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My Time With MVC & SMASE

As I move towards retirement and see more of the past than future, it seems clear that the creator has always had a plan for this school and for all of us drawn to work here.

For me, a few unlikely events led me to a life here that I could never have imagined. From my upbringing between the city of Richmond and the mountains of Mount Hope West Virginia. In search of spiritual peace, in search of purpose, in search of adventure and for certain to “the road less traveled by.”

My first day of work at St. Michaels Association For Special Education (SMASE) was my first sign that I was in the right place. Another staff member named Eric was giving me a tour of the program. As Eric knocked on the door of the accounting office, a mouse ran down the hall and up Eric’s pants leg. He frantically pulled down his pants in an effort to find the mouse. I stood and watched as the accounting staff opened the door to see Eric jumping around in his boxer shorts. He was screaming about the mouse. They were screaming about Eric with his pants down. I knew that this may be the right place for me. Adventure, surprise and humor in one moment.

From that day in August of 1978 to 43 years later I have few doubts that I belonged here. The Navajo Nation and the Diné people have blessed me in so many ways with their acceptance and with so many wise and generous teachers. They constantly remind me that purpose and spiritual peace are often the same.

This is perhaps why so many like me who stay here for very long are finding peace and purpose through sacrifice. So common among us is the belief that we learn so much more on the road of life than what we finally achieve. SMASE is a place of life for hundreds of students and families built by the dedication, skill and love of so many staff over many years. We are all part of the SMASE story. This is why SMASE is so special to everyone. It is why we come here and stay.

I have always felt that SMASE was a perfect fit for Mercy Volunteers. The mission of giving to others with care and compassion, receiving its intrinsic rewards along with the blessing of living, learning and sharing in the Diné culture and language. The simple beauty of a diverse group of people coming together here with the common purpose of serving the students and families of SMASE. The constant give and receive, the effort and sacrifice made and what we are blessed to learn along the way.

My advice to new Mercy Volunteers would be to serve at SMASE. Speak with any of our former volunteers about their time here. Service here allowed for their creativity and commitment to be utilized every day. Living and learning in the Diné culture provided life lessons that remain for a lifetime. Join the SMASE family and make your sacrifice here with us.

The final words are in recognition of my late wife Angela Johnson Conner. None of this story, my service to SMASE or my time with MVC would be possible without her. She fostered my courage and often guided me to the road less traveled by.

James Conner – Education Director

St. Michaels, Arizona

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. I love you Jim. You taught me so much and you were such a protector of the staff and especially me. You were like a father figure to me while I did my year of service and then stayed out to teach at the school for 5 more years. Good luck in retirement.

  2. Hi Jim,

    I remember you from my summer spent volunteering at S.M.A.S.E. in 1985. You look like you’ve barely aged! My three months spent at S.M.A.S.E. were short, but ever-lasting. My husband and children have all heard of my experience with the special people I met there, and it is an experience for which I’ve remained eternally grateful. While it wasn’t always easy, I learned so much from my summer and it has never left my heart. It is my hope that when my husband and I retire in a couple of years, we can once again volunteer our time in whatever way the S.M.A.S.E. community could use us.

    Best of luck to you and may God continue to bless you!!

  3. Dear Jim,
    I wish you wonderful next steps of your journey. I was blessed to know you. I am glad Mercy Volunteer Corps is continuing to send volunteers to SMASE. I remember my JVC years at SMASE very fondly. My friendships with some of the early Mercy Corps Volunteers from 1983 continue through today.
    May you continue to walk in beauty.

  4. Congratulations Jim! And what a beautiful photo and piece– you haven’t changed since the 1985-86 school year when I volunteered at SMASE. I remember well how you encouraged me after a very difficult moment with a student. You understood the challenges of both the young student and young teacher. Thank you for always treating folks with dignity. Wishing you all the best, and cheers to a joyful retirement! Gabe Hamilton

  5. Jim,
    It has been an honor to know you and be with you at a few orientation meetings. God bless you on your new journey and carry all of us in your heart.

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