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.
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:
- 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”.
- 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”.
- 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”.
- 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”.
- 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.