Caroline Center volunteer born to help others

By Jessica Marsala
Jmarsala@CatholicReview.org
Jessica Robey, 24, doesn’t have a 9-to-5 job. 
A full-time volunteer with the Notre Dame Mission Volunteers-AmeriCorps (NDMVA), Robey teaches 13 to 15 classes per week at the Caroline Center, a tuition-free career training center for women in Baltimore sponsored by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
She does not get home some nights until 8:30 p.m. or later, because many days – and even some weekends – she also volunteers with other organizations.
“I’m always on the go,” Robey said. “I can’t sit still for a long period of time, so for me it’s way easier for myself to just be always doing something, so if I’m always teaching and engaged then it helps me a lot as well.”
According to Alex Garcia, the director of Baltimore’s 10 NDMVA service sites, Robey has “volunteering in her blood.”
Robey, who grew in Charles Town, W.Va., but is originally from Honaker, Va., said she watched her single mother and godparents volunteer with adults with special needs and also took on a “different (kind of) sister role” by helping her autistic brother.
The 2012 broadcast journalism graduate of West Virginia University then volunteered with the Special Olympics in middle school and at WVU with AmeriCorps Energy Express, an eight-week summer program for elementary students in rural and low-income areas of West Virginia.
At the Caroline Center, Robey teaches classes on topics such as computers, business writing and public speaking, the latter two for which she has been able to utilize the expertise she gained while in college.
“I get a chance to talk to the women about different ways to communicate with each other, either in the workplace or outside the workplace,” Robey said of teaching public speaking, her favorite class. “I think a lot of times, especially as women, they can forget how powerful their voice is.”
As part of the center’s “holistic education,” School Sister of Notre Dame Patricia McLaughlin, the executive director of the center, mentioned how, in addition to its current certified nursing assistant and pharmacy technician programs, the center offers “wraparound skills” such as financial literacy that make the women “more employable.”
With the help of people like Robey, Sister Pat said the 60 “immensely courageous, resourceful” women accepted at the center every January, September and April are prepared for more than just future employment in the health care field.
“We change lives in 15 weeks and that’s an amazing thing,” Sister Pat said.
Once Robey’s two years of service are completed at the Caroline Center with the NDMVA, commonly known as the “domestic Peace Corps,” she would like to work for the actual Peace Corps, which Garcia worked with prior to his work with NDMVA.
Regardless of what she does next, Robey figures to approach it with the same smile and passion she brings to the Caroline Center.
“I’m usually always cheerful when I’m here just because I really do love to be here,” Robey said.
Sister Pat, who said she would be sad to see Robey leave, echoed her sentiments.
“I think what really makes her a success with the women here is that she is who she is,” Sister Pat said. “She’s just very much herself. She has a way of being with the women and understanding them and having them know her and still being professional.” 
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