Editor’s note: DC Service Corps member PJ Herrera shares his background and motivation for becoming a volunteer at SOME, a nonprofit serving people who have experienced homelessness.
Last week I sat down with PJ Herrera, a DC Service Corps member serving at So Others Might Eat (SOME), an interfaith organization serving people who have experienced homelessness in the District of Columbia. We talked about his faith journey, sense of humor, and his hopes for the coming year with FMS.
PJ grew up in the southern California city of Thousand Oaks and then moved to the East Coast to attend Boston University. He had originally planned to attend a Catholic school but reflects that attending a secular university helped his spiritual growth because he had to seek out opportunities to exercise his faith. He sought out the Catholic center at his university and learned from his roommate, Ben, who had a vibrant faith life.
As part of his Master’s program in public health, PJ traveled to a rural village in Tanzania, where he helped conduct a needs assessment about water, sanitation, and hygiene. For his program he also wrote a culminating experience paper on the relationship between infrastructure development and health outcomes—specifically poor road conditions that make accessing care more difficult in Tanzania.
PJ’s interest in supporting others’ well-being can be seen in the five summers he spent as a camp counselor at Wildwood Camp, a 9-10 week program for kids ages 6-12 in California. Last summer, he served as a director, an experience he says taught him about managing people.
While his time at the camp involved serious responsibilities, it also included plenty of games—one of PJ’s preferred pastimes. A favorite was “World Cup,” which involved five teams playing on a soccer field with five goals. He and the other counselors played elaborate pranks on the children, one of which involved a large fake spider that supposedly dragged one of the counselors into a shed.
PJ laughed as he recalled the most complicated trick, which was accomplished by borrowing letterhead from a local pharmaceutical company and casually leaving around “evidence” that there were monsters in the area as a result of medical experimentation. One of the adults donned a horse mask and was chased by the kids when they were out on a hike.
Joining DC Service Corps was PJ’s way to strike a middle ground between acquiring more experience in the health field and living out his faith in an intentional way. He is currently discerning several possibilities for his future, including the priesthood, but says that his prayers are currently open to all possibilities.
Right now, PJ is enjoying cultivating new relationships with the other DC Service Corps members and the Class 33 missioners during Formation. He is inspired by the opportunity to use his public health background at SOME, where he is currently preparing for a health fair in October. In the coming months, he looks forward to helping develop a health and wellness curriculum for the organization’s residents in single adult housing. PJ also likes to cook in his spare time and has a soft spot for flowers and gardening–and tackle football.
PJ has many gifts to bring to his work at SOME and the community at Casa San Salvador. We’re looking forward to seeing what grows out of his devotion to service and faith in the coming year.