Interview with John Lee, Former Precious Blood Volunteer
After graduating Villanova University, John Lee started a new chapter by joining the Precious Blood Volunteers, living in community and serving at Cristo Rey Kansas City High School. When his time of service was complete, John knew he wanted to keep alive the weekly story-sharing he had initiated within his volunteer community, which helped them all to connect. He brainstormed and “came across the idea of podcasting and felt that it could create that bridge!”
So John began writing, recording and producing a podcast called “Starting With A Story.” Episodes debut each Monday morning, where “John shares a wisdom story that covers topics from personal growth to life lessons to connecting with others. These stories are followed with John’s takeaways and specific parts of the story that resonate with him the most. The podcast finishes with a challenge to take on in order to improve and grow in your own lives based on the lessons from the story.”
John took the time to answer a few questions from CVN about his own story, his podcast, and his advice to volunteers looking to release their creativity. Thanks, John!
Name: John Kwangho Lee
College: Villanova University
Volunteer Program: Precious Blood Volunteers
City Served: Kansas City, Missouri
Year(s) Served: July 2017 – December 2017
Tell us about the beginning of your volunteer story. Had you always planned on completing post-grad service?
In all honesty, post-grad service didn’t cross my mind at all until my fall semester of Senior year, and it didn’t actually become a legitimate pursuit until the Spring. I studied as a Mechanical Engineer and struggled to find a passion in what I was learning in class. I wasn’t captivated by thermodynamics or manufacturing, but what I did know, was that I was fascinated with people. I knew that whatever I chose to pursue, I wanted to connect with others and try my best to make today a little better for someone else, but I didn’t know how to make that a reality until I was told about post-grad service.
What persons or events (if applicable) influenced your decision to serve – in particular with Precious Blood Volunteers?
Throughout my college career, I had the opportunity to get involved in retreat work through Villanova’s Campus Ministry. I went on a retreat called SEARCH my Sophomore year, was asked to lead my Junior year, and was asked to lead again my Senior year. Between my Junior and Senior year, Campus Ministry welcomed a new Campus Minister for Retreats and Post-Grad Service, Michelle Sherman. I worked with Michelle a lot for the planning of the retreat and in the Fall, she suggested I look into post-grad service because I was having trouble finding passion in my engineering studies. As I started my “search,” Michelle connected me with one of her friends, Tim Deveney, who just happened to be the Director of Volunteers for the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. My love for retreat work and connecting with people, coupled with the support from Campus Ministry and Tim’s remarkably fast emails, drove me to serve with the Precious Blood Volunteers.
How was your experience of living in community with other volunteers? Any specific challenges or rewards come to mind?
My community situation was very different compared to what I heard from other volunteers. I lived with two priests, three other volunteers, a close friend of the Precious Blood, and a pet dog named Buddy! Although there were always people in the house, I struggled with feeling a sense of community and wanted the house to be more than just a place where I slept. We each had our own rooms in a different part of the three story house so after work, people naturally just went to their space. Every volunteer also worked at a different service site so our time schedules rarely matched up. Not seeing some of the other volunteers for several days wasn’t uncommon for me.
The biggest challenge for me was trying to navigate what I could and could not control and then focusing on what I could do to create a better outcome. Fortunately, these challenges are what brought the greatest reward; friendship. I couldn’t change the fact that we lived in a big house with different busy schedules, but what I could do was just be present and plan activities ahead of time. It started off slow, but eventually we started to have weekly bonding/spirituality nights on Wednesdays. As the weeks went on, we spent more time just talking to each other, laughing, reflecting, and sharing. When I look back, I remember these short moments and these small memories that have allowed me to truly connect with some remarkable individuals.
Tell us, how did your passion for story-telling begin? Did you have opportunities to explore this as an undergrad or as a volunteer?
Growing up, my parents always told me stories and Korean folk-tales that they were told when they were young. To this day, I still think back to some of these stories to get some insight or just a laugh. As I started to go on retreats, there was always a portion of the retreat where a simple short-story was shared and we were asked to reflect on it afterwards. I found a lot of comfort in these stories because they were relatable and refreshing. I hope to bring that same warmth and comfort to others.
In regards to actually telling stories, I didn’t really do anything story specific other than just talking to people. I love meeting and connecting with new people because every person is different and has their own unique story to tell. The greatest opportunity I had to explore story-telling as an undergrad and as a volunteer was definitely hearing the stories of others!
When did you decide to begin your podcast, Starting With a Story? How did you decide on the story-telling format? And what are your hopes for its future?
While volunteering at Cristo Rey, I had a 30 minute commute on the public transit both to and from work every day. I listened to a lot of self-help podcasts that emphasized gratitude and living in a state of appreciation. I began to reflect a lot on my life and found myself overwhelmed with how blessed I was. My family, my friends, my volunteer work, my health, and so much more. This new mindset motivated me to try and give back to others in some way shape or form. At the high school, I was really inspired by each student. I felt connected to them and hearing their stories ignited my passion to share and connect with even more individuals. I always loved talking to people, I listened to a lot of podcasts, and I wanted to connect with people from all over the world. And so, I picked up a microphone and started my podcast, “Starting With A Story.”
The story-telling format came to be after getting feedback from students, staff, fellow volunteers, and my music producer, Bryson Kemp, whom also completed a year of service at an inner-city school in Chicago! I wanted to share stories that people could connect with, and then leave them with a task or a challenge to hopefully add value to their lives. The journey thus far has been quite a ride and I’m so humbled by the support and the stories I’ve received. Season 1 is coming to an end with Episode 10. I am excited to start working on Season 2 which will hopefully launch around March or April. Season 2 will add an interview/discussion segment where I will have the opportunity to talk to the individual who submits the story for that week about their connection to the story and the insights they gain from it. I’m just one person and I still have so much to learn. Through this interview format, I hope to bring the listeners a whole new range of wisdom and insight from different people from all over the world! If you happen to have a story, let me know and you can be featured in the podcast!
Do you have any advice for current and former volunteers who aspire to creative pursuits?
The best advice I could give to anyone thinking about a creative pursuit is to just go for it. I believe the biggest disservice you can do to yourself is to let fear or doubt prevent you from even trying. It’s important to have some sort of creative outlet or passion that you can express yourself with and feel proud of! Your hobbies and your pursuits are essentially for you; they allow you to relax, express yourself, and possibly even connect and share with other people. There’s no better time than now to start something new!
Lastly, do you have any advice for someone currently considering post-grad service?
For those who are considering post-grad service, I would say two things. First, spend just as much time talking to yourself about your thoughts as you spend talking to others about them. I remember asking questions to every person I knew who was currently or previously involved with post-grad service. I got a lot of great insight and advice, but I didn’t spend nearly enough time talking to myself about it all. I eventually realized this and chose to write down my thoughts and feelings to help me come to a decision and I found this to be very helpful.
Second, I would encourage you to have faith, and simply trust that what ends up happening is supposed to happen. I realized quickly that I was a meticulous person when it came down to figuring out what I would do after I graduated. I wanted to make sure that I had every detail planned out; where would I serve, who would I live with, how long would I be there, what would I do … the list was endless. It wasn’t until I took several deep breaths and several steps back that I understood that everything couldn’t possibly be perfectly accounted for. I encourage you to embrace the uncertainty.
John will be completing his first season of “Starting with a Story” with the tenth episode. He is planning on starting work on Season 2 after a brief hiatus. His hope is to begin interviewing people about the stories they have shared with him. You can listen to “Starting With A Story” at the podcast’s website, https://startingwithastory.com, or wherever you find your podcasts.