Friends in Unfamiliar Places

As a case worker at Heading Home’s emergency men’s shelter, the Albuquerque Opportunity Center (also known as the AOC), I work with those that society describes as “scary” characters. Outwardly these are the individuals who we are taught to avoid when walking down the street, labeled as—disheveled, tattooed, pierced in appearance—sex offenders, substance users, and felons. However, during my time at the AOC, my perspective has been transformed to see these individuals for who they truly are—beloved children of God.

The first day taking the bus in Albuquerque, we sat across from a man who was speaking loudly to his seat mate about how he had just been released from prison that very day. He was a large individual, burly and with tattooed tear drops falling from each eye, as well as tattoos scrawling from his knuckles up both arms. He spoke in amazement about how much the world had changed since he entered prison 20 years ago—how Walkman cassette players and brick-sized cell phones had been exchanged for iPods and iPhones. We exited the bus at our stop and turned to one another to express our fascination and fear of this man—“What had he done?  How crazy! We had been right there across from this ‘dangerous’ individual!”

My first night working in the shelter I immediately spotted the same man in the dorm. While helping with storage call he came to take some medication and get food out of the community refrigerator. He reached into the freezer and took out a box of Otter Pops—those tubes of frozen, fruit flavored deliciousness—when he unexpectedly turned and offered me one. I was surprised and unsure what to do—thoughts began racing through my head: “Was I allowed to accept food from residents? Would it be inappropriate if I did? Would it be rude if I didn’t?”

I ended up somehow producing a hesitant, “sure…” to which he replied, “What color?”

I chose pink and blue (the two best colors, in my opinion) and over our Otter pops we began to chat. I learned his name and a little bit about him. I told him that my childhood nickname had been Otter Pop because Otter sounds like the beginning of Audrey. He thought this was quite comical and still to this day calls me “Otter Pop”. It was in this moment of sharing food together, a special kind of communion that this “scary” stranger transformed into a friend. This is something that I have experienced time and time again working with similar individuals experiencing homelessness—that each are simultaneously plagued with sin and yet fully children of God—just like all of us.

Day in the Life of an ABQ YAV

The chimes of my alarms awake me at 6:30 AM, but I don’t rise until 7:00 AM when Bethany pops her head in my room to make sure I’m awake. I throw on gym clothes and then head downstairs to grab a cup of coffee before we head to the gym. Working out has been one of our favorite ways of self care as Bethany and I have been training for a 5K and hope to run a half-marathon before our time in Albuquerque comes to a close. The kitchen is one of my favorite places as it is our morning meeting place before the five of us scatter our separate ways. It is a place of sanctuary and time to connect and offer support before facing some of the tough realities of the world. Our community has become more like a family through sharing of food, emotional support, and friendship. In the early morning, we also cross paths with the other volunteers who live in our building, Teacher’s Hall, on Menaul school’s campus. Volunteers in Mission (VIMs) are retirees who have committed to serving at different organizations for a period of six months. There are six VIMs living in Teacher’s Hall, and their presence has provided a great opportunity to create a multi-generation community in addition to our YAV community. After the gym, I drop Bethany off at work and then head home before I myself need to go to work.

While three of the YAVs work a typical 9 to 5 schedule, Claire and I both work afternoon and evenings. During my free time in the morning before work I have been trying to study to re-take Medical College Admissions Test or do chores such as laundry, cleaning, or grocery shopping. Claire and I will eat lunch together around noon in the great room of Teacher’s Hall before heading our separate ways to work.

I had been biking to work since my work site is less than a block away but with the cold weather, busy road and darkness of night when I leave, I find it safer to drive. To get onto the Albuquerque Opportunity Center (AOC) campus I punch in the familiar gate code, grab my walkie-talkie to communicate with other staff throughout the evening, and head to my office in one of the back buildings. The first thing I do is check the bed reservation report—a list of who is staying in each of the 103 beds at the shelter, how long they have been there, when they are due to exit, and any urgent notices taken by other staff members regarding each resident. I go through the list and highlight my clients, making a list of who needs to be seen and topics for discussion. I often find new residents I need to meet with or mysterious disappearances of clients I thought I had just begun making progress with. Each week I make a schedule of appointments so that I can meet with each of my clients at least once per week. Each day I make appointment reminder notes for those who are scheduled and place them on their beds. Residents are allowed to enter the shelter’s campus at 5:00 PM, so I meet with clients between 5:00 and 9:00 PM. Typically I have between 15 and 20 clients that I am working with and try to meet with each once per week.

