community: the answer to moving gracefully in the world – featured fjv patrick vale (gresham, or ’13-14)

This month’s featured fjv, Patrick Vale (Gresham, OR ’13-14) explores how the defining aspect of his JV year, Community, has played a role in the years since completing his service.

At the very end of our time together in Gresham, Ore., my housemates and I spent a weekend camping at Crater Lake in southern Oregon. Sitting beside the fire, Katie challenged us to summarize the preceding year in one word. An impossible task; and yet my answer surfaced effortlessly: community.

The story of my time with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest is defined by the relationships I made throughout the year. My seven community mates were, and continue to be, spiritual guides for me. They are testaments to the goodness of humanity and the healing power of friendship. The staff of El Programa Hispano, where I served, remains my personal benchmark for Jesus’ example manifest in our modern world. The broad community of folks who visited, received services from, and volunteered with El Programa Hispano welcomed me with warmth and curiosity. Since returning home to Boston, new friendships have blossomed by way of the FJV community, further tying me to values that anchor my life during a stage in which so much feels unresolved.

The question of how to move out into the world gracefully, beyond the safety of Gresham, where I was surrounded by folks who largely understood and affirmed my worldview, has been central for me over the past three years. The best answer I’ve found is: community. A desire to continue being present in one another’s lives has led to flights and road trips which have brought our entire house together again three times since we moved away from Oregon. I had the joy of hosting a coworker and dear friend from El Programa Hispano at my apartment in Boston, which I share with my former community-mate and dear friend, Chris. A passion for building bonds beyond linguistic and cultural barriers led me to a year teaching English as a Fulbright Fellow in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The more I share with the world and the more the world shares with me, the more clearly I see we have so much to gain from connecting with one another.

This desire to connect with others meaningfully has led me to begin teaching weekly adult ESL classes at a local public library. It is, undoubtedly, a spiritual endeavor. The commitment helps me build relationship with recent immigrants from all over the globe, neighbors whom I may not have otherwise met. The classroom certainly fosters practical learning but the real intention is to build a community in which all are welcome and everyone’s stories are heard. I develop lesson plans and do my best to drive positive learning outcomes but I’m also very aware that, more than anything else, I show up each week in search of my own community of belonging. I did not immigrate to the United States, but my neighbors who have are a big part of what makes it feel like home.

Often, the stories shared in class bring me back to the countless evenings spent with my community in Gresham. Whether it was sitting in our kitchen nook, lying on the fuzzy living room carpet, or at our dining room table, we were entering into one another’s lives through conversation, shared time, and shared space.

Jim Buck, one of our JV community’s local support people and claimed adoptive father, has said that JVC Northwest’s major impact across its history has been in bringing people home to themselves through sharing with others.

This is viscerally true for me, and I am so grateful.

Patrick Vale lives in Boston, Massachusetts and works at MIT, assisting the university’s efforts to bring Latin American learners to its free, online learning platform, edx.org. He can be reached at patricksvale@gmail.com.

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