Reflections on Norbertine Volunteer Community

Finding Friends in Faith and Service

As seen in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 16)

By Stephanie Birmingham and Kyle Cothern

The Norbertine Volunteer Community (NVC) is a full-time service and outreach program of the Norbertine Community of St. Norbert Abbey. Since its establishment in 2008, the NVC has seen nine groups of young adults enter the community, typically as complete strangers, only to become friends during their time living and working together. Steph and Kyle are two such friends and were members of the NVC between January and June 2011.

Steph and Kyle join forces in a memorable karaoke performance.

Steph and Kyle join forces in a memorable karaoke performance.

We came from different states—Steph from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and Kyle from Kokomo, Indiana—and backgrounds (even cheering for different NFL football teams!) to find a common experience in the NVC. That January we both joined during times of transition: Steph had just moved back home from working in the Washington, D.C., area, and Kyle was in the process of discerning religious life. Whether our meeting was circumstantial or through grace, we remain grateful to the Norbertines for their support of the NVC as an opportunity for young adults like us to come together and experience living in an intentional community grounded in faith (through shared meals and daily prayer at home) and service (by reaching out to the poor and marginalized in the local community).

As co-workers we volunteered at both Golden House, a domestic abuse shelter, and the Brown County Jail and Juvenile Detention Facility. Kyle was always drawing dinosaurs to entertain the little ones at Golden House and earned a reputation as “master dinosaur-draw-er”! We worked in the chaplain’s office at the jail to assist with the spiritual and emotional needs of incarcerated men, women, and juveniles.

2011 members of the NVC (left to right): Lindsay (Koeppel) Konrad, Steph, Kyle, now-Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem., Angie Knutson

2011 members of the NVC (left to right): Lindsay (Koeppel) Konrad, Steph, Kyle, now-Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem., Angie Knutson

Although we were only together at the NVC for six short months, this distinctive opportunity to volunteer at two of the same sites gave us ample time to bond through our successes and setbacks. It took a lot of energy to be present to the people we served—especially working with those who had committed unimaginable crimes, challenging our hearts and sense of mercy. Relying on each other, especially between shifts, helped us process our collective experiences. We became more confident in our own paths of personal growth—learning not only from each other, but also from our fellow community members.

Much of our work together was serious, but there were plenty of ways to have fun, too. Whether it was walks around the neighborhood, evening sing-alongs, or movie and popcorn nights, as a community we found ways to balance work and play.

Stephanie Birmingham and Kyle Cothern

Stephanie Birmingham and Kyle Cothern

Our time in the NVC has long since passed, yet our friendship continues to grow. Steph lives in Green Bay and Kyle lives in Chicago, but we stay in touch through the occasional FaceTime call, text, greeting card, or visit. We love to laugh over Steph’s hilarious journey as a first-time cat owner, and Kyle’s adventures as a big-city dweller from a small town. We recently connected over a story shared by a former inmate, who vividly remembers the wordplay games from our days volunteering at the jail and still appreciates those joyful moments so many years ago.

Physical distance might keep us apart, but our memories of the NVC keep us close, and we look forward to being lifelong friends.

Reflections on Norbertine Volunteer Community

To learn more about the NVC, a full-time service opportunity and outreach program of the Norbertine community, contact Ellen Mommaerts, director, at 920.403.2944 or

Norbertine Volunteer Community Welcomes New Members

September 29, 2016

NVC 2016-2017

Kimberly Tadlock (left) and Jaclyn Geyer

As seen in the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 21)

This August, the Norbertine Volunteer Community (NVC) welcomed two members to its 2016-2017 program. These young adults are dedicating 11 months to serving the greater Green Bay community while living together in community.

Kimberly Tadlock (left) from Vancouver, Washington, graduated from Whitworth University (Spokane, Washington) in 2016 with a major in mathematics and a minor in philosophy. She is serving at St. Thomas More Catholic School as the campus ministry coordinator and at Ss. Peter and Paul as a faith formation volunteer.

