Hi! I’m Rachel, a current VVC (for about two more weeks).
In this article, I’m hoping to convince all of you single people between the ages of 21 and 30 that this VVC program that I’ve been a part of for 11 months is the one thing missing from your life.
No pressure right?
I gave myself this challenge when I found out a few months ago that we didn’t have as many VVC’s signed up for this coming year as we had for this past year. I personally found that to be unacceptable since the Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati is clearly the best year of service program out there! Well, apparently it has not been made clear enough, so I’m here to set it all straight and tell you exactly why the VVC program is so great.
I want to start by saying that a year of service was not in my original plan. I was convinced to look at doing a year a service by one of my friends. Then, after a mission trip to Guatemala, I realized that God’s plans always end up turning out way better than my own, so I decided to put off grad school and finding a real job, to give what might be God’s plan a real shot.
Don’t get me wrong – deciding to do a year of service wasn’t easy. It was kind of scary. The idea of moving to a new city that I wasn’t familiar with, into a house with 9 strangers I’d never met before from all across the globe, working a full time job at a non-profit I wasn’t familiar with, all while living on $100/month stipend… yeah not an easy decision. However, 11 months later, these scary challenges ended up being some of the things I’m most grateful for at the end of this year.
The new city I knew nothing about. It’s only about an hour and a half from my family and home, yet soooo different. We live in one big house in the West End of Cincinnati. It’s next to Over the Rhine, but hardly any Cincinnatian knows what it is. We live a few blocks from where we all work at St. Vincent de Paul, and we live in the same neighborhood with many of the neighbors we serve on a daily basis. It’s helped me to feel truly connected to the community, whether it’s complaining about the city not keeping up with our sidewalks, leaves, and snow, or talking about our favorite local park or place to eat. It’s helped me make Cincinnati a home and feel connected to the neighbors I work with every day.
Another aspect of this year that’s helped me feel at home is definitely the 9 crazy strangers I decided to live with! 10 people in one house, all from very different places and different experiences, was probably the thing I was most afraid of. However, as it turns out, people can come from very different backgrounds, with different gifts and talents to share, but can bond very easily with similar values and a common love for Christ and His people. (Jesus is definitely somewhere saying “Duh!”) I’m still amazed that we all get along so well and I’m even more amazed at how quickly and easily these 9 strangers accepted me as I am. I feel so incredibly blessed to have each and every person in our community. They’ve all taught me so much and we’ve had such fruitful reflections and conversations and incredibly hilarious memories that I will cherish forever. They have helped me to grow and love my neighbors, the world, and Christ better, while being there for me through some really challenging times. Basically, if you get a chance to live in a faith-based community, do it.
Next I’ll talk about the question I get asked daily: “So what do you do?” Well, we all work at the non-profit, St. Vincent de Paul, in different departments based on what we’re interested in. I work with our local parish-based conferences and in social services. I didn’t expect to be working a real full-time job, and I definitely didn’t expect it to become my passion. I did not expect to love direct service so much, let alone the mission of St. Vincent de Paul. Working with our neighbors has taught me more than I could ever explain. I’ve laughed with them, cried with them and connected with them in our faith and love for Christ that has shown me the kingdom of God on earth can cross all boundaries and barriers, even being total strangers. I didn’t know this would lead me to find what I feel to be my vocation as a Vincentian. What I did expect was to feel like a freshman on the first day of high school, all new, young and inexperienced, but I’ve never once felt that way. From the beginning I felt welcomed, valued, and believed in. I’ve had incredible bosses and mentors with such passion and love for Christ and this work. They helped me to grow in my potential and challenged me to do things I never thought I’d do. I’ve enjoyed my time so much that I’m staying on as staff after this year to be the Volunteer Coordinator.
And finally, the stipend. Living on a stipend is not easy, especially when you’re also asked to be in a wedding the same year! But it taught me so much about budgeting, about what I need, don’t need, and about what’s really important. I’ve had an amazing year with amazing memories that didn’t center around money. And it’s brought me closer to our neighbors and their experiences with poverty. Maybe not as deep as they are experiencing it with needing money for rent and other things, but I can understand the little day to day things that become the big things when it happens over and over. Like the feeling when you can’t do everything your friends and family can, and how hard the decision can be between buying something you need (i.e. deodorant) and something you really want (i.e. to go to discount movie day). And we get our food for our community through food stamps, which was definitely difficult at times, but without this knowledge and experience I couldn’t help people with the SNAP application process or truly connect with our neighbors who were frustrated by the lack of organization and consistency with the process.
In the end, there are some things I probably would have gone my whole life without knowing and understanding without this year of service, and those things have been so essential in shaping me into who I am now. I’ve never grown so much in one year. I can’t imagine who I would be if I had never done VVC. I would have missed out on so much opportunity and understanding about life. I’m not saying it will be easy, but it will be so, so worth it. How often are you given a chance like this in life? To completely trust your faith and follow Christ by dedicating an entire year of your life to serving others? Not to mention, you’ll feel connected to just about everyone else who’s ever done a year of service, and in my experience, they’ll probably buy you a beer.
Applications for the 2019-2020 cohort are still open! Visit our website to learn more and apply today! https://www.svdpcincinnati.org/Give_Help/Give_Time/Vincentian_Volunteers_of_Cincinnati/