When I was a senior in college, I was stressing out about applying to grad school and all the work that would follow once accepted. I needed a break from school but I didn’t want to be that recent biology grad that worked in a lab and lived at home. I wanted an adventure that would allow me to give back. While I was struggling with this decision, the Center for Faith and Justice held the Post-Grad Volunteer Fair. Attending this fair led me to a perfect post-grad opportunity for me.
When I first got to the fair, it was a little overwhelming. There are a lot of options out there. Thankfully, I had a good mentor at the CFJ who helped me narrow it down to only the projects I was passionate about. I decided that I wanted to work with women or children who have been abused or neglected in some way. This lead me to Good Shepherd Volunteers (GSV) because of its mission to provide “full-time volunteers with the opportunity to use their God-given talents to serve women, adolescents, and children affected by poverty, violence, and neglect”. Originally I thought I wanted to go abroad, but through my discernment and interview process, I realized that I should volunteer in my own country and understand the need here before going anywhere else.
In August of 2012, I began my year as a GSV in New York City working with foster care youth in the Bronx. I moved into my apartment in Astoria, Queens, which gave me an opportunity to explore one of the world’s best cities with a built-in group of friends. On top of the volunteer experience, I was able to experience the different cultures NYC has to offer. I learned about race relations through my co-workers and learned about cultural festivals such as Holi (see photo) through the free events around the city. Throughout my year, I was amazed by all the city had to offer and how much fun I was having.
This year was also an important year of personal growth. I learned how to live in NYC on $200 a month for food and recreation. Professionally, I learned how to be a productive member of a busy social services team. I learned about the psychological issues and social justice issues surrounding bad parenting and a broken foster care system. This was hard because I never even looked into foster care. This caused me nights of crying over horrible stories of abuse and neglect, and days of smiles and celebrations of accomplishments of the youth with whom I worked. On top of all this, I learned about me.
My volunteer year created an opportunity for me to learn about myself. I lived in an intentional community with 6 other people. We all had varying religions, worldviews, personalities and experiences. My community members taught me how to resolve conflicts and how to really “agree to disagree”. I learned about Buddhism, Agnostics, and how to be open to questioning. They pointed out questions about my faith and life and helped me to find answers. I learned about my personality and how I present myself. I now have a better understanding of how people perceive me and how to be a more emotionally healthy person. This all came through tools and support that my volunteer staff, co-workers and work supervisors gave to me.
As my year came to an end, the GSV staff asked the current volunteers if anyone would like to go abroad. Since this was my original plan, I was really interested in the opportunity. I was eager to spend another year living in community with marginalized people and the changes that it would bring to my worldview. I am excited to tell you that in January, I will be starting my second GSV year by moving to Nong Khai, Thailand. There I will be working with communities affected and infected by HIV/AIDS. This will only help my future goals of being a public health official. To learn more about my program please visit here or to learn more about next year please visit here.
I hope that you too consider the post-grad volunteering option. You never know how giving a year to others will change you.
Stephanie Howes (2nd from R), Class of 2012, served with Good Shepherd Volunteers in Brooklyn, NY in 2012-2013 and is headed to Thailand in January 2014. During her time at Xavier, she was especially active in Navigators, STAR, and the ASLS semester in Ghana. Here she is attending a festival for the Hindu holiday called Holi with fellow volunteers.