Where do Hawks land? Ben Chapman, a recent graduate, landed in Tacoma, Washington to serve through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest. He gives us a glimpse into what he’s gained from his Year of Service experience thus far.
This past week, I was able to attend a panel called “Activism and Social Justice in Tacoma.” During the Q & A portion of this panel a crowd member asked about how to approach educational privilege in situations with individuals who may not have the same educational opportunities. One panelist explained that she was not college educated but she still had knowledge as an undocumented immigrant that she was able to use in protesting the Northwest Detention Center. However, another panelist offered to meet people where they are. By giving this as a response, she meant to actively listen to their story to see what they have experienced and what they bring to the table.
The idea of “meeting people where they are” is something I was first introduced to during some of my first days on campus at Saint Joe’s. It has been something that has resonated with me and continued to be present within me into my year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest in Tacoma, Washington. This idea was present in my year-long service learning class called Social Problems and Change with Dr. Bergen, where I spent a few hours a week hanging out at a shelter, My Brother’s House, in Center City. It was present in the two APEX trips I went on to Roanoke, VA and Robbins, TN. It was also present in my Weekly Service site, Back on My Feet, where I partook in a ministry of presence with individuals recovering from addiction.
However, this idea was also present outside service opportunities. The idea of “meeting people where they are” was especially important during the three different 4:16 retreats I went on, whether I was a retreatant or a leader. When I was a retreatant, my leaders took the time to listen to my struggles, as well as the other retreatants in my small group, and offer guidance. When it was my turn to be a leader for retreats, I took the time to listen to the stories of retreatants in my small group in order to appreciate the different journeys they were on.
This idea was also very prevalent in the classroom, as well. During my time at Saint Joe’s, I was especially fortunate to encounter professors who modeled this idea. Yes, they would challenge our ideas and offer us room for growth, as was the case in the class Physical Computing and Accessibility taught by Steven Hammer. However, they also understood that we all came from different backgrounds and experiences. They were aware that these factors put us all at different points in our lives and they took the time to know us individually by name. Having been exposed to three different departments during my undergraduate career, I can say that all my professors truly took the time to know me and care about my academic and personal well-being, whether they had me for one class or three.
Now here I am, a little over six months later using my neighbor’s wifi to write this, while also being across the country from my family and friends. And amazingly this idea followed me here in both my community and service site. In Tacoma, I live with five other individuals who serve at different placements across Pierce County. Each of my community members comes from very different experiences, backgrounds, and upbringings that at times make community living challenging. However, I would not trade the experience I have had so far for anything. Despite the fact that we may practice our spirituality differently or may not experience simple living the same way, we are one community.
For my service site, I am blessed to be serving at Nativity House, which is a shelter for people experiencing homelessness. This idea is thrown into my face every day, as Nativity House often has guests who are experiencing addiction or mental illness. It can be extremely challenging to have a guest blow up at you mid-conversation or to see someone lose their sobriety after being clean for months. Yet at the same time, it is not my place to judge them. My job is to meet them where they are and offer what I can. Maybe they are having a bad day and ignore me saying hi, but I cannot fault them for that. Everyone is going through their own personal struggle and whether visible or not, I have to accept that and just take the time to hear them out when they are ready. At Nativity House, I have also met some of the nicest people, including an elderly man who does not speak English but simply nods his head and smiles or laughs whenever he sees me. When reflecting upon my college career, the lessons Saint Joe’s taught me, especially meeting people where they are, will be carried with me forever.
Ben Chapman ’16 graduated with a Communications Major minors in International Relations and Psychology. In his time at SJU, he was involved with Student Senate, Phi Sigma Pi, Hawk Hosts, and studied abroad in Galway, Ireland. He’ll continue serving through JVC Northwest until June of 2017.