AmeriCorps Milestone: One Million Strong

October 7th marks the day AmeriCorps celebrates an exciting milestone, exceeding one million members! Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest is proud to partner with such an amazing and impactful program that provides services to the most vulnerable across the country.


A Brief History:

Back in 2010, JVC Northwest began our partnership with AmeriCorps by receiving a three-year National Direct AmeriCorps award from the Corporation for National and Community Service. Through this partnership that continued on in 2013 with another three-year grant, JVC Northwest was able to serve more people and increase our reach to more communities. 134_15-16photocontest_jvinservice_tutoringnook In 2016, we are pleased to report we received an additional three-year National Direct AmeriCorps Grant, which allows us to expand our program to support 142 AmeriCorps members (up from 135 in previous years) serving in 22 locales, including opening up a new community in Woodburn, Oregon. These 142 AmeriCorps members serve in rural and urban areas across Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington providing intensive service in the areas of disaster services, economic opportunities, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military.

AmeriCorps Benefits to Members:

Throughout the service year, full-time JV AmeriCorps members receive a living allowance that funds their housing costs, food, utilities, transportation to and from the service site, medical co-pays and deductibles, and other costs that may incur. Upon successful completion of their service year, members receive an Education Award.

Not only does AmeriCorps benefit members through a monthly stipend and Education Award, the program offers true personal and professional development and enlightenment for their future endeavors:

FJV AmeriCorps member Amanda Pena (Gresham, OR ‘15-16 ) served at Catholic Charities of Oregon as a Case Specialist.pena-amanda Amanda shared, “I have never felt more loved, supported, encouraged, pushed and needed in a position than I have this past year of service. I was entrusted with great responsibilities and given true opportunities to grow and help grow this organization. I feel so respected and valued for my ideas and skills and potential, and I am forever grateful for this placement and the personal/professional development it has given me.”

JV AmeriCorps member Jesus Espinosa (Portland, OR ’15-16) served as the Ventanilla Outreach Coordinator at Wallace Medical Concern. espinosa-jesusJesus had this to say about his AmeriCorps experience: “The entire staff at Wallace has been incredibly supportive and allowed flexibility in my position to cater to my strengths. I’ve been able to grow tremendously in 12 months and feel fortunate to have been able to leave a small mark in the clinic by the implementation of a new program aimed at increasing literacy in children of low-income families. My year of service exceeded greatly all my expectations and I will apply much of what I’ve learned to my future career in the health field.”

 AmeriCorps Benefits to Agencies

There are also countless benefits to the agencies where AmeriCorps members serve:

According to Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) in Seattle, WA: “The impact of JV AmeriCorps members cannot be overstated, for the agency or for the clients served. The members bring new energy, thoughtful insights, valuable experience in other work, and volunteer positions to the agency, as well as much-needed and highly appreciated help to the staff in this very challenging day-to-day work. To the clients, the members bring willingness, compassion, and a commitment to do their very best to help DESC’s most vulnerable clients get the information, resources, and consistent, caring support they need to stay alive and continue moving forward in their lives, to the best of their abilities.”

YWCA Missoula in Missoula, MT: “The YWCA Pathways Program offers crucial crisis intervention services to victims of domestic and sexual violence 24 hours a day. It is the largest program of the YWCA Missoula, operating with a limited number of employees but providing services to a large amount of women, men, and children in the community and outside of Missoula County.

JV AmeriCorps members are invaluable to the Pathways Program and we could not provide ’round the clock services without them. 150_15-16photocontest_jvinservice_tutoringlittlegirlThroughout their one-year term of service, they impact individuals on a micro level and our community on a macro level. They might serve with an individual over the crisis line and help them solve a current crisis situation. They might serve with a woman at the shelter for several weeks setting short and long term goals with them, safety planning and providing personal advocacy, and connecting the woman to valuable resources in the community to start building a life free of violence for herself and her children. They also serve with children that have witnessed or experienced violence and are able to provide therapeutic play and a safe environment to kids that have often never been able to be true kids before. Some of these impacts can be measured in numbers (e.g. how many women and children stayed at the shelter), while others can only be measured in emotions and moments of safety, empowerment, and happiness.”


JVC Northwest wants to thank all the past, current, and future AmeriCorps members who pledge a year to ‘get things done’ throughout the country!  Also, we want to thank CNCS, partner agencies, stakeholders, and all those involved in making the JVC Northwest and AmeriCorps partnership a success!



