I'm glad I chose a year of service
My year as an Augustinian Volunteer fundamentally shifted the way I see the world.
The year after I graduated from college, I was an Augustinian Volunteer on the South Side of Chicago. For 10 months I worked with low-income pregnant mothers and their babies at Catholic Charities while living in community with other volunteers.
During college I was active in campus ministry. Volunteering—both on a weekly basis and through service trips—was something I was very passionate about. But even for someone who volunteered a lot, committing to an entire year of service postgraduation wasn’t a cut-and-dried decision. A good friend of mine who had recently completed a year with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest gushed about how spiritually fulfilling, eye-opening, and humbling her experience had been. I knew it was something I wanted to do, but there was a voice in the back of my head (that sounded awfully similar to my dad’s voice) urging me to get a job when I graduated.
In the April feature story “Has post-grad service fallen out of favor?” Heather Grennan Gary explores exactly my predicament. While interest in postgraduate service programs remains high, the number of those who actually commit to a program has declined in recent years. Many choose a job, graduate school, or religious life over full-time service. As an English major, I wasn’t destined to a specific career path. I could have applied to a variety of jobs, but I decided serving others while further discerning my career aspirations was a much more productive use of my time. So began one of the most challenging and enlightening experiences of my life.
My time on Chicago’s South Side exposed me to deep-seated structural problems I had never experienced elsewhere in my privileged life. I experienced firsthand how segregated and inequitable the city of Chicago really is, as Natalie Moore discusses in her interview with the U.S. Catholic editors “Segregation, racism, and the American Dream.” Moore’s recent book on the topic brings to light how segregation affects not just housing patterns but also everything from education to nutrition to politics.
It’s naïve to say I understand what it’s like to live on the South Side of Chicago after a measly 10 months there. But I can affirm that the people I met and the things I experienced as an Augustinian Volunteer fundamentally shifted the way I see the world. I thought choosing to do a year of service meant postponing my “real life,” but instead my experience as a volunteer is what helped me understand the kind of “real life” I wanted to live.
Image: Courtesy of the Augustinian Volunteers