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Megan Gianniny

meganMegan Gianniny grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, as a part of Cambridge Friends Meeting. She graduated from Scripps College in May 2014 with a Gender and Women’s Studies major and Dance minor and her senior thesis was entitled “’Other than Dead:’ Queering Vampires in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Interview with the Vampire, and The Gilda Stories.” While at Scripps, Megan worked in the Office of the President and Board of Trustees, as well as volunteering with the Office of Admissions, New Student Program, and Family, Scripps’ Queer-Straight Alliance. She spent her summers working at a Quaker camp in South China, Maine, which she had attended as a camper during her teens. When not working or studying, Megan enjoys reading, playing ukulele, and blogging about her love of all things nerdy. She is excited to spend a year exploring Atlanta and serving at the Phillip Rush Center.

Charlotte Cloyd

charlotteCharlotte Cloyd grew up in Atlanta attending St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, but quickly fell in love with Quakerism after attending Guilford College. She majored in English with a minor in Ceramics and wrote her honors thesis about the connection between Quakerism and William Wordsworth’s Romantic poetry. While at Guilford, Charlotte played on the school’s co-ed ultimate frisbee team, Biohazard, and co-captained the team during her senior year, enjoying the challenge to coach and captain while also being a team member. Charlotte had the opportunity to study abroad twice, once for a semester in Gaborone, Botswana studying Public Health and a second time during the summer in Sikkim, India working to create sustainable relationships with elementary schools in the foothills of the Himalayas. Charlotte will be serving at Atlanta Habitat for Humanity during the year.

Words for a Day of Awareness and Action

by Willa Keegan-Rodewald

For my year in the Quaker Voluntary Service, I’m working at New City Initiative, which aims to engage faith communities in ending the cycle of homelessness. In November, we organized the annual Day of Homelessness Awareness in downtown Portland. This year the event included a call to action, which asked Portland’s faith communities to write letters to their state representatives and senators and urge them to restore funding for emergency housing programs. On November 22nd, the Day of Homelessness Awareness started with a walk through downtown past agencies serving those living on the streets. It continued with a rally in Pioneer Square featuring speeches, songs, and prayers from diverse faith leaders. Finally a delegation of leaders carried the 613 letters to the State Capitol in Salem. Before delivering the letters, the leaders spoke before the Oregon legislature about why this restoration of funding was imperative. The day before the event, my boss asked me to be one of those speakers. How could I say no? These are the words I spoke:

My name is Willa Keegan-Rodewald. I’m 22 years old, and my whole life I’ve seen homelessness. It’s a fixture in my world. It makes me wonder, will there always be homeless people?

This year I’m working with New City Initiative as part of my time in the Quaker Voluntary Service. I was raised in the Quaker tradition, but this year I’m engaging my faith more deeply as I spend a year serving the community and practicing living my principles.

In my work with New City Initiative, I meet people every day who are homeless. We try to support people as they transition out of homelessness by helping them train for jobs, express themselves creatively, find rides to important appointments, and get involved with their communities. While these initiatives make a difference in the lives of the people we work with, the biggest need I’ve been made aware of is one of the most basic. There is a profound need for housing. We all need somewhere to rest our heads, physically and mentally. We all need somewhere to feel safe. We all need a space to go to that can be a foundation to build our lives upon. There aren’t enough of those spaces in Oregon, and restoring these housing programs will make a difference for thousands of people.

In working to end homelessness, I’m proud to be following in the long Quaker tradition of social activism. A common Quaker tenet is to let your life speak what you believe. Lucretia Mott, Jane Adams, and Bayard Rustin, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Wednesday, are just a few of the many who have made their lives speak for others. They’ve worked through nonviolent means to ensure that every person has equal rights and opportunities. They are living the Quaker belief that there is something of the light or spirit in everyone. Every person needs a stable foundation where they can find and express what that something is to the world. Right now that means every Oregonian needs a place to call home.

One of my favorite bits of Quaker wisdom comes from George Fox. ‘Walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.’ These letters and these voices today are the call for change, and it’s time for Oregon’s lawmakers to answer.

On March 7th, we received word that the Oregon Legislature voted to allocate an additional $2 million for emergency services for homeless families! The additional funding will make it possible for over 1,000 new families to receive shelter, deposits, and rent support.

