Alumni Highlight: Jenna Vrable, Creighton ’19, BSVM ’19-20 – Video Blog

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Spotlight on a recent BSVM alum, Jenna Vrable (’19-’20)! Listen to her interview with BSVM Recruiter (and former volunteer) Paula Hastings (’18-’19) as they discuss stories from her service and she offers advice for those discerning a year of service. Watch the full interview or read an edited transcript below:

[Note: PH = Paula Hastings (interviewer); JV = Jenna Vrable (interviewee)]

PH: [0:45] Welcome to BSVM Buzz! My name is Paula Hastings. I’m the recruiter for Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry, if you don’t already know, and this week we are joined by Jenna, and I’ll let her introduce herself a little bit. So Jenna, how you doing?

JV: I’m good, I’m good Paula, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here. I’m Jenna. I am an alumni of the program. I was in the 2019-2020 year- the most recent year- yeah currently looking for jobs, so that’s where we’re at with that.

PH: Yeah well, I’m so grateful to have a chance to chat with you today. And we’ll start with a little prayer. This is from the Ignatian Book of Days, so this is yesterday’s prayer. Let’s just remind ourselves that we are always in the presence of God. We have a little reading here: “Is God present in all things? Mathematicians and philosophers talk about a limit case. The point where a system breaks down, where we’ve taken an idea as far as it can go. Is there a limit case for finding God? A point beyond which God can’t be found? I once read an angry comment to a blog post about finding God in all things: ‘tell that to the refugee mother in Africa trying to keep her kids from starving!’ But Christians say that God can be found even in extreme circumstances of human suffering. Wherever we go, even in the darkest places, Christ is there too. He’s gone there before us. Thank you, Lord for the great gift of your love and your presence, even in the hardest times and the darkest places.”

Amen. That was a quote from Jim Manny in the book, God Finds Us. So, that spoke to me during these times! We’re trying to find God in everything, and one wonderful moment for me is getting a chance to talk with some great people like Jenna here!

Q: Would you tell me a bit about your service year and what you were doing, where were you placed?

JV: I was in Richmond, Virginia so we—2019-2020 was the second year to be in Richmond, Virginia, so we got a little bit of a leg up with trying to repeat some of the good work that had been done the year before us. It was a really good space to come in having people understand a little bit about what the program was, and then just kind of defining it from the new person perspective kind of thing. So I worked with what’s called the Bon Secours Care-A-van. They are a group that does primary health care for people who don’t have insurance, which ended up being the Latinx population in Richmond mostly, which was really great. I got an opportunity to speak Spanish every day that I went to work, and I loved that. I am not fluent, I’m proficient, but I really got the chance to improve a lot and just get really comfortable speaking every day, and using it in everyday language. So, yeah, I did that, and a lot of the other volunteers were at Richmond Community Hospital.

I got to drive all around the city, which I thought was really great. I was housed in a different church every day (the Care-A-van) so yeah, got to do a lot of different things. A lot of really exciting stuff going on in Richmond.

PH: Yeah. One of my favorite things about your placement is that it’s a mobile health clinic called the Care-A-van. Anybody knows me knows–I love puns—

JV: Yes! It is a literal van that does pull up to a new site every day and everything is unpacked, and then we care for the population that shows up: the Care-A-van. It’s also a little bit of a pun because of so much of the stuff that was going on with the– like “caravans” that people were talking about were coming from different countries in South and Central America, so caravans do not have to be a scary thing but can actually be something that provides really good help to those in need.

PH: Yeah- and look at you sliding in our little ‘good help to those in need’. For anybody that wouldn’t know– ‘Bon Secours’ is French for ‘good help’ which is our mission to be ‘good help to those in need’ so that was what Jenna slid in there.

Q: Would you tell us about what your journey was like in deciding to do service? What were you doing before you even thought of service or BSVM?

JV: I knew I wanted to do post-grad volunteering since I was a freshman in college. So the before was sort of the decision of what organization I wanted to be with, what I wanted that service to look like. And yeah, just learning more and more about who I am and what kind of work I wanted to do.