Lessons in Love

Our latest blog post is written by FJV AmeriCorps member Heidi Hanson (Spokane, WA ’15-16) who served as the House Support/Care Giver with L’Arche Spokane in Spokane, Washington. Below, Heidi shares her experience forming relationships and growing in love and compassion with her Core Members and community of L’Arche Spokane.


Heidi and a Core Member cooking dinner together

The celebration of love and compassion was an ever-present aspect of my year of service with L’Arche Spokane, a community of individuals with and without developmental disabilities sharing life together.  Life in L’Arche provides a unique opportunity to celebrate authentic love, the love that encourages us to find the gifts in one another, provides the foundation for compassion, and enables mutual relationships to form.  Throughout my service year, I reflected on what I learned about the very real and human experience of love as we grew in relationship with one another.

Love is acceptance.  When I first walked into L’Arche, I knew I was somewhere special.  I was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of welcoming and compassion.  I observed the Core Members (as the individuals with developmental disabilities are known within L’Arche) and assistants engaging with one another, together as friends and completely comfortable, which was something I could not wait to be a part of.

At the end of my first day of service, one of the Core Members gave me a great big hug as we said goodbye.  I’ve received many hugs from this Core Member since then, but in that moment I felt truly welcomed into the L’Arche family!  Although he didn’t know much about me aside from being a new JV, his acceptance of me into his life and home was so genuine it made me feel like I already belonged.  He literally welcomed me with open arms!  In this small display of compassion, I realized that L’Arche is a place where everyone, no matter their role in our community, can come exactly as they are and be met with kindness and grace.  As we focus our efforts on the acceptance and appreciation of one another, without requiring them to be anything other than themselves, we are able to discover, value, and learn from their individual gifts.  The founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier, once wrote, “To love someone is to show them their beauty, worth, and importance.” It is through an accepting love that we hope to do that for everyone in our community.


Spokane JV AmeriCorps members at Lake Wallowa

Love is forgiveness.  Although we do our best to be accepting of one another, it is inevitable that a community, or any relationship really, will experience times of tension and discord.  We are only human, after all.  The more difficult times at L’Arche have tested my patience, but it has also been a safe space to accept my own weaknesses and learn to openly communicate with those who think and understand differently than me.  Sharing life together includes many moments such as this, revealing that acceptance of others requires daily effort toward understanding and compassion so that we can forgive one another and continue to grow.

A few months into my service, there was a new pizza place having their grand opening where they gave away a free pizza to every person who waited in line.  That day only two Core Members were around, so the other assistant and I offered to take them out to get pizzas for lunch.  As we were about to leave, one of the Core Members refused to go, because he wanted to go to a different pizza place instead.  Even when we offered to go to both, he became very angry and said he wanted to go to his place or nowhere at all.  I asked if we could talk about it just the two of us, and we had a conversation about how community living means we can’t always get exactly what we want and sometimes we have to compromise.  He listened to what I said, but he still didn’t want to go.  I told him that was okay, but I asked him to think about how that decision impacted other people in the community.  The time spent on an outing with Core Members is something all assistants enjoy, so it was unfortunate that one would have to stay behind.  A while later, the Core Member came to the table, put his hand on my shoulder, and said “I’m sorry.  Next time I go with you, okay?  I’m sorry.”  I was touched by his apology, because normally he cools off and moves on but doesn’t often ask forgiveness outright.  Sharing life together includes many moments such as this, revealing that acceptance of others requires daily effort towards understanding and compassion so that we can forgive one another and continue to grow.


Quality girl time on retreat

Love is in the little things.  One of the best aspects of L’Arche is that it is rooted in community and fosters the development of mutual relationships.  By experiencing life together, we have the continuous opportunity to share in the celebration and joy that can be found in the little things of everyday life.  It demonstrates what Jean Vanier meant when he said, “Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things.  It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.”  I feel like most of my L’Arche stories demonstrate this lesson in love, but I will share a few that really stand out.

About a month into my JV AmeriCorps year, there was a weekend where all but one of the Core Members were gone spending time with their families.  I spent that Saturday one-on-one with the remaining Core Member.  We watched an episode of her favorite TV show, went out to lunch, and spent the afternoon making chocolate chip cookies while dancing and singing along to the Hairspray soundtrack in the kitchen.  Going into that day I was nervous because she is one of the Core Members who takes the longest to warm up to new assistants, and she still hadn’t quite warmed up to me.  As we sat together eating our freshly baked cookies, she looked up at me, smiled, and said “thanks!” Now, I consider her one of my closest friends, and I’m thankful for the many moments we have shared that have brought us closer together!

