My beginnings with the Johnson internship were marked by a whirlwind application process. I applied for the program almost exactly 18 years ago, just before the beginning of Holy Week 2001, and right at the end of the application period. I ended up writing the application on Palm Sunday. On Monday, I got an email asking me if I could interview on Tuesday. After that interview, they offered me a slot in the program, and asked me to give them a decision by that Friday. So from my first email inquiry to deciding to leave my job and move to NC was almost exactly a week. It really did feel like I was being guided (none too subtly) toward the program. Even with all that leading, I questioned my decision — I was leaving my first job after college, as a Rehabilitation Engineer at an assistive technology center, doing work that I loved. I was also beginning the process of discerning whether I had a call to ordained ministry.
The Johnson Intern Program, now Johnson Service Corps, has gone through many changes besides the name. And while I would love to have the chance to go through the program as it is now, with its Servant Leadership focus and more established structure, I can trace much of the trajectory my life has taken in the past 18 years back to my 2001-2002 service year. I met my wife Becky less than a month after I moved to NC (we married four years to the day later).
Soon after joining the program, I discovered that United Church of Chapel Hill hosted a monthly Taize Evening Prayer service, which I was particularly interested in, having spent 10 days at the Taize monastery the summer after I graduated from college. Shortly after the internship year ended, I was asked to take over the coordination for the service and have been doing that since then (the service is now the second Sunday evenings at 7 p.m. during the academic year).
I also decided, with the help of spiritual direction received through the program, that I was called to work that would let me directly help people but I was not called to ordained ministry. Thanks to one of my coworkers at Freedom House, I found a position working at a nonprofit in Chapel Hill providing community support to people with developmental disabilities. I loved my time working there, helping my clients to become more independent, but after four years, realized that I missed the technology component of the work I had done in Tennessee. That led me back to working with Assistive Technology, this time specifically for people with visual impairments, which led me in the past few years to the master’s program that I just completed at the end of 2018.
My degree is in Orientation and Mobility – a field that I didn’t know existed when I came to NC but which I discovered because of my assistive technology work here. An Orientation and Mobility Specialist teaches people who are visually impaired the skills that they need to get around independently and to establish new habits to foster independence. As I look back on the past 18 years, I realize that the goal of my work as an O&M specialist is fundamentally similar to almost all of the work I have done since I came to the Johnson internship.