My JVC Experience
Most people usually begin by asking my how I found out about the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (a.k.a. JVC). It was actually pretty easy for me. My sister was a Jesuit Volunteer (JV) in the JVC: Midwest. She worked at the Women's Employment Network in Kansas City, Missouri. She then went on to become an Area Coordinator (AC) for the Midwest and relocated to Detroit, Michigan where the Midwest office is located. She was an AC for three years before landing a job as a Case Worker at the Cappuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit. She is still working there while going to graduate school at Wayne State University to get a Masters in Social Work (MSW). (Can you tell that I like acronyms?)
Well, now that you know how I found out about the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, let me tell you a little about how I arrived at the decision to join the JVC. It all started back in ... Just kidding. I'll make it brief. If you want the full account, email me and I'll communicate it that way. Saves on page loading time. Without having a job lined up after college, and with no leads in the near future, I needed something to do which would give me the opportunity to look for a job. I also wanted to grow and the JVC seemed to be just the place for me. I looked into a couple of the other service/volunteer programs out there but the JVC looked the best for me and I also had a little insight because of my sister.
As you may have seen on my resume, my position in the JVC was as an Immigration Consultant at Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of San Antonio, Inc. It was an interesting experience to say the least. I met some very interesting people, from clients to co-workers to volunteers. To read what I did at my job, my resume will do that. As for the other aspects of my JVC year, read on.
When you sign on to become a JV and to become "Ruined for Life" as the slogan goes, you commit to following four values: Spirituality, Community, Social Justice, and Simplicity. Different people have different experiences with each one of these values and each person defines them differently. This causes problems at first but when you learn that differences can be good, you learn to accept, adapt, and/or compromise.
For me, the one in which I failed was Spirituality. I am not a churchgoer and therefore my spirituality was left to myself and the Spirituality nights which my community was supposed to have. We kind of slacked off on these for different reasons: lazy, lack of interest, lack of time, etc.
Communitywas great at the beginning and then slid off, but we picked it up when we realized that it was sliding. I lived in a house with six women (later reduced to five) and only one other man. It was very difficult even though I grew up with two older sisters. I love them all, but it was difficult not having much of a voice. Yes, this was discussed with them, but to not much avail. Don't get me wrong, it was not always like this. A large majority of the time Community was great. We partied together at bars, clubs, and the house. We talked a lot about our families and ourselves. Almost everyone's family came down to visit at least once. Putting a face to the names and stories was a plus.
My work at Catholic Charities was the main focus of the Social Justice value. I did not see social justice in my work as much as I saw it in the work of some of my roommates. This may have been because of my work ethic, which was to leave my work at the work place. In doing this, I was able to control my stress. Some of my roommates started off getting very stressed at work and then bringing this stress home. All of us were able to control our stress and deal with our work after some time. In addition to my work as an Immigration Consultant, I got involved with Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP). This allowed me to learn about politics and political movements of some minority groups in the United States. I still volunteer for SVREP.
As for the value of Simplicity, this was mainly controlled by the small stipend I was given as a volunteer. Living expenses are taken care of by the agencies. Each city differs in how this is handled. In my community, we each received a paycheck which included our stipend, and money for transportation, grocery, utility, and rental expenses. We were responsible for shopping, paying our bills on time, and paying the landlord. Living on the $75 stipend was a difficult thing at first. I actually spent the stipend plus some within my first two weeks as a JV. The next two weeks were tough not having any money. I had to drink cheap beer, which was not a struggle because I was used to this from college. Living on a small stipend made me realize what possessions of mine were non-essential. Although some things may not be essential to living, I found that some things had become essential in my life. I have had my own computer for years, and now there was not one in the house. I had one at work, but once I got home, I actually had to use a pen. Yes this is an exaggeration, but I am a product of the technological era.
My experience as a Jesuit Volunteer was one of the best experiences of my life. It really is like the Real World on MTV except much harder and much more rewarding. They do not have to alter their lives to work in an atmosphere unfamiliar to them previously. They do not have to pool their finances to pay bills or shop for groceries. They do not make $75 each month and are restricted to this money. And most of all, they do not receive the emotional and spiritual reward of living and sharing their lives in a community of strangers. They do not see how others in this country live. Every time I see the Real World on MTV, I say to myself, "I've done that, but my experience was ten time better."
If you have any questions about my experience in the JVC, please do not hesitate to contact me via email and I would be happy to talk to you.