So, I went to Creighton University in Nebraska. Currently in Nebraska right now. So, started doing a couple things with– we have an office on campus called the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice, and they do service and justice trips on fall break and spring break. So I got lucky enough to do one my first semester freshman year, and that kind of changed everything for me. I was a business major going into Creighton, and then that service trip kind of sparked a full-scale breakdown. And lots of crying; I ended up crying to the Dean of the business school, and she was like, ‘well what do you want to do if you don’t want to do business?’ and I was like, ‘I want to serve’ and she was like, ‘that’s beautiful you should do that.’

So, mildly embarrassing, but a really cool– I was figuring out what I wanted to do, and all I knew at that time was that I just wanted to keep chasing that feeling of focusing more on what I was doing for other people and how I was involved in justice work than like– so much of what was going on with me, which– like, different story, but BSVM helped me find a healthy balance between those two things, because you actually need both sides of that. Yeah, so, I kept chasing that. I went on more service and justice trips. I went to the Dominican Republic for a study abroad, and that was a service-based study abroad, which was amazing. Got to do really good work in some rural neighborhoods in the Dominican Republic and just loved that, and found social work through all of that. Majored in social work, absolutely loved it. Fully just want to be a social worker for the rest of my life.

So, yeah, I just kept finding the next opportunity and the next opportunity, and then, eventually got to senior year. Still knew that I wanted to do post-grad service, and I was on this listserv for people who are interested in post-grad service, and they just randomly sent me an email one day that was a flyer for Bon Secours and they were like, ‘here’s this if you’re interested,’ and I was like, healthcare? community living?  I’m interested in medical social work, and I want community-based living– and it’s a program that’s emphasizing spirituality and how that’s really important in the service that we do, and in your personal development, and I just signed up for the little, like, ‘put your info here if you want more info’, and then the former recruiter, Gina, suddenly was calling me and wanted to do a 45 minute interview– I just got sucked in– and then I loved it. And got really lucky that– just in the process of applying– found out that this was exactly what I wanted to do.

So yeah, there wasn’t any particular moment where I was like, I know that this is what four or five steps down the line is gonna look, but I always just felt like in my Creighton experience, my undergrad experience, I was doing just the next thing, that this is the next thing and the next thing and the next thing that was gonna help me continue to be a part of service and justice work. And it ended up helping- serving me really well. And helping me find Bon Secours, so yeah.

PH: Oh that’s wonderful. I love how the way God’s path moves for different people. Like, well, I’m in it, before I even knew —

JV: I’m just gonna keep moving through it! I don’t know what the end looks like, but yeah.

PH: That’s really wonderful. I know my conversation with Gina was like that too, where I was like, ‘oh this is a 45 minute interview now’?!

JV: Yeah! Yeah, I thought she was just reserving like a 45-minute space to be like, ‘what questions do you have for me?’ and like, ‘I’ll tell you a little bit more about the program.’ And then, we started talking about a ministry of presence, and Jesuit values and all of the– and I was like, wow! Okay, for anybody who might be nervous, she doesn’t ask you questions about that, I brought that stuff up, and then we got excited together, so you just bring you to an interview and it’ll be great. Paula is wonderful and you could chat with her for a very long time about a lot of different things, so, no need to be nervous. But the first 45 minutes is– you do need to bring it.

PH: Oh yeah. I really love doing the prelims now from being on the other end of it, it is the most wonderful part of my job. Just having those in-depth conversations about discernment and finding what people are passionate about, it’s so wonderful.

JV: Young people trying to figure out what the next steps are, and that’s a hard decision; it’s a very hard decision. So, to be able to process out a little bit with kind humans is a really good way to keep that process going. Yeah. It’s great.

PH: We’re already in it! We’ll put that out– for any discerning volunteers, you can get in contact now, and schedule a discernment conversation with me, our prelim conversation.

JV: It’s not scary! It’s kind of nice; you get to find out a lot about the program.

PH: I’ll tell my story of my prelim, in which I didn’t know time zones, and I had scheduled it– because I went to school on an Eastern time zone but I scheduled it over Christmas break when I was back home in the Central time zone. So I luckily had put it on my Google calendar for the correct time, but in my head, I thought it was going to be an hour later, so I was at an event at my high school that was like an alumni event and suddenly I get the calendar notification and I’m like, oh I need to have this conversation in 10 minutes, so I like wrapped up my conversations with my old teachers, and then I went and did my prelim conversation sitting in the car in the parking lot of my high school.

