If I were to write a letter to my younger self as she was discerning whether she should do a year of service or not, I don’t think I would know where to begin. Now being close to three months into my year of service I can say that this was definitely the direction I needed to take in my life after finishing college. This experience has already provided me with opportunities to learn about the “real world” without technically even having a job yet. Not only have I learned about what the “real world” may look like, but I am also learning more about myself outside of being a student. I don’t think I would be as happy or passionate about the choice I will make at the end of this year to continue to fulfill the vocation God is calling me to had I gotten a job or gone to grad school after undergrad.
I have also already learned and gained so much from those I have worked with and served. That idea of gaining something from those I work to serve seems funny in my mind… shouldn’t I be the one giving to our neighbors in need? There is so much more I should do to be present to them and I shouldn’t be getting anything from them. However, I have learned that there is a difference between serving someone, as compared to helping or fixing them. Service is a relationship between equals, whereas helping defines the inequality between individuals. Or fixing implies that someone is wrong or broken and his or her brokenness requires me to act. Service sees the wholeness in others; it respects the dignity of their life and my own.
I have seen that in the midst of someone’s homelessness, hunger, struggle with bed bugs, etc. there is still so much joy, hope and gratitude. It’s humbling to encounter our neighbors and then question how I would be acting should I be in that situation. I don’t know that I would be quite as cheerful or as hopeful. I am constantly reminded of a woman I met while venturing on home visits. She had lost all her furniture, clothes, possessions, and even had to move because of bed bugs. Yet she was so welcoming and proud of her new apartment. She constantly thanked me and the other St. Vincent de Paul volunteer for our help and for talking to her. Not only was she grateful to us, but also to God. So grateful in fact that she wanted to lead prayer for the three of us before we left her apartment. I have not forgotten that experience and continue to reflect on it as I work, and use it as a way to hold myself accountable for having a more positive outlook and attitude for the obstacles I come up against.
Our neighbors’ attitudes challenge me to question my own attitude and my ability to keep an open mind to the world around me. That too is something I needed to be reminded of as I discerned whether or not a year of service was the right decision for me. I have a lot to learn from different experiences, conversations and people. The challenges I come up against can only help inform my future decisions and how to learn from the unexpected.
Thinking about how I made my decision to pursue a year of service, I now realize it is because of the challenges that I faced that drove me to step outside my comfort zone and consider serving. As I continue this year and look back on my decision to come to VVC, I need to remember that as daunting as an obstacle may be, it can lead me to where I am called; what I experience and learn through overcoming any challenge may lead to the next step in my life.
Amy Noser, originally from St. Louis, MO, graduated from the University of Dayton this past May. Without having written a letter to herself, she still managed to make her way here, to the VVC program, and spends her days helping coordinate our Ozanam Center for Service Learning and working with volunteers. Amy’s warm and compassionate presence are a gift to her work and her VVC community.