A Journey Into the Unexpected

A Journey Into the Unexpected

“Willingness to jump into all sorts of unexpected situations.” Though perhaps included as a catch-all in most job descriptions, as I look back at the description for my AV position at HELP of Ojai, it strikes me that this line captures an important theme – the unexpected – that has underscored my entire experience as an Augustinian Volunteer.

Coming into this program as a 22-year-old recent college graduate, I expected that I would spend most of my time with young adults going through similar life experiences. I never would have guessed, back in August, that one of my closest relationships would be with the 86-year-old man with whom I co-managed the HELP’s Thanksgiving food program. I first met Len when he dropped into the office one September afternoon to see how things were going on my end. What I had expected to be a courteous professional relationship evolved into a wonderful friendship. One day I was walking in downtown Ojai and waved to Len as he drove by in his truck, and he was waiting to say hello to me when I returned to HELP’s office. After a long morning on the day of the Thanksgiving meal deliveries, he gave me a hug and said, “You’ve done really good work. I’m proud of you.” And he and his wife graciously invited our community to spend Thanksgiving dinner with their family, since they knew our families were thousands of miles away.

The hospitality that Len and his wife demonstrated reflects another unexpected dimension of my AV experience: the generosity of heart and resources that the Ojai and Ventura communities have offered us. The head of school at Villanova Prep, where my community member, Claire, serves, sometimes makes extra food on Sunday nights for Claire to take home to us for dinner. One of the volunteers at HELP invited us to her home, where her daughter taught us how to ride horses and let us gawk over their goats, miniature horses, and chickens (a sight that is common in Ojai but new and exciting to us). The people at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish noticed our new presence at the beginning of the year, asked us our names and our stories, and welcomed us with open arms. All of these people have demonstrated hospitality and generosity that I never expected, but for which I am incredibly grateful.

Perhaps one of the greatest surprises this year has been how seemingly insignificant moments have offered the greatest opportunities for fellowship and bonding within our AV community. My favorite example of this is washing dishes. After eating dinner together and sharing laughter and stories from that day, the three of us make our way to the kitchen, where the magic begins. As I begin scrubbing dishes and Kat puts away leftovers, Claire turns on the speaker and gets the music started. Before long, what could be a dull, yet necessary, task becomes a joyful moment during which we bond, laugh, and belt out “No Air” by Jordin Sparks.

Jumping into the unexpected is challenging and sometimes frightening, but, in my experience, the unexpected rewards prove worth the risk.

Julia Shults

Ventura, CA 2018-2019

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