After reviewing my schedule for the evening, I review each client’s Individualized Development Plan. Upon entering the AOC, an extensive interview, also called a Personal Needs Assessment (PNA), is conducted with each resident. The purpose of the PNA is to determine the needs of each individual in order to create an Individualized Development plan to address each of those needs. In addition to asking the client about their healthcare, health status, income, education, and more, I also incorporate their own desires and goals through a goal setting worksheet–what is it that they want to accomplish during their time at the AOC? After I have all of this information, I create a general outlined plan with the obstacles and solutions that will hopefully help them exit homelessness. Before each appointment, I look at their plan and my notes from last appointment to remind myself of what sorts of things we had agreed they should work on this week and if there were any resources I should prepare before their appointment. The bulk of my afternoon is spent planning for these appointment—calling different service organizations, printing out information packets or apartment listings, and thinking about the best way to broach difficult subjects such as anger issues, substance use disorders, mental health issues, and past felonies with my clients. In the evening I meet with clients, check in on their progress, and write down what we discussed in their chart. At 9:00 PM I head home and try to wind down and get some sleep before the next day of work.

Highlights from the First Half

In August I drove through Oregon, California, Nevada, and Arizona to reach Albuquerque, New Mexico. I moved into my home for the year, Teacher’s Hall on the Campus of Menaul School. From Albuquerque I flew to NYC, NY to attend orientation led by staff and YAV alumni with the 70 other Young Adult Volunteers before we dispersed across the country and world. I met my four fellow ABQ YAVs—Taylor, Bethany, Claire, and Ana—and we returned to Albuquerque. Once back in New Mexico, we learned about the history and culture of our new home and shared our first supper together.

In September I had my first day of work as a caseworker for Veterans at Heading Home. It has been a steep learning curve learning how to best help individuals in their journey to exiting homelessness, and I am still climbing that curve. In early September we also attended a rally in support of DACA after President Trump repealed. It was inspiring and heartbreaking to see many sects of the Albuquerque community—Native Americans, Latinos, and Anglos—come together to support those at risk of losing the only life they know. We heard many DACA recipients who were current high school, college, law, and medical students speak out against the policy changes that would lead to their deportation. A few of us YAVs participated in a 50-mile pilgrimage for unity among Christian denominations from Ghost Ranch to Chimayó Sanctuary. We greatly enjoyed learning about the spiritual practice of pilgrimage, as well as meeting fellow Christian brothers and sisters from the South West.

In October we attended the famous, International Balloon Fiesta held annually in Albuquerque. We arose before sunrise to watch hundreds of colorful balloons ascend into the sky. Instead of acknowledging Columbus Day, Santa Fe celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day which we were fortunate to partake in. We attended the Presbytery meeting at Ghost Ranch, where we spoke about our experiences as YAVs, learned about the governmental structure of the church, and met many of the individuals who were key in making Albuquerque a YAV site. After the meeting we spent time hiking around the breathtaking landscape of Ghost Ranch to hike Kitchen Mesa and Chimney Rock. For Halloween we helped our fellow YAV, Bethany, with the Halloween carnival she planned for the community surrounding La Mesa Presbyterian Church. The neighborhood around the church is one of the poorest in Albuquerque and is known locally as the “war-zone” due to the high rate of crime and violence in the area. It was nice to provide a safe and fun place for families to celebrate Halloween.