JV: Wow! Okay but that is probably the most chill part of the process, so that’s a good point to have that– I actually missed my first interview because of the time zone stuff. And Olivia– who’s one of the Site Leaders–she was nice enough to fully reschedule it for me, because I just– I just messed up the time zones! I’ve never had to deal with that before, but if you want to go work in other parts of the country, or in another country, you gotta figure it out! Exactly.

PH: I know, I have a map now – scheduling conversations with everybody’s time zone.

JV: That’s awesome! So you gotta put their time zone bold, highlighted, bigger font, all of the things. Do not miss it. You can do it!

PH: Yes, we can do it. You know, but also, if you mess it up, we are all figuring it out.

JV: I did it! And they were nice enough to let me reschedule, so..

PH: Yeah! We get it! It was really great. Happens to everybody. So yeah.

Q: So, with these discernment conversations, one of my favorite things is to put yourself back into the mindset of your senior year self, and what would you tell yourself?

JV: So, I feel like I went on a really life-changing journey personally with BSVM. I feel like I am a really different person than I was before in a really positive way.

I just feel much more at ease and like I don’t need to prove anything to anyone or myself to know that I’m enough right now, and that I’m worthy of love, and that just my best effort right now in this moment is perfect. So, I don’t know, I wish there was some way that I could– I know I couldn’t say anything that could make that transformation happen for myself before I hit the program, but maybe just to say something like, yeah this year is an intentional year that isn’t just a resume-building thing. It’s not just something that you do half-heartedly and it’s not just a typical 40 hours of like– well you’re at this service site and that’s what you do. There is so much giving of yourself and sharing with other people in a really vulnerable and deep way that I don’t think I really expected. I think there was part of me that was like, yeah sure, great! I’m gonna live with some other people and every now and then we’ll talk about our feelings and things like that. And that– it was just like a whole new level that brought about a lot of healing for me, a lot of healing for me. So maybe just something to say, I don’t know. The moment that you get to slow down, just know that this is gonna be a journey, that it’s okay to not have all the answers right now, and that this is going to be about more than just doing the service work and being part of the justice work. This is so much about figuring out how to engage your heart and mind in a way that can be sustainable. Because service work isn’t just about us like ‘offering healing’ to other people. It’s so much about reciprocity and mutuality and allowing yourself to be reached by other people too.

And I think that that was probably one of the hardest things for me to grasp. If I would have walked in, I would have been like, yeah I totally get that. But there was just– there’s an element of a wall being built up that we do to guard ourselves and protect ourselves, and I think something to say like– we’re gonna try to break those down this year and it’s gonna be okay and you’re gonna make it and you’re gonna have support while you do it. Yeah it’s– it’s so much more than just your typical job. It’s a huge opportunity that I wouldn’t change for anything.

PH: Yeah. Oh that was beautiful; that was like– really beautiful, Jenna. I don’t think I have anything else to add besides that. That was– my experience was also life-changing. With that going outside of yourself and that vulnerability, it was like, oh I’m breaking a wall down, and then you’re like, oop, there’s another one. Yeah. There’s my midwestern self showing with the ‘oop’ but– it’s like– so there’s the walls of community life that you’re breaking down and becoming vulnerable with your community members, and that was one of the biggest growing points for me because I was like, oh I can be vulnerable in my work setting, as–  that was especially easier for me because I was working in a behavioral health setting where it was all about vulnerability. But then in community, it was like– we talk about these, you know, storming periods and in my community, we had conflicts and we worked through them in different ways, but the biggest thing was just learning more about myself and how I can handle this, and there is something that is even stronger in showing these vulnerabilities to others. You know, I had this image of like, you have to be ‘the rock’ for others. But that can actually even be more harmful. There has to be a mutual relationship there. You can’t just be one thing for everyone. You have to be able to receive as well.

JV: Yeah! And I think community just shows you that there’s a safe space to land for that, which I really valued. It’s hard to trust that that’s real, especially when you first start, because you’re like, who are these strangers? I just met these people. But as you have more experiences with each other, as you learn more about each other, and you start to share and layer that vulnerability and trust on top of each other, it really becomes something that’s totally different from anything I’ve ever experienced. I like– this fundamental realization that I truly am not alone. It’s just– it just is a fully different way of living for me. So this like, yeah, I can share things that are going on with me now, things that have happened to me in the past, dreams that I have for the future, and I don’t implode the moment that I say them. So, and people hold it. They sit there and they respond and they listen and they hear me and they acknowledge that they heard me, and then they tell me about things that are going on in their life too. And that’s just– it’s a way of living that you do have to practice, and I think this year gives you an opportunity to practice that, to learn to really live in those moments and find the deep joy that comes from being your full self around people and knowing that that is okay to show up as your full self, and to learn to open a space for others to show up as their full self too. Yeah, it’s just something really, really healing and something really powerful about that.

