This AmeriCorps Week, we’re highlighting JV AmeriCorps service throughout the Northwest. JV AmeriCorps member JP Ideker (Hood River, OR ’15-16) serves underprivileged students and their families throughout Hood River County, OR.
My service placement at Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Service has given me the opportunity to meet, learn from, and be with some incredible people. Through service with the SNAP-Ed program conducting healthy food demonstrations, I’ve gotten to meet community members at food banks, K-5th graders (who always make me smile) at elementary schools, and several professionals at nonprofits working to address food insecurity and promote healthy eating.
Through service with the Juntos college and career-readiness program, I’ve gotten to learn from local Latino families and students about the obstacles that the Latino community faces in pursuing higher education and the history of the Latino population in Oregon. Through service with the ASPIRE high school mentoring program, I’ve gotten to be with Latino high school students as they navigate college, scholarship, and financial aid applications.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my definition of service and how this year has helped shape my understanding of such a broad concept. I think meeting, learning from, and being with the people we “serve” are key elements of true service. By meeting people where they are, learning from their stories and experiences, and choosing to be with them, we begin to share our lives with others. It is this sharing of experiences that best reflects the word “convivir” (to live together) that so many Juntos families have used to describe their favorite parts of the Juntos program. The word “convivir” has become an integral part of my year with OSU Extension, the Columbia Gorge community, and the JVC Northwest AmeriCorps program.
It is difficult to choose a single great story that best describes the past seven months in Oregon, but there are many small, daily shared experiences that have been life-giving, peace-filled, and almost painfully soothing. These daily shared experiences take several forms, including cross-country skiing with our support families, waking up at 7:00 AM and finding a crockpot full of tamales my GED students left at our back door, helping a family fill out a FAFSA application for the first time, and having a high school student lend me their favorite book to read.
I am incredibly thankful to share this year with a new community and have them share it with me as well. From sitting down with families in their homes to hear stories about their immigration to Oregon and their traditions, sharing pozole and chicken tinga with Juntos families before the college workshops begin, and seeing elementary school kids’ eyes light up when they try the healthy food of the month, I’m left with daily reminders of the goodness around me.
I feel lucky to get to meet, learn from, and be with the Columbia Gorge community for another five months, and I look forward to all the lessons this year has to offer. Service as a Jesuit Volunteer AmeriCorps member so far has taught me a lot about the value of shared moments in that there’s a certain intangibility to the beauty in them – in daily handshakes, smiles, stories, new fruits and vegetables, and college workshops. I’m thankful for this intangibility, this community, and a shared life.