 

In November we traveled to Tucson and then Douglas-Agua Prieta on the Arizona-Mexico Border to learn about border issues with a Christian perspective. Looking at immigrants as children of God, I was horrified by the way our policies and practices essential herd immigrants through the most lethal geographic regions in hopes of deterring immigrants but actually causing hundreds of deaths of men, women, and children per year. For Veteran’s Day I planned a trip to take all veterans at the shelter out to dinner at Golden Corral buffet. It was one of the more stressful social events I’ve planned in my life, but everyone made it there and back in one piece and had a wonderful time eating delicious food with friends. We celebrated many Thanksgivings—with the members of churches who kindly invited us and other “orphans” over, with clients at work, and among ourselves over Chinese food. It was difficult being away from family at that time, but it brought us closer to each other and the community of Albuquerque.

December has been a whirlwind of holiday events, social outings, and preparations for trips home. We had the chance to have a potluck Christmas dinner with all residents in Teacher’s Hall, write Christmas cards for all those we’ve met this year, and prepare

winter kits for any people experiencing homelessness we meet on the streets. We also enjoyed a trip to the ice skating rink before flying home.

 

Season of Expectancy

 

advent_wordle1As we enter the season of advent, the time of “expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas,” I have been pondering the meaning of this season and my expectations in life. This is a time where we are reminded of the promises of good to come—the light in a world of darkness. It is a time of hope and of faith, as we trust that there are good things ahead, even when the troubles of the world are seemingly more and more disparaging.

As some of you may know, I had applied to a graduate school program in early fall and had been waiting to hear back from the school. After not hearing anything for 6-8 weeks, I reached out and discovered that my application had not yet been reviewed because they had not received a test score. My hope of starting medical school in fall of 2018 quickly began to disintegrate as I thought about the number of applicants that had probably already been interviewed and admitted. While I had been waiting patiently in expectation of a response, my chances of acceptance were diminishing day by day.

I was confused and frustrated—why had God led me to pursue this path and dream only for it to be seemingly taken away? Why, after all my working and waiting, had my efforts been met with failure instead of success? As I was holding these questions, my fellow ABQ YAV Claire reminded me that: “[God] gives you a vision, [God] kills the vision, and then [God] gives you the faith for the vision.” This was advice she had received when her original YAV site placement in Los Angeles, California fell through and she had to begin the YAV placement discernment process all over again (link to Claire’s blog). Hearing this made me think, while it is dissuading and uncomfortable for expectations and hopes to fall through, only through the “killing” of a vision can we build faith for this vision. If every vision easily came into fruition, how would we know that it is important? How would it hold meaning to ourselves, others, and God?

This experience of having the expectation of applying and hopefully being admitted seemingly fall between my fingers despite my best efforts has made me think about the difference between living with expectations and living in expectancy. I have realized that I tend to place self-serving expectations on God, instead of living a life of expectancy.

Expectancy does not expect things. Expectancy hopes. It has faith that good will come, but releases the expectation of what or how it will come about. – Laurie Coombs, blogger

I have realized that I am a person who has very great expectations for others and myself. I focus on concrete accomplishments with tangible end-values, as demonstrated by my never-ending checklists and goal plans. I realize that I often ask God: “Help me accomplish x, y, or z”, instead of: “What do you desire for me? What is your plan for my life?” In this most recent situation, instead of saying: “Wow, I guess God has other plans for me next year than medical school”, I jumped to, “Why God? Why?!” By placing my own expectations on my life, perhaps I am limiting the possible outcomes that could arise through living in expectancy of God’s plan for my life.

Living in expectancy is a great challenge of faith when what you are waiting for is unknown to you, or you have a vision but there is the chance that this vision may never become a reality. The vision of entering medicine has defined my life for the past six years, but how it will happen and what it will look like are a mystery to me. This is difficult for me as I fear the feeling of not knowing what is to come and the potential for failure that come with living in expectancy. In response to these feelings, a quotation from Claire’s blog post Living in Expectancy, resonated with me during this time of great uncertainty:

But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. [God] calls us to trust [in God] so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if [they don’t] come through.” – Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love

I’m not sure what God is calling me to do next, but I will try my best to sit patiently with the discomfort of the unknown, listen, and remain open to possibilities. I will work to have faith in the promise that whatever is next is part of a greater plan for my life, and to wait expectantly for this plan to appear. In this season of expectant waiting, I ask of you–are you living your life with expectations or in expectancy?

