Alumni Talk: What your year of JVC will be like

By Jacqueline Devereaux Semmens, FJV with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest
Jackie (on right in gray) with her first year housemates
(including her now husband in stripes)
I’ve seen a lot of searches coming to my blog lately with JVC questions like “what to wear” and “what to pack.” So to any future JVs leaving for orientation in two weeks that might be reading this blog, or anyone who is considering a year of service, I, as a former Jesuit Volunteer with 2 years of experience, can tell you (with 90% assuredness) what your year will be like.
Orientation will be the longest week of your life
You discerned, you prayed, you talked to your friends and family, you applied. You were interviewed, and interviewed again, and maybe even a third time. You have filled out countless forms and completed your physicals, graduated from college and for the 1000th time explained to someone what the Jesuit Volunteer Corps is (it’s kinda like a faith based Americorps type program where I will live in community, volunteer at an organization and make $80 a month) and can say it in one breath. You have waited during a painfully long summer, saying goodbye to everyone and everything you’ve known, you have packed in two impossibly small suitcases and have boarded your plane for this grand adventure.

And finally, finally you are here. And now you must wait another week before you go onto actually starting your JVC year. But relax. Listen. You will get there soon enough. You might come away scared out of your mind, convinced that your housemates are crazy, and sore from sitting in plastic folding chairs all week. But you will be home soon.

Now after spending a week hearing “let go of your expectations” you have convinced yourself you have. But trust me, they will arise when you are least expecting them. Maybe sometime mid-winter when you have realized JVC wasn’t exactly what you were expecting, but you still have that nagging desire to (fill in the blank) play more, pray with your house more, travel more, live a more simple life, have a job with more responsibilities, have a job with less responsibilities.

Observe them as they come up, and do not judge them. Do not be heartbroken when your expectations are not met. But learn to see what else is in store for you.

You will fall in love
For me, it was with my housemate that I thought was pretty cute as soon as I got his picture in the mail. 6 weeks later we were dating, terrified that we would somehow wrench our house apart. But they were nothing but excited and supportive and thrilled to be at our wedding two years later.

You will fall in love. With someone, with something. I don’t know what it is yet. But if you keep your heart open you will fall in love with your town, with the tribe, with the mountains surrounding your house, with biking to work, with that new food you had never heard of, with your clients, with God in a new way, with the big sky. It will happen if you let it.

Whatever you do for Christmas, it will feel like the wrong decision
During orientation, your leaders will urge you to stay in your community for Christmas and immediately you will say “well I would, but I promised my mother I would go home and while my community is important my family is more important and I just don’t think I am ready to do that yet and unless my job requires me to work I am going home.” And then you will go home and think about your housemates you left behind.

Or you will stay, and it will be hard. You might have to work and while you may have this incredibly moving life changing Christmas experience that so many others have had, you may just end up working like it’s any other day, and watching movies with your housemates that night. You might spend the afternoon alone trying to call all of your friends who are too busy celebrating to answer, leaving you to stare out the window, alone and crying.

But you will remember that that is what Christmas is about. Loneliness, coldness, and tiny star in the night sky telling you that hope has come. It is light in the darkness, and it will be a Christmas like none other.

You will realize $80 is a lot of money, and not a lot of money.

You will quickly see that the monthly stipend of $80 is more than some of your clients have in their pocket, ever. And that when you have room and board taken care of (though you will probably have to budget some to cover those), $80 of “fun money” left over is not that bad of a deal at all.

Then you will run out of shampoo, of toothpaste, and the holes in your jeans have worn completely through. And a friend gets married and sends you the link to her registry, an all of a sudden $80 (or the $20 you have left over after buying jeans and toothpaste, well, make that $18.03 because you treated yourself to a cup of coffee earlier that month) is not a lot of money at all.

But while you may have to turn down social invitations and send people homemade gifts, you will be surrounded by others doing the same thing. You will never worry about going hungry or becoming homeless. And you will realize that’s all the financial stability you need.

You will have fights over what to have for dinner

There is no way around it – deciding what to eat will be tough. You will shudder at the thought of putting expired, canned, processed, commodity food into your body since to you, “simple living” meant returning to nature, to real food, to wholeness. Or you will roll your eyes at the suggestion that you only shop organically, since to you “simple living” meant eating in solidarity with those rummaging through garbage cans and shopping at the food bank.

But let it go. You are breaking bread together, and that is what is important.

You will work hard
You will come home at the end of the day tired, exhausted. Not every day, maybe not every week, but there will be days. It may be the ache of an honest days work, or it may be the relentless frustration of ramming your head up against a wall of social injustice day after day. You will work hard. So rest hard; play hard.

You will deeply regret your decision to do JVC
There will be times of deep doubt, where you are this close to calling home and booking the next flight out of there. You will hate your job, your community mates, your town, the winters, the eighth-day-in-a-row of tomato soup for dinner. And you will be done. You quit, you tell everyone.

Have a little mercy on yourself, on those around you. 
Take a deep breath and rest a while. The (especially in the northwest) long hard winters cooped up with nothing to do but fight with your housemates can take a toll. Get out and stretch your legs a little. Pray hard. Remember why you came on this adventure in the first place and what you have left that you would like to do. Spring will come, and you will survive and wonder what was ever the problem in the first place.

You will have fun
Despite the work, the struggles, the challenges, you will have a blast. Hiking or biking or canoeing. Getting your car stuck in the mountains in rural Montana. Getting lost on your way back from Canada. Spinning around in the backyard until you fall down. Playing games you haven’t played since you were in middle school. Exploring your house and the treasures left from JVs past. Potlucks. Lots and lots of potlucks. Playing with the children in your day care. Cracking jokes with a homeless man. There will be joy.

You will make a difference
You probably won’t see it, but it will be there. I promise you.

Reposted with permission from Blueberries for Me at
Your expectations will surface and then be shattered

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