When Katie Ring ’10 was a youngster, she assumed everyone became involved with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) after college graduation. After all, her mom and four of her aunts and uncles served as Jesuit Volunteers, and she always listened with keen interest to their stories about the experience.
Even when Ring later discovered such service wasn’t the norm, she couldn’t shake the strong desire to serve people on the margins.
“In a paradoxical way I drew a lot of strength from the girls, and the strong relationships that I had with them really sustained me.”
Ring recently concluded a year working as a Jesuit Volunteer at Seton Home in San Antonio, Texas, a residential facility that provides housing and supportive services for homeless teen girls ages 12-17 who have been placed by Child Protective Services and are also pregnant and/or parenting.
As victims of abuse and neglect, most of Seton Home’s teen moms suffer from chronic trauma related to poverty, violence, abuse and neglect with symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and maladaptive coping skills.
Seton Home works to break the cycle of abuse and poverty by providing a caring home, education, and support services necessary to transform the lives of pregnant and parenting teen mothers and their children.
It was while she was attending Boston College that Ring grew to appreciate the Jesuit mission, which centers on being a man or woman for and with others. Upon graduating from college, she was eager to embrace one of the four Jesuit leadership pillars – simple living – having been immersed largely in the middle class for much of her life. That led her to the JVC and Seton Home.
Putting Her Faith into Action
Being a Jesuit Volunteer was a transformative experience for Ring – one that allowed her to put her strong faith into action.
Ring says that while the seeds of her spiritual foundation were planted by her family, it was cultivated at O’Dowd.
“I believe that a lack of attachment is at the root of so many mental health issues and societal ills.”
“I really claimed my faith in high school, in large part because of the great support I got from the religion department faculty and staff, and today my faith is at the core of everything I do,” she said. “I feel so loved by God, and it seems like the best way to thank God for that love is to share it. I think I feel especially called to love the unloved. Much of my work at Seton Home centered on helping the girls understand how precious they are, and helping them uncover their own worth and beauty.”
At Seton Home, Ring served as a youth minister within the spirituality department. She led bible study and youth groups, and took the girls to church on Sunday. In addition she tutored the girls, drove them to doctor’s appointments, and encouraged them in deepening their relationships with their children.
Eye Toward the Future
Because of her Seton Home experience, Ring’s appreciation of infancy and early childhood grew, as well as her understanding of the long-lasting impact of abuse and neglect on the developing brain. And, her career path was shaped by her service there.
Ring was accepted into to the prestigious Yale School of Nursing master’s program, which she was to begin in August. She plans to specialize in pediatric nursing, with a focus on maternal-infant attachments.
“I believe that a lack of attachment is at the root of so many mental health issues and societal ills. I think a key part of a child’s foundation for success is being well-loved and well-nourished in his or her early years,” she said.
Eventually Ring would like to work in an inner city clinic or rural setting, serving children in greatest need. Ring said she was humbled by the strength of the young women at Seton Home. “It was wonderful to see their strength, optimism and hope – despite some of life’s most trying circumstances,” she said. “And I was amazed by how much joy they have despite the tremendous trials they’ve overcome. And they’re still quick to laugh. That shows that at the root of human nature we’re all called to joy more than suffering.”
Work at Seton Home was challenging at times, Ring said, but prayer sustained her. “Whenever I was struggling or frustrated with one of the girls I said a prayer and asked God to help me see the girl the way that God sees her – as a beautifully precious child.” she said. “In a paradoxical way I drew a lot of strength from the girls, and the strong relationships that I had with them really sustained me.”
Still, she admitted it was very hard to witness how the cycle of abuse often repeats. “It’s hard to both love the mom so deeply and to understand that she is trying her best at any given moment,” Ring said. “Sometimes because of a mom’s past or her mental health issues it’s hard for her to be her best self. There’s a sense of helplessness associated with that – despite all of our efforts to help any given mom, sometimes she falls back on what she knows. And what she knows is trauma and abuse.”
Ring’s JVC experience made her more fully appreciate her own family circumstances. “I hadn’t realized how important it was to have a foundation of a security and stability that my parents created for me,” Ring said. For that reason, Ring worked tirelessly to ensure that the teen girls at Seton Home feel both secure and loved.