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Labyrinth at Ghost Ranch – Labyrinths remind me of the twists and turns of life. It is not the most direct route to the center, but you will reach the center if you just keep walking. Interestingly, I find the thoughts and feelings I experience while walking the labyrinth’s path are much more memorable than the “accomplishment” of reaching the center. 

 

 

 

Sacrifices

I wrote this piece a little over a month ago after the passing of my grandmother. I was able to travel home for a week to say goodbye and be with family during the difficult time. Immediately after I returned from my trip home to immediately go to the Santa Fe Presbytery meeting, where we had been asked to share stories about becoming a YAV. At the time, my perspective of this year was greatly influenced by the loss of my grandmother and my first close encounter with death, but this also provided a new perspective on the significance of this chapter of my life. 

As someone who normally always has something to say it was awkward, uncomfortable for me to sit there speechless next to her quivering shell. I was huddling next to the embers of a once raging fire—the glow of life was still there, but the warmth and passion of the dancing flames had long left. As I stroked the wisps of thin, white, sweat drenched hair covering my grandmother’s temple I thought about the life she had lived—the joys, the struggles, the sacrifices—and I wondered what my story would contain at its close.

Sitting there with her I thought about the privileges she had been denied having grown up on a struggling Wyoming farm during the depression era. She grew up in a home where there was a lack of material items, and as one of eight children, the competition for her parent’s limited free time and tried affections was what left her with a harsher perspective of the world than the one that I have been allotted. Despite this she was still able to and did love greatly and widely. While she herself was unable to finish putting herself through college as she was in the hospital for appendicitis and missed a term—she ensured that all three of her daughters had college educations.

I’m telling you all of this because this is the perspective through which I am currently interpreting my life and my YAV experience. I am an individual of great privilege. To have been born into an affluent, loving family, to have received a college education, to be able to choose a YAV experience—are all great privileges that I have been given, in part because of the sacrifices my grandmother made. I feel as though it is only right and just to use this privilege to give back.

It was not until I was confronting death through my grandmother that the reality of our time on earth being limited really began to set in and I have begun to ask: What life do I hope to live? What does God desire my legacy to be? What sacrifices could I be making for the benefit of others? Those are the questions that have led me here and that I will continue to hold in this next year.

 

 

 

ABQ Orientation

I have returned from the pilgrimage mostly unscathed aside from a few blisters, and am excited to share about the first week in New Mexico and Albuquerque site orientation (there will be a post coming about the Pilgrimage, I promise!).

Moving into Menaul

I returned to New Mexico from Stony Point, NY early in the morning (my flight from NY left at 5 AM EST :O ). After eating a green-chili breakfast burrito (green and red chilis are a very important part of New Mexican cuisine), I got to work cleaning my room and unpacking. All of us volunteers live together at Menaul School and are enjoying being part of the school’s community of other volunteers, students, and teachers. The school is over 100 years old, and our dorm building has a lot of charm–high ceilings, beautiful wood work, and big windows looking out at the Sandia Mountains. We also really enjoy having Kiki (one of the other resident’s Malamute) visit us and hide under our beds!

All Around Albuquerque and Presbytery Dinner

Presbytery Dinner

We practiced using public transportation to navigate around the city and visited each other’s work placements. We also attended a wonderful welcome dinner hosted by the Presbytery and many incredible people who have worked hard to make Albuquerque a YAV site and have been planning for our arrival for many years now. From left to right: Pastor Guillermo of Camino de Vida, Bethany, myself, Taylor, Ana, Clair, and Luke (our site coordinator). Bethany is working at La Mesa Presbyterian doing children’s ministries. Taylor is working at Menaul school teaching high school and middle school math and Spanish classes. Ana is working at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center doing outreach work to connect those experiencing homelessness with available resources. Claire is working at Camino de Vida helping with their marketing/ social media, Bible studies, and English classes.