One night, as I was preparing to go home at 9:20 pm after an evening shift that ran a little late, one of the Core Members suddenly ran upstairs to his room.  He came back down with a concerned look on his face and a large flashlight in his hand.  He handed me the flashlight and told me to take it with me so I wouldn’t have to walk home in the dark.  I was touched that he was worried about me and was willing to give me his own flashlight just to make sure I would be safe.

Pure joy at a L’Arche event

One of my absolute favorite times in L’Arche is when we are all sitting around the table sharing a meal together.  Whether it is for breakfast or dinner, taking the time to sit with one another, to come together to eat and pray, is a little thing I look forward to every day!  Joining hands with my L’Arche family around the table provides a tangible sense of the support and compassion I feel in our community!  These are just a few examples of the many little moments and simple acts of love that have made my L’Arche experience so amazing and have truly transformed my heart!

I have learned and grown tremendously in my time with L’Arche. I have experienced a love I never imagined I would find in a single place. It’s amazing what you find in an organization based on the common humanity of different people, celebrating and sharing life together.  Despite whatever ups and downs may occur, the many meaningful moments we share foster mutual relationships based in authentic love.  This love is accepting another person for who they are, looking beyond the surface to see and appreciate their gifts, forgiving them, laughing and crying with them, and an offer of friendship.  This is the experience of life and love that I have found in L’Arche, where my friends have shown me a level of trust, compassion, vulnerability, and joy that has challenged me to grow.  Is there any greater gift than to be truly cared for, to have people in your life who accept you, forgive you, and show their love for you in the little things every day?  I think not.  After all, “we are simply human beings, enfolded in weakness and in hope, called together to change our world one heart at a time” (Jean Vanier).  I have been blessed to serve my year with my L’Arche family, celebrating the love we share!  They have truly changed my heart and my world with their love!


JVC Northwest Receives AmeriCorps Grant

Exciting news:

Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest is Recipient of AmeriCorps Grant!

Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest has been awarded a three-year (2016-19) National Direct AmeriCorps grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). The grant will support 142 AmeriCorps members in 22 locales throughout five states of the Northwest enabling JVC Northwest to expand its impact in addressing locally identified challenges. Connor Kelley

“AmeriCorps is an indispensable resource to help meet critical challenges facing our communities and nation,” said Jeanne Haster, Executive Director of JVC Northwest. “We’re thrilled that the Corporation for National and Community Service believes in and supports the important service JVC Northwest AmeriCorps members offer to urban, rural and remote communities throughout the Northwest. During their service, our Jesuit Volunteer (JV) AmeriCorps members develop important civic and leadership skills that last a lifetime.”

americorps photoSince 2010, JVC Northwest, our partner agencies, JV AmeriCorps members, and community stakeholders have collaborated in our AmeriCorps program, engaging 135 members in full-time meaningful service opportunities in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. This grant increases our JV AmeriCorps member numbers from 135 to 142, enabling us to open a new JV AmeriCorps member community in Woodburn, Oregon.

In addition to the grant funding, CNCS provides $5,775 Segal Education Awards to americorps photo 2AmeriCorps members at the end of their successful service term. The Education Awards help pay for further educational and vocational training or pay back qualified student loans. AmeriCorps engages more than 75,000 members in intensive service annually to serve through nonprofit, faith-based, and community organizations at more than 21,000 locations across the country. These members help communities tackle pressing problems while mobilizing millions of volunteers for the organizations they serve.  Later this year, the one millionth AmeriCorps member will take the AmeriCorps pledge, committing to “get things done” for America.

Thank you!

We thank each of you for your continued support in this mutually beneficial collaboration of CNCS, partner agencies, JV AmeriCorps members, stakeholders and JVC Northwest!

Denim Day: A Fashion Statement to Make a Social Justice Statement

Our latest blog post is written by JV AmeriCorps member Lauren Pusich (Boise, ID ’15-16) who is serving as the Outreach Coordinator with Women’s and Children’s Alliance in Boise, Idaho. Below, Lauren shares her experience serving with survivors of sexual assault and organizing the Denim Day event, which challenges victim blaming and creates spaces for conversation.

