Brooklyn Vetter had every intention of leaving the Midwest. Born and raised in South Dakota, she studied sociology and women’s studies at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and was itching for a change. Some travel? Maybe. A change of scenery? Definitely. That is, until, she found herself at a resource fair, intrigued by the St. Joseph Worker Program right here in Saint Paul. So much for a change of scenery. Instead, she experienced a surprisingly life-changing year.
Picture this: Nine women sitting around a wooden table, passing around steamed vegetables, Moroccan-spiced carrots and juicy chicken that’s been roasting all day in a crockpot. Between bites, they share stories about their day, they laugh, they tell funny stories. There’s one thing you won’t see: an iPhone. At least not on Monday nights.
These are the participants of the St. Joseph Worker Program, a year-long volunteer commitment available to women ages 21 to 30 who are interested in social justice and living within an intentional community. The program is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet. There are other St. Joseph Worker Programs in Philadelphia, Orange, California and New York.
Every Monday night, these women gather to participate in a centuries-old tradition called Sharing of the Heart. Director of the program, Sister Suzanne Herder, says this is a practice the Sisters of St. Joseph have been doing since 1650.
“Sisters had little access to formal education and spiritual advisors,” Herder says. “Instead, they would gather together and ask each other about their day, their experiences, what hardships they were going through.”
Besides developing their spirituality, the women are guided through three core values, among others:
Each woman is assigned a job with a partnering nonprofit, where she works doing various tasks approximately 36 hours a week. Instead of a paycheck, the women receive the benefits of the program, which include living costs, transportation and a monthly stipend.
Live in intentional communities
Women are separated into two houses in Minneapolis and one in Bloomington; they are encouraged to bike or use public transportation.
Pursue social justice
Participants are encouraged to pick one area of interest and get involved in some way—whether it’s sharing and spreading information, supporting specific bills in relation to their interest or volunteering for a certain cause.
Vetter felt a bit overwhelmed by her assignment. She’d be working at a non-profit repair shop and knew nothing about cars. But she did know compassion. And empathy. And how to give a really good hug. Turns out, the rest she could learn on the job.
The Lift Garage helps move people out of poverty and homelessness by offering low-cost car repair and free honest advice.
“I have learned so much more about the world by working here,” Vetter says. After she finished her year-long commitment, she was offered a full-time job and gladly accepted. “When a car is not worth investing in, that can be really hard news for an individual or family to hear. They can’t get a loan to buy a new car because they don’t have a line of credit, let alone a way to even get to a car dealership. It’s been extremely eye-opening.”
During her year living in community, Vetter says she learned so much. But perhaps the biggest thing wasn’t what she learned, but rather how she’s changed.
“I desire more intentionality now,” she says. “I appreciate the people I’m with, the community in which I live and the work I get to do.”
Learn more about the St. Joseph Worker Program at stjosephworkers.org.