Pueblo Cultural Day

New Mexico has an incredibly rich and tragic history that has created its unique, layered culture. To better understand the history and culture of the place we will be living and serving we spent a large portion of our orientation visiting museums/ cultural sites and learning from native New Mexicans. We visited the Indian Pueblo museum and learned about the many Native American tribes, “pueblos”, that are native to New Mexico. I greatly enjoyed seeing and learning about their artwork and traditional dances. Below are some photos of my favorite pieces. The top left depicts a stag and the heart with the line is a “heartline” symbol and depicts where breath gave life to the animal and points to its inner soul or strength. The bottom right is a wedding vase, which is used in traditional wedding ceremonies. The vase’s double spouts symbolize the joining of two separate lives into one.

While it is enjoyable to appreciate the art and culture of these indigenous groups, it is also important to recognize the oppression and genocide that occurred at the hands of the Hispanic conquistadors and then white settlers.  The Spaniards essentially enslaved the indigenous population until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 in which the indigenous revolted. The Spaniards were either killed or driven out of the area until the reconquista in 1692. This time the Spaniards and Native Americans agreed to “peace” (as long as the indigenous swore allegiance to the King of Spain and practiced the Christian faith). Later on, the use of Indian boarding schools to force-acculturate Native American children is a way in which cultural genocide was carried out in New Mexico. This part of history hit especially close to home as the Presbyterian Church started the Albuquerque Indian School in 1881.

Hispanic Cultural Day

While I was horrified at the acts committed against the Native Americans by the Spaniards, I also greatly enjoy the influence of the Spaniards in New Mexico’s architecture, art work, and cuisine. To learn about the Hispanic component of New Mexico’s complex culture we toured Old Town and visited the Hispanic Cultural Center. Walking through Old Town I felt transported to another place and time. Streets lined with adobe building and wood beams enclose a grassy town square with canons and a gazebo. Artisans line the sidewalk with a blanket covered in handmaid silver bracelets and necklaces dotted with turquoise. We wandered into hidden patios where vines climbed up walls and wrought iron railing, their flowers dancing in the light breeze. For lunch that day I had a cheese enchilada made with a blue corn tortilla and the most delicious sopapillas with honey.

 

Anglo Cultural Day

Lastly, we learned about the Anglo history of the state by traveling to a once-booming coal town called Madrid, but pronounced (Mah-drid) located in the mountains North East of Albuquerque. New Mexico’s hills were rich in natural resources and whole towns were created to harvest these resources. Everything in the town of Madrid was basically owned and provided by the company-clothing, groceries, healthcare, etc. The town was once famous for its Christmas lights display, but after World War II and the decline of the coal industry

Madrid Museum

Impressions

Why go to New Mexico? Aside from the incredible food and history, I feel that New Mexico provides a unique example of how to grapple with complex issues of race and reconciliation. While we are human and therefore imperfect by default, the area’s ability to appreciate it’s various groups’ cultures and histories, while simultaneously acknowledging the pain and suffering that has been experienced is an impressive feat. It left me wondering what it would look like for Oregon to more fully recognize and better appreciate the histories of the Native American populations in everyday life, in addition to the history of the pioneers that now also call the area home?

 

Computer Crash, Flowers, and a Pilgrimage

I had every intention of posting a blog every week but in addition to being busy, my computer decided to malfunction for few days. Everything is fine now (hopefully), but I so apologize for being MIA.

These past few weeks have been filled with touring and learning about Albuquerque and it’s diverse history, as well as beginning work at Heading Home. I currently am preparing to embark on a 3 day, 50 mile total pilgrimage from Ghost Ranch to Abiquiu. I have plans for future blog posts about Albuquerque Orientation, my first week of work, and life at Teacher’s Hall with my fellow ABQ YAVs. For now I will leave you with some pictures of flowers from around Albuquerque to inspire growth until I return on Sunday. Have a good weekend!

