with the people we accompany on the border, our philosophy is that volunteers offer their labors freely and without payment. However, we recently began to provide a small stipend ($100/month) to volunteers making a year-long commitment. This is in recognition of the fact that there are some personal expenses–such as a cell phone–that really are essential for volunteers to carry out their duties, and we want volunteering to be accessible to everyone regardless of their financial circumstances. Beyond the stipend, the volunteer’s needs are provided for in the same way that we provide for our guests: volunteers and guests live in the same houses, eat meals together from the same food pantry, and have similar access to other services, such as the clothing bank and store of personal hygiene products. Living simply with the guests of our houses, volunteers find meaning and value in relationships and experiences, and the connections they develop with each other, with the guests, and with their spirituality. For volunteers who stay with us longer than one year, the stipend increases with length of service.
Do you offer health insurance?
Yes, we offer health insurance to all volunteers making a year-long commitment. Our volunteer insurance plan is operated by Cigna; further details are available from the volunteer coordinator. Some volunteers choose to stay on their own insurance plans (or on their parents’ if they are under 26 years old), as the coverage may be better or may allow them to keep their preferred providers. Our volunteers are also able to access low-cost preventative and non-emergency care from a local clinic for indigent patients. This is the same clinic used by most of our guests. Per federal law, all volunteers must have health insurance, whether on our plan or on their own arrangements.
Do I have to be Catholic?
No. Annunciation House accepts volunteers from all faith traditions (and those who do not claim a faith tradition), and the organization is committed to respecting the beliefs or nonbeliefs of our volunteers and guests alike. There is no proselytizing in our houses. At the same time, Catholicism is central to the history and life of our organization. Most of our guests are Catholic, and the houses are firmly rooted in Catholic social justice teaching. While volunteers do not need to be Catholic, or religious at all, they must be comfortable with the organization’s Catholic identity. For example, Mass is a critical component of community life, shared with guests and with the volunteer community during special services or gatherings, and volunteers are expected to attend. For some, participation is part of deepening their Catholic faith. For others, attendance allows time to reflect on their own personal spiritual journey. For still others, going to Mass is primarily an expression of solidarity with our guests and a chance to build community with the volunteers.
Do volunteers get time off?
Yes. We believe that time for rest and restoration is critical, allowing volunteers to return to the challenging work of our houses with generosity and attention. Each volunteer can expect to receive one full day off each week (which includes overnight); an additional two-day period each month (the time frame of a weekend, but it need not fall on a weekend); and one week every three months. Volunteers can request specific days off from their house coordinator, who makes the schedule. We attempt to honor these requests whenever possible, while maintaining the required staffing levels in the houses.
I’ve heard about the violence in Juarez. Will I be safe?
It is true that Ciudad Juarez has been, in recent years, one of the most violent cities in the world. This is a heart-breaking reality that has touched the lives of many of our guests and community members. But while migrants and refugees are often targeted by criminal gangs in Juarez, there are very few instances of crime directed at aid workers–particularly Americans. Annunciation House has been operating houses of hospitality in Juarez off and on for much of the past forty years, and believes its volunteers can safely navigate there, using common-sense precautions one might employ in any big city. Even so, we only send those volunteers to Juarez who are comfortable with, and even enthusiastic about, working there. No volunteer is required to cross the border, nor will we place any of our volunteers in situations the organization considers unsafe.
Meanwhile, El Paso remains one of the safest cities in the United States, with one of the lowest violent crime rates in the country. This reality underscores the deep divide between the two cities and countries, a divide that exists contrary to our physical proximity, interconnected existence, and shared humanity.
What is the volunteer community like?
The community changes, as new volunteers arrive and volunteers who have completed their commitments move on. Many of our volunteers are recent college graduates, looking to live with meaning and purpose as they prepare for graduate school or careers. Other volunteers come to the house with more life experience, sometimes leaving careers and exploring a new way of being in the world. Often, the houses are blessed with volunteers who decide to extend their commitments, staying for two, three, and more years, their experiences in the houses enriching the community and providing leadership and mentoring for new volunteers. Annunciation House volunteers are men and women of different faiths, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations, forming a community based on a shared desire to explore our own spirituality and salvation through living in solidarity with the poor and oppressed in migration.