By Meghan Leary, Good Shepherd Volunteers
The following reflection is a notable entry to our annual Volunteer Story & Photo Contest. Each year, we ask our member programs to submit stories and photos of their daily life to celebrate the experiences of faith-based service.
I remember the moment I decided I was going to do a post-grad year of service. I was a college sophomore on a service trip in Neah Bay, Washington. We were serving at the local middle school, high school and Makah Museum. I had never been a part of a group with so much insightful conversation, positive energy, laughter, and can-do attitude before. Mission: Possible Neah Bay 2016 captured my whole heart. One senior on the trip, Katie, was talking about her application process with Jesuit Volunteer Corps. She was excited and nervous, and I was in awe. I didn’t know you could do post-grad service. I knew I didn’t want the week in Neah Bay to end, and I was happy to hear that I could find service opportunities for a whole year.
My call to service has been much more than that one week. My call grew during two other service opportunities. My call took me to Duran, Ecuador where I played cards and read in terrible Spanish with soft spoken Scarlett. My call also took me to New York City, where I spent time with Hour Children and listened to the stories of formerly incarcerated and currently incarcerated mothers. Finally, my call brought me to Collier High School in Wickatunk, New Jersey where I served for one year as a Good Shepherd Volunteer.
Looking back, I had no doubt that I was going to choose service after graduation; my call to service was strong. However, I had trouble explaining why I felt called so strongly.
Saint Mary Euphrasia, the founder of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd said, “You have a sacred, precious jewel confided to you. It is our holy institute you carry in your arms, in your person. Show it to the world, to everyone, in all its beauty. Our institute was founded through love. We have all been drawn to it through love. It is love which keeps us here.” I found this quote while writing my blog post for Good Shepherd Volunteer midway through my service year.
Through January, I was having difficulty explaining to the students, staff, my friends, and my family why I chose service. I’d say, “I want a year of experience before I go back to grad school,” or “I want to know if I can work with high schoolers,” or “I want to challenge myself.” Those were all true, but they are mostly pros to the decision I had already made rather than reasons why I made the decision. When I found that quote above, I realized I had been drawn to service because of love and my desire to learn about it, carry it within me and to share its beauty. Saint Mary Euphrasia gave me the words I had been searching for.
My desire to grow, learn and transform through love was inspired by all the people I met throughout my service experiences. Every person and place taught me something different about love: in Neah Bay I learned about love within a community; in Ecuador I learned about God’s love; and in New York I learned about motherly love.
Every day at Collier I learned about what it meant to “just love” (the motto of Good Shepherd Volunteers). I just loved the students when they got Bs on a project I helped them on, and when they laughed at me as I embarrassed myself playing badminton. I just loved when I got to help out on a Peruvian festival field trip and when I labeled 150 envelopes for report cards. I just loved my community members when we shared in our triumphs and in our hardships. Love is what kept me present. I seriously dreaded the end of my time there.
If you are discerning a call to service, I would say follow that call. I would also advise doing your research and truly taking time to reflect on placements, locations, types of service, and organizations. Your service is also about you. Find your why, and align your why with your service. My why, was love. Even though it took me until the mid-point in my year of service to figure out my why, the mutual yes between GSV and I, felt right.
Without realizing it, Good Shepherd Volunteers’ motto to “just love” aligned with my pursuit for love. Love is what connected me to my service and guided my every day as a Good Shepherd Volunteer.