Across from Emmjolee Mendoza-Waters’s desk hang three pictures depicting the life of people who live on the streets. The artwork, from the National Coalition for the Homeless, serves as daily inspiration for Mendoza-Waters.
These images depict “the reality that there are people who are living who do not have the tangible things that I have but they have a love for the faith, they have a love that’s deeper that I don’t know,” she explains. “It helps me recognize my own poverty. I find that connection to the poor, that solidarity.”
Mendoza-Waters uses that inspiration every day in her work as associate director of campus ministry and community service in Catholic University’s Office of Campus Ministry. Through weekly service events — like homeless food runs — as well as yearly events like domestic and foreign mission trips, she helps students develop their own faith.
“I focus on engaging our students with the poor and then reflecting on those experiences,” she says.
“I love getting to walk the journey with our students and helping them grow into their own person.”
Mendoza-Waters’s path has been shaped by her own experiences at Catholic University as a student. She came to D.C. from Southern California, hoping to make a difference in the world through politics. But D.C. exposed her to a world with which she wasn’t familiar.
“Being in the city helped me fall in love with the poor,” she explains. “Where I lived In Southern California was a place of privilege. I did not encounter the poor in the same way as I do in D.C. Here in D.C. you live among the poor. It was really formative.”
After graduating in 2001, she signed up with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps for two years of service in Belize. She was a librarian and teacher at a primary school in Punta Gorda.
“When I think of my two years, which are still forming me and changing me every day, I realize it taught me how to love. What does it mean to receive love and to give love? I was thinking I could make a difference and help make change. Those two years were really about how it was reciprocal and how I was able to receive love and be received into a community. I think that kind of set the tone for the way I look at service. It’s about a relationship of love.”
She returned to Catholic University two years later to work in Campus Ministry. Today she finds herself guiding students along a journey similar to her own.
“I love getting to walk the journey with our students and helping them grow into their own person. By being a part of their lives and sharing my own story, I hope to help them experience Christ through the poor. That’s one of my favorite parts of this job.”