Seattle JV EnCorps member, Theresa Barker, is a writer and poet and also finds meaning and purpose through her two service placements. Below, she reflects on her experience as a JVE.
My first placement is with a prison writing program, the Hero’s Journey Prison Writing Project, created by Gloria Kempton, who is a writer, a Catholic Chaplain, and a former JV EnCorps volunteer herself. Gloria matches incarcerated writers with writers on the outside, to provide feedback and encouragement on their work.
The project consists of twelve lessons, one a month, in which the incarcerated writer learns craft and develops a writing project of any genre, including fiction, memoir, and poetry. Monthly assignments are sent to the matched writer on the outside, and we give feedback and suggestions for the writer to consider in developing their project. I have been matched with a couple of writers in the Womens’ Correctional Facilities in Washington State and with writers in other correctional facilities as well. Gloria has told me that, over the many years of this program, it has fundamentally changed the lives of writers in prison who have participated.
My second volunteer placement is with the U.W. Farm, which provides education and outreach on urban farming at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens near the U.W. campus. A majority of volunteers at the Farm are students receiving course credit, but there are a number of community volunteers like myself. This autumn, other volunteers and I harvested the last of the summer crops and planted winter greens, preparing beds for wintering-over and sowing cover crops in the farm beds to rejuvenate the soil, and helping with the indigenous native-plant garden. We have also helped with environmental restoration by removing invasive blackberry and ivy in the natural area.
Food from the U.W. Farm is provided to the campus housing and food services, including a free-food student pantry for those in need. The farm runs a seasonal CSA (community-supported agriculture) program, which supports the local-food movement to increase agricultural sustainability through carbon-footprint reduction and limited use of water for irrigation. As part of the educational component of this program, we learn about plant chemistry and sustainable farm practices. Information is also provided about what the site was like before European settlement, when the land had been in the care of indigenous Coast Salish people, and it includes current efforts to support and highlight native customs, food, and culture.
As I think about the impact of my service placements on the community and on God’s creation, I feel that each part of my service, whether helping writers in prison develop their writing voice and creative projects or bolstering the restorative efforts of sustainable farming and care of the earth, each part is a small act of worship that connects and deepens my own spiritual life. The opportunity to work with others in these acts of service has been immensely satisfying!
If you are called to service & community, there’s still time to join JV EnCorps for 2023-24! We accept applications during the year for our groups in Bend, Portland, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma and Vancouver. Visit jvencorps.org to learn more about continuing the Ignatian journey and submit an online application!