My “year off”

Letter to the Editor

By Joe Kolar and Mike Hebbeler

In preparation for last night’s Postgraduate Service Fair, the Center for Social Concerns interviewed Joe Kolar, current AR in Duncan and former Lasallian volunteer. Among other things, Joe was asked why he took a year off. This is what he said:

If by a “year off” you mean confronting structural injustice while living and serving with people who taught me more about myself than I could ever teach them, then yes, I took a “year off” from the “real world” of academic and corporate success and discovered just how unreal my own world had been.

A year of service as an inner-city teacher taught me just how much I had yet to learn about what the “real world” really is. I was worried I’d fall behind, but actually, I fell ahead. Thousands of job seekers and grad school applicants have great grades and extraordinary involvement in clubs, but how many can say they spent a year in a foreign country ministering to children with AIDS? Or walking the streets of Detroit to assist street women with health care? Or living in a homeless shelter in Phoenix providing meals day in and day out to the hungry? Experiences like that set a person apart, not behind.

If you’re ready and pumped for the corporate world or grad school, go for it. But if the smallest of voices inside says, hey man, now is the time to live and explore and put your hands to work addressing these urgent issues crippling the least of my sisters and brothers, then consider delaying your start date. Corporate firms and graduate schools have granted delayed starts and deferments to past graduates. If the company or school is not receptive to your desire to do service, well, that should tell you something about their values.

And yes, living in community was uncomfortable. It was uncomfortable because I was challenged to confront those personality traits in myself that build walls instead of bridges; uncomfortable because for the first time I was invited to commit to a mission greater than myself and to share the struggles and joys of that mission with others; uncomfortable because in a community I came to see how Christ works through the hands and feet of all people, not just my own.


Joe Kolar, Graduate Student, Lasallian Volunteer 07-09, Sept. 28

Mike Hebbeler, Center for Social Concerns, Jesuit Volunteer Corps 03-04, Sept. 28

Published: The Observer, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011

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