Emily Ruef, 2011-2012 Recruiter for JVC Northwest, having grown up in Ohio and graduated from St. Louis University, reflects on her three years of involvement with JVC Northwest. Her story illustrates the unexpected nature of a Calling:
I was sitting in a crowd of hundreds of anxious people, all eyes were on a senior named Eric who spoke of the Jesuit mission and how it’s impacted his life. I was one of 1,200 incoming freshmen at Saint Louis University during summer orientation 2004. In the midst of speaking of the Jesuit call to be women and men for others, Eric mentioned that one way to do this was through post-graduate service. This was the first time that I ever heard of the idea, and the seed was planted.
Four and a half years later, I graduated from SLU with my middle school education degree. I was enthusiastic, optimistic, and ready to set the world on fire (as the Jesuit saying goes). What better way to do this than to commit one year of my life to full-time service like Eric had suggested? After much research and discernment, I discerned that Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest may be a perfect fit. It incorporated the Jesuit values I had started to engage with in college into daily living, it allowed me to live in an intentional community with others, and it was located in a ruggedly gorgeous part of the country that I had yet to explore.
When I got the call informing me that I would be headed to the “Wild West,” I was ecstatic! I became even more ready to begin the year when I received my placement at St. Andrew’s Church in Portland, Oregon where I was to be the Emergency Services Coordinator. Although I wasn’t sure what my time of service would bring, at the beginning of August 2009 I flew from my home in Dayton, Ohio to Portland, Oregon to begin my year with Orientation at Camp Adams.
My year in Portland was incredibly formative. I was challenged daily by my placement and community living. However, I also had never laughed so much, shared as many meals, or found so much selfless love as I did in my JV year in Portland. When February 2010 rolled around, and I was half-way done with my year of service, I reconsidered my plan to go back to Ohio and thought about staying with JVC Northwest for a second year. Although I loved Portland, I desired to challenge myself in an entirely different environment while also being at a school. Taking this into account, an ideal JV position stared at me from my computer screen: Full-time Substitute Teacher and Tutor at St. Labre High School in Ashland, Montana. After talking with my parents and receiving their unwavering support, I decided to apply for a second year. I clearly remember the phone call letting me know that I had been matched with my top placement at St. Labre.
So, I successfully completed my 2nd year of Camp Adams Orientation and made it through a 22-hour bus ride to Ashland, Montana with my seven new community-mates. As you may imagine, going from Portland, Oregon to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation (where the population was only 400, according to the internet) was quite a drastic transition. I wanted different challenges, and I definitely got them in my placement, in my community, and within myself during the year. These challenges, however, made the beauty and joy of the culture, the people, and the land even more incredible.
My second year flew by even faster than my first, and it soon was July 2011. After my two years as a JV, I became the full-time recruiter as a staff member of JVC Northwest. This was an unbelievably unique way to stay involved with an organization whose mission I believe in so much, to share my diverse experiences, and to accompany others on their journeys of exploring post-grad service. As a previous blog post recounted, I was able to travel to over 30 states and visit over 60 colleges during my time as recruiter from August 2011 through April 2012. I had countless adventures, slept on many couches, and hopefully helped recruit an amazing new batch of JVs for the upcoming 2012-2013 year.
Here is where it comes full circle! During all my travels as recruiter, I couldn’t stop thinking about Ashland: big things (the students, the sweat lodges, the land, the pow-wows, the people) and little things (milkshakes from Michelle’s Munchies, the spot behind the Heritage where you can watch the storms roll in from miles away, and Pup the cat).
A surprise visit from friends from St. Labre this year was an incredible confirmation of what I had been sensing for awhile: I felt a strong desire to return there. It went beyond just an inclination and felt more like a calling. Finally, in early Spring, an opportunity presented itself: the K-12 Religious Education Coordinator position at St. Labre! After interviewing, I was offered the position, so I’m officially headed back to Ashland next year!
It’s crazy and humbling to look at the path I imagined my life would take and see where I am today. My journey these past few years has highlighted the necessity of openness to opportunities as they come. I will miss dearly those that I am leaving behind in Portland. I will continue to miss my family in Ohio and all the others who have touched my life these past few years. However, I am truly looking forward to bringing this full circle and returning to Montana in August. So, as the Northern Cheyenne say instead of goodbye, “Until our paths cross again.”
Yet, the full-circle gets even fuller: I finally met Eric, the senior who mentioned post-grad service! We had never officially met before, but when I was recruiting in St. Paul, Minnesota this November, I stopped by the Jesuit Novitiate to visit one of my former Portland community-mates. It just so happened that Eric was there too and in his first year of formation as a novice. I was able to share with him how what he said at SLU orientation had so deeply impacted my decisions. Conveniently, he also happened to be in Portland for a few days on his pilgrimage when I was offered the Religious Ed Coordinator position at St. Labre, so I was able to share this news with him in person. Sometimes it’s funny how things work out…