This past weekend, as I prepared to speak at a forum at West Hills Friends, I enjoyed thinking about the different kinds of moments of my year in QVS. Speaking at the State Capitol was one of the big ones, surging with adrenaline and intensity. But my work has also been made rich by more ordinary moments with the homeless families I meet and volunteers I coach. Those moments don’t make the kind of difference that you can necessarily see in five or six months, but I see the light in them. So I like to think that sometimes, instead of focusing on how I can “let my life speak,” I should pay attention to how I can “let my moments speak,” big and small.

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Willa after speaking in Salem

Young, Broken and Beautiful

by Jocelyn Dowling

The last weekend in March I had the honor to act as a Friendly Adult Presence (FAP) at the PYM Youth Friends Gathering at Greene Street Meeting in Germantown, Philadelphia. When I was in high school I was active in the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Young Friends community and it truly changed my life. Now, as I returned to a YF community as an adult, I was reminded of the power and beauty of the Young Friends community.

I was not raised Quaker, but started to attend Quaker sleep away camp when I was 10 years old. Once I was too old to be a camper I started to attend Young Friend Gathering during the year as a way to see my camp friends more often. But YF gathering became an important part of my life: it was a loving community that felt comfortable and welcoming, unlike the everyday social scene of the public school environment. It was the only place I felt like I could be myself and that people truly loved me for who I was.

On Saturday night I accompanied the YF group through the rain to the historic Arch Street meeting to attend the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s annual William Penn Lecture. The speaker was QVS’s very own Christina Repoley and her speech was entitled “Prophetic Service as Formation and Transformation.” Christina spoke of the calling she had to establish Quaker Voluntary Service and of Quakers’ legacy of service work with American Friends Service Committee’s workcamps.

I sat in the audience listening to Christina share stories that resonated with my own experience as a young Quaker. But it was Christina’s mention of prophetic service that struck a chord with me – when she said that “prophetic service is not just about serving others, or operating out of a set of values, but it is about offering yourself fully, it is about building relationships, and it is about recognizing your own brokenness as you meet the brokenness in the world and in others. It comes from a place of worship, integrating the inward and the outward, prayer and action.”

I have struggled with the idea of service for a long time. Service work has been a form of experiential learning and direct action for me but it always seems to get tangled in ideas of privilege, guilt, patriarchy, and temporary relief to systematic oppression. But Christina’s reference to “brokenness” as part of prophetic service brought clarity and affirmation to this service tornado that was whirling around in my brain. I recognize that my role in service can be a Band-Aid of privilege and guilt that is patching up another person’s suffering that is a result of a legacy of inequality. But can that band-aid be my brokenness? This adhesive bandage that is used to cover-up and injuries, with the theory that it will help heal, when in actuality it just keeps people from seeing or reminding us of a discolored and damaged imperfection. I think hiding our imperfection, hiding our brokenness, does not allow for any action to prevent damage or to watch a transformation take place, and even avert us from taking pride in our ability to both heal and change.

Collective brokenness within Quakerism seems to be a historic theme. I experienced this brokenness in my senior year of high school, when the collective soul of BYM Young Friends experienced a great tragedy. Our former Youth Programs Coordinator, Tom Fox, made the decision to resign his position and join the Christian Peacemakers team in Iraq. Tom would write letters to the YF community, filled with powerful stories of his experience in a war zone. On November 26, 2005 Tom and 3 other CPT members were taken hostage by a terrorist group known as Swords of Righteousness Brigade. Four months later on March 10, 2006 Tom’s body was found dead on a garbage heap in Baghdad, shot through the head and chest.

The night I got word of Tom’s Death I was on the phone all night crying with other young Quaker from different parts of Maryland, DC, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Over the course of 2 months I attended 5 different memorial services for Tom. This time, there were no Band-Aids. Our collective brokenness was exposed and painful. Tom’s death was how I directly experienced the War in Iraq as a liberal middle-class teen. I always complained about the cracks in the US’s social system but this was my personal witness to how our nation’s broken system to solve conflicts could affect me and my community. To quote the poet Rumi, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Out of our collective brokenness came stories, stories that brought so much light and love to the Young Friends community. Stories of Tom’s legacy and stories that proved the strength and resiliency of the Young Friends community.

