Volunteer Name: Josh Gillen
Alma Mater: University of Notre Dame
Placement Site: Emergency Department, Richmond Community Hospital
Describe an influential experience that led you to a year of service.
For me, embarking on a year of service stemmed from a desire to form strong connections and serve a community at the margins that is all too often overlooked. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college was extremely influential in motivating that desire. That summer, I worked as a counselor at a summer camp in Texas for children with Type 1 diabetes. The camp functioned as a typical summer camp, except it also helped the campers learn how to form good diabetes care habits. Yet it was the emphasis on person and communal development that the camp fostered that left me so impressed. I had never been a part of a program that focused so much on friendships between the campers and staff in order to form a community of diabetics and allies to help the campers feel normal. At camp, the kids were no longer the only diabetic they knew, but one of hundreds in a community where their experience could be validated and normalized. The summer I spent working at that camp was one of the most influential in my life so far because it taught me what it means to serve with people of a marginalized group and help them foster a sense of confidence and personal growth to care for their diabetes and become responsible, caring people for others.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given came from my favorite book, Wooden, an autobiography about the life and philosophy of the famous UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. This book stressed that I should not compare myself to others because what others do is outside of my control. I need only focus on being the best version of myself, as that is something that I do have a say over. It is easy to focus on things that others have or do that we are not able to do, but this line of thinking only produces negative thinking that impedes us from realizing our own potential. Whether in the classroom, at work, or at home, I have tried to keep my line of thinking focused on what I can do to be my best self. I have found that an internal locus of control is empowering, and it demonstrates to myself that I have the power to slowly change the world by changing the little things in my own world. My time at BSVM has already exposed me to the myriad systemic injustices faced by disadvantaged populations in Richmond, such as economic and healthcare inequality. These problems can be overwhelming for a few people to tackle on their own, but I have tried to focus on the small details like showing compassion to those I serve with and picking up trash in my neighborhood to help dismantle these barriers one step at a time. This can only come by working on becoming my best self.