The fall of my sophomore year in college, I decided to take a class called Foundations of Civic Engagement. This class was all about teaching students different ways they could fulfill public service over the course of their lives, whether it be their career or volunteering on the side. One of the civic engagement opportunities discussed was postgraduate service year opportunities.
The professor explained that postgraduate service years can be a great opportunity. Volunteers can use their service year to gain professional experience and discern if a career in public service is right for them. After hearing his lecture, I was convinced that a year of service after graduating was the right path for me. I immediately began to look into possible service year organizations to volunteer my time.
During my research, one organization stood out from the rest: the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). JVC sought to not only care for marginalized populations, but also develop its volunteers through its incorporation of the four Jesuit values (simple living, community, social justice and spirituality). While I was completely unfamiliar with the Jesuits, the thought of living the four values captivated me. I could sense that serving with JVC would provide me with opportunities for personal growth that I could not get with other organizations. I decided to apply was ecstatic to be accepted.
JVC placed me at Star of Hope, a homeless shelter for women and families located in Houston, TX. As a JV, I serve residents by distributing to them their daily needs (i.e., mail, toiletries, OTC meds, etc.), Monitoring their behavior and consoling them when they are in crisis. As a JV, my service is just one part of the experience. I live in a house shared with the other Jesuit Volunteers of Houston in the Eastwood neighborhood, a low-income historically Hispanic community.
Living and working with vulnerable populations has allowed me to see just how much privilege I truly have. My neighbors fear not being able to afford food or medicine for their children, or law enforcement targeting them because of their skin color. These are things I have never had to experience, but because I am a JV, I see people that must overcome these obstacles every day.
I recognize that I can use my power and privilege to fight these injustices. I will take the people I live and work with into consideration when voting for legislation and politicians. I will support businesses that actively work to abolish these problems. Prior to JVC, I took my privileges for granted. Now I am able to see how I can use them to create meaningful change.
I am incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to serve with JVC. Being a JV has allowed me to experience civic engagement from a whole new perspective. Whatever comes next, I know that I can be a civic-minded citizen thanks to JVC.
Erika Peters is from Vestal, NY. She has recently graduated from SUNY Binghamton University with a major in human development and a minor in education. In her free time, she likes to work on puzzle books and listen to solid gold oldies. She will be serving as a resident support ministry staff member at Star of Hope Mission in Houston, TX. She is looking forward to experiencing the southwest for the first time.