My most clear and significant memory of Tom was on the Sunday morning of my first YF gathering. I was sweeping up the meeting room of my home meeting, Adelphi MM, and Tom approached me; he said “Jossie, you have been very helpful this weekend and I want you to know that I think you will go very far in life.” The sentiment that Tom shared with me is exactly how I now feel about the members of the current Young Friend community. I see so many wonderful and promising attributes in all of them. Their love for one another as well as their compassion for the world reassures me about the future of Quakerism. I love talking to them about their ideas and what they foresee in their future. The best part of it is that I know that when that inevitable experience of brokenness comes along, it will make them stronger and they will continue to grow as beautiful, wise and resilient FRIENDS.

 

My favorite picture of Tom, I had pasted to the front of my school planner my senior year of high school. -Jossie

My favorite picture of Tom, I had pasted to the front of my school planner my senior year of high school. -Jossie

 Jossie holding hearts containing her fellow QVSer's names

Jossie holding hearts containing her fellow QVSer’s names

To watch Christina’s Lecture, follow this link:

http://www.pym.org/william-penn-lecture/home/2014-lecture-christina-repoley/

What is your experience of waiting worship?

“What is your experience of waiting worship?”

I do not remember where I first heard the term open worship, or waiting worship, but I distinctly remember not understanding it at all.

Sooo….you just sit quiet in a room?

Where is the worship there??

Where are the instruments???

Why aren’t we exclaiming how big God is and how broken we are??!?!

….ok the last one was a bit of a joke, but when I heard about open worship, it was a couple years after I had left a rigid faith system, so I was kind of a cynical fellow. Now, I’m writing this as a convinced Evangelical Quaker, and a Christian mystic. Hearing about the Friends of the past was a big part of what kindled the fire of my early curiosity. I wondered, what did these Friends find in the stillness? What did they find that gave them the courage to defy the divine right of Kings? What did they find that gave them the strength to endure prison and mistreatment without striking back? What did they find that gave them the eyes to see that slavery was not a norm to be passively accepted? Whatever the answer is, I believe that Friends across all expressions of Quakerism still seek, and find, the same.

Below are the responses of my house and Atlanta QVS staff to the query at the beginning of the blog. We centered down on a QVS day to write our answers, and we decided that we wanted to share them with you.

Atlanta Volunteers 2013-2014

Atlanta Volunteers 2013-2014

“My experience has been full of…silence…and I love it. As I sit in Quaker Meeting I’m able to calmly collect my thoughts, meditate, and be aware of the light that is shining upon myself and those around me. Too often, in life, we talk & talk & talk & we don’t take time to listen…listen to others or to ourselves. Waiting worship gives you that much needed spiritual time.”

“Waiting worship…sacred sometimes, deeply moving sometimes, selfish sometimes, secular sometimes, deeply grounding oftentimes. Oftentimes consciously realized, sometimes its hard for me to settle. When my life feels hard, its easier for me to see the “light of god” in human interactions, rather than waiting for the divine in silence. I’m feeling jaded toward divinity but the light is so clear in all of you.”

“When I begin to center down into open worship, I feel like I am leaning my head back into a gently flowing stream. I am always by the stream, and every other person is by it too, I just tend to forget most of the time. Sometimes when I’m worshiping at my Meeting, I feel like there is more happening in that room than would be if we were a choir or an orchestra. It is holy, precious, and magnificent. Usually I rest in the query, ‘God, what do I need to learn today? or ‘God, what are you trying to teach me?’ Sometimes the answer is in words, pictures, or memories. Asking the question is like wandering into the woods; I don’t know where I’ll end up. When I feel led to rise and give vocal ministry, my heart races, I don’t want to speak, but I know that I need to. It is unlike anything I’ve experienced before.”

“Usually I enjoy worship once I get into it…but rarely get to the point that I would consider waiting worship. Prayer feels more like a monologue than a conversation, so I would rather read something than wait to receive a message that I am not convinced will come. But like I said, I value/enjoy reflection, just it doesn’t come very naturally.”

“I find that in general waiting worship is not the most spiritual experience. I often use it as a time to reflect on things that are happening in my life. I have only had a couple instances where I have felt moved to give a message, and I feel that in each of these instances it took a lot of convincing myself to put myself out there share it. Both of these times I came in with a feeling or thought, and then became relevant to the sense of where the meeting was. It is a powerful and very physical experience to feel moved to share, and sort of the opposite of my other state of worship where I feel very at peace.”

