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“Dear Incoming JV”

by Clare Myers, Casa Pedro Arrupe, SJ, Santa Clara 15, University of Dallas, from her blog:

As I sit at my desk on my last day of work, there are so many thoughts running through my mind. Goodbyes are bittersweet, so to avoid the sappiness or clichés, I decided to write a letter to the JV who will be taking my place in a few weeks.

Not all placements do this, but there is a binder that has been passed down for years from one YWCA JV to the next. When I moved into Casa Pedro, there it was, waiting for me on a desk in the hallway, labeled with a sticky note, “For Clare.” It contained all of the letters from all of the past YWCA JVs, with outdated information and stories that still ring true today. As I move on, I get to add mine. I’ve only spoken to the incoming JV a few times, but writing the letter was a productive reflection for me. So here it is:

Dear [Incoming JV],

Welcome to the best placement in JVC! You’ve won the agency lottery; the YWCA is a phenomenal place to work. Being an advocate is an incredible way to spend your year of service. Trust me, I’m sitting at my desk on my last day of work reflecting on the past 12 months.

So what does it mean to be an advocate?

noun ad·vo·cate \ˈad-və-kət,-ˌkāt\

1: one that pleads the cause of another; specifically: before a tribunal or judicial court
2: one that defends or maintains a cause or proposal
3: one that supports or promotes the interests of another

Merriam-Webster can explain it one way, but advocacy for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking is more than that. It’s supporting. It’s listening and validating. It’s fighting for them and with them. Advocacy in many ways is similar to what the Jesuits call “accompaniment.” As an advocate, you are not so much there to carry your clients’ burdens; you are there to witness their healing processes and be with them through it all.

This year will break your heart. You will spend nights, exhausted, in the emergency room, witnessing horrible things. You will play with stuffed animals in the SART clinic with children, knowing that the exam they are about to undergo is something that no person should ever have to do. You will sit poker-faced on the stand, listening to stories that will bring you to tears later that night as you lie awake in bed. It will test you in every way, as you spend your evenings talking with your housemates, feeling like their jobs are worlds away from yours.

But after a year of having my heart broken over and over, I have come out more inspired and more hopeful. I have seen survivors on the worst nights of their lives, concerned not for themselves, but for their parents or their friends. I have seen their faces change when I tell them how strong they are, how brave. I have watched them realize, even though they will never be the same, that they have the courage to heal.

You are not alone. You have your housemates, who will offer support even if they don’t understand what you go through every day and vice versa. Let them accompany you as you accompany them. And your coworkers are amazing. Bring your stress and uncertainty and tough stories to the bullpen and you will find astounding love and understanding.

This year will be a rollercoaster, but you can handle it. Ask questions. Ask for help. Let your heart break every day and let yourself be inspired every day. You are passionate and strong and you will do an incredible job. And I’m here if you need anything.

Love and peace,