What is Border Servant Corps?
BSC “promotes and demonstrates justice, kindness and humility through the intentional exploration of community, simplicity, social justice and spirituality in the U.S./Mexico border region,”BSC Vice President Beverly Stotz says. “We do this by partnering with numerous social justice agencies in El Paso and Las Cruces to provide individuals committed to a year of service in the border region.”
Hours of Volunteering
Border Servant Corps celebrates 20 years of service
in El Paso and Las Cruces
Written by Mike Cook
The success of Border Servant Corps (BSC) in Las Cruces and El Paso over the past two decades can be measured in two ways: “The impact our volunteers have had on the border region, and the impact the border region has had on our volunteers,” as former BSC volunteer and executive director Ryan Steinmetz told more than 100 past and present volunteers and supporters who gathered to celebrate BSC’s 20th anniversary at The Grapevine Plaza in Las Cruces.
Since its founding in 1997, about 150 other volunteers from around the country have contributed more than 300,000 hours of service to a wide range of programs. Many, like Ryan who is now the volunteer coordinator for the City of Las Cruces, have gone on to successful careers in public service. All who spoke at the dinner and about BSC said its impact on them has been profound.
Being a volunteer in 2014-15 “was a wonderful experience and one that I will truly never forget,” says Efren Villalobos, a Gadsden High School teacher in Anthony, New Mexico. Villalobos had just moved back to the area after a 19-year absence when he was placed with La Semilla Food Center in Anthony to help create school gardens. “BSC helped me rekindle the love I once had for my home and for my community.”
“I teach, use, and promote the BSC tenants in my classroom in the hopes of inspiring my students to help their community, live a simple and humble life, be aware of social justice areas not just in their back yards but around the world, and to grow spiritually,” Efren adds.
“I feel incredibly grateful for the experience of BSC and for the warm welcome I have received in Las Cruces,” says Erica McDowell of Albuquerque, one of this year’s BSC volunteers. McDowell graduated from college last spring with interests in gender, race and religious studies and social change work. “More than anything, I was seeking a chance to try a new kind of work and live with other people asking questions about spirituality and social justice. I have gotten that and so much more from my time in BSC. I’ve learned so much about myself, what it takes to build community, and some particular struggles in Southern New Mexico.”
Erica and seven other BSC volunteers working in Las Cruces and El Paso this year receive $200 per month each for food and personal expenses and a bicycle to take them to and from work assignments. Participating programs pay two-thirds of the $14,000 annual cost for each volunteer, with BSC paying the rest. The volunteers live together in group homes in each city – the one in Las Cruces was donated by BSC founder Dorothy “Dot” Quaintance when she moved to Niskayuna, New York in 2001.
“Finding myself recently widowed, in my mid 50’s with my children out on their own, I suppose I was looking to find out who I was on my own,” Dot explains. “Intentional community life and putting my faith to action seemed a good way to do this. Self-reflection is probably one of the most important….”
So, after quitting her job with Elephant Butte Irrigation District in Las Cruces, Dot joined Urban Service Corps in Denver. She brought the program back to enthusiastic support from Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces in 1997, and BSC was born. Dot stayed with BSC for four more years, at the new Mesilla Valley Community of Hope as it began service to the homeless and needy in Las Cruces.
“Coming into BSC, I did not expect the way of life in the borderlands to change me as much as it has,” says Parisa Sharzai, who came from the Chicago area last August to spend a year as outreach coordinator for Doña Ana Communities United. “My time here has shaped me into someone who values being in community, and a simpler and slower lifestyle. As a timebank coordinator, I organize a shared economy that brings community members together to exchange free services. Through this program, I have come to understand the importance of being open to receive from others. I have become a lot more comfortable with receiving help and love, seeing the joy that others get through helping me with a task. This is a lesson I will always carry with me.”
“Las Cruces was unknown to me,” first-year BSC volunteer Melissa Primus adds. The time she spent volunteering at Jardin de los Niños was “a year of personal growth. I received more than I ever could have imagined, for which I continue to be grateful.”
“BSC volunteers have added so much to our program,” El Paso Immigration, Migrant and Refugee Services Executive Director Melissa Lopez said. “They come with such a positive attitude, this reinvigoration that they bring is a reminder of why we do the work.”
“I just knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was called to service,” says Pastor Diana Linden-Johnson, who volunteered at Iglesia Luterana Christo Rey in El Paso and is now pastor of El Paso’s Peace Lutheran Church. “This one person would not be the same person if it was not for the BSC.”
Want more info?
Contact Border Service Corps Executive Director Kari Lenander at 575-522-7119, Ext. 16, or firstname.lastname@example.org. or visit borderservantcorps.org.