2010 UP graduate Rachel Jones is currently working in New York City with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Jones recently gave a phone interview with Pat Ell, assistant director for the Moreau Center for Service and Leadership, for The Beacon.
Q: Rachel, can you tell us a little about your job assignment as a Jesuit Volunteer?
A: I work with the New York City AIDS Housing Network. Basically, we're a group of organizers, working with people who have HIV/AIDS or are directly affected by that. A lot of our people are pretty poor; some are recently paroled, some are former drug users, and some have just been really unlucky.
We get groups of people together to talk about issues they face. We help people isolate an issue, figure out some actions that could improve that – maybe that's changing a law or policy – and then work on doing that.
Q: Please tell us a little about your living situation. You live in an intentional community, right?
A: Honestly, living in community has been really difficult at times. It's a pretty stressful situation. We are in this giant city, there are five of us living together in a house, and we each have a $100 stipend for personal expenses in one of the world's most expensive places. You know, friends call us up and ask us to go do things that we just can't afford sometimes.
Also, when we first moved in, we thought we had bed bugs! Bed bugs have been all over the news, and we were getting some bites, so of course we thought it was bed bugs. Actually, they aren't bed bugs, but we are still getting some kinds of bites. We live in this really cool, old brownstone in Brooklyn, and that's great, but the house is definitely old.
So, new city, new job, a bunch of new people all together in one old house – that brings some stress. And it also turned out that my roommate snores, and I am a light sleeper, so I slept on the couch for a while. All that said, I really like my roommates. There are some amazing people here, and even with all of the stressful things and tough moments, there have been some great moments, too.
Q: How has spirituality played a part in your experience so far?
A: You know, I'm working on that. That's part of why we're doing this. Faith has helped to really consciously look at my work and what I'm doing here. It helps to step out of the rat race and look at what I really value and see if I could live those things honestly. It gives me hope, it's a challenge, and I hope I can grow in my faith here.
Q: Do you have any good stories from the year?
A: Well, I got arrested! We had been working really hard on a campaign to get better housing support for people with HIV and AIDS. People pay a lot of their money towards housing, and the apartments are generally really bad. People with Section 8 housing support, for example, have their rent capped at 30 percent of their income, so they have a little bit of money for other living expenses. But we have some people who don't get subsidized housing, and their rent can be 80 percent of their income, or more, and they are left with almost nothing to live on in New York City.
We had passed a bill through the state senate and assembly, but then the governor vetoed it! And that was after pledging support. So a lot of people got together for a rally, and the governor wouldn't talk with us. Some of us decided that we engage in civil disobedience. We basically did a sit in, and one of my housemates and I were arrested.
We're still working on getting that law passed, trying to figure out good ways to move this through the political system, because it would really help a lot of people who are already suffering.
Q: Why did you decide to give a year of your life to service as a Jesuit Volunteer?
A: Studying theology at UP, I learned about amazing people like Mother Theresa and Dorothy Day and saints, people who have given their lives to their faith and done amazing things. I also went on the Urban Plunge and the Border Plunge, which were great opportunities to open up awareness and serve in a small way. I wanted to do more of that, and set a course for my life.