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By Lauren Mills ’08 Psychology & Sociology

My journey to become a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps began long before I realized what was going on. As a high school student, I began to dabble with service projects and immersion trips, and through those found a passion for all things community service. That passion was the main reason I chose to go to Gonzaga, I could even go so far as to say that my passion for community service is what made me find Gonzaga. As an incoming freshman, I decided to attend a pre-orientation camp, Reality Camp, a week spent with 40 of my fellow classmates in which we immersed ourselves in the Spokane culture and got a behind the scenes look into many aspects of Gonzaga.

Within a few weeks and months, college life seemed normal to me. And because of my connections made during Reality Camp, it was easy to become involved on campus. I soon began frequenting many clubs and service groups on campus, and the couches of CCASL (Center for Community and Service Learning) became a second home. Over my four years at Gonzaga, that connection and second home never faded. I felt beyond blessed to be involved with such important programs, but even more I was gaining experiences and friendships that I didn’t want to let go of.

As my time at Gonzaga came to an end, the unavoidable question of “what comes next” began to creep up. I knew I wanted to gain experience in a world I may not otherwise encounter. And I knew I wanted to see another part of the country. Joining a service program felt right to me because so many of my values aligned with the programs. JVC stood out most because of the four values; social justice, community, simplicity, and spirituality. Throughout my application process I had nothing but support from not only my family and friends, but also those staff at Gonzaga who I had begun to look at as a second family.

And now here I am. I live in St. Louis, Missouri and work at a charter school serving a diverse neighborhood with all incomes and races. I had never stepped foot in the mid-west until I got off the plane and moved here, and I have never looked back. I am gaining so much experience, both in regards to my future careers, but also lifelong lessons. I am learning about new cultures that I have never known in the Northwest. I am finding myself drawn to education after living my whole life saying I don’t want to be a teacher. I see myself putting others first and going days without touching my computer to browse the web or send an email (instead, I pick up the phone, or better yet, a pen and paper). I question all that I see around me, knowing that not everyone has an equal playing field in life but that all people deserve respect.

Many people say that a service year is a “year off” and yet I think it is a year that takes more than most. I am constantly learning and growing, I go to work 40 hours a week and I get no pay check, and yet I still want to put in the hours. I am willing to share my emotions with my five housemates, who just months ago, were complete strangers. If anything, I have spent more of my time this year out of my comfort zone and yet, this life is becoming much more comfortable than the one I had before.

I firmly believe that choosing Gonzaga was the best choice of my life thus far- and that choice has led me to writing this article. I also know that my family support throughout the entire process has made it that much easier- they may not understand what it is I am doing, but they respect the risk I am willing to take to learn the hard lessons in life.

If everyone in this world got a true glimpse into the lives of someone else, it would be a different world we live in. My time in JVC is giving me that glimpse, and allowing me to experience the pains and joys of people that are unlike my own family and friends. A year of service post-college is the perfect way to learn about what the world has to offer- both the good and the bad. And above all, it is a way to learn about the person I am- both the good and the bad.

From my mom, Vicki Kerbaugh-Mills:

Yes, I have been asked by the occasional friend or acquaintance, “Let me get this right, you just paid for your daughter to attend Gonzaga University for four years, and now you’re okay with her spending the next year working for someone for free?.” The question mostly makes me chuckle, because, yes, I am okay, in fact, very okay with that choice. It might not be the right choice for everyone, but there was never a question in my mind that it was the right choice for Lauren.  I love that she is continuing her journey of understanding and appreciation that we are all in this life together.  I love her sense of adventure in moving to a new city, a new neighborhood, a new job, new friends. I love that she embraces the opportunity to serve those who need it most and I think her timing is perfect. She is young, having just graduated from college, and her whole life is ahead of her. Now is an easy time for an adventure to a new location, to a new job – paid or unpaid – where she can continue on the never ending path of learning new job skills and new life skills.  I support her 110% in her efforts this year and I could not be more proud of her and the other young adults who venture out in this way. They are the cream of our crop who, I believe, will remain open minded and thoughtful of the human race as a whole and will continue to educate the rest of us to the possibilities.

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