“Sometimes my mind goes in a millions directions and I found myself just thinking and thinking. When that happens I try to come back to breath or repeating a phrase to center myself again. Occasionally it feels very deep, covered. It feels like a palpable presence in me and in others, a unifying experience. Very, very occasional I feel clearly led to speak. Its has happened that I felt a clear message and before I stand up to speak someone else does, and says the same thing I was going to say. Thats rare, but its happened enough that I helps me trust that something real and important happening.”

“As a child, meeting for worship felt like an opportunity to think about whatever was in my mind or even to daydream. Later, I heard that I should be focusing my energy outwards during meeting, so that others who might feel moved to speak can more easily rise. I tried this for awhile, but am myself most successful in worship when I am able to fall into a calm waiting – as opposed to one in which my thoughts are churning. To me, this state is harder to get to, it is, I think the objective of Buddhist meditation when l’ve done that, but reached in what feels like a more natural way in Quaker meeting. Focusing inward and letting my thoughts settle naturally is thus the current objective of my meeting for worships, though I do not always attain this state.”

“For me, what is special about meeting for worship is the spiritual experience of being in community. My experience is impacted and enriched by the spiritual energy of the whole community. I am not necessarily referring to members who are moved to speak and their messages, (they often do not feel relevant to me, depending on the group) but more the general positive vibrations that are palpable when a group of people chooses to sit together in silent worship.”

As you can see, there was a wide variety of experiences of waiting worship in our Atlanta QVS family. After we were done reading them, we had some fun and tried to guess who each statement belonged to. As I observed the community guess correctly, the testimony of integrity came to my mind. I am glad to belong to a group that can worship together without a shellack of holiness; we come as we are. Transcribing these shared experiences of my housemates also made me realize, while each one is meaningful in its own right, they make a special sound when they are read together.

In Peace,

A.J. Mendoza

QVS does AVP

“Oh the weather outside is frightful,” S. sung cheerfully as the snow drifting down beyond grated windows began to fall with more urgency.  “But the fire is so delightful…”  A few guys sprawled out in lightweight plastic chairs began to snap their fingers along with her.  “And since we’ve no place to go—”  A pause, as the truth of the words sat in the air, then laughter.  “Nowhere to go,” agreed one participant, chuckling, as S. belted out the last “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”

The moment’s awkwardness, humor, and poignancy resembled many others moments that weekend, as Fairleigh, Maire, Talia, and I made our way through the Quaker-influenced Alternatives to Violence Program.  The workshop leverages participants’ own experiences and ideas to examine and transform the ways in which they respond to injustice, prejudice, frustration, and violence.  AVP workshops are held in schools, community groups, and prisons.  Our workshop took place in Patuxent prison in Maryland and included ten “inside” (currently incarcerated) guys, three inside facilitators, two outside facilitators, and the four of us QVSers.

I found it fascinating to watch the inside/outside dynamics play out in the workshop.  Our group was significantly divided – most obviously by race and gender, but also by education and other markers of privilege – yet somehow, these differences were harnessed to enhance, rather than frustrate or confuse, our discussions of nonviolence. We developed a sort of symbiotic learning relationship over the course of the weekend, in which the differences between us multiplied power of the experience.

On the one hand, our outside presence helped make the workshop possible.  In a pragmatic sense, the authority of outside leaders was needed to open the doors of the rec room and obtain permission for the inside guys to gather.  But our participation also opened metaphorical doors: a few of the guys told us that when the listeners were outsiders, they could be more open with their feelings and could bring forth and affirm the best parts of themselves.  We were neither the typical inside audience who they had to impress with their toughness, nor the typical, prejudiced audience outside the prison to whom they were forced to prove their human worth.  We were, as much as possible, listeners and collaborators.

Conversely, doing the workshop in a prison and in the company of prisoners was for me (and I think the other QVSers as well) the kind of world-warping perspective-bending culture shock experience that allows for maximum learning and growth.  I was floored by the clarity and thoughtfulness of some of the things the guys said, and by the ways they discussed using humor, empathy, and honesty to transform potentially violent situations.  Perhaps because the stakes they had in conflict resolution were so much higher – they were thinking through relations with corrections officers, gangs, and gun violence while I was considering dirty dishes and friendships – there was a sort of intense buy-in to the discussions that made them very powerful.