A study by the Center for Disease Control shows that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner. Serving as a JV AmeriCorps member at a domestic violence and sexual assault nonprofit, I am keenly aware of how pervasive these issues are. In my placement at Women’s and Children’s Alliance (WCA) in Boise, I am constantly in the community discussing these issues.

Lauren (middle) and her community mates attend a screening of the Hunting Ground

Lauren (middle) and her community mates attend a screening of the Hunting Ground

In Ada County where I serve, law enforcement received 4,447 calls for services related to domestic abuse, sexual assault, and child abuse in 2015. I have not attended a single event where I have not had at least one person come up and identify as a survivor. You likely know someone who is a survivor themselves, even if they haven’t shared their story with you, or maybe you yourself are a survivor. Survivor stories are powerful and need to be heard because they are silenced far too often.

One way we can break the silence is through awareness days. In April, the WCA participated in one of the biggest awareness days in its history. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and Wednesday, April 27 was Denim Day. On this day, individuals were encouraged to wear denim to demonstrate the prevalence and detrimental effects of victim blaming in our society. Denim shows solidarity with an Italian survivor whose rapist’s conviction was overturned when the court ruled that the victim’s jeans were too tight. You can learn more about the history of the case and how Denim Day was established as a global awareness day here.

My service year has shown how often we place the blame on the survivor of an assault or abuse, rather than where the blame lies—with the perpetrator. There are countless cases of victim blaming; mentioning how if that person had just not drank, had not stayed in the relationship, not led someone on, or not worn that outfit, then they would not have been assaulted. With these thoughts, we end up re-traumatizing victims and do not hold perpetrators accountable.

Proclamation by the mayor proclaiming April 27 as Denim Day in Boise

Proclamation by the mayor proclaiming April 27 as Denim Day in Boise

Denim Day helps challenge victim blaming and creates spaces for conversation. One such space was at The College of Western Idaho (CWI). CWI’s Psychology Club hosted an open forum on sexual assault and victim blaming in partnership with the WCA for Denim Day. Attendees heard how victim blaming leads to under-reporting of sexual assault and unlike any other crime, sexual assault victims are more likely to be perceived as lying when they report. Two survivors in the audience shared their stories and how meaningful it was to see the community coming together to talk about these issues. Each time a survivor shares their story, I am reminded of why I choose to serve at the WCA and why I am so passionate about advocating for change. These stories need to be heard. 

We need to create a culture where survivors feel supported when they decide to speak up and eventually prevent the need for WCA services. We need to challenge each other to end the cycle of silence around these issues and how we perpetuate victim blaming attitudes. We need to be there for survivors when they have the courage to speak up and share their stories. We need to have these uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations.

CWI Clothesline Denim Day Two

Former WCA clients who are survivors of domestic abuse or sexual assault participated in the Clothesline Project Display at CWI.

Overall, Denim Day was a huge success with 100 different businesses and organizations participating at 115 different locations not only locally, but across Idaho and even state lines. The JVC Northwest office even participated! Seeing the whole JVC Northwest team wear denim put a huge smile on my face. You can learn more about Denim Day 2016 at the WCA by checking out this newsletter article.

I look forward to participating in Denim Day each year until we no longer blame victims for something that is never their fault. Thank you to those survivors who have shared their stories with me not only on Denim Day, but throughout my year of service. You deserve to be heard, to be believed in, to be supported, and you are never asking for it. Serving as a Jesuit Volunteer continually reminds me how communities can come together to create change and how we can all challenge ourselves to live out social justice in our everyday life.

Shattering Mental Health Biases

In our latest blog post, JV AmeriCorps member Karilynn Cooper (Spokane, WA ’14-15, Seattle, WA ’15-16) shares her experience identifying and overcoming her mental health biases through her service with Community House Mental Health Agency.  

Before beginning my service to adults with severe mental illness, encountering an individual on the streets who appeared to be talking to someone who wasn’t there probably would have driven me to turn around and walk in the opposite direction. In my second year of serving through the JVC Northwest AmeriCorps program, I have had the pleasure of joining the staff at Community House Mental Health Agency (Community House) in Seattle in embracing and welcoming those who are used to having backs turned on them.

Karilynn serving at Community House

This mindset that I was once guilty of possessing reflects the general thought processes and biases of a society that walks away from the growing issue of mental illness, forming a greater divide between those with a diagnosis and those without. Community House, which was founded in 1976 in Seattle, is a small out-patient mental health organization. Community House provides treatment services in the way of case management, psychiatry, and medication management. There is a weekday treatment program consisting of hobby and support groups, peer support, snacks, and a hot lunch. Most importantly, Community House is a safe haven in the Seattle community for clients to come, connect, and receive support from peers and staff.

