It seems like only yesterday that I decided to accept the position as a Jesuit Volunteer. I remember when I got the first phone call about an interview. Nerves and excitement raced through my being. Here was my next step — in Portland, of all places.
I had known I wanted to do a year of service since I was in middle school. It’s kind of strange for a pre-teen to make a decision about that, I realize. I think my dad, as well as my studies of John F. Kennedy, planted the idea in me.
For my father’s part, he had been a Vista Volunteer, which would later be known as an Americorps Volunteer. I grew up with his stories of community organizing in Toledo, Ohio. His experiences as a Vista Volunteer led him to his life’s work and passion.
My studies of President Kennedy influenced young Grace because of his stirring remark to the young people of America in his first inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” My plan for as long as I can remember was to go to college, do a year of service and then go on to some kind of graduate program. I also knew that I wanted to do domestic service, given that there are far too many problems to address in our own backyard before I should go abroad to “fix” others.
Service had always been a part of life growing up, whether through the modeling of my parents, the activities of our parish or the requirements of some of my classes. It made me feel good initially, and then it transformed into other, more profound feelings.
Service transformed from something self-serving into something that led me to see what I often overlooked and connect with those who are marked as invisible and pushed to the outskirts of society. I started going on weeklong service trips to fully immerse myself in poverty and try to grasp the realities of others’ lives. Those early service experiences influenced what I read and studied later on in life and left indelible marks on my heart.
My middle school self would be proud of my 23-year-old self for having stuck to at least one thing I said I would do when I was 11. I never planned to do two years of service, although I was open to the idea. Before even beginning the process of choosing a program through which to do a year of service, I struggled with the idea of only doing one year. Could I really only go somewhere for a year and then leave? Could I really just leave the work and the people like that? Well, I could not, and as this second year seems to fly by, I know I will struggle with leaving.
But why even do a year of service, let alone two?
There are so many reasons to do a year of service. They range from professional reasons to highly personal ones.
Doing a year of service is not easy — it is the very opposite of easy. Living in community is tough work. Facing the poverty and trauma day after day at my placement takes a toll. And don’t even get me started on living on $100 a month. Someone can always throw it back in my face that no one forced me into these decisions. I could have easily gone to grad school or gotten a job after graduating. I could have, but I didn’t because I wanted to integrate those things I had studied and talked about ceaselessly into my lifestyle. I wanted to live more deeply than my peers and immerse myself as fully as I could into the values I hold in high regard.
In some ways, I have taken the slow path into adulthood, more like a gentle slide than the immediate shock of jumping right into the responsibilities that comes with that stage of life. However, I think doing these years of service with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest has given me more tools for adulthood. There are the practical tools of budgeting money and learning to cook for eight people, but there are other tools that have more to do with what kind of life I want to live. I am learning how to have true dialogue, to come to compassionate consensus, to integrate values with practices and to practice mindfulness and gratitude. The true work happens once my time is over with a program. It is then that the true work of integration begins.
I could write pages and pages on what I have learned from doing a year of service. And, since this second year is not over yet, I know the learning is not over, nor will the lessons end once my time with the program has ended.
Doing a year of service is like embarking on a grand adventure with an unknown destination. There is enough structure that it is not completely unnerving, but, other than that, you are on your own. My experience has been fraught with peaks and valleys. My eyes have been opened up to the suffering of others in ways I couldn’t imagine, and I have come to more fully embrace my own suffering. My heart has been broken repeatedly, and I have witnessed the depths of human pain. Yet, I feel more in love with the world than before and am more compassionate and filled with conviction.
Grace Badik is an additional year JV in Portland, OR. Originally from Toledo, Ohio, she studied Philosophy, Politics, and the Public and graduated in May 2013. As a JV at Street Roots, she does everything from being the volunteer coordinator and vendor program assistant to being the puzzle and poetry editor and writing occasionally for the newspaper. She encourages people to support their local street newspaper, especially Street Vibes in Cincinnati!