4. Life as a Jesuit Volunteer
Intentional community means JVs commit to having thoughtful, personal relationships with each person in their community and with the group as a whole. Each person is expected to participate fully and contribute to the community. JVs live with three to seven other volunteers, with the potential of having both an inter-generational and mixed gender community. Volunteers may share bedrooms, but in some cases have their own room. Everyone cooks and cleans, or learns how! Most community members volunteer at different placement agencies. As a community, you decide how to handle finances, agree on regular times to be together as community, discuss how to make decisions and resolve conflict, and divide household responsibilities. All volunteers are responsible to each other as members of the same community. The process of keeping communication and expectations clear is helped by regular community meetings. JVC Northwest communities also participate in weekly spirituality and community nights.
A year as a Jesuit Volunteer is about stretching yourself to live without some modern daily conveniences. Being in a place of discomfort can stretch us and teach us about the value of living in the present moment, how to be creative in how we spend our time, keep us in closer solidarity with those we serve, and actually free us to focus on what is most valuable in our lives. For these reasons we encourage JVs to think very seriously about technology and modern conveniences.
There are some service positions which require a car. If the position does not require a car, then JVs should not bring a car to their locale at any point during the year.
Throughout the year, JVs are challenged to see what they can live without, including computers, cell phones, iPads, and other technology. If JVs decide to bring them, they will be encouraged to reflect on how often they use them and how they impact those around them. JVC Northwest might not be right for applicants who think they are not ready to be challenged in this way.
JVs spend one night a week participating in a spirituality/reflection night with their JV community members. JVs take turns planning these nights for each other by creating a place to explore and talk about the faith or tradition of each individual, as well as that of that of the community. Spirituality nights are also an opportunity to explore new ways of experiencing the divine, reflecting about experiences, and forming trust within community. JVs should be ready to openly and honestly discuss their spiritual and reflective journeys and be open to hearing and experiencing the contributions of their community members as well.
Everyone arrives at their JV year with those whom they already lean on for support. While we encourage volunteers to maintain those relationships that are life-giving, the demands of community life and the reality of possibly being far away from friends and family may mean JVs are not in as regular contact with friends and family. Spending time on the phone or on social networking sites can also be a distraction to community life and a barrier to forming relationships and trust within community. Therefore we encourage JVs to consider how they can maintain important relationships in their lives while also committing to the new relationships JVs have the opportunity to develop during their volunteer year.
Volunteers are encouraged to develop a sense of place by staying in their locale of service on the weekends and over holidays. JVs still may have the opportunity to travel home for a special occasion or visit different parts of the Northwest. If they do want to travel (in the above ways), they will need to consider the needs of their agency, solidarity with those they’re serving, how they will afford to travel on their monthly stipend, the ecological impact of travel, and the effect leaving has on their community and locale.
Family and friends are welcome to visit a volunteer during their JV year, as long as it does not interfere with JVC Northwest obligations, such as area director visits or retreats. We generally discourage visits during the first four weeks of service, as this is an important time for the community to build relationships with one another and settle into their service and life in their new place. When hosting visitors, a guideline for consideration is whether or not the visit will disrupt the community. For example, family and friends who visit for a few days usually leave with a better understanding of the JV’s experience, and the community members often enjoy meeting their community member’s family and friends. Extended visits that last a week or more are not acceptable, as they will inevitably interfere with the commitments and daily routines of a JV community. We encourage JVs to talk with their communities about potential guests and schedules before they confirm the visit with their friends or family.
A portion of the monthly living allowance provided by JVC Northwest is designated to cover the cost of a community’s food budget. It is up to each community to determine how they will work together to shop, cook, pay bills, etc. Some communities may rotate who cooks and shops each week, other communities designate specific people to fill these roles for a certain amount of time. All of these decisions are made by each community based on what works best for them.
JVs can talk with their community to see if the community budget is able to accommodate some or all specific dietary needs. There is also the option for JVs to use their personal stipends to buy additional food to meet their needs, supplementing what the community is able to provide.
Some former Jesuit Volunteers (FJVs) go on to graduate school (social work, education, law, medicine, etc.), some take paid jobs at their placements or elsewhere in their service location, some pursue faith-based peace and justice work in the U.S. and internationally, others find jobs elsewhere. Some FJVs will begin work in the field they were planning to enter before their JV experience and bring with them their invaluable JV experience as a guide. Some JVs find a new direction and interest during their JV year and decide to pursue jobs or careers they may not have imagined before joining JVC Northwest. There is also an opportunity for a second year of volunteer service with JVC Northwest. In general, volunteers gain valuable work and life experience that is well-respected by employers and graduate schools and helpful in many future pursuits.