My role at this placement as a case manager (three days a week) and a day treatment staff member (two days a week) is a hybrid position that mixes two important aspects of Community House. Serving in these two roles provides me with two different lenses in which to view and assess the needs at this organization, leading to many opportunities to facilitate changes in different areas. As a case manager, I provide support, service coordination, and assistance with articulating goals for treatment to a case load of individuals. As a day treatment staff member, I wear many hats: serving as a cook, medication distributor, group facilitator, or house chores supervisor to Community House attendees.

Often, the attendees are “regulars” who show up frequently to socialize, partake in a chore, attend appointments, or eat lunch. The best part of day treatment by far is the time I get to spend simply engaging with these attendees, which is a part of my service that feels the least like “work” and more of a leisure activity. Even after having served in many different settings since becoming interested in social work, I have not once had the opportunity or been encouraged to spend leisure time with clients in order to get to know them as people instead of consumers in need of assistance until I started serving here.

Karilynn Cooper Community

Karilynn (bottom left) with her ’14-15 JV community mates

What I witness on a daily basis in my interactions with Community House clients is an overabundance of unique personalities, abilities, hopes, dreams, and talents. I especially notice a longing for connection, a defining characteristic of the human condition that is not always easily recognizable among many in this population. Look a little bit closer and you will see painters, drawers, writers, poets, comedians, beautiful toothless or dentured grins, hard-workers, the brave, the wise, and the generous. You will find those with a wealth of knowledge and  intelligence, those who endure the torment of inner voices, or those constantly trying to keep their heads above the deep dark waters of depression.

These are individuals who should not to be ignored but included and celebrated within a society which claims diversity and freedom of expression to be of the utmost importance. We can approach those who are challenged with a mental illness with patience, kindness, humility, and with the purpose of learning from them rather than molding them into what we believe to be “normal.” As I have already begun to have my own biases shattered, I fail to name all of the ways in which I have improved as a person just by spending time with Community House clients. It fills my heart with joy to have the opportunity to assist in maintaining a positive and safe environment for these friends of mine.

Power of Place: Community & Education in a Remote Setting

JV AmeriCorps member Hopey Fink (Hays, MT ’15-16) serves as Academic Support Specialist at St. Paul’s Grade School. Below, Fink shares her experience providing educational assistance to students in the remote setting of Hays, Montana.

There’s a lot of “far” between here and other places. This unintentionally profound observation of a first grader has been ringing in my ears since September, when she pointed to a plane flying across the big sky over the playground at recess and mused about the distance to its destination. As a JV AmeriCorps member serving as the Academic Support Specialist at Mission Grade School on the Ft. Belknap Indian Reservation in Hays, Montana, I have had the opportunity to reflect on the unique beauty and the particular challenges of living in a remote place – the joys, the struggles, and the stories that fill the spaces of far between here and other places.

Hope Fink Photo 2

A horse outside a classroom at Mission Grade School

Nestled in the grasslands at the base of the Little Rockies an hour and a half from the nearest large town, Hays is a village of about seven hundred people, mostly enrolled members of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes. It’s a place where horses frequently wander along the main road, where elk and deer meat are normal neighborly gifts, and where the whole town watches high school football games from pickup trucks pulled up to the field. Like many rural communities across America, it’s a place where the bonds of family run strong but also where cycles of poverty and addiction test these bonds. In January, the Ft. Belknap tribal council voted unanimously to declare an official state of emergency regarding the abuse of meth, a drug that directly or indirectly affects the lives of many of the children at Mission Grade School.

In my tutoring placement, I work one-on-one and in small groups with students from kindergarten through sixth grade. Every day, I see the brightness and potential that these children and youth offer to the community. At the same time, I have also seen how the injustices in rural communities like Hays are intergenerational, and the paths to justice must also be intergenerational.

One place I have witnessed the power of generations working together has been at our school’s weekly Honor Night Book Club, which aims to support family involvement in student literacy. Honor Night is an evening of games and fun in the school gym held every Thursday for students who have attended school, done their homework, and maintained good behavior all week. Fink, HopeyWhen relatives come to pick up their children, they are invited to choose a book and read aloud for five minutes. If they spend this time, each child can take a book home. Seeing kids discover the enjoyment that even five minutes of reading with their grandmother can bring is a reminder of the importance of involving families in education, especially in a community where many, if not most, households are multi-generational.

