While I’m alone, I often reflect on truly how difficult this year has been. I moved to a city where I had no previous ties and I chose a placement site whose work is relatively new to me. I have had some days where I’ll go for a walk to clear my head or I’ll spend the night in my room in disbelief that I made this decision to join JVC.
Then a community member, who was new to my life just 7 months ago will send me a picture of a dog or dance with me in the kitchen when a good song comes on and it reenergizes my soul. Sometimes, we’ll even agree to treat ourselves to some ice cream, which is a luxury when you decide to live modestly during a service program like JVC. There are also talks about the social implications of the political climate and about how unjust our institutionalized structures treat our foreign-born population or how the cycle of poverty is perpetuated by an exploitative culture. These moments of joy and conversation are the core of how rejuvenating and challenging this experience is for me.
In fact, I’ve often described my time in JVC as “the most challenging, yet most rewarding experience.” It’s easy to say and it’s a great short summary to those friends who you’ll only catch up with briefly, but a JV experience is much more than two adjectives. Those conversations are appreciated, but I yearn for the opportunity to dig deeper. I love the friends that follow up my brief statement with a simple “why?”
Usually, I end up telling my friends about exploring cool new places in Cleveland (which they commonly confuse for Chicago). However, when friends do ask “why,” I then get to explain that from Las Vegas to New York City, I’ve never experienced a community as tight-knit as Cleveland, and even further, Cleveland’s near west side.
Social justice advocates live among small business owners and are neighbors to refugees. They’re all connecting with each other in enriching ways. The larger community to our smaller JV community is a blessing. One that invites us to grow in relationships and take back their stories and lessons to share with others. We often talk of the personal journeys of our bosses or land steward. We admire them, we see how transformative they’ve been to Cleveland as a whole. We also see flaws or difficult situations where we ponder what we would have done, or if there even is a “right” decision in nuanced scenarios. These conversations help us to grow closer to one another, and also help us to grow into social justice advocates that will dare to change the world in front of us.
So, the full story is impossible to describe in one reflection or even in one sitting with a friend. I’m on a challenging and rewarding journey and I’m learning how best to deal with community, local, state, and federal issues that affect so many people. However, I’m never on that journey alone, and knowing that has made all the difference.