A Year (and beyond) of Service: My Final Reflections from VVC 2013-14

Nearly 4 weeks out and I am just now waking up to my new reality in Michigan, realizing that my year in VVC is gone and past. Don’t get me wrong, I will always be a Vincentian Volunteer of Cincinnati, eventhough my “year” of service is done. 

July 22nd was the start of our final retreat. It was serene, our backyard was filled with groundhogs and provided us the needed space to reflect on the past year, pray, relax, and enjoy each others company without distractions. Our program director was once told that on retreat one needs to: rest, eat, and pray – and in that order…which is what we did. By the end of the 3 days we were all emotional in ways that were appropriate to us. Our last activity was articulating our hopes for each person in the community, and of course I was bawling by the end of that.  It has been hard for me to get my thoughts on these pages about ending my year because over the past month I have reflected in person multiple times, and through many conversations with coworkers in passing. Once August hit, it was hard to imagine that such a transforming year was near conclusion.

Though there were many teaching moments, many grace-filled moments that I cannot capture in words… here is a snippet of some of the many lessons I learned during my year of service:

  •  Always assume the good will in others. 
    • There were many times when the 3 of us definitely did not get along.  2 men, 1 woman, 3 distinct personalities. We all were seeking intentional friendship, and there were definitely more laughs than bumps along the way, but it did take time to get a good course of living where our 3 schedules found time to eat together, fellowship together, and explore our own interests. When I would be annoyed or even misunderstood one of them, I learned how to take a moment, assume that they have every positive intention for me during that time, and move on. Having only 3 people made the interactions we did have that much more personal…which made us much more self-aware, and very close as a group in the end. 
  • Never expect ‘Thank You’.
    • As a client advocate, all I did was embrace the stories of my neighbors, assist them in utilizing resources we had, and in the community, and fight for their voice when getting rent or utility assistance. There were a couple very special stories where I may have done more for one client or another, but there were also times when there just wasn’t enough time and someones lights or water were off, or someone was evicted. For the individuals I was able to restore a bit of peace to their daily life, I was grateful to have that opportunity to do that. I learned quickly that attitudes – whether sour, cranky, or extremely grateful, I was always the one saying ” thank you; I am glad we are able to help”.  At the start of the year I did not sign on to my year to be praised and thanked for the work I was doing. It was my honor, with the many moments of help from God, to be able to do the work I was doing.
  • It’s okay to cry in church. 
    • I was very unsure of how a year that had an intentional faith component to it would look like for me. Especially one that was tied to a different faith tradition than one I was used to.  I felt very disconnected spiritually in early 2013 and was craving that relationship again. VVC actually found me, I did not seek the program, but God works in mysterious ways- and it was exactly what I needed.  Having not prayed to a God in YEARS,  about 3 weeks into the program I started praying again.  There was a historical black Catholic parish in our neighborhood that we frequented, and with time, I was surprised to find spiritual solace in mass (a place that I found very uncomfortable in my first encounters with it). I often found my mind floating to where I was in my faith and where I wanted to be which often brought me to tears, and often when kneeling in mass. Recreating relationships are never easy, and they take time; this one is definitely not an exception to the rule.
  • Community is everything. 
    • Our whole year was about building community: in our house, in the West End, at SVDP, etc. I found it to be all around me: in my workout class at our local YMCA, at the job I picked up in July to cover transitional expenses…it was everywhere. When the intention and love are there to make a group of people more than strangers, magical things happen.
  • Living simply means living with intention. 
    • One of the interview questions for VVC asked what “Living simply means to you”. I said something along the lines of: “well, I won’t be able to get my nails done anymore!” which when looking back on it is funny and true, but it is much more than that. It is thinking about how you eat, how you travel, your interactions with people, with technology, with finances…For the first time in my life I learned how to compost, was itching to grow a garden, tried to disconnect digitally as much as possible, and  I was very modest with my spending. I wanted to “unclutter” my life, which included taking out processed foods from my diet and other things my body didn’t like. The power of simplicity is so poignant and needed in our very busy lives. It was everything I needed to concentrate my year on growing in relationship with God, being present to my clients and roommates, as well as allowing myself to grow as a woman. 

There were also plenty of professional growth moments, all of which I am grateful I was able to grow through. I am glad I was given a unique load of responsibilities including: managing the tasks of high-school work study student; leading a group of volunteers all of whom were 40 to 50 years older than me; and many other random things. Moving on at the end of August felt rushed, so I worked an extra week because I wasn’t ready to say bye. I didn’t love  the city of Cincinnati, but I have so much love for the staff at St Vincent de Paul, ALL of my housemates, and the community in the West End. But without a doubt, Cincinnati will hold a piece of my heart.  

After a difficult 2014 spring, dozens of interviews and job inquiries, and TONS of reformed resumes and cover letters… I accepted a position in Detroit, MI as a Youth Development Coach for the Youth Development Commission.  After living in Michigan for almost 3 weeks now, I am proud to say that I am an AmeriCorps alum, that I am still deeply tied to the Society of St Vincent de Paul, that I lived and know some of the nuances of Cincinnati – and will gladly share my experience with others; as well as apply my lessons learned to my life. My year as a Vincentian Volunteer energized me to truly make my passion my career – so when I was looking for jobs…that’s exactly what I did. 

For as long as I can remember,  youth development was a hobby and passion I did alongside my academic studies. I was not a ‘Youth Studies’ major from the U of M, but Intercultural Communication. Students Today Leaders Forever for many years gave me the opportunity and environment to exercise my passion for leadership development in high school students.  At the last high school leadership camp that I co-directed for them I participated in the labyrinth that we facilitate. The one question that was burning in my mind the whole time was something along the lines of: if you are not working for them, what are you doing? I was referring to working for the youth. If I am not advocating for them and helping them to develop and utilize their gifts, then what am I doing? As I saw the parents and some youth through my work at SVDP, I so clearly recognized the incredibly needed space for youth in poverty; a place to go after school, caring mentors in their lives, an accountability partner to help them with what they want to achieve. I never thought that it could mean moving to Michigan, and working in Detroit…but  God called me here and I welcomed the opportunity with open arms. 

In a new city, energized to build community and apply my lessons of how to live simply in my life, I am proud of my 11 months, and the person I became from it. None of it was easy, and a lot of really hard personal things were happening the same time as the program. Sometimes a prayer is all you need to get through the day. This prayer was in my room when I first moved into the VVC house. I now leave it with you:

 I wish the 2014-15 Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati (and years to come) many blessings through their journey this year. Enjoy the friendships, pray ceaselessly, and have a blast!!