Each evening after the workshop concluded, the six of us outsiders would leave the rec room, show our badges to a guard to pass through the gate to the elevator, and then move through four more gates and guard stations to exit the facility.  As we made the drive from Patuxent to our hosts in Baltimore, I watched the highway stream by though the window and appreciated the comfort of seeing new landscapes and moving about the world freely.  I began to understand at a gut level why many of my colleagues working in criminal justice reform are challenging long-held ideas about punishment and calling for the abolition of prisons.

AVP challenges the violence that stems from mismanaged interpersonal conflict, but my site placement at the Institute for Community Justice has given me insight into the many layers of violence that intersect in our criminal justice system.  Over the last few months I have begun to trace how bad schools, blighted neighborhoods, mass unemployment, and social immobility tangle with personal choices to lead to involvement in crime.  Crime itself is defined through other violences, including harsh sentencing policies, colorblind (but nonetheless racist) political rhetoric, and drug wars fought primarily in poor communities.  When they are released from the court room or the prison, victims of these violences face another wave: the stigma of the “criminal” label, the possible loss of voting rights, the legalized discrimination in housing, employment, and public benefits.  While it’s important to remember that people have agency and important to hold individuals accountable for their choices, the relatively privileged among us are frequently blind to the herculean strength it often takes to escape such cycles of violence.

The theme of last month’s QVS days was nonviolence, and our house had some interesting discussions around the idea that “violence” is actions and structures that inhibit human flourishing.  As I participated in AVP, I saw glimpses of human flourishing in the inside guys, as I learned that among them were poets, entrepreneurs, teachers, cooks, spiritual leaders, and caretakers and as I admired their hard-earned skills in community building, democratic facilitation, de-escalation, and fellowship.  When it came time for goodbyes on Sunday, the walls surrounding us seemed more impenetrable than ever.  I wanted to share M.’s music with the world, so you could feel the same chills I have.  I wanted R. on my team at work, doing outreach and advocacy with formerly incarcerated people.  I wanted to take M.M. to a Quaker meeting, because I think he’d like what we’re about and because I know few people with such a gift for vocal ministry.  But what flourishing that happened in Patuxent seemed to happen despite the prison system’s best efforts, and seemed to be a constant uphill battle.  American prisons are frequently little more than warehouses for lawbreakers, predicated more on ideas of punishment than healing or growth.

Throughout the weekend, I often found myself glancing up at AVP’s list of ground rules and reflecting on one rule in particular: “We look for and affirm one another’s good points.”  In a way, this seems like a secular version of the Quaker ideal of recognizing that of God in one another.  And at the moment, that felt like the most important thing in the world.  Witnessing the transformation that happened in one room in a prison outside of Baltimore as people listened to one another across differences, I had to wonder what would happen if such transformation was extended beyond the walls.

Creation Care

The theme for October’s QVS common programming was “Creation Care.” For the second Friday in the month, we had the opportunity to gather at Germantown Friends School, where some of our time together was devoted to exploring our relationship with Creation as a community.

Prior to Friday, everyone read two articles: Forget Shorter Showers by Derrick Jensen and The Pleasures of Eating by Wendall Berry. Each presented a perspective on the actions we can – and often are encouraged to – take and the effects these actions have upon ourselves and our world. We had queries to reflect upon for our discussion.

Forget Shorter Showers made us face the overall small impact our personal actions have in contrast to the harm the industrial economy is causing to the environment. Jensen criticized his perception of some environmentalists, who treat personal actions as political work for environmental change – and then don’t go beyond that to act in ways that would change the system which is inherently harmful to our world and ourselves. In our discussion, we explored our motives for engaging in environmentally friendly habits, and what we thought about Jensen’s idea of political action. We felt in agreement that it seems like there is a problem when many people are satisfied to make their own lifestyle “green” and not move beyond that into activism.

