by Jess Pandolfino
When asked how Episcopal Service Corps Maryland shaped my life, I simply say it changed my world forever.
This isn’t an exaggeration. When I signed up for ESC, I was a 25-year-old with a bachelor’s degree and a job I disliked. I knew I had gifts to offer for anyone willing to take a chance on me, but since the job market looked grim, I decided to explore service opportunities instead. I happened upon the Episcopal Service Corps and thought “how perfect is this? A chance to serve while growing in my faith.” At the time I didn’t understand what was meant by “living in intentional community” but I was open to trying anything new.
I chose Baltimore as my ESC site because it was just close enough to home. On August 17, 2013, I packed my belongings and moved to the City to live with seven complete strangers from seven completely different backgrounds. The adjustment wasn’t always easy, but we navigated these new waters together, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I wasn’t alone. I had a community around me who cared about my well-being. Over our year together, I broke bread almost every night with these seven other people. We prayed together, cried together, celebrated special occasions, and rejoiced together. The friendships I built through this program have stuck with me long after its end.
Living in Baltimore opened our eyes to the daily struggles of poverty and racial tension around us. I had no idea how many people in our city lack access to basic needs: fresh food, literacy programs, a safe shelter, and a network of emotional and social support. I always knew that I grew up in a privileged world, but I had no idea just how privileged I was until we took an anti-racism training together as a group.
I still vividly remember the training exercise where, hand-in-hand, we lined up and everyone stepped forward each time our instructor listed off an aspect of privilege that personally benefitted us: middle class, parents went to college, could participate in clubs, easy access to public libraries, and more.
As most of us moved forward together, two of our Gileads, both persons of color, were left behind. Seeing two members of my community, my friends, left behind because of the color of their skin left me speechless. It’s stuck with me ever since. At that time there was a mere spark within me but seeing this ignited a fire; I knew I had been given a chance to burst out of my comfort zone, my world of privilege, and learn more. Within a year’s time I became a passionate advocate for Baltimore.
Thanks to Episcopal Service Corps, I’ve become best friends with my fellow Gileads, including those who served before and after me. And I’ve connected with other Episcopal Service Corps Gileads across the country. My experiences showed me the true depth of intentional community.
Upon the completion of my ESC year I was given a chance at what has become my dream job. I harnessed gifts I didn’t know I had. I get to talk about and share what it means to be in a community of love every day. I have proudly called Baltimore home for the past six years, and while our city still struggles every day, I am proud to be called to live here and to help change our narrative.
This would not have been possible without the Episcopal Service Corps. I am forever thankful and forever changed.