For many young people preparing to graduate this year, these last few months before the ceremony is an exciting time. It’s a time for making big decisions and taking major leaps of faith. Some will choose to pursue higher education while others begin new careers. However, there are others who are finding out that choosing a third option is a better choice for them.
Andrew Rivas, 19, is one of many young people choosing to take a gap year, a period of time when a student leaves school and spends up to a year serving his or her community through a variety of volunteer programs.
Rivas graduated from high school in 2017 and has been taking classes at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut. Moved by a deeply spiritual experience, he applied to National Evangelization Teams (NET) Ministries. The organization sends volunteers around the country to evangelize the Gospel at parish and school retreats. In August, he will be among 175 other young people traveling to Minnesota for training before embarking on their nine-month long assignments in September.
“I want to reach out to other people who don’t know God or have troubles right now in different areas of their life,” said Rivas, who also wants to use the skills and experience he gains to help others in his future career in law enforcement.
Priscilla Galvan, 26, looks back on her gap year experience as a time of growth. She served with NET Ministries in 2014 to 2015 and is currently working as an emergency medical technician in San Bernardino County. She is in her final year of graduate studies in Public Health at Benedictine University.
“I learned so much about diversity and the different people that live all over the country and the different backgrounds,” said Galvan. “It was a really eye-opening experience to share in that and be welcomed so openly in different places.”
While applying to NET Ministries at that time, she also applied to graduate school. So although it meant graduating a year behind her peers, she chose to spend that year ministering to youth and families.
“I felt a really big calling to do something for someone other than myself,” said Galvan. “I had a big decision to make so I took it to prayer and decided that grad school would still be there even if I spent another year.”
Rivas and Galvan have parents who expect them to complete school and have a career. Their decision to leave school for a period of time wasn’t their parents’ first choice but they grew to accept the path they chose.
“Once I got on, they were happy about it,” said Rivas. “My dad would rather have me stay in school but he still supports me.” He plans to apply for the police academy after completing his mission.
The decision to take a gap year comes at a cost and may not be the best fit for everyone. Most organizations require a fee to pay for travel costs. Most programs also offer little to no pay and require travel, so students would need to have a financial plan and be prepared to spend time away from their families during major holidays and birthdays. Taking a gap year could also lead to losing motivation to complete school.
Catholic Volunteer Network Outreach Coordinator Michael McCormick believes in the value of service for people of all ages, especially in young people with the support of their parents.
“Service can help you grow in spirituality and in work experience,” said McCormick. “So I would recommend to think outside of your own immediate desire to do that experience and think about involving the parents in the discussion of how this can make you a more well-rounded person and how it can make you stand out because service is kind of going against the grain and not doing what’s expected of you. It can make you an interesting person.”
NET Ministries is just one organization open to high school grads. McCormick recommends two other programs. Salesian Volunteers is one of them. It organizes mission trips around the world that last a weekend to up to a year. Another is DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) in Denver and offers yearlong opportunities to serve in five cities, including Los Angeles.
For Galvan, the experience has left a lasting impression.
“The compromise wasn’t as big as the reward. Sometimes I might feel like I’m a year behind but everyone takes their own path and I have this great experience that I don’t regret,” she said. “Coming off of NET, I was a lot more focused, a lot more determined to finish school. One of my fears is that I would like it so much that I would stay forever and decide not to go into the medical field and not accomplish the dream I had. But I think it set me up in a way that I was a lot more determined and it made me a little bit more human, more compassionate and realizing the importance of compassion. I think that’s a really great lesson that I’m going to take with me into my career as a clinician.”