Reflecting on my service in Mercy Volunteer Corps takes me down two paths: the first is that I feel I can trace a direct line of the person I’ve become to that year; the second is that I don’t know if I made a difference in the lives of the children with whom I worked. One path brings me great joy; the other leaves me with questions that I can never answer.
I was among the last group of volunteers at St. Catherine Indian School in Santa Fe, NM. The school closed in 1998, and the six of us who stayed for the year helped shutter the dorms. It was bittersweet. Up until that year, I had experienced little of the world outside of my comfortable, middle-class, private schooling background. I was suddenly thrust into a world where some families measured their wealth in the number of outhouses their family claimed on top of a mesa or through annual dividend checks distributed to tribes that ran casinos. Some students came from immense – and sudden wealth – while others barely scraped by, sometimes moving from house to house on their reservations.
After I completed my volunteer year, I found a career that led to professional opportunities that set me on a path to eventually opening my own media consulting firm in Washington, DC. For nearly 20 years, I have had a plaque hanging in my bathroom of wherever I call home that reminds me every day not to be so busy making a living that I forget to make a life. A couple of years ago, I began to notice that something was missing from my life. I went back to my roots and began volunteering for some small non-profits and other organizations that engage in humanitarian work around the globe.
It’s taken me some time to reconnect with Mercy Volunteer Corps. I attended the first alumni retreat this summer down the Shore, and it was a rejuvenating experience. I’m blessed to have a great life – a close relationship with my family; wonderful, supportive friends; a job and career that let me combine work I’m passionate about with the ability to travel the world. And as I go about my daily life, I remind myself of my blessings and look for ways – both large (volunteering to do pro bono media trainings) and small (handing out coffee shop gift cards to those much less fortunate) – to lift up others to a life of dignity and joy.
Jessica R. Towhey served from 1997 to 1998 in Santa Fe, NM, at St. Catherine Indian School. Following the closure of the school, she moved to Northern California and worked at the Mercy Retreat Center at the Sisters of Mercy in Auburn.