The Pleasures of Eating emphasized the spiritual importance of engaging with eating as an agricultural act. Berry’s concerns lie with the separation of the urban consumer from the origins of his food. Because food appears on the grocery store shelves prepackaged and preprocessed, there is a disconnect which keeps food and agriculture separate in an average shopper’s mind. Understanding and asking questions about how our food gets to us – and what we’re paying for beyond the food item itself – can lead to a spiritual well-being around eating, and a natural arc of food production that begins with the earth and ends with thoughtful enjoyment of a meal. The article led to a discussion about how we experience this disconnect in our own lives, and how we see it to have affected urban concepts of agriculture. We recognized the privilege that goes hand in hand with the opportunity to engage in the practices Berry advocates and explored how we handle this conflict in our own lives.

The articles didn’t stand in direct opposition, as it seemed they might when we chose them to discuss at the QVS day two weeks prior. Jensen kept us unsatisfied with merely what we could do within our house, and we recognized that to have an impact we would have to engage in actions which create systemic change, not just personal adaptations. Berry reminded us about the spiritual self-care that is important to maintain, and how awareness of our food’s agricultural history will keep us nourished and connected.

Talking Community Service with Middle School Students

A few weeks ago Ross and I gave a presentation to about 170 middle school students at the Germantown Friends School before they embarked on their Middle School Day of Service, for which they worked at various places, from community gardens to food pantries. To energize them in this mission, Ross and I attempted to infuse them with commitment to community and appreciation for the uniqueness their community members. I tried to convey the importance of these ideas by telling the middle school students a few stories about some experiences I have had and what I’ve learned from them.

Volunteer Fairleigh Barnes speaking at day of serviceThe first story I told was about an experience I had volunteering to help people move into a transitional housing facility when I was in middle school. During this I met a girl who was moving into the housing with her mother, who had recently gotten a job and was transitioning out of homelessness. Talking to this girl was really the first time I felt able to put a face to experiences of homelessness and poverty and began to see them as a part of the world I lived in, as opposed to some dark and mysterious separate reality. It made me realize how different one person’s life could be from my own, despite all our human commonalities, and how important it was to me to work together with people who were experiencing such challenges. That was my first story.

The next idea that I wanted to convey to the students was that people can see the same thing in totally different ways. I explained how this realization hit me when I was in high school and I got into an email conversation over email with a Chinese student about Tibet. At the time, I had only heard a little bit about protesting that had been happening in Tibet. The people who I had heard talking about it were saying that the people who were protesting were in the right, but what Alice argued passionately in her email was that the protesters were trying to tear China apart. This encounter made me realize that people can see things in a way totally different from the dominant perspective of which I am aware. Through this I learned that I have to keep digging and asking questions in order to understand various perceptions of a situation.

I also told the middle school students about two experiences I had volunteering at an organization called High Rocks, which provides educational enrichment programs for girls in a rural area of West Virginia. First I learned how much I could learn from people whom I thought I would be teaching. I realized this when we held a workshop to talk about how to improve schools and I realized that the middle school girls we were talking to had a lot of great ideas I wouldn’t ever have thought of for what kinds of help they wanted in their schools. This made me realize how important it is to be open to being taught by whomever I encounter.

I also I told a story about pouring concrete into holes to support the support beams of a building at High Rocks. I explained that while we were doing this I felt frustrated because it seemed like it had nothing to do with supporting the educational aspirations of girls. However when we all had dinner together, I realized that the beams made it possible for the kitchen to have a floor, which made it possible for us to have a kitchen to have dinner in, which was so important because it gave us all a space to be and talk and really get to know each other and learn from each other. So even things that seem a little irrelevant can really connect to a bigger picture.

Ross then talked about the importance of building communities based on love and commonalities, and then we sent the kids off for their day of service!

Fairleigh

Minute of Gratitude for AFM from the Atlanta QVS House 2013

We wrote this minute in profound gratitude for Atlanta Friends Meeting, and read it at the rise of meeting this morning:

We, the inaugural Quaker Voluntary Service house, would like to thank each of you as part of the Atlanta Friends Meeting community for your faith and presence with us this year. We are grateful to you for taking the risk to enter into relationship with QVS and with each of us as individuals. We have felt mutual respect and trust as the Atlanta Friends Meeting body walked alongside us as a vital partner. You nurtured, shared, and witnessed our journey.  Your collective and individual support has allowed us to experience this year fully, with profound faith that our spiritual and tangible needs would be met. Relationships we have witnessed within the Atlanta Friends Meeting community have served as important models of the richness and possibilities of community life. We feel a deep urgency to thank