How did you decide to apply to become a JV?
I found out about JVC Northwest because my sister was a JV with JVC based in Baltimore, MD. She served at a domestic violence shelter in Detroit and then went on to school to become a doctor, but I know her service informs her perspective on healthcare now. I was searching for my next step when I graduated and I saw that JVC Northwest was an option, so I clicked on the website to learn about the program.
I was drawn to many different aspects of JVC Northwest. First of all, the values. I wanted to continue to explore how I could actively work for social and ecological justice post-college. I knew the service I would be doing would be both fulfilling and challenging, so I wanted to invest in a community that would support me and could process the JV experience with me. I felt that I was at a pivotal moment regarding my spirituality, and I wanted to seek a deeper understanding of that identity with others who might have similar struggles or questions. Finally, I was interested in being in the Northwest and having the opportunity to appreciate and explore the beauty of this world.
What has your JV experience been like so far?
It has been difficult and joyful and life changing. Through it all I have felt supported. I have received constant support while serving at Raphael House in Portland, OR. I have learned about trauma exposure response and the self-care necessary to support domestic violence survivors sustainably, which has been crucial for my wellbeing. My supervisors and other people at Raphael House have been very attentive to my growth and they encourage me to care for myself holistically. In addition, going home to community mates that love me and challenge me to grow has helped me to create daily space for joy. The JVC Northwest organization is another source of support; by providing retreats, supportive staff, and cultivating intentional reflection, they have been instrumental in my journey of self-discovery this year.
What is a day in the life for you like at Raphael House?
Every day I am responding to whatever the needs of the survivors in shelter are. We may focus on housing, education, employment, mental and physical health, or immigration and/or legal needs. We also facilitate family and youth activities and plan community meetings and meals. Today I was chopping carrots with kids – that might have been the most harrowing thing I’ve done this week! But I’ve done a lot of learning about how systems work or don’t work, and how to navigate through those systems with survivors. I try to follow the survivors’ lead on what they want to do that day, allowing them to identify and accomplish their own goals. We also do a lot of safety planning regarding tech, physical and emotional safety, and education about domestic violence.
Is there a particular service experience that’s impacted you?
Every survivor’s story impacts me but one survivor stands out. She faced many barriers as a single mother, a person with a disability, and an immigrant. Serving alongside her, I realized how so many systems were not built for her, both outside and, even, in the shelter. I heard her frustration but also witnessed her resiliency. I worked to respect her agency and strength. Throughout the process, I saw her living in a world that was not built for her, but I also saw how she wouldn’t give up fighting for what she needed for herself, her daughter, and the life they deserved. She went on to secure safe and stable housing for them both.
That experience and this year of service has really kindled in me a fiery passion for how can I make this world more accessible, even for those with barriers that are invisible to those of us without the same barriers. Before I was a JV, I had an inkling about my future, but this year it’s grown into a career path. I’m now strongly considering social work supporting domestic violence survivors or a related field.
I’m really grateful to JVC Northwest, Raphael House, and my community mates for facilitating my growth and discovery. I would not be where I am today without my support system.