The Virtues of VSC West

By GINO ALTAMURA ’13 – ’14

When I heard this three weeks into marriage, I got a little worried. So I asked my wife to explain. “Well, we’ve moved into this new lifestyle together. We started out with this big commissioning ceremony; we even took a “retreat.” Now we’re trying to build a home with someone new, and finding out there’s a lot we didn’t know about each other. And just like a volunteer year, it’s all fun in the beginning, but we both know it’s going to be hard work.”

Although we did different programs, my wife is right – my volunteer year prepared me so well for the rest of my life. Shared responsibilities, communal dinners, a sort of simplicity to each day. Best of all there’s a sharing when we arrive home – a sharing of the heart, so we can process and find strength for the work we’re called to do. I doubt I’m alone in saying my time in VSC West prepared me well for my chosen vocation – but not in the way I thought.

It’s been five years since I started my time with VSC West and I’ve been reflecting lately on that year: favorite moments, challenges, and lessons. I’ve been blessed to stay connected, as a community support person and now a new board member. So in honor of this milestone, I wanted to share five virtues I learned from VSC that remain with me today:

Joy When I think of VSC West, I see myself sitting atop the Pink Palace, reading and watching the sunset. Life isn’t easy as a volunteer. And yet there were little moments of joy, like this one, if we only looked.

Presence Since middle school I spent my life looking forward, wondering what would come next. I sacrificed the present at the expense of planning the future. But when I put the planning on hold to engage in a year of service, I finally found myself content in what I had and where I was.

Indifference This principle is essential in community life – giving up control. I really struggled not living on my schedule but on the community’s schedule. Yet once I accepted that no person’s time is more valuable than the community, I found a great freedom: I could say “yes” to more opportunities and be present to more activities because I wasn’t worried about the next thing on my schedule or things I could be doing instead.

Simplicity It’s not just a pillar – and it’s certainly more than buying the store brand. We take on less so we can do the more. Before VSC West I “committed” to dozens of things – but devoted myself to almost none of them. As a volunteer, I could only focus on one thing at a time and it felt amazing! I’m still learning this lesson: saying “no” in order to more fully say “yes.”

Discernment Treating this year as a retreat, I found not the answers to all my life’s questions, but paths along which to ask them. The “real world” leaves little time for discernment; I’m grateful VSC West gave me a chance to do so. VSC West helped me develop my vocation. Without the lessons I learned from Kansas, Angela, Taylor, Hope and Tyler (not to mention the faculty and staff of De Marillac Academy) I wouldn’t be the educator and husband I am now. So I thank them for their work, and I hope we can all take time to acknowledge the good VSC West has brought to our life.

Whether it’s a donation of time, testimony or treasure, VSC West needs us to pay it forward in some small way. Perhaps start with a simple act of loving service. Who can you love today?

eva Smythe