By Erin DaCosta, Colorado Vincentian Volunteers
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines community as “a unified body of individuals, such as people with common interests living in a particular area.” Yes! This is, in the simplest of terms, community. However, what Merriam Webster doesn’t acknowledge in this basic definition is the breadth and depth of an intentional service community. A mere definition cannot do justice to the emotions, stories, and people who comprise any given service community.
At one level, a service community is indeed a “unified body of individuals with common interests living in a particular area.” In fact, this is exactly what I thought when I packed my bags and moved to Denver for my year of service with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers (CVV). I knew I was living with nine other individuals who had committed a year of their lives to service, simplicity, and prayer. We had this in common, and this made us community. So simple! Or so I thought…
What I could not even begin to fathom prior to my arrival in Colorado was the multitude of moments that defined community. When I stepped through the door of my new home in downtown Denver, I had no idea my life was going to be forever changed by these complete strangers. I could not predict the ups and downs of the year that lay ahead, and the people that would journey alongside me, answering tough questions, challenging each other, and growing to love as a community of ten.
I wish someone had told me that community could simultaneously be the most joyous and tumultuous thing one could ever experience. I wish someone had told me how incredibly challenging it was to grocery shop on a tight budget with nine others. I wish I had known that communication was key, and that tears were inevitable. Or that community was about challenging one another in healthy ways. Or that community didn’t mean you were the best of friends. I wish someone had told me that sometimes community was awful, and that was okay; that sometimes community meant anger, and frustration; that simply because we were all committed to social justice, it didn’t necessarily mean we engaged with the world in the same ways.
But more importantly than that, I wish someone had told me how incredibly beautiful community could be. That community could mean running like crazy around your new city , as you embarked on a wild team-building scavenger hunt. That community might mean sobbing in your roommate’s arms after a challenging day at work. That community meant starting weird traditions, like hiding ugly stuffed animals throughout the house. I wish someone had told me community meant laughing so hard you cried, regularly. Most of all, I wish someone had told me that the little moments are the big ones, and before you know it, the year will be over, and even if your community doesn’t always like one another, you love one another, and that love is fierce and firm.
What no one could have told me was that eight years later, my community would be scattered across the United States. When we left Denver for our next chapters, we had no idea that in the following decade we would gain new last names, new spouses, new babies and new jobs. Eight years and hundreds of group emails later, we are still be connected, despite seeing each other only sporadically over the years. We laugh about our year, shake our heads at our year, and know that without it, none of us would be who we are today. Eight years later, we are still members of CVV 16. Our emails and phone calls may be less frequent as the years pass, but the bond between us is unshakable.
Dear volunteer (or future volunteer) – cherish your community. Savor the good times, and yes, even the challenging times. Realize that these are your people, and will be for life, whether you recognize it now or not. Community is absolutely incredible, and so much more than a simple definition could ever capture.