Initial Intern Reflection: Conor James on Starting Work as a Volunteer Caseworker at Samaritan

September 6, 2023 — My name is Conor James, and I am just beginning a year with Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington as a casework intern, cross-training between our Anacostia, Southeast DC and Arlington, Virginia locations. 

After growing up in New York State, I went to Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, in pursuit of a liberal arts education that would expose me to a variety of worldviews and ideas and majored in Classics. The year ahead of me will be an entirely new level of exposure to unfamiliar points of view through one-on-one interactions with the participants who walk through our doors in search of someone to take the time to collaborate with them as they accomplish their next goals.

I was put in touch with Samaritan through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, an organization that seeks to put faith into action by placing young volunteers with social justice organizations all around the United States.

I have been aware of JVC since I was 11 years old, when my eldest sister joined the program. Like many younger siblings, I immediately decided I would follow her lead. This desire was reinforced by my second-oldest sister’s enrollment in JVC and a decade of hearing about both of their experiences.

Although I have been committed to this year of service for more than 10 years now, it was not until I was significantly older that I came to recognize the importance of spending time serving others and working with marginalized communities experiencing difficulties that I have never had to encounter. I am now taking the year post-graduation to pursue this unique opportunity to commit myself to the mission of SMGW while living in community with six fellow JVC volunteers in a house in DC.

The three weeks since I first arrived in DC have been full of site visits, training, and program meetings, meaning that I have not begun extensive casework with participants. Still, these glimpses behind the scenes of SMGW have revealed to me the sentiments that drive the staff here and the care with which they approach their highly impactful work.

SMGW’s aim is to accompany our neighbors and be a resource as they face the challenges that have been so unfairly placed before them. What has struck me since I arrived here is the aversion to simply patching up problems. There is, of course, a significant benefit in providing direct services and lending a hand to someone who has stumbled upon hard times, but the staff here at SMGW are driven by the desire for participants to find the strength and ability within themselves to move forward and progress through life. 

I find the SMGW mission to be so powerful because the progress comes with a sense of permanent change. Their work helps people to realize that there is always a next step that can be taken in any situation, and that they have the ability to do so, even if it requires looking to someone else and asking “how?”

Acting as a casework intern for the next year, my goal is to contribute to this work of empowering our participants as much as I can. I will be learning everyday — both so that I may know as much as I can when someone asks me how to overcome their obstacles, and because every interaction is an opportunity to learn about a life full of experiences that I have never had. Going forward, I’ll be learning from participants and advisors alike, and using every exchange to prepare me for the next. 

Being an intern here means that my role may sometimes be smaller than those of the incredible staff around me, but I know that any work I do can have a significant impact. We work very closely with the people that approach us and we do so over a long period of time.

Therefore, even the smallest interactions will be remembered when participants walk out our front doors on a mission to accomplish their next goal. It is my hope that the participants I work with will remember me when a new goal comes to mind, and that the help I give them while I’m here will assist them accomplishing their new ambitions.