When I told one of my friends from Birmingham that I was moving to Oregon, the first thing he said was “OMG the trees there are SO BIG!” I found myself in the woods, somewhere in the middle of Oregon looking at the biggest trees I have ever seen, with no reception and dragging my luggage into a cabin. I met a fellow Jesuit Volunteer who was having trouble with her luggage and I offered to help her since we were headed to the same gender-neutral cabin. I was one of only three guys in the cabin, all of which were LGBT. We were given name tags to wear, and the staff asked us to write our preferred gender pronouns and I immediately knew I had made the right decision to serve through JVC Northwest.
145 JV’s from all over the country arrived in Camp Adams in Molalla, OR and received materials for our journey with JVC Northwest. We got t-shirts, folders, notebooks, pens and papers that will lead us into the coming week of what JVCNW calls discernment. I have often heard this term in the Jesuit community. According to Wikipedia, within the Christian religious context, discernment “…can be used to describe the process of determining God’s desire in a situation or for one’s life. In large part, it describes the interior search for an answer to the question of one’s vocation…”
I wouldn’t completely define myself as a Christian, but this is exactly what I have felt during Orientation and this is what JVC Northwest wants JV’s to understand when we were called to apply for this program and to remember in our placement sites. For me, it was difficult to leave the comforts of my house in Birmingham, but something unexplainable pushed me all the way out here to Oregon. And now, here I am sitting in my desk that was used by previous JV’s that lived in my house that looks like the Social Justice Club from college took over.
Looking around during Orientation, I saw that many JV’s came from white upper-middle class families. Being one of only a few Latinos was a weird experience, but I enjoyed that many JV’s felt as strongly as I did about social and ecological justice issues. The week consisted of many workshops, lectures, tools and reading material that would help us incorporate the four pilars into our JV year; community, simple living, social and ecological justice and spirituality. I knew that I wanted to continue my spiritual journey, but I also knew that I needed to do more personal work in simple living. Our monthly stipend is only $100, with $100 transportation and $20 for emergency. Since my service site is only a 10 minute walk from my house, I get to use the extra $100 for other expenses including weekend trips to Portland.
I met my 7 housemates in Orientation and they are probably one of the nicest group of individuals that I have met. On the last day of Orientation our support families (families that help you integrate into the community that you’re serving/living in) drove us to our house in Gresham, OR. The house has 9 rooms, 2 and half bathrooms, 2 floors, a large kitchen, dining room and living room. After we saw that there were 8 of us, we knew that making community decisions will be a large process. Our shared community stipend has to be spent accordingly on large amounts of groceries. Making dinner plans is a large task since we have to make food for all 8 of us. When we were making a list of groceries for the first time, and I began to have a headache and I think one of my housemates could tell. She briefly mentioned that it might be a good idea to go around and check up on how each of us are feeling. I think it was because she saw how stressed I looked.
The 4 people assigned to get groceries came back with large quantities of food, and everyone began to help in the kitchen to make our first dinner. The only other guy in the house, Danny, brought out his iPhone and began to play some oldies. I was coming down from the staircase when I heard Respect by Aretha Franklin. I slid into the kitchen and started dancing to the song and everyone laughed, danced and sang along with me. I felt so happy and overjoyed. I know we’re not all going to be best friends, but so far, this really isn’t so bad… and the trees are seriously SO BIG!