“There is always hope.” ATD Volunteer Corps Member Karen Stornelli

Above: Karen Stornelli, third from right, in Burkina Faso.

Hope plays a crucial role in what has inspired and continues to inspire Volunteer Corps member Karen Stornelli as she approaches her twenty-fourth year working with ATD Fourth World.

Looking for something different

Upon graduating college with a degree in Cultural Anthropology, Karen was eager to find an alternative to the typical nine to five office job. Intrigued by social justice and community service, she began researching volunteer opportunities and quickly stumbled upon ATD Fourth World. Immediately, Karen was fascinated by the organization’s mission and this central idea of hope. Karen decided to give the Volunteer Corps a try and has never looked back.

Work in France, Canada, and Burkina Faso

Working for ATD Fourth World has given Karen the opportunity to learn and to experience the world from a perspective that most people will never truly understand. She has taken on many roles and traveled to many places, acquiring new skills and learning through every unique experience. In the first year that Karen worked for ATD Fourth World, she had the opportunity to travel around the United States and Canada before venturing to the organization’s International Center in France for a year. From there, Karen moved to Burkina Faso, West Africa for five years. After that she spent four years back in France before moving to New Mexico where she is currently splitting her time between Gallup and Santa Fe. These many places have given Karen the opportunity to learn numerous skills and adapt to many different roles.

Karen believes that all the projects she has worked on are unique because they grow out of the people who surround her. For example, in Burkina Faso, Karen worked on a “Weaving Workshop” for young single mothers living on the streets. This project gave women a sense of purpose and also provided their children with a unique learning experience.

Karen at Weaving Workshop.

“Story Garden” in Gallup, New Mexico

And today in New Mexico, for eight years Karen has been working on a “Story Garden”, a street library at an outdoor market.

Below: Photos from the Story Garden.

ATD Fourth World believes in working alongside people who live in extreme poverty. Because markets are both economically and socially essential for the under-resourced communities in New Mexico, Karen and her team chose this spot to create the Story Garden learning space right where people naturally gather..

Seeing projects such as the Weaving Workshop and the Story Garden grow and flourish are what make Karen excited about her work. She admits that tackling extreme poverty as a violation of human rights is not an easy task. However, she also believes that progress is being made and that it is important to get excited about the small steps forward within communities. One quote that has stuck with Karen through her journey with ATD Fourth World is “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is always hope

The uniqueness of Volunteer Corps life is what has kept Karen excited to take on each day. Her advice to those interested in ATD Fourth World is “embrace the opportunities.” Working with ATD is always a learning experience with a meaningful purpose. It provides people with the chance to grow individually and experience the world from a rare and humbling perspective. When asked if she has a big take away from her experience with ATD Fourth World, Karen answers “There is always hope”.

Karen Stornelli

More information on the ATD Fourth World Volunteer Corps
More on ATD in Burkina Faso
More on ATD in the United States

Thanks to ATD Fourth World intern, Hannah Callahan, for her work on this article.

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