Beloit is a community that fosters and encourages experiential, hands-on learning. To me, the opportunity of a service year seemed like a natural extension of my time at Beloit and was in alignment with my personal values. For those of you who are considering “what’s next?” I would encourage you to read on . . . and to consider a year of service with an organization such as the Westmoreland Volunteer Corps. It was an incredible experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a post graduation step.
by Johanna (Heilman) Lerma ’06
Like most students, I faced the imminent question of “what next after Beloit?” I started exploring service year options and learned about the Westmoreland Volunteer Corps (WVC) from one of my professors when I studied abroad in Mexico.
As I began researching different service year programs, I kept coming back to the WVC. The program was started by a United Church of Christ congregation in the DC area in 1985, The congregation built partnerships with various health and human services non-profits in the DC area. As a double major in Spanish and Health and Society, it was important for me to find a fit that would allow me to explore my passions in public health, and having grown up in the UCC church their connection to the tradition appealed to me.
The principles of intentional community and sharing a common experience while working for a DC non-profit seemed to be the natural step for my question of, “what next?” WVC’s foundation of “intentional community” appealed to me because I saw it as a natural transition of what I cherished during my time at Beloit — community. I lived with 4 other women all of whom had recently graduated from college. We all worked in different non-profits throughout DC but each day we would come home, share and compare experiences and process post-college life together.
During my year of service I worked as an activity coordinator at a single room occupancy housing program run by So Others Might Eat (SOME), a DC non-profit dedicated to helping the homeless population in the nation’s capital. I had a great deal of flexibility and support from SOME regarding the kind of programs I developed. I organized and published a monthly journal written by the residents, coordinated a resident art show that was on display at two galleries in DC, brought in volunteers to teach the residents computer classes, art classes, and healthy cooking classes, formed a weekly walking group, and arranged outings to local concerts, museums and sporting events. One of the most meaningful parts of my time with WVC and SOME was the relationships I built with the residents. We spent hours getting to know one another, laughing, and sharing stories. Residents opened up to me about their journeys with homelessness, addiction, behavioral and physical health problems and their search to turn their lives around . . . of which housing was a huge piece of the puzzle.
And the impact of that year? Well, I moved to the DC area after graduating in 2006 and haven’t left! After my service year, I got a job at SOME and then worked at a non profit where I did bilingual Spanish-English health education and eventually went back to school for nursing. During my time as a WVC member, I discovered that while I was interested in the population-level of public health, I thrived in the one-on-one connection of individual relationships with the clients I worked with. Nursing was a natural extension of my interest in tapping into that energy.
Interested in talking more? I am more than happy to answer any questions that you may have about my experience and the Westmoreland Volunteer Corps program. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.