“I have a passion for helping children get a quality education and firm foundation in the faith. I hope to gain a better knowledge of what my gifts and abilities are, and how they can be put to use in the service of others—the service of God.”

Jaclyn Geyer from Tacoma, Washington, is a 2015 graduate of Whitworth University. She is serving at St. Willebrord Parish as a pastoral ministry intern, where her duties include adult faith formation and office assistant responsibilities.

“I wanted to work in an environment where my skills would best be used to serve. As a history major, when I heard about the kind of work they needed it seemed like a great fit! I also hope to use this time to grow in my faith and discern where God is directing me in the future.”

To learn more about the NVC, a full-time service opportunity and outreach program of the Norbertine community, contact Ellen Mommaerts, director, at 920.403.2944 or

My Life in Community

By Angie Knutson

NVC 2010-2011

Angie Knutson

Angie Knutson

Living in community is very similar to living with your family. Some days you cannot imagine your life without them, and sometimes you wish they would leave you alone. Our tight family circle of five young adults trying to figure out where they are going next in life faces many times of challenges and of great joy in the community house. Many of our weekly habits are steady: we each cook one day a week, we rotate whose turn it is to go grocery shopping, we take turns leading morning and evening prayer, and we have a group meeting Sunday nights to discuss who needs the car when, and who may be coming over to join us for dinner.

What makes our essentially simple community life extraordinary are the moments in-between the second we wake up to the second we go to bed. We break off to our different worksites in the morning and return home in time for dinner in the evening. Sometimes we are all together in the living room playing a game or watching our favorite television shows, and sometimes we break off into our individual rooms for some privacy for a chance to wind down. We laugh, cry, and argue over some of the most trivial parts of living together; yet we never fail to offer each other unyielding support or help solve a problem we may have with our worksites.

I would be lying if I told you that life in community is perfect, and I would also be lying if I told you that it was the easiest living situation in which I was a part. However, I cannot imagine what else I would be doing, and how much I would be missing out on if I had not chosen to live with such amazing individuals.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off To Work We Go

As many of you know, I work at Nicolet Elementary School, located about one block from the community house. The responsibilities I hold are two-fold. In the mornings I work in a first and second grade combination classroom helping out the teacher during their morning of literacy. I help with everything from fetching books and other supplies from the library, to copying worksheets, to working with a few of the students on an activity.

The afternoon requires most of my energy, and is consequently the most challenging part of my work at the school. I coordinate an after-school program that helps students who struggle with dyslexia. Freshmen and a couple sophomores from St. Norbert College come over and are paired up with a student and work with them one-on-one. The goal is to help improve the students’ reading skills by following a specific step-by-step manual and script each college student uses. Because I am the first person to manage this kind of program, there have been many mistakes I had to learn from and other skills I needed to fine-tune in order to make the program successful and hopefully pass this responsibility onto future Norbertine volunteers and college students.

My worksite is the one place I find the most joy, and constantly experience God’s presence. I know that service work is not always as gratifying as I initially expect, and that the change you are making is not apparent at first glance, but over the past several months, I see where teachers find the most rewarding part of their job. A couple of weeks ago, a student ran right up to me and exclaimed, “Ms. Knutson, I just spelled the word ‘difficult’! That was the word she read on the card, and I just spelled it just like that, like it was nothing!” He was so proud of himself that I couldn’t help mirroring his excitement.

Although some days are rough, especially when the students try my patience, walking into the classroom each morning by such greetings as “Good morning, Ms. Knutson!” or when one second grader told me right when I walked in that I could be Thing 1 and Thing 2 from Dr. Suess because I was skinny like them, it makes it all worth it. It amazes me that even kids who come from poverty and diverse backgrounds all know how to love, play, laugh, and find happiness that most adults who have everything do not always appreciate or know what it is to simply live every moment of every day as it is.

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