Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

This year’s Jesuit Volunteer community is double previous groups

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 1, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Members of this year’s Spokane Jesuit Volunteer community are, from left in the front row, Sarah Bernardi (Glastonbury, Conn.), Katie Carey (Pasadena, Calif.), Kristen Villanueva (Andover, Mass.), Teresa Badel (Lakewood, Calif.), Emily Blumenstein (Haddon Township, New Jersey), and Edward Sweeny (San Luis Obispo, Calif.). In the back row, from left, are Lauri Sweeny (San Luis Obispo, Calif.), Sean Terry (Hopkinton, Mass.), Chelsea Macomber (West Hartford, Conn.), Erik Lehto (Denver, Colo.), Kristy McCarron (Philadelphia, Penn.), and Molly O’Brien (Dunmore, Penn.). (IR photo)

Each autumn, Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest (JVC) places between 90-115 volunteers, most of them recent college graduates in their early 20s, in Northwest service organizations.

The JVC’s representation in Spokane doubled this fall compared to previous years. Following five days of orientation at JVC Northwest headquarters in Portland, Ore., nine women and three men, from as far away as Massachusetts but no nearer than California, arrived in Spokane on Aug. 8 to begin one year of service with various local “good works” agencies.

The increased numbers meant adding a second residence for volunteers this year. The two houses, Romero House and Augusta House, are almost directly across the street from each other facing Spokane’s East Mission Ave.

Another first for this year’s group of volunteers is the presence of a middle-aged married couple. During an informal group interview, the new arrivals cheerfully talked about themselves, their work assignments in Spokane, their parents, and their new life as a JV community.

All of the new arrivals, except one, are assigned to various Diocese of Spokane Catholic Charities agencies. The one exception works at L’Arche Spokane, a Catholic community for developmentally disabled adults and their assistants. The Catholic Charities agencies where JVs are assigned are St. Margaret Shelter, the House of Charity, the O’Malley Apartments, St. Anne Children and Family Center, Volunteer Chore, Bernadette Place, and Emergency Financial Assistance.

Recent news reports say that participation in volunteer service organizations of all kinds is up this fall, primarily because it’s difficult for many recent college graduates to find jobs. Not so with this new group of Volunteers, however. They all agreed that they would be JVs no matter what the job market was like. “I didn’t even apply for any jobs,” said one young man.

“I just finished a master’s degree at Boston College,” said another, “I had planned about a year-and-a-half ago to join the Jesuit Volunteers.”

For others, however, the decision to join the JVs was more recent. “I had no idea a year ago,” said one young woman from Connecticut. “I didn’t even know about it until Christmas break last year.”

Several of the new JVs told of reactions from parents when they announced their plans. “My parents said, ‘You’re going to do what?” said one.

Others nodded agreement. “I first applied for the international JV program,” said another, “so when I went to the west coast, that was a step up for them.”

“My dad thought it was a cult,” said another young woman, sparking much laughter from her fellow JVs. “He was a little weirded out by it at first.”

Two women work together at St. Anne Children and Family Center, but on their first day on the job they were given a tour of various Catholic Charities agencies. After six hours of that, at the end of the day they were sent to stay at a women’s shelter, and they needed to make the long walk from their house on Mission Ave. south to the shelter on Third Ave., with temperatures in the high 90s. “Once we got there it was about four hours from getting in line until we were in our bunks,” one recalled. “Neither of us wanted to tell our mother about this, where we stayed for a few days.” More laughter from the group.

Each of the JV houses schedules a weekly community night and a weekly spirituality night, with the evenings planned by a different volunteer each time. The individuals take turns preparing evening meals, too. Uniquely, compared to JV communities in other cities, the Spokane JVs do much of their grocery shopping at the local Second Harvest Food Bank. One explained that, “Through our work we have access to (the food bank), and we’re expected to use it. So our budget for food is lower than for other JV communities. Also, we’re getting a lot of fresh vegetables from the garden at St. Margaret Shelter.”

Sometimes, however, the JVs do end up eating pizza. “People have taken us out for pizza quite a lot,” said one.

Although technically a Jesuit Volunteer may have a car, none of the Spokane JVs has one. Bicycles are common in the group, however.

Each house is assigned two support people from outside the JV community. One house, for example, is assigned a Jesuit priest and a former JV who lives in Spokane.

Jesuit volunteers aren’t required to be Catholic, although most in this group are, and the three who don’t identify themselves as Catholic explained that they were “raised Catholic.”

As a group, this year’s community of Jesuit Volunteers shares a dedication to caring for others and an enthusiasm for both living simply and supporting one another. All agree that, in the countercultural spirit of the Gospel, they may well become living examples of the unofficial slogan of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps: “Ruined for life.”

(For more information on Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest visit:

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