PH: Yeah, yeah. And those relationships are so lasting! I say that my community members– I can only really call them that because there’s no other words than really just– calling them ‘a friend’ is not enough!

JV: I’ve had different people call them like ‘housemates’ and things like that, and I’m like, that’s not the same thing! It’s really not. It’s ‘community’ and it’s a really beautiful and joyful and holy way of talking about community. So, yeah– that’s a loaded word; it’s a loaded feeling.

Q: We talked about how in community, it’s constantly going outside of your comfort zone. Do you have any examples during your year or stories of a time you were put outside of your comfort zone? And how did you become comfortable with that?

JV: Yeah I think one of the biggest pushes for all of us, and something that the program does really intentionally, is conversations about race, our construct of race, and racial injustice in our world, and how that relates to the work that we do. And yeah, just how we can be faithful humans in a world that has systematic racism and injustice. And learning to accept that those are truths of our current reality. And I think that can be really hard to go through that process. Even studying social work in my undergrad, race wasn’t something that we had a whole class on and discussed how this was going to be a part of the work that I was going to do, and that many of the people that I was going to interact with and work with in my future career and just in my life were going to be impacted by this issue. And how intersectional this issue is. Just so many of the other injustices that we want to talk about as if they kind of exist in like separate pockets that don’t intersect. Racism is something that underlies so many of those things. But I think those conversations were hard to start.

And I think for me, there was a lot of discomfort of like– I don’t want to be– like I feel like young people have this thing of like, if I’ve decided I’m gonna be the ‘social justice warrior,’ then I have to do it all right, all the time kind of thing. And I didn’t want to be an advocate, a social justice warrior, a social worker, all of these things, and then still mess up and still do this conversation wrong, and not know how to show up and say the right things. But I didn’t know how to show up and say the right things! I needed to learn. I needed to unpack my biases. I needed to unpack a lot of the words that we use to talk about this. A lot of the historical context. And it was challenging to humble myself, to rely on the foundations of community that we’d created, and sit in this discomfort of learning and not knowing. And trying to learn from my community members, learn from the formation materials that we were using, and talk about this really complex, really hard issue that everybody seems to have really strong feelings about. And I think even more so now! It’s become so much more of a national conversation and talking about racial injustice. So, I think that’s going to continue to be a really interesting and important part of the program. And I just hope that it continues to be emphasized more and more as a really foundational aspect of the work that Bon Secours does, because like we said, racial injustice, systemic racism, they are fully present. And just really underlying so many of these issues that these ‘social justice warriors’ are talking about wanting to be a part of and the fight to end these things. So, yeah, it was a challenge. But I think so much of leaning on community and learning that same thing of like– I am enough right now, it is okay for me to not know, it is okay for me to say that I don’t know, and then when I mess up, it’s okay for me to go, ‘I totally messed that up, I am so sorry. Tell me how to try and do this right.’ And I will do my best to continue showing up for my community members, for the people that I work with, for the people in the Richmond community, just anybody that I interact with.

These issues are important to me and yeah, you gotta lean into that discomfort. You’re gonna be wrong sometimes, and that’s part of the learning process. We have to start unpacking this stuff. So, I think it’s going to continue to be a discomfort– I still want to be right, all the time! I still don’t want to mess up! But, I’m going to. And–yeah, nobody’s doing all of this perfectly. We all have to just learn to show up and be part of the conversations, do your research, and yeah– just continue to keep pushing and making sure that we’re not ignoring this very, very important piece of justice work.

PH: Yeah. That’s an incredible example. Something that I felt really blessed that it starts with that acknowledgement and creating a healing space where we’re gonna say the wrong things sometimes, and that is okay. And we’re not– we’re also all at different points in understanding injustice. Some of us experience it every day, some of us have better knowledge than others– having those conversations in community– in a welcoming community– is really important.

