Robert with some volunteers and people from the homeless clinic…

Summer at a Homeless Clinic

Robert VanVolkenburgh

As a pre-med student at Boston College, I had Jeanmarie Gribado, CSJ, as my theology professor. During that class, Sr. Jeanne constantly implored all of us to go out into the world and make a change for the better. Although I had heard this before, I never considered the real-life impact of doing good for others. So, to figure this out, I reached out to Sister Jeanne.

After a walk and talk with her, Sr. Jeanne said, “I’m going to put you in contact with a friend of mine, Sister Charlene who is a Physician’s Assistant and runs a medical clinic for the homeless at Saint John’s Church in Newark, New Jersey.


Robert with Sr. Charlene


She did, and Sr. Charlene invited me to spend the summer volunteering with her where I met many people struggling with homelessness. Spending many hours in the clinic, I realized that these individuals were not just faceless victims of unfortunate circumstances, but real people. I was so struck by the energy and happiness that so many people brought when they entered the clinic.

Although they were struggling with life circumstances as a whole, as well as serious medical problems, they kept a smile on their face and spread happiness. I learned from Sr. Charlene, who is such a beacon of hope for the clients, how healing just being there, caring, and talking to someone can be.

Robert with a neighbor


Though these people might have fallen through the cracks of society due to a variety of circumstances, through the compassion that Sister Charlene taught me to have for them, I, too, became a glimmer of hope for them.