After they graduate on Saturday, Marissa Bucklew and Emily Newsom will get ready to head west for assignments with the National Benevolent Association XPLOR program. It’s a 10-month program, associated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). XPLOR is aimed at 21- to 30-year-olds, called “Residents,” who are “looking to explore lives of care and service — giving them the opportunity to unleash their own potential.”
Bucklew will be stationed in St. Louis, Missouri, and Newsom in Spokane, Washington. In their respective cities they’ll live simply with two or three other XPLOR Residents. Housing and utilities are included, along with a monthly stipend. “[We’re] supposed to experience poverty, to better empathize” and “understand the simple things in life,” Bucklew, a human resource management major from Lynchburg, Virginia, said. “It allows you to focus on things that matter more, other than the entertainments.”
Service is nothing new for Bucklew and Newsom, who were both involved in the service-focused Bonner Leader Program at Lynchburg. The program connects students who are interested in community service, leadership, and social justice with opportunities to serve others.
Each Bonner Leader spends 300 hours each year working at local organizations that address issues such as poverty, environmental sustainability, and food security. The College provides work-study financial aid, allowing students with financial needs to focus on service rather than jobs. Lynchburg recently expanded its program from two to four years.
This won’t be the first time Bucklew has traveled to another part of the U.S. to serve. Last summer, she worked with the Atlanta Community Food Bank. The internship gave her the opportunity to put a face to poverty.
“Only by experience can I truly learn about the obstacles homelessness and poverty leave in a person’s life,” she said, following the internship. “With this opportunity, I’ve gained the insight that will teach me to step into another perspective before passing judgment.”
Through Bonner, Bucklew also has become passionate about the issue of mass incarceration. With XPLOR, she’ll be working with a prison arts program. Using music, ceramics, and woodworking, she hopes to introduce inmates to “skills they could maintain.” She said her career interests don’t lie in policy making but in “direct work with the people.”
Newsom, a business administration major from Virginia Beach, Virginia, will be working in Spokane with a nonprofit that deals with fair housing issues. While she doesn’t know exactly which organization she’ll be working with yet, she imagines she’ll be doing data entry and compliance work, and possibly working with Housing and Urban Development. “I do like office work,” she said. “I would also love to work with people.”
Both Newsom and Bucklew also will be figuring out next steps.
One of the tenets of XPLOR is “Spiritual Discernments on Vocation.” While Residents are assigned to jobs that reflect their interests, they also meet regularly with a spiritual mentor. “I don’t know what I want to do,” Newsom admitted, adding that she doesn’t see herself in a 9-to-5 job in the for-profit world. “I want to do service, living with people, on a budget, in a new city. I’m ready for that next adventure, but not ready for the next step.”
She added, perhaps jokingly, that she needed to figure out “how you turn Bonner into a job.”