Jeanette Gonzalez believes in the power of close, meaningful relationships. It’s been her modus operandi in life and has taken her to Haiti and Central American countries for immersion experiences. While the latter examples are expansive spaces, Gonzalez’s specialty is to find her niche and flourish — the smaller, the better.
So it’s no surprise that when she was interested in doing a service-oriented program after earning an undergraduate degree at a small university, Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Gonzalez (pictured) didn’t seek out bigger, more well-known service organizations such as the Peace Corps or Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Instead, she opted for Augustinian Volunteers and its smaller, more impactful program.
“Peace Corps and Jesuit Volunteer Corps are phenomenal programs, but I just felt that Augustinian Volunteers had a lot of charisma; it had something special that attracted me and the others I met who do it,” said Gonzalez, a current USD graduate student and panelist during the Adventures in Service: Careers with a Conscience event Wednesday along with USD alumni and current USD staff. “Even though it’s smaller, I was drawn to the living in community part, because when you live in community there, it’s like living with the people in your own house because it literally is the people in the whole program.”
Augustinian Volunteers only accepts a few dozen volunteers each year. Four to six volunteers live together in the six service locations, including four cities in the United States — San Diego, Chicago, Bronx, New York and Lawrence, Mass. Two international programs are located in Chulucanas, Peru and Durban, South Africa.
Gonzalez, though she had gone to college in Los Angeles, didn’t have far to go as she was accepted into the San Diego program in August 2008. She spent 10 months onsite in the San Diego community and another two months locally on call. Though she lived in San Diego, she did travel part-time to work at Mexico’s Hogar Infantil La Gloria orphanage, located 13 miles south of the border.
“Even though I was close to home in L.A., it was really minimal the times that I went home to see my family because when you live in community here, really, that’s your family,” she said.
Her participation in Augustinian Volunteers also introduced her to USD, a connection initially formed at Founders Chapel. And because of that, in May, Gonzalez will be a graduate alumna with a master’s degree in Pastoral Care and Counseling through USD’s Theology and Religious Studies program.
“The first time I came to campus was when I wanted to find a church. I really enjoyed the student masses here and I got connected that way. From there I talked to a couple of ministers, including (University Minister for graduate and law students) Maria Gaughan and she told me about the graduate program. For me it was, ‘Wow!’ I felt so close to the program and it opened doors for me to be that pastoral presence. The program really helps you a lot. You learn who you are as a person and your coursework is geared to serve others.”
In addition to her impending USD graduation — though she recently was accepted into the 17-month track Master’s in Peace and Justice Studies program through the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies starting in August — she serves as a chaplain at St. Vincent de Paul.
Gonzalez’s graduate work has allowed her to maintain community relationships she formed as an Augustinian Volunteer. “I still go and volunteer at the orphanage and the school where I taught Catechism. It’s really nice to stay connected.”
Gonzalez said the power of her connections have made her the person she is today. She cited a favorite quote from Mother Teresa as words to live by: “The world’s biggest illness is forgetting that we belong to one another.”
“My year of service taught me that we all belong to one another and how important it is to nurture the relationships we build throughout life. It’s those relationships that are going to bring you happiness,” she said. “Growing up in the U.S. with so much privilege, it made me see people who don’t have those materialistic privileges, yet they’re still full of love and life. I learned how to see Christ in these people. I hope other students can have these same experiences, even if it only opens avenues into vocations they’re going into. You can apply all skills you’ve learned as a volunteer to any vocation — especially dealing with human relationships where you need to learn how to nurture them, how to grow them and how it should be mutual.”
— Ryan T. Blystone