by Maria Williams
Hello. My name is Maria Williams and I kind of view myself as the atypical member of this year’s group. First of all, I am the oldest; I just turned 27 in January. Thus, my wonderful housemates always like to joke about how old I am. I also grew up as a military brat, so I have lived in many places. I was born in Berlin, Germany; in the U.S., I have also lived in California, Hawaii, Texas, Arizona, and North Carolina. I started high school in N.C., but finished in MD at Meade. Also, unlike my housemates, I have also been out of school longer and worked in other fields. I went to Towson University, where I got a Bachelor’s in Psychology and Sociology in 2008. After college, I worked for AACPS as a substitute teacher. I worked there for 2 years. At the same time, I also attended graduate school. I got my Master’s in Counseling Psychology from Loyola University in 2011. Then I joined the military; everyone in my family has been or is in the Army. I was commissioned as an officer in the Army Reserves in 2012. This means that I have drill one weekend a month and 2 weeks in the summer. Because I did not have a full-time job, I started job searching. Like many recent college grads, I did not have enough experience working in my field so I ended up working for a health insurance company until March 2013.
A few months after that, I sent in my application for PSERVE. I want to mention a little about how I got involved in PSERVE. I have 2 younger brothers, one of whom was in the PSERVE program last year. When Brandon applied to the program, I edited his application essay. That was the first time I heard of it. Shortly after that, he moved to Baltimore and started working at Our Daily Bread Employment Center. At some point, I went to visit him at the house and I learned a little bit more about how PSERVE worked. I got a tour of the house and was introduced to his housemates. He explained that they were all involved with PSERVE, so they all lived together. They all worked at different programs. I did not quite get how the program worked. In May 2013, I was job searching again and having no success. Brandon, who had almost finished his year of service, suggested that I apply for PSERVE. He thought that it would be good for me, since it would give me something useful to do.
And he was right. In June, I was accepted into PSERVE, and have learned a lot. Since then, I have had many enriching experiences with the program. First, the residential (i.e. community living) aspect has been fascinating. I am quite used to being independent and doing things on my own. I had to get used to working with other people to build a community. I am still working on it, which is hard sometimes. Due to my military responsibilities, I do not always have a lot of free time to spend with my housemates. Even when I am not at drill, I still have a lot of online training to complete. I spend more time in my room on my computer after work than I do downstairs hanging out in the living room yet, I have enjoyed getting to know my housemates. We are all very open with and respectful of each other. We have community nights once a week. As I am Catholic, I wanted to go to Mass for Ash Wednesday. All of the housemates agreed to attend with me, so it turned into a community night. We also eat dinner together a lot, which I love. In the past several months, I have been exposed to more types of food than I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s all been vegetarian (since the majority of us are vegetarians), and very healthy. For instance, last week Arthur made Haluski, and I have gotten the opportunity to cook different recipes. This week I made Turkish Bulgur.
The volunteer aspect of PSERVE has also been great. Like Arthur, I also work at Villa Maria. We have the same position, so I am not going to spend too much time repeating what he said in his earlier blog. I am particularly interested in working with children with trauma/abuse histories. I am glad that I got this position and have enjoyed it so far. Earlier this year, I got to go to the MANSEF conference with the other teachers. In the Pre-Vocational Center, I have been learning along with the students I am teaching. In nutrition, the lessons have focused on multicultural recipes so I have gotten to learn about a lot of different foods. For instance, the children made Liberian Ginger Ale last month. In woodshop, I learned how to make a wooden car. I have also gotten to help a lot with STAR, which is a residential activities program. I enjoy that, since I get to see the kids outside of school. I usually help with the sports group, which is fun, since I get to play with the kids. Recently, I also went to their Talent Show, which was very interesting.
I have also gotten to volunteer with other Catholic Charities programs. For instance, I have volunteered with Our Daily Bread (ODB) a few times. Due to the weather this winter, St. Vincent’s Villa has had a lot of snow days. Since we did not have to go to work, Arthur and I have helped Matt out occasionally by volunteering. In fact, a couple times the entire PSERVE group has volunteered at ODB because of the snow. I have also been to events for the Ezperanza Center a few times to help out Eric. I went to Sarah’s House once to help Marta’s program. I volunteered at the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center (WHRC) a few times, before Brandon left for military duty. Brandon needed some extra help at work, so I did him a favor and helped him a of couple times. I can’t believe that we are already halfway through our service year. The time seems to have gone by so fast.