I graduated from Gonzaga University in 2013. As a Jesuit institution, service is something that Gonzaga talks about a LOT. Zags are incredibly service-oriented. It’s instilled in us through service-learning classes and mission trip opportunities and our clubs. Still, I have to admit that post-grad service was not something that ever entered my radar as a student. So it’s funny when I tell you that I have spent the better part of the past few years since I graduated doing full-time service as a MissionCorps here at Maggie’s Place in Phoenix, AZ.

This letter is for anyone who, like me, never thought of post-grad service as an option, or for those who have been thinking about it but are holding back. Let me tell you about why my service experience was the best thing I could have done after graduation.

During my two and a half years as a MissionCorps, I lived in community with pregnant and parenting women and their babies, as well as other MissionCorps, as the live-in staff for the maternity homes that Maggie’s Place operates. My role was to build a safe, family-like environment and keep the administrative functions of the home going. This involved wearing many hats. Some days I felt like a mother myself (with seven adult pregnant children!), others like a sister, or a social worker, counselor, teacher, friend, or even police officer. Essentially, I had to dive straight in to an entry-level position with 1,000 different responsibilities, and this required me to grow in more ways than I ever did in college.

From having to both live and work with the moms, who were not afraid to speak their minds and who usually had no filter, I fostered the skill of conflict management. I also learned public speaking, servant leadership, managing a stressful workload, the importance of professional communication, all the details involved in maintaining an efficient office, and the variety of responsibilities that come with literally running a home. I went with moms to court and advocated for them with their case workers, attorneys, parent aides, and judges. I learned about government welfare up close—both the benefits and the limitations—and about different resources available in the community to supplement it. My eyes were opened to poverty in a way that changed how I look at everything from education to the minimum wage. Most of all, I learned how to love unconditionally and see Christ in the poor.

One of the reasons serving at Maggie’s Place resonated with me so well was because of the commitment to Catholic social teaching. We didn’t just talk about practicing a preferential option for the poor, or the importance of solidarity, or the inherent dignity of every human person—we actually lived it. When I say I learned how to love unconditionally, I mean that it was literally my job. I was there to show the moms that no matter where they had come from or where they decided to go, I would be there for them.

Sometimes that meant I had to practice what we call “tough love.” I have taken moms drug testing, talked them through suicidal thoughts, held them accountable to structured rules, and had conversations about sex, contraception, natural family planning, responsible finances, abusive family members, and safe parenting practices. Other times that unconditional love meant that I cried alongside moms who miscarried, or helped a mom prioritize and achieve her goal of nursing school, or was there to help a mom up again after she fell back in to bad habits. Sometimes it even meant having to say goodbye to a mom who just wasn’t ready to make that kind of change in her life yet, and that was okay because I knew one day she would be ready and we would be there for her when that time came.

I also can’t lie to you: a year of service is going to be a hard year. It will require sacrifice. That’s the very nature of service. But the beautiful thing is that because of that sacrifice, because of the ways you will walk beside the poor in their time of need, you will learn and grow in ways you never imagined. So please, do yourself a favor and think about when else in your life you will be able to commit to something as immersive as a year of service, and when you will be able to focus just on serving the poor and loving the Lord. The answer for me was simple: it’s now or never.

 

By Lucy Miller, MissionCorps Liason

Reposted from The Gonzaga Bulletin. Original post can be found here: http://www.gonzagabulletin.com/opinion/article_52326fae-053d-11e7-9467-cb024e4ce75a.html