My name is Janet Mostrom, and I am a year-long volunteer at Grateful Bread Food Pantry located in Rockcastle County. My year began in August, which means I have been here four and a half months, approximately (although unlike Anna I haven’t counted the exact number of days!)
What change has four and a half months of being a CAP Volunteer brought to my life? For starters, I have learned a lot about living in community. One statement that I heard frequently from former volunteers, first in my interview and again during orientation week, was the following: “Living in community will be both the best and the most challenging part of your experience at CAP.” And it’s true. You don’t get to choose who you live with, which seems like a dangerous situation in some ways. You could end up living, day in, day out, with someone you can find annoying, someone who at times makes no sense to you, someone you never would have chosen to live with. When I arrived in August, I was nervous to meet the other volunteers of Rockcastle House. But then, one day, a few weeks after my arrival, everyone was hanging around after dinner and devo ( what we call our nightly devotion) doing whatever it is that they like to do after dinner and devo (vacuuming, hair braiding, football-watching, banjo playing, or simply sitting, exhausted, on the couch). I looked around and came to the realization that life is so much more beautiful when you don’t get to choose the people whom you live with. You are stretched to see the world from a whole set of other people’s eyes: people who are younger than you and people who are older than you, people who are adventurous and impulsive and people who are reserved and quiet, people of steadfast faith and people whose faith is shaky and evolving. This experience, this stretching of the mind to encompass others and what they might be thinking or feeling, is an experience that is worth a lot more than peace and quiet and predictability.
At the end of the volunteer orientation in September, we the members of Rockcastle House (affectionately shortened “R-House”) came together in a conference room at Camp AJ to write our covenant, which the formal written expression of the values we want our community to embody. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, precisely because we are all equals. We have no house president, no one person with special power over the rest of the group; there is no one person in our house who is always perfect and always right. What we ended up with, though, was a pretty good statement of our commitment to one another as a family. Because that’s what our house really feels like—a group of people who look out for each other just because, well, we belong to each other.
The holiday season brings a special flavor to the day-to-day life of a CAP Volunteer. There are, of course, mouths that still need to be fed, children that need to be taught, and homes that need repairing. But the Christmas Basket program also swings into gear, which has brought two awesome, spirited, short-term volunteers into the mix here at Rockcastle House. At the same time, a short-term volunteer has already left and two long-term volunteers are preparing to leave, meaning that even as we are coming together as a family this Christmas, our family is changing. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness when I bumped into one of the soon-to-be former Rockcastle House members in the kitchen tonight baking Christmas cookies. Still…I’m grateful for Rockcastle House in its past, present, and future forms, as we await the arrival of new volunteers in 2014. After all, Christmas is a time to think about the future, including how to welcome newcomers with open arms and how to stretch and change our community to accommodate them, and how to stay in touch with those community members who will no longer be physically present in our Appalachian home.
Janet Mostrom is a long-term CAP Volunteer serving as an AmeriCorps Food Pantry Caseworker at CAP's Grateful Bread Food Pantry. She is a member of Rockcastle Community and is a 2013 graduate of the University of Notre Dame.