When Gus Huiskamp ’21 and Christine Walsh ’21 individually applied to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, they did not expect to be living in the same house — again.
The two lived in Woolcott House (Co-op) on campus in the fall of 2020. Come August, they will be in Tucson, Ariz., once again under the same roof as volunteers with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, an organization of lay volunteers who devote a year or more to community service in poor communities.
Majors: French and History
Hometown: Mansfield, Mass.
High school: Mansfield High School
Huiskamp, a French and history double major, indicated on his application an interest in secure housing — he’ll be working at Community Home Repair, an agency that helps low-income homeowners with urgent home repair such as roofing, heating, and water filtration. Walsh, who is interested in food sovereignty, will be at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona as an abundant harvest coordinator specialist. She’ll be overseeing a growers’ cooperative of about 150 farmers participating in weekly farmers’ markets for low-income families.
Huiskamp learned about JVC through his father, who participated in the program upon his graduation. He volunteered in Phoenix at a school and at a homeless shelter for children. “It’s something he has talked about since as a formative experience,” Huiskamp recalled. “He said it was both humbling and rewarding. His work informed a lot of the way he interacts with community now.”
When Huiskamp told Walsh that he was applying for JVC, she looked into it. She realized her uncle had also been in the program years ago at a housing agency in New York. Walsh considered other fellowships, but decided that direct service was most meaningful to her. She was particularly drawn to the JVC’s core values: Ignatian (Jesuit) spirituality, social justice, community, and simple living.
Hometown: Milford, Conn.
High school: Sacred Heart Academy
“Service is a very humbling opportunity, but more than that, it allows you to connect with people on a deeper level,” Walsh said. “Service is one of the greatest acts of love.”
Walsh is looking forward to the spiritual component of the program: weekly spirituality nights, weekly mass, and four retreats during the year. She’s also eager to meet the other students with whom she’ll be residing. “Living in the Co-op last semester really restored my desire to be in community,” she said. “If you want to build community in society or in different pockets you are a part of, it definitely starts in the home. When you can practice those acts of self-care and care for others on a daily basis, you’re more readily able to do so in your daily life.”
While Huiskamp does not consider himself to be very religious, he’s looking forward to exploring spirituality over the course of the year. “I’ve had the good fortune of living in the Co-op, so I feel like a lot of those things will transfer,” he said. “Because it’s a faith-based organization, the community will be somewhat different and more unified just in purpose, as it is a service-based group. I think I’m well-prepared for it, and I’m very excited to see how that dynamic is.”
Having never worked in housing repair, Huiskamp asked the agency what training would look like; they encouraged him that he would be able to pick up the skills within a few days. “I had an interview with the director of the agency, and I really liked his approach and his involvement in the organization,” he said. “It was just a really good fit right off the bat. They really hyped up the kind of personal experiences you have with the homeowners you are helping, as well as the people in the organization. … Those brief personal connections [with homeowners] end up being very deep.”
Neither student is sure what their paths will look like after this year of service, though Huiskamp envisions an academic future, perhaps attending graduate school for French or political science, while Walsh is considering nonprofit work, teaching, or museum education.
Walsh, who completed her Hamilton degree requirements in the fall of 2020, is currently back in her hometown of Milford, Conn. Having formerly worked for City Hall, she is now serving as a community development block grant assistant and substitute teaching at her local middle school.
“I was grateful for my time at Hamilton because community was one of the biggest things that drew me there,” Walsh said. “But I am definitely glad to be taking these next few steps and discerning what my future path may be.”