Corps Member Stories

Read about some real life stories from AVODAH Corps members.

Choosing Service: Avodah's work with La Clinica del Pueblo in Washington DC

by: Leah Koenig from Repair the World



El Salvador's First Lady visits La Clinica del Pueblo, Photo courtesy of La Clinica del Pueblo 

On May 13 Alicia Wilson, the Executive Director of La Clinica del Pueblo, spoke with the DC-based members of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps at their annual Partners in Justice event. 

Since 1983, La Clinica del Pueblo has worked to provide Washington DC's Latino community with health services 0 primary and mental health care, substance abuse services, HIV prevention and care, and community health education - regardless of their financial standing. For the last several years, AVODAH corps members (Alyssa Kasten, Julie Keselman and, this year, Melissa Mayer) have spent their year of service working with La Clinica del Pueblo.

Like the AVODAH corps members, Wilson got her start in the world of service through a "corps" volunteer year - and she truly believes in the power of community service to change both a community and the volunteer forever. But Wilson says it best - read some highlights from her remarks:

My first "real job" out of college was with the Westmoreland Volunteer Corps, a group based out of the wonderful Westmoreland United Church of Christ on the DC/Maryland border. It was an extraordinary experience - one that really set the course of my career in a way that probably no other first job out of college could. I was placed at Bread for the City as a Case Manager in 1996 - just as Welfare Reform was passed. There was so much to learn! I got an amazing crash course in welfare policy, food security, supplemental security income, and homelessness...

...As a volunteer corps member, I learned many life lessons, as well, such as how to love the generic brands of familiar foods because they saved $0.30, and how a pot of lentils and rice can feed a large groups and can make for several days worth of leftovers. But mostly, I fell in love with a life of community service.

I fell head-over-heels about the experience of working side-by-side with folks to help make their days a little more stable. I reveled in the chance to learn about the life experiences of my clients - marveling at the challenges that they have overcome, and the strengths and resourcefulness that they had developed. I loved how the experience of helping someone complete a form or find an apartment took me outside myself, and into a realm of collaboration, of community, of an inter-dependence that merges a collective of resources to meet an urgent need...

... I always have protective, mother-hen feelings about our volunteer corps folks. I worry about them - how [they] will survive the culture shock of meetings all in rapid-fire Spanish, how they will manage the difficult emotional encounters they may have with patients in crisis, and how long they can put up with peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, every day. And I watch how they, as outsiders, here with us for a year, struggle with the concept of community...

One of the things that makes La Clinica's experience with the volunteer corps so special is the transformation of the [AVODAH members] during their year. They start the year with the goal of providing service to an under-served community that is different from their own. They look forward to gaining new skills, being exposed to new concepts, and learning about people whose backgrounds are very different from theirs. I think that they finish the year understanding that they are providing service to their community. That their community is an inter-related jumble of their AVODAH community, their religious community, their co-workers, their clients, their neighbors, and more. That there truly aren't "outsiders" - and that they can be part of a collaborative effort of merging resources with others in their community to meet urgent needs...

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