Established in 1956, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) is associated with the Roman Catholic Society of Jesus (Jesuits), and is an organization that aims to provide women and men an opportunity to spend 1 or 2 years of their lives working full-time for justice and peace. Jesuit volunteers see their mission as one of service to the poor. In keeping with this mission, they seek to become aware of the social structures that contribute to the oppression of low-income and marginalized persons. Since it was established in 1956, more than 7,000 members of the JVC have committed themselves to this endeavor, and there are currently 500 JVC volunteers in the United States and over 70 volunteers in other parts of the world.
In order to achieve this goal, the JVC has a wide variety of ministry opportunities both in the United States and internationally. Ministries vary from addiction recovery to education, legal services to prison ministry, and HIV/AIDS services to domestic abuse programs. At the core of each of these ministries is a concern for social justice, a need that involves numerous ministries across the United States and extends internationally to East Africa, Belize, Tanzania, the Pacific Islands of Micronesia, and Peru.
There are four main values promoted by the JVC. The first of these is the emphasis placed on community. All Jesuit volunteers are required to live in a community with other volunteers. Christian faith reminds the volunteers that God's will is to be found in the loving and respectful relationships among people; accordingly, these communities are joined by a shared vision and a common desire for justice. This idea of community extends beyond the volunteers' immediate living conditions and includes the people they serve: neighbors, co-workers, other volunteers, and members of local parishes who are encouraged to form relationships that challenge and support one another.
The JVC values a simple lifestyle. In light of this, each volunteer receives a small stipend each month, and the homes that each community occupies tend to be in low-income neighborhoods. The goal of such simple living is twofold. On the one hand, it encourages each volunteer to become conscious of the experience of the poor and marginalized, particularly the poor that they serve on a day-to-day basis in their ministries. On the other hand, it shifts the volunteers' focus away from financial concerns and encourages them to find value in activities that do not require large amounts of money.
The third value places an emphasis on social justice. The intent of each volunteer working among the poor is to encourage them to participate in the daily struggle for dignity, justice, and human rights. By living among and becoming friends with them, the volunteers forge relationships with those who are most easily forgotten by our society-relationships that challenge the volunteers to see the causes of poverty and oppression, and to understand the nature of the injustice that leads to their marginalization. Each volunteer's ministry placement places him or her in direct contact with the poor, and each ministry provides essential care that aims at empowering the poor to free themselves from the forces that oppress them. The fourth value emphasized by the JVC is spirituality. Taken from the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola, Jesuit spirituality calls each volunteer to integrate a life of prayer with active work to further the reign of God. In keeping with this vision, the Jesuit volunteer seeks ways to use his or her unique talents in ways that take into account both where God will best be served, as well as where people will best be helped.
There is no such thing as a "typical" ministry: Each one is as unique as the volunteer. In general, however, each domestic placement involves the commitment of 1 year of service. Each year of service begins in August with an orientation. Following this orientation, the volunteers report to the cities in which they will do their ministry. The communities range in size, and many encompass a wide array of persons; recent college graduates, people reevaluating their lives, and married couples may all live together. Some may engage in education ministry while others work in a hospice or with AIDS patients. Food and other expenses are shared among the members of the community and meals are eaten together. There is also community time in which the entire community gathers together to engage in a common activity, such as a game of Frisbee in the park, a trip to a lake, or a board game. Prayer and reflection are important to the JVC experience, and they take the shape of liturgy, prayer services, and personal contemplation. Throughout the year, retreats and workshops are scheduled to afford each volunteer time to process and to reflect upon his or her experiences.
The motto of the JVC is that it leaves its participants "Ruined for Life." By this they mean to indicate that the year of service will challenge each person in unimaginable ways-demanding one to reevaluate social structures, materialistic tendencies, and the mechanisms that lead to the oppression and marginalization of the poor. Ultimately, in combining the emphases placed on community, simplicity, social justice, and spirituality, the "ruined" individual will have a year of experiences that have worked to open the heart and the mind to live always conscious of the poor and oppressed, a year that has "ruined" the person to such an extent that the personal mission of each volunteer is the promotion of justice in the service of faith.