Peace and Love,

Audrey

 

NY Orientation Overview

After arriving in Albuquerque I had a few hours to move my belongings into Teacher’s Hall, wash a load of clothes, and re-pack before flying out for New York at 5 AM the next morning. Every year before each YAV heads out across the country and the world to their individual sites, they meet in Stony Point, New York for orientation. During this time volunteers build a larger community with all volunteers, but also begin to tackle some difficult topics such as intentional community, racism, and our role as volunteers in the places we will serve. While I will write a more reflective piece regarding my time at orientation, I wanted to provide an overview of the structure of the week beforehand.

Orientation is planned and executed by the Young Adult Volunteer administrative staff with assistance from Young Adult Volunteer Alumni (YAVAs). YAVAs lead small group meetings, workshops, and take part in leading worship. The immediate objective of orientation is to prepare us for a year of service in communities that are likely very different from our home-communities. However, the ultimate goal is that the Young Adult Volunteer experience will push us out of our comfort zones, to see the world more clearly and encourage us to respond with actions rooted in love, that promote equity and justice. Orientation was not only a time of meeting others and learning about the program, but was a time of serious introspection and contemplation–a time to learn how to think about our lives more critically, so that we can continue to learn throughout the year.

The week was non-stop from the moment I arrived at Newark airport around 4:00 PM EST, and made my way to baggage claim where I was to meet a staff person and congregate with other arriving volunteers. I quickly found Annie, a tall and lanky young woman wearing a wooden cross necklace. I was tired and hungry after a long day of travel, but was greeted by her warm smile, given a friendly hug, and immediately felt welcome and excited to enter this new community. That evening we traveled to Stony Point Retreat Center in Stony Point, NY. Stony Point is a multi-faith community that has a long history of serving as a retreat/ training center for the Presbyterian Church and its volunteers. The campus is now home to 8 practicing Muslims, 10 Jews, and 10 Christians who have dedicated themselves to creating and nurturing this community. The community is also committed to providing locally sourced food and grows approximately 10,000 pounds of produce per year. I greatly enjoyed my time on the campus walking through the woods, watching the dear graze in the quad in the early morning, and walking through the center’s many vegetable gardens. The food was mostly vegetarian, and to die for!

Each day typically included a mix of worship, bible study, and workshops. Here is a run down of the week’s main activities:

Monday: Travel and Welcomes

We were late and only had a few moments to grab food before making our way to a big meeting room where worship was being held. The chairs formed two semi-circles around a center table that was draped in multi-colored clothes and held one single large candle and multiple smaller tea light candles. My fellow Albuquerque site volunteers and I introduced ourselves and congregated in the back corner eagerly discussing our upcoming year until we were welcomed to worship by Lydia, the program director. Worship included songs from around the world, readings, stories from past Young Adult Volunteers, and ended with each of us lighting our own individual candles from one central candle. I was reminded that I was part of a much greater faith community than just that in my hometown, and that while I may feel alone at times, there are other young adults who feel drawn to and are active members of Christian communities with ideologies similiar to mine.

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Gardens at Stony Point

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Small group enjoying some sun.

Tuesday – Wednesday:  Journey to Cultural Competency

The focus for Tuesday and Wednesday was “Critical Cultural Competency”, which entailed approximately 24 hours of presentations, discussions, and activities led by Jessica and Noah from CrossRoads Anti-Racism Organization and Training. CrossRoads is an organization whose mission it is to: “dismantle systemic racism and build antiracist multicultural diversity within institutions and communities implemented primarily by training institutional transformation teams and guided by the following principles:

  • The work of Crossroads is based upon a systemic analysis of racism and its individual, institutional and cultural manifestations;
  • Crossroads seeks to be accountable in its work to those who share a common analysis of racism, and especially to communities of color;
  • Crossroads understands its antiracism work to be part of a national and global movement for racial justice and social equality;
  • Crossroads recognizes that resistance to racism also requires resistance to all other forms of social inequality and oppression.”