JV: Yeah, yeah. And as a white person who needed to start breaking down a lot of the stereotypical defense mechanisms that I was for sure showing, I needed that safe space to land, and yeah, I needed people who were smarter than me in a lot of ways. My community– I think some of my community members are smarter than me, and had done a lot of this work before, and brought a lot of really helpful knowledge and resources for me to start doing my own work too, because it can’t just fall on people of color to be teaching us how to do anti-racism work. So, I think the program made some really good steps to help us start that conversation, and start figuring out how we can be a part of it in a really healthy way that doesn’t involve just your immediate defense– I can’t do this– and involves the beginnings of unpacking things and just some good habits that you can use to continue trying to unpack, continue trying to be present and open to this very important conversation.

PH: And how to accept that– Oh! I was wrong there. I’m gonna look inward at that rather than that fragile defensive response.

JV: Right! Well, and just accepting that you benefit from the system too as a white person! This denial of white privilege is not healthy and not accurate, and it’s a popular defense mechanism to say, ‘well I don’t fit into that mold because of such and such and such’. And I think the program gave us space to be like, full stop– no. White privilege is real, and we are all– all of us –trying to swim within these waters of systemic racism that’s alive and well in our country, and every single one of us needs to do the work of unpacking it. So, I just felt like that was really helpful and really humbling and really important. To see, like, especially our Site Leader, Emily, as somebody who I love and respected very much at the time, to see her be like, ‘I benefit from white privilege, and this is a thing that all of us are a part of. We are not exempt from it. We all need to step up and try to confront the biases that we have in our own hearts, and we need to continue trying to show up for people of color in our lives and for larger advocacy initiatives.’ And yeah, just to see a white person who I loved and respected being like, this is such an important issue and we so need to be working on it and we so need to be a part of this fight.

I cannot tell if you’re frozen– you look a little bit frozen. Yep I think I lost you. Oh no! I’m live on Facebook by myself! Hi friends. I can’t see your comments either. I’m gonna go ahead; she gave me a list of questions, and I will go ahead and read another one of the questions and try to answer it.

Q: Throughout your year of service, how often did you doubt whether or not you made the right decision, and how did you overcome this doubt?

JV: (Paula just texted me, she’s coming back on.) I think there were a lot of times where the personal investment that the program asked for felt like a lot. As somebody who was actively trying to deny that I needed to bring my whole self and my whole heart to the work that I did of service and justice work, social work, being with people, trying to create love, hope, liberation.

So, I think so much of the beginning of the program when there were really intense questions asked, and that is a theme throughout the entire program, which is really good, but also challenging. Like, here are journal prompts and you have 20-30 minutes to write about those and then we’re all going to come together and we’re going to share vulnerably about how we feel about these things.

Yeah, okay– can I come up with an example? There are times where we talk about where we’ve seen Christ, the Spirit, liberation in the service work that we do, and that could be challenging for me because I was still evolving in my relationship with God and what that meant. Yeah and just– so much of the personal turmoil that that brought about with all of these very intense questions and these people who just really wanted to know all of this deep and personal stuff about me, and didn’t want to allow me to shrink and hide into my little hole–it was hard! And it created a lot of discomfort for me at the beginning, but what a healing journey to go on, to have people who continuously wanted to pull more and more out of me, and show me that being my full self and showing up fully in the relationships and the work that I do and in my community could be healthy and life-giving and healing and freeing and just any positive adjective you can think of.

So yeah, I think in any major decision that you make, there’s going to be moments of like–shoot were there are other opportunities that I could have taken that could have benefited me more than this one? But I think that’s so much of what we talk about in the ministry of presence too, of like, learning to show up with your full heart to whatever situation you might be in, whether that is sharing community, or being with a patient on the behavioral health unit, like Paula was, or in my case, I did a lot of coloring with little kids as they were waiting for their parents to go through the clinic during the day. And that was like sitting down and chatting with them about their home countries; a lot of these were kids who had just recently crossed the border into the U.S. And just learning to be present in that and to show up, let it touch my heart, let it affect me deeply, and care a lot about it, and yeah, just realize that there are other people who can support you, can help you hold things. And yeah, I think there’s a really good, amazing, healing journey that you go on when you focus on showing up fully in a ministry of presence, and bring your whole heart into your service. It’s uncomfortable sometimes when you’re learning how to do it. And also, you know, just because it’s a lot throughout your whole life. But it’s a very life-giving and joyful practice, so I would encourage you to try.

