Starting this August, I will be embarking on a year of full-time service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, whose mission is to enhance the capacity of local organizations to serve their communities by providing volunteers opportunities to directly serve the poor and marginalized in the U.S. and developing countries. I’ll be moving to Los Angeles, California to serve as the Youth Resource Coordinator at Proyecto Pastoral, a non-profit organization working in the economically and politically disenfranchised community of Boyle Heights to empower the community personally and socially by developing grassroots projects in education, leadership and service. In particular, I will be serving at IMPACTO (Imaginando Mañana Pico-Aliso Community Team Outreach), an after-school academic enrichment program designed to motivate and inspire underserved youth.
As the Youth Resource Coordinator, I will work directly with youth ages 5-18 in multiple settings, coordinate and conduct monthly group activities for youth and mentors in the mentoring program, and recruit mentors and volunteers through community outreach efforts and social media marketing. As a Jesuit Volunteer, I will be spending the next year living simply, in community with other volunteers, immersed in Ignatian Spirituality.
Coming into Saint Joseph’s University as a freshman several years ago, I would have never imagined that my first post-graduate adventure would look like this. Yet, the Jesuit values of SJU combined with all the different service opportunities and courses exploring ethics and social justice issues changed me. I was able to take several service-learning classes, which enabled me to engage in weekly service as part of my academic course work. Some of my service sites included an inner-city elementary school; a center providing adult education, GED preparation and ESL classes for adults; a nursing home; and a specialized, long-term care community for people in wheelchairs. I was challenged to think more in depth about social justice issues and to form connections with people I otherwise would have never met.
Because I took multiple service-learning classes and enjoyed them so much, one of my English professors, Dr. Ann Green, suggested that I consider doing a community service internship that could count toward my English major. With her help, I was able to secure an internship with Urban Promise Ministries, a non-profit in Camden, New Jersey that seeks to equip Camden youth with the skills necessary for academic achievement, life management, spiritual growth and Christian leadership. I was placed at Camp Faith, one of Urban Promise’s after-school programs serving 1st-4th graders, and had the opportunity to develop and lead enrichment program classes for the youth, including literacy, art and dance classes.
Being able to spend my entire senior year serving at Urban Promise through Saint Joseph’s University made me realize how much I truly love service and urban youth ministry. Even though my freshman self could have never envisioned doing a year of full-time service with a faith-based organization upon graduating, my current self cannot imagine starting my post-college adventure any other way, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for what is ahead.
Raya Abat is a recent Saint Joseph’s University graduate from Manhattan, New York. She majored in English and minored in Philosophy and Faith-Justice Studies. She was involved in various forms of community service, Phi Sigma Pi Honor Fraternity, Alpha Sigma Nu Jesuit Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society, and served on the Executive Board of the Hawk Host organization.