I was deeply impressed and appreciative that the Presbyterian Church and YAV Program put this workshop at the forefront of our training. I believe this speaks to the institution’s commitment to reconciling past transgressions against people of color, and also demonstrates that they are currently working to recognize how they are complicit in current systemic forms of racism. I found that the information provided by CrossRoads was very similar to subject matter I had been exposed to in my sociology classes and other lectures/ activities during college at Willamette University. Interestingly, after orientation, I discovered that a Willamette University’s Sociology professor, Emily Drew, is a co-trainer at CrossRoad. This was a nice connection between an old and new community, but has also helped me better understand the relationship between religious institutions, racism, and my place within it all. Each day I was physically and emotionally exhausted, but knew that this was a small price to pay in order to move towards a more equitable and just society. In short, speaking about racism and how we are complacent within systems of racism is draining and difficult, but exceptionally necessary, especially at this time.

Thursday: Exploring NYC

After sitting and learning about and discussing issues for two days, we were blessed with the opportunity to travel into the city and explore different neighborhoods. This was not a typical tourist trip to the Big Apple—we did not stop in Times Square or visit the empire state building, but explored the city with the perspective of a sociologist and anthropologists, analyzing of the cities’ neighborhoods and populations while navigating via Subway and walking from Yankee Stadium to Morningside Heights. We ended up taking the express train and had to walk back a few blocks through South Harlem and up to Morningside Heights. What felt like a mistake, turned out to be an insightful experience as we noticed signs of gentrification creeping into South Harlem as the stores changed from being family owned bodegas to “hip”, more expensive coffee shops and restaurants as we approached Columbia University. Upon reaching Morningside Heights we visited Riverside Church—the largest, historical protestant cathedral in the United States. Riverside church was built thanks to an endowment created by the Rockefeller family, and was where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered a speech titled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”. The church was a beautiful place and I spent time sitting in contemplation and prayer.

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Morningside Heights near Columbia University

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Elementary School in Morningside Heights Area

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Empanadas from family-run bodega (yes, I ordered in Spanish).

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Door to Riverside Church

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Riverside Church

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Riverside Church

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Riverside Church

Friday-Saturday: YAV Workshops and Relaxation

After a few busy days we had a lighter two days allowing time for some much needed rest. This time also allowed for bonding with other volunteers through hanging out around Stony Point, taking walks, and a talent show.

Sunday: Commissioning Services in Local Churches

            While some YAVs had commissioning services in their home churches or presbyteries, each YAV was also commissioned at one of the Presbyterian churches in the area (or a church of another denominations that support the YAV program). Myself and two other YAVs were welcomed with open arms at First Presbyterian of Englewood. The church building was built in 1860, but suffered a fire in March of 2016 that destroyed the historic sanctuary. They are currently holding worship in another hall in the remaining part of the building. While many see the burning of the sanctuary as a tragedy, Pastor Rich pointed out that this has forced the congregation to see past the idea of a church being a building to the church as a group of people united in beliefs and intentional community. It was fun to experience service at another Presbyterian Church and to meet/ share this experience with all the wonderful people at First Presbyterian of Englewood. After commissioning I spent the afternoon preparing for traveling that night to Albuquerque, but also got a chance to hike around Stony Point with fellow YAVs and visit the place where the battle of Stony Point occurred.

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Remains of First Presbyterian of Englewood after fire.

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First Presbyterian of Englewood.

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Me, Callie, and Sam after being commissioned. 

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Korean BBQ after Commissioning Ceremony with Pastor Rich.

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Exploring historical Stony Point Battlefield.

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Stony Point Battlefield.

 

Photos from the Road

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one one step” – Lao Tzu

Photos from Oregon –> California –> Nevada –> Arizona –> New Mexico

 

 

 

 

All About YAV

I wanted to write an article to give an overview of the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program for all of those following from home. My intention is that this article serves not only a purpose of reflection, but is also informative. Informational because, as I realized at orientation being one of two people from the west coast, the program is not as prevalent in the region and may require some explanation. I also hope that through sharing my experience it could open others up to the possibility of becoming involved in such an experience as well. In this post I will summarize the program’s functions and mission, as well as share my contemplations about and reasons for applying.