I am learning more and more that education extends beyond the pages of our textbook readers. If it is to be an effective tool against the systemic problems that are particular to this reservation community, education needs to encompass the values and wisdom and stories that Native families have passed from generation to generation in this place. A rootedness in this land and a respect for culture and tradition are things that I, as an outsider, cannot teach in the same way that I can teach times table tricks or phonics practice.

My JV AmeriCorps community mates and I have stepped into a nearly fifty-year legacy of Jesuit Volunteer service in Hays. Each day I am humbled by the sense that this place– these prairies and pines and these stories of wounds and hope that are woven into the fabric of this community- has existed long before us. I am grateful for the ways that I have felt welcomed into sharing some of the uniqueness of this place, whether that be on hikes in the canyon or in the circle of the sweat lodge.

Hopey (second from the left) with her JV AmeriCorps community mates

The distance between here and other places cannot only be measured in miles. Hays is a lot of “far” from the nearest Wal-Mart, sure. But the struggles of rural poverty and addiction, along with the struggles of many Indigenous people to preserve their ways, are also far from the minds of most people in America. In coming together across ages and in honoring the traditions of family and culture, the “lot of far” between here and other places can seem less daunting. Recognizing the power of place, in all of its vastness and remoteness, might allow generations to work together to break harmful cycles that are specific to this community. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from this place as a JV AmeriCorps member and to work with people in Hays to effect change- starting with times tables tricks and phonics practice.

AmeriCorps Week: Life as a JV AmeriCorps Member

This AmeriCorps Week, we’re highlighting JV AmeriCorps service throughout the Northwest. JV AmeriCorps member JP Ideker (Hood River, OR ’15-16) serves underprivileged students and their families throughout Hood River County, OR.

My service placement at Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Service has given me the opportunity to meet, learn from, and be with some incredible people. Through service with the SNAP-Ed program conducting healthy food demonstrations, I’ve gotten to meet community members at food banks, K-5th graders (who always make me smile) at elementary schools, and several professionals at nonprofits working to address food insecurity and promote healthy eating.

James (third from the right) and his Hood River community mates

JP (third from the right) and his Hood River community mates

Through service with the Juntos college and career-readiness program, I’ve gotten to learn from local Latino families and students about the obstacles that the Latino community faces in pursuing higher education and the history of the Latino population in Oregon. Through service with the ASPIRE high school mentoring program, I’ve gotten to be with Latino high school students as they navigate college, scholarship, and financial aid applications.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my definition of service and how this year has helped shape my understanding of such a broad concept. I think meeting, learning from, and being with the people we “serve” are key elements of true service. By meeting people where they are, learning from their stories and experiences, and choosing to be with them, we begin to share our lives with others. It is this sharing of experiences that best reflects the word “convivir” (to live together) that so many Juntos families have used to describe their favorite parts of the Juntos program. The word “convivir” has become an integral part of my year with OSU Extension, the Columbia Gorge community, and the JVC Northwest AmeriCorps program.

JP Ideker Additional Photo

Natalia Fernandez and JP present at a workshop

It is difficult to choose a single great story that best describes the past seven months in Oregon, but there are many small, daily shared experiences that have been life-giving, peace-filled, and almost painfully soothing. These daily shared experiences take several forms, including cross-country skiing with our support families, waking up at 7:00 AM and finding a crockpot full of tamales my GED students left at our back door, helping a family fill out a FAFSA application for the first time, and having a high school student lend me their favorite book to read.

I am incredibly thankful to share this year with a new community and have them share it with me as well. From sitting down with families in their homes to hear stories about their immigration to Oregon and their traditions, sharing pozole and chicken tinga with Juntos families before the college workshops begin, and seeing elementary school kids’ eyes light up when they try the healthy food of the month, I’m left with daily reminders of the goodness around me.

I feel lucky to get to meet, learn from, and be with the Columbia Gorge community for another five months, and I look forward to all the lessons this year has to offer. Service as a Jesuit Volunteer AmeriCorps member so far has taught me a lot about the value of shared moments in that there’s a certain intangibility to the beauty in them – in daily handshakes, smiles, stories, new fruits and vegetables, and college workshops. I’m thankful for this intangibility, this community, and a shared life.