Volunteer Stories - Kathleen Gardner

An AMA Experience in Newcastle, England:
"A big part of this volunteer year is opening ourselves up to see God’s light in our own lives."

Kathleen Gardner, like her three other AMA companions, was sent off to her mission in Newcastle, England by the Assumption community of Sisters, Brothers and friends at a commissioning Mass last August.

A graduate of the University of Virginia and a native of Reston, VA, Kathleen has this to share with us after four months of living and serving at Kids Kabin, a project of the Assumption sisters for children living in Newcastle, an old industrial city in Northeast England.

"Since coming to Newcastle in August I’d both looked forward to and dreaded the October Kids Kabin camping trip. My fellow volunteer, Queenie from the Philippines, said that her trip was the coldest she’d ever been – and it was August. Granted, she’s used to living in a warm country, but I was still a little worried about camping in Northern England in the fall. After skyping my Dad for some Boy Scout tips, I packed just about all of my clothes -- just in case.

Well, the camping trip turned out to be tons of fun and quite possibly my favorite experience so far. We spent the night in Rupert’s Wood, about an hour’s drive from Newcastle. We set up our tents, let the kids play and explore the words, and then cooked dinner over the fire. At 7:00 p.m. it was so dark that we decided to go on a “midnight” walk through the woods with our flashlights. The woods themselves are actually quite small, but our leisurely stroll turned into an hour-long trudge through the underbrush when we realized we’d lost our campsite. We would turn all flashlights off periodically and peer into the darkness desperately seeking a sign of our campfire. Most of the girls thought it was a great adventure but one was convinced we would never make it back; she spent the hike crying loudly. After more than an hour, we finally spotted our camp. Surprisingly, it was the jack-o’-lanterns we’d lit earlier that saved us. (The large fire had already burned down and was invisible.)

Seeing those lit pumpkins guiding us back to our campsite made me think of our AMA orientation, when we AMAs chose a candle to symbolize two things for ourselves. First, it’s a way of showing that we’re carrying our own small lights out into the big world to try to make it a better place. Second, it’s a way of reminding ourselves that a big part of this volunteer year is opening ourselves up to see God’s light in our own lives.

Not knowing exactly what to expect from this year has allowed me to be more open to everything and to be able to appreciate so many new experiences. When I have a tough session at Kids Kabin, or when I can’t understand what people are saying to me in their infamous Geordie accent, it can be tough, but then little things show up to brighten my day. Kids showing me how they remember the fingerings on piano to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or a really good conversation with one of the asylum seekers here – and many other experiences -- help me to remember the candles we drew on our shirts and our hope that we would find light along our way. It seems so fitting that when we were literally lost in the darkness, it wasn’t the big campfire that brought us home, but rather the smiling pumpkins lit by a single candle."

—Kathleen Gardner

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Volunteer Stories and Reflections:

Chaparral, New Mexico
Kristen Penkala, 2007-08
Andrea de Castro, 2006-07
Maggie McCormick, 2005-06

Worcester, MA
Liz Supple, 2011-12
Pierre Tardivo, 2007-08
Liz Clayton, 2006-07

Mexico City, Mexico
Brendan Carey, 2009-2010

Bognor-Regis, England
Matt Collins, 2006-07
Beth Sheehan, 2006-07

Newcastle, England
Kathleen Gardner, 2011-12
Rebecca Ickes, 2009-10