Program Overview

The Young Adult Volunteer program was founded by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to create the opportunity for young adults (aged 19-30) to participate in a faith-based year of service both nationally and internationally. As stated by the Presbyterian Mission organization: “YAVs accompany local agencies working to address root causes of poverty and reconciliation while exploring the meaning and motivation of their faith in intentional community with peers and mentors . . . Program benefits during the YAV year include a regular stipend, housing, transportation assistance and student-loan repayment options throughout the duration of the service year”.

The program promotes living a life based on five core tenets:

  1. Intentional Christian Community

“YAVs explore what it means to be a Christian community with one another and their neighbors. While some will live in housing together and others spread through their country, all YAVs will reflect together on their service and explore their relationship with God, the church, and their ministry in a broken world”.

  1. Simple Living

“YAVs are challenged to practice simple living—living and abundant life with less. Living simply pushes YAVs to evaluation their true needs with their lifestyle and beliefs”.

  1. Cross-cultural Mission

“YAVs will intentionally explore the diversity of God’s creation, living and working outside of their comfort zone. YAVs will work to confront the systemic challenges of race, class, gender, and power, while learning to examine their own lives and actions”.

  1. Leadership Development through Faith in Action

“YAVs develop their leadership by serving in marginalized communities alongside local people of faith responding to poverty, violence, and injustice in their communities, sharing the gospel through word and deed”.

  1. Vocational Discernment

“Through theological reflection and spiritual practices, YAVs will participate in the process of vocational discernment—unearthing God’s desire for each person’s life and work”.

Why a service year? Why YAV?

Service learning was a concept first introduced to me during high school and has stuck with me since that time. Before moving on to graduate school, I wanted to spend a year of time focused on furthering my understanding of the “real” world through living in a new place, working with those who are different from myself, and pushing myself to places of discomfort through conversation and experiences.

One day, while sitting at the kitchen table, my mom placed the church newsletter in front of me and pointing at a small box in the bottom left corner she asked, “have you thought about this?”. It was an excerpt about the Young Adult Volunteer Program—something that my pastor and mom had encouraged me to look into in the past, but that I had forgotten until that moment. I began reading the description of the program online and my interest was piqued. The motto: “A year of service for a lifetime of change” caught my eye. A bold claim, but one that resonated with me as I am leaving young adulthood and entering adulthood and asking: what do I want my life to look like? How will it have meaning?

I had not previously considered a faith-based service program because of the extensive history of oppression at the hands of Christian missionaries, and was concerned about whether or not the values of a Christian volunteer program would uphold a cultural relativistic world understanding. However, as I continued to look into the Young Adult Volunteer Program I was impressed by its commitment to reconciling the past transgressions committed by Christian volunteers against minority groups, specifically people of color.

On the other hand, I felt that during my time in college I had lost touch with my identity as someone raised in the Christian faith. Busy with homework and attending a school with a predominantly non-religious student body, I had grown to feel distant and uncomfortable with my faith identity. Especially as I began to realize that while I had been raised in a progressive, tolerant faith community, not all Christians shared these beliefs. For fear of being rejected or misunderstood, I often avoided discussing my personal religious affiliations during undergraduate education. However, after spending the year at home with my family and church community, I realized that my faith and Christian identity is important and valid. I knew that I wanted to have a relationship with God and understand the world not just through an academic lens, but also a spiritual one.

As I began the process applying and interviewing with the national organization and individual site coordinators I was more and more reassured. Each conversation and interaction was filled with meaning and compassion. I felt that in the program I would not only live somewhere new and support local communities, but that I would have a community of fellow volunteers and mentors with whom I could reflect with and learn alongside. After interviewing for three sites I was offered a position at Albuquerque and accepted the offer—not knowing exactly what to expect, but feeling certain that it was the place I was meant to be.

 

Thank you for your continued love and support– if you’re interested in reading more about the Young Adult Volunteer program click here.