Let me see if I can find a new question. I really wish I could see comments and stuff– oh Paula! Thank you so much Paula! Oh she did not connect to audio. Oh I can’t hear you Paula; you’re muted. There we go. Okay!

PH: You know, we’re having all these tech issues: I’m dialing in on my phone now. You were doing awesome. I was still able to watch the stream, it’s just the internet on my computer that isn’t working. Thanks for taking the lead there! So, what were you chatting about? What did you cover?

JV: Yeah, so I was looking at one of the questions that you sent me about moments that I felt like I was wondering if I had made the right decision or not in being a part of the program, and how did I overcome that doubt? And I think I might have rambled and not fully answered that question, but basically you’re going to experience doubt in many of the very important decisions that you make in your life, but I think there’s a lot of joy in community life and there was a whole lot of healing for me as I’ve said a million different times, so– having people who cared enough about me to make me answer the really hard questions that I wanted to avoid was really valuable and changed my life in a lot of really positive ways. So, I think–yeah, just the consistent support; consistently watching other people try to do the same thing too–learn to show up in really good ways, helped me overcome any doubts that I might have had.

PH: Yeah– that’s really beautiful. Yeah, I definitely had some moments of doubt during my year. I think there was right away when I arrived– and I was like, I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, this is great! But then a couple months in, I hit this point of like–what am I doing?

JV: Yeah! That’s the moment that it gets real, that it’s not just like a bunch of strangers that are like, ‘this is so exciting! what a new experience!’ All of a sudden it’s a group of people that you’re sort of like–maybe we’re not perfect humans. Maybe we don’t always like every single thing about each other, and have to have some really tough conversations sometimes. And we’re all still learning. Again: learning how to show up– it is hard!

PH: Yeah– still learning! Constantly.

JV: Yeah! And I think that couple months in is the point where you hit it. And you’re like—oof— this is the part that I have to push through to get to that really joyful, really life-giving point on the other side. Yeah.

PH: And what I really loved about the conversations that I had with with staff during that time was–I was externalizing my frustrations of like, well this person was doing this, and this was happening in my external life, but they helped ask these probing questions that was like–well, what’s going on internally that is creating these feelings? And that was the most transformative part for me, where I really feel like I have absolutely grown the most and become more of my true self because I was able to look inward rather than just externalizing these issues.

JV: Yeah. Well, and I think that there’s a part of the formation curriculum that calls us to specifically look for spaces where we are blaming people, scapegoating people, and utilizing blame as a way of not talking about the issues, not fully addressing things in the way that we need to. Yeah, just so many different negative outcomes that come when we try to point the finger, and I think that can be seen as like a full systems level approach of like, this is what happens in major justice movements when we use blame, and then it can also be that individual thing all the way down into  your community life, of like, what does it look like when we utilize blame in our community life? How does it not positively affect our community, but how does it actually serve to tear down our relationships? And yeah, I think that idea of learning to name and call out blame and teaching us to attempt to avoid that tendency to be like, well it’s not my fault, it’s that person’s fault, or it’s this thing’s fault– I think that was a really healthy thing to learn too. That, yeah, like I said, just helps you personally in your relationships with other humans to say what you need, be loving and direct about it, which are also program things, and then also seeing how blame is not helpful in larger justice movements. Doesn’t move us forward, and actually creates a lot of barriers to getting really good work done.

PH: Yeah, thank you for drawing that parallel. That was like– because you do that so much during the year, you bring that in, like– how we talk about this stuff in community life, but the world is our community life, and so all of these things that can happen within a five- or six-person community also is happening in our world. And they’re direct comparisons, and that’s how we live in right relationship by learning to live in right relationship with each other on the micro level and that will expand into how we live in right relationship on the macro level as well. Oh that’s beautiful.

So, we’ve just got a couple minutes left. Do you have any of the questions that you really want to answer before we kind of close up here?

Q: How did you talk to friends and family about this decision to serve for a year after school? Did you encounter any resistance, and how did you address concerns over why you weren’t getting a ‘real job’?

JV: Yeah. I think it can be very hard for parents, guardians, people that are in your life and important to you to understand why one might “take a year off” and do a program like this, and live on a stipend–a modest stipend–and do a whole lot of important but– work that just really calls on a transformation. Yeah and not get the “real job.” So I think I definitely encountered some resistance when I first started. My dad was very excited for me to do any kind of travel. I had initially been talking about going abroad somewhere. In light of Covid stuff, I’m glad that I didn’t now, because I got to have my full experience, even if it ended up looking a little bit different.

