Orientation: Building a Foundation for Your Service Year

Sidney Axtell (Hood River ’17-19) has committed to serving another year as a JV AmeriCorps member in Hood River, Oregon. Below she reflects on lessons learned her first year serving at Mid Valley Elementary School and how the essential skills taught at JVC Northwest’s Orientation enabled her to serve well, even if it didn’t seem like that way at first.

Each year, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest AmeriCorps program gathers together the entire cohort of Jesuit Volunteer (JV) AmeriCorps members for a week-long orientation. I will admit, this initially appeared to be a superficially useless endeavor given that JVs serve in five different states across the Pacific Northwest in over one hundred vastly different positions. From service placements in healthcare and education to community gardens and domestic violence shelters, the diversity of placements within JVC Northwest is staggering.

Heading into a year of AmeriCorps service at an elementary school, I wondered where the workshops on child psychology or behavior management were, at the same time the person next to me wondered where the workshop on the proper steps to take when faced with a call to their service placement’s suicide hotline. There were none. As a second year JV this year, I now understand that we first needed to form new foundations before we could begin to fit the unique contours of our own individual placements. We needed the social and emotional competencies necessary to serve.

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Jesuit Volunteers discuss topics pertaining to service during JVC Northwest’s Orientation. JVs gathered for 5 days of learning, community bonding, and AmeriCorps training at Camp Adams in Molalla, Oregon

While my service placement provided the hard skills necessary for the duties assigned to me, JVC Northwest’s orientation prepared my heart for the year ahead. When I would sit down with a child who had just hit another child, I remembered the workshop that related people to icebergs. There are the surface identities that are easily visible, but even a five-year-old has an unfathomably deep collection of beneath-the-surface identities that inform their actions. When interacting with students who I knew had immensely difficult home lives or histories of abuse, I recalled the workshop that talked about the importance of creating security in a child’s life, security that comes when they know that you love and accept them for who they are.

As I begin my second year as a Jesuit Volunteer AmeriCorps member, I know that this year will likely again be part skill, but mostly heart. I also know that my heart is ready for it, thanks to the week-long Orientation where I learned about intercultural communication, conflict resolution, and community engagement tools. And when the going gets tough during my AmeriCorps service this year, as it inevitably will, I have over a hundred fellow Jesuit Volunteers, all in different placements but facing similar challenges, to turn to for support.

18-19 Orientation Community Hood River (5)
Sidney Axtell (farthest right) with her Hood River community mates during Orientation.

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