Every August, Civicorps has the privilege of welcoming two new Jesuit Volunteers (JV’s) into our ranks for a full year of service.
As our new volunteers cycle in, we bid farewell to the two JV’s completing their year of service. In August 2019, we had the pleasure of on-boarding two young men at the Academy and the Job Training Center: David Jaeger and Caleb Blagys. In March 2020, Caleb made the difficult decision to return home to the East Coast to weather the COVID-19 pandemic with his family. David made the equally hard decision to remain in Oakland through the conclusion of his service year this August.
You may not know what a Jesuit Volunteer is and what do they do at Civicorps. In appreciation of Caleb’s service, which was abruptly cut short, and continued gratitude for David’s service, we spoke with them both to learn more.
David spoke to us from the back porch of his apartment in Berkeley where he is living with other Jesuit Volunteers in an intentional community during his service year. Before moving to the East Bay to join Civicorps, David studied philosophy and religious studies at Shawnee State University in Ohio and volunteered at a hospice.
We reached Caleb in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he is living with family after he ended his service. Caleb graduated from Fairfield University, near Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he grew up. He studied business management and marketing. During college, Caleb worked for the Fairfield Conservation Department, taught rugby skills to young students, and had an internship at Save-A-Suit, providing military veterans with business attire when they returned to the workforce.
What is a Jesuit Volunteer?
DJ: The Jesuit Volunteer Corps was founded in Baltimore in 1975 to provide services to communities in need. Typically, Jesuit Volunteers (JVs) are recent college graduates who commit to the core values of communal living, simple living, spirituality, and social justice. JVs are placed throughout the US, in schools, hospitals, food pantries, and other social services. I was looking for things to do after graduation and I really wanted to live with people who had similar values.
CB: The Jesuit ideals and philosophies are what make it different. JV’s don’t get a paycheck. I lived in an intentional community with six other JVs [including David]. We talk to each other about our day, if we’ve had a tough day, figure out the chores around the house, and then also, how to kick back and relax in an intentional manner. The spiritual aspect is open to interpretation. Some people are Catholics, but there are also volunteers from other religions, atheists, and those who are exploring faith. I come from Catholic roots and a Jesuit education in high school and college.
What is your job at Civicorps?
DJ: As the Service Learning Coordinator I help teachers and staff with math, English, and research tutoring, and everything from making copies to keeping the lobby clean to being a fieldtrip chaperone. I also help students find opportunities to complete their community service participation hours, and help to make sure the food pantry is stocked with nutritious snacks for our members.
CB: I ended up having the opportunity to gain experience being a Job Training Supervisor. In this role I worked with different departments (EBRPD, EBMUD, Alameda County Flood Control, and Caltrans). I would learn what they needed done and then relay that to my crew or with the other supervisors and make sure that we got the job done to their specifications.
DJ: The Pandemic has been the hardest part of the year. I am trying to do my best to help in whatever small way I can.
CB: I have thought of myself as a good listener, but I wouldn’t always know what to say. I’ve learned you don’t need to say anything, but just be there and offer an ear. Sometimes that is all you can do, and that’s all you really need to do sometimes.
Most enjoyable thing(s):
DJ: Two of the most rewarding experiences that I have had were backpacking trips to Pinnacles National Park and Point Reyes with 10 Corpsmembers (CMs) each time. Look for David’s upcoming blog post on this trip!
CB: Going on a camping trip the weekend before I had to leave due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I went with CMs, David, and a staff member [Lauren Hoernig] to Pinnacles National Park. Being able to experience an extremely different environment where there’s no cell service, no cars, no lights, nothing but the people around you and the great outdoors was great. We went rock climbing. Some people were natural born rock climbers who flew up the cliff face. I was so fortunate to have been able to join them. The most challenging climb takes so much mental fortitude and persistence. And to know that I did that, but also that CMs were doing that and feeling that same sense of accomplishment was absolutely otherworldly.
Once your service ends in August, what’s next for you, David?
DJ: I’ve been accepted to the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. If things aren’t still closed in the fall, my goal is to study there for the next two years to get a master’s in philosophy.
Will you have to speak a foreign language?
DJ: The classes are in English, but it will be helpful to learn a little French, German, and Flemish.
Caleb, you made the difficult decision to leave your service in March when COVID-19 became quite serious in this country. All of us miss you. How have you been doing?
CB: I’m focusing on controlling what’s in my control and letting go of what I can’t control. Staying positive and putting one foot in front of the other. It’s important to me that wherever I end up working, they have a commitment to social responsibility and that they do their part to help others. I also want to thank the people who went on the Pinnacles camping trip and made it what it was, and to tell them to remember that experience now, in the midst of this crisis, and to know that good days like that are ahead of us also.
What’s one thing you’d tell the next Jesuit Volunteer?
DJ: Be ready to be uncomfortable. They will definitely face many uncertainties.
CB: Get your hands dirty right away and lead from the front. My guiding philosophy was I would never tell a CM to do something that I wouldn’t do myself.
What gives you hope?
DJ: Knowing that there are people who are dedicating their lives to serving others. I’ve seen that at Civicorps. Seeing the perseverance of some human beings throughout this crisis and feeling a sense of deeper rootedness in life and in trusting life during these times.
CB: People’s willingness to listen to others. Openness to change and being a little less stubborn.
Favorite life motto/saying/experience?
DJ: “Do not be afraid.”
CB: One experience and saying that absolutely sticks out for me is from JAB [Joseph “JAB” Billingsley, Civicorps’ Senior Support Services Manager]. He would come into our weekly meeting and say, “Well, it was another beautiful day at the Corps yesterday.” Like JAB said, every day at Civicorps was a beautiful day, every single day. Even the days that were most challenging, were days that I learned something and turned into a beautiful day.
What’s one thing you would say about Caleb?
DJ: His desire to see others flourish was so apparent to me—not only did he care deeply for the lives of staff and CMs, but also for the larger community.
What’s one thing you would say about David?
CB: He is a fully-fledged philosopher in every sense of the word—super insightful and gets you to take on new perspectives—and he is an expert phenomenologist-in-training.
And, we’d like to say thank you for making a commitment to service learning after college, and for advancing our mission. You guys rock! We hope that your time with Civicorps has made a difference in your life and we wish you the best going forward. Keep in touch!