After the pomp and circumstance of commencement, most college graduates feel pressure to join the workforce and start a career right away. Those who choose Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC) walk a less traditional path of service and spiritual exploration—one that can be life-changing.
Based in Washington, D.C., the organization places volunteers in full-time service positions for one to two years at nonprofits that promote peace and justice. Any adult age 21 and older may apply; the majority are young adults. Volunteers live together in simple housing in one of 13 cities across the U.S. and serve in youth programs, medical and legal clinics, alternative high schools and education programs, advocacy programs, housing agencies and food banks.
LVC volunteers “have experiences and meet folks who shape their understanding of poverty, advocacy and service for the rest of their lives—regardless of what other type of work they pursue in the future,” said Savanna Sullivan, ELCA program director for young adult ministry.
New career paths, perspectives
For some, like Eric Halvorson, a meaningful job develops organically from LVC service. A year after graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., with a political science degree, he accepted an LVC placement with the Chicago Jobs Council, which seeks to eliminate employment barriers that keep people in poverty.
Halvorson’s experience helped him “see some of the ways in which we as the church and the body of Christ in the world can be stepping up and following some of the pretty radical calls of love we see in the gospel.”
“(LVC volunteers) have experiences and meet folks who shape their understanding of poverty, advocacy and service for the rest of their lives—regardless of what other type of work they pursue in the future.”
After doing policy research during his LVC year, Halvorson felt strongly about continuing social justice work and accepted a full-time position with the council in 2015, which he calls “a tremendous privilege.”
“If I want to live in a world of justice and love and inclusion, then that means I’m called [to help make it happen],” he said.
Other LVC volunteers don’t necessarily zero in on a career path but instead find their perspective broadened.
Bianca and Gabby Bryant, twin sisters from York, S.C., completed their LVC service last July. Bianca worked in a shelter for young adults in California’s Bay Area and Gabby served in a mental health rehabilitation facility in Seattle. They both assumed that medical school would be the next chapter for them after college. But after their year with LVC, they are considering other options while working as medical scribes in a medical center’s emergency department.
“I feel like I’m continuing to reflect on the experience,” Gabby said. “I realized there are other things I could be doing [besides medical school], and that the easiest path is not necessarily the right one.”
Amanda Zimmerman, a recent graduate of Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., is in the middle of her LVC placement as a program assistant with the Lutheran Campus Ministry at the University of Maryland, College Park. With a business and English double major, Zimmerman wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after college.
As a result of volunteering with a program that pairs university students as tutors/mentors with at-risk elementary students, Zimmerman discovered her gift for working with children—and a special patience with those considered “difficult.” She is now leaning toward elementary education as a career and credits her LVC experience with giving her the “clarity and confidence” to do that.
In addition to informing and shaping vocation, the LVC experience can nurture spiritual exploration in an encouraging group setting. Volunteers share meals and have honest conversations about big ideas like social justice, faith and politics—discussions that might be difficult to have in a less affirming environment.
The supportive nature of LVC communities is important, Sullivan said, because young people often feel isolated from authentic relationships, particularly when they go out on their own.
“I loved living in an intentional community with other volunteers,” Bianca said. She and Gabby—who come from a United Methodist background—embraced the diversity of their LVC communities and were gratified to find that, despite some obvious differences with their housemates, they shared much common ground.
“Not everyone in the program is Lutheran or even Christian,” Sullivan said, but through living in a loving, affirming community, volunteers “get the benefit of questioning … what they believe and why, and they get to carry that forward into the rest of their lives.”
Gabby said her experience gave her a greater appreciation for her faith tradition and made her want to be more involved in her home church.
For his part, Halvorson said LVC “helped me see how to live out my faith, how to turn it into a verb.”