But, my mom was somebody who grew up in poverty and had just a very hard time with the idea of me not making the money that I could be making as somebody with an undergraduate degree. She pushed very hard for me to be able to finish my undergrad and have my degree, and I am forever grateful to her for doing that. That was a huge thing for my life, and I really needed it. But it was just hard I think for her to see why I wouldn’t immediately go out and do the ‘real job’ thing and work for salary with benefits and be able to live a self-sustaining lifestyle with a savings account and just all of the things– all the adult things that I’m still trying to learn how to do. But– it was just– I always wanted to do a year of post-grad service. I always wanted to do it.

Because I knew that this world of service and justice was huge and deep and had this massive history, and there’s academia and there are personal testimonies of people involved in this work, and there are so many issues that we have yet to address in really transformational ways. There are so many people that deserve access to services and so many other things, and then we hit on the whole deserving versus undeserving thing, which is also a huge aspect of the program– very important to learn– yeah, I just felt like I was on the cusp of learning about this, and that I didn’t know how to be a social worker who just sort of had strong feelings about being in the world of service and justice, but didn’t know a lot of the language, hadn’t unpacked a lot of the personal things, hadn’t done a lot of the practicing simple living at home, or trying to really allow relationships in my personal life to touch me really deeply– like I didn’t know how to be a person who could do this work sustainably and in a way that positively impacted me and the people that I’m in relationship with and the people that I work with as a social worker. So I knew that I needed it. I took this year as a kind of training ground for learning as much as I could about what I might want my life to look like someday and just trying to soak up as much as I could to be a better social worker.

Which, yes, I know that so much of it for me comes back to social work, but I know that I am Jenna, and I know that that is so much of like–this is me being a better version of Jenna. But any version of Jenna right now cares very much about social work and working with marginalized populations and not ignoring the very important social justice issues that are going on in our world. Being part of advocacy efforts, allowing things to touch me deeply, and trying to be a source of love and kinship and light for people that are in my life. So, I really just–this year was the year to train and learn alongside other people who were also really intentionally trying to train. So, yeah, I just thought there was too much good to like– yeah. My mom was right to a certain extent of like, I got a degree for a reason. But this year is teaching me to use my degree and my life in a way that makes me joyful and a better social worker. So, yeah. I think I got nothing but good out of it. 

PH: Oh my gosh, you just actually like made me tear up a little bit Jenna. It was really beautiful. You just clearly have such a wonderful heart that is just open. You know, you talk about how your year changed you, and that also meant because you’d allowed it to change you so much. I mean we do the best we can as a staff, but you really allowed in and changed yourself very much as well, so, yeah– thank you for sharing all of that.

I think that’s a really great final thought– with great advice for people right now. I mean this is a really hard time to be making decisions about the future. In my conversations so far with people, I know anybody discerning service– looking to even what’s going to happen next August– is a really hard thing. And we’re all doing that together. So just know, you are not alone in this. We are all taking what we can do and making the best decisions that we can with the information and the strengths that we have.

JV: And there’s so much still to learn outside of what you might think is just like, well I wanted to do a service year, and I wanted this to be about the service. Like, yes the service work that you do is very important and the program is being very intentional about still offering opportunities for service work, but it’s holistic. There’s so much, so much else to unpack and to learn and to dive into, so don’t discount a year of service just because you’re worried about what the physical service might look like. There’s so many other benefits to investing a year into this kind of thing.

PH: Yep! Couldn’t have said it better myself. Well, this has been a really wonderful conversation, Jenna. Thank you so much for joining us– for joining me, joining all our wonderful people that are watching, which I think are mostly your community members.

JV: Thank for having me! Yes! Hi guys!

PH: Well, for any discerning students I am here for you to be a resource in your discernment, so reach out to me if you’re watching this on Facebook, there are links to our website; you can DM me on Facebook. If you– use any of the contact channels to contact BSVM, that all comes to me. So you can have as wonderful a conversation as Jenna and I have had this evening!

JV: Paula is great. She’s very helpful. If you need it, reach out. She’ll be great.

PH: Alright, well, thanks so much Jenna! Have a good rest of your night and good night everybody watching!