Julia Hawkins spent the first months after graduation job searching. The process proved fraught and frustrating, but Julia knew what she was looking for. It’s not the first time she’s hunted for employment.
As a college sophomore, Julia was in need of a job, which was the main reason she ended up at the Service-Learning Center as a transportation assistant. She had some connections to the office through church, having grown up at Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church, “but I didn’t really understand the mission of the Service-Learning Center,” she says. She learned fast, and her time as an S-LC employee encouraged Julia in her vocational and faith development.
The thoughtful environment of the Service-Learning Center challenged her, and as a staff member, she was charged with extending the challenge. The personal connections and conversations surrounding a service-learning placement solidify the learning that takes place onsite. As a transportation assistant, driving service-learners to and from their placements, “I had to facilitate reflection in the car, which is possibly the most awkward thing ever, because you don't know this person and you can't just start off with, ‘so, how do you feel about what you're doing at this place, and interacting with the people there?' You have to start off with, ‘Hi, my name's Julia, I'm a senior’—or, at the time, I was a junior or a sophomore—‘what's your name? What year are you? What’s your major?’”
What Julia absorbed in the office, she then represented to the students she transported and later coordinated. “Throughout my three years there, I learned what it means to have sort of a mission as an organization, and to work together toward the same goal while you're all doing a lot of different things, and how each piece and each position, while it does its own thing, also connects back to the center of what's going on at the Service-Learning Center,” she says. That central and collaborative mission is what drives her, and what drives the organizations she hopes to work for. “I want to work somewhere like the Service-Learning Center, because it is not only people all working together toward one goal, but actually genuinely caring about each other, within the job and outside of it. My supervisor, Noah, would always ask me, ‘how are you doing?’ not just, ‘how's the job going?'”
Like many other alumni, Julia identifies the relationships and community of the S-LC as a pivotal part of her experience there. Among silly memories of quoting comedy films and mishearing someone from across the office, Julia talks about the faith dialogue among the S-LC staff. She specifically recollects the devotions shared by the staff each week, and Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, as the touchstone text of those reflections, grounding the group in their decision-making and programming. The book incorporates prayer, scripture and the words of church leaders in a daily liturgy. “We refer to scripture, and to the words of wise people to direct us in what we're doing, and especially prayer to keep us on track. If we think this is what we need to do, because the Scripture says this, we go forward—but we don't just keep going because we know that as humans, it's not going to work out unless we keep in touch with the Holy Spirit through prayer and devotions.”
At the Service-Learning Center, Julia reimagined Christian community. Humility, prayer, mission, gentleness and reflection characterized that new vision, its work continually springing from and returning to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. “Entering the Service-Learning Center, I found people … who tried to live out the mission of Christ in what they do,” she says. “It kind of restored my faith in the people who practice Christianity. It's the idea that we might be doing God's work for real, instead of just talking about it.”
BY KATIE VAN ZANEN