By Jessica Normile
The question that most college seniors come to detest, "What are you going to do after graduation?" just won't go away. Many seniors have enough to think about with upcoming loan payments, passing spring semester classes, and the bleak truth that parting from one's close friends is imminent. The additional pressures to map out the next 10 years of their lives can cause many seniors to want put everything on hold and take off to Tahiti. But people, in their curiosity, forget this and the question continues to plague seniors unsure of their futures.
Taking a year to volunteer and help those in need without payment is not the most popular answer to this question. Most people, after hearing this reply, think, "You just paid thousands of dollars to get a private education and now you are choosing a path that doesn't even require a degree?"
But year after year a handful of Whitworth alumni are making precisely that choice. They've just spent four years hearing Whitworth's professors say "Follow your calling," and that's exactly what they have done.
Despite the fact that these Whitworth graduates have chosen to listen to their call of service, they still are overwhelmed by the experiences they will encounter: injustice, famine, inequality, poverty, culture shock, and disease. Fortunately, there is an organization that helps young people in this situation. The Krista Foundation, a non-profit organization created by former Whitworth English professor Linda Hunt, '78, and Whitworth History professor Jim Hunt, supports and encourages young people who are involved in sustained volunteer work.
Each year, the Krista Foundation chooses 18 Pacific Northwest young adults to be Krista Colleagues. Each chosen recipient plans to volunteer for at least nine months through various organizations in America's inner cities, developing nations or through environmental stewardship.
In addition to relational support, each Krista Colleague "receives $1,000 to advance his or her personal development as a leader," said Linda Hunt, director of the Krista Foundation.
The foundation was inspired by the life of Krista Ausland Hunt, Jim and Linda's daughter. She was killed in 1998 in a bus accident while serving with her husband in rural Bolivia with the Mennonite Central Committee. Her family and friends wanted to continue Krista's legacy of showing God's love in action by supporting and encouraging other like-minded young adults committed to a significant time of service.
Biology major Nathan Palpant, '01, was in the third group of Krista Colleagues. He served in Kenya, Sudan and Uganda during 2001-2002. He worked as a medical assistant in Kenya, assisted in ministry work in the schools in Uganda, and developed documentaries on disabilities used to educate people about medical care available to children in Sudan.
Palpant said, "The community of people in the Krista Foundation is so rich with wisdom and experience. It is honestly like nothing else I have known in my life."
Palpant and many others have been blessed by the Krista Foundation's support. "We want to help them before, during, and after their volunteer service," said Hunt. This is accomplished by hosting debriefing retreats for Krista Colleagues to connect with similar minded people who have all experienced serving.
That "before, during and after" support was especially valuable to Alicia Favreau, '01, who volunteered with the Peace Corps in Zambia but had to leave early due to dangerous political turmoil. She returned to the United States to work with AmeriCorps Vista in a non-traditional, private middle school in Boston that taught and served the students 12 hours a day.
"I can't imagine what it would have been of like coming back [to the United States] and not having that close mentor relationship that the Krista Foundation was for me," said Favreau.
International studies major Kirk Harris,'06, was also grateful for the Krista Foundation community.
Harris worked with the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s Young Adult Volunteer program for 11 months in Kenya following graduation. The program focused on promoting a responsible and faithful Christian witness by the African Church towards its Muslim neighbors.
While he emphasizes that, "Nothing can take the place of the Whitworth community," he added, "The network of people I've come into contact through the Krista Foundation are absolutely incredible. They inspire me and encourage me in my life choices in a way that no other group quite has."
As well as building a solid community for Krista Colleagues to share their experiences with one another, the Krista Foundation seeks to mentor young people struggling to find their vocation.
"Too often volunteers come home and it's like 'Oh I did service, now I live life.' And we're saying take those wonderful experiences and integrate them into whatever you want to do vocationally," said Hunt.
Jeff Grassley, '07, a history major, exemplifies a Krista Colleague who gained an enhanced perspective of his vocation while serving with Village Schools International in Tanzania after graduation.
"While I was in Africa I realized I loved being there but my heart was breaking for the kids in America. I realized my gifts and my passions are for American youth," he said.
A common struggle many Krista Colleagues have in addition to finding their calling is that upon returning home, their view of the world has changed.
Harris struggled making sense of his experience in Africa where he was confronted with the effects of civil war and widespread destruction.
"My time in West Africa sparked an internal dialogue about what it means to 'love my neighbor' in a violent world. I learned that, even though I'm not responsible for saving the world, I want to be faithful with the gifts I've been given so that my life can be an example of God's love," he said.
Palpant too learned a lesson that changed his outlook on life.
"I was deeply humbled; I became aware of my great need for the grace of God. I was brought to this picture of me, on my knees, before the cross of Christ. I learned that this was the posture I wanted to have in everything I do," he said.
For Grassley, a lesson he learned was the importance of listening to God's calling on your life instead of seeking an adventure.
"If you are going to serve. Don't just go to the place that is most in need. Find a place where you feel God is calling you to serve," he said.
The Krista Foundation's support and encouragement since 1999 has helped more than 130 young adults like Harris, Palpant, Grassley and Favreau transition back to the United States after their volunteer work.
Harris said, "Voluntary service is not something our society generally acknowledges as a smart use of your college degree." He added, "I'm so grateful for my participation in the Krista Foundation. As far as I know, it is absolutely unique in its approach. Not only does it help reward young adults for choosing to serve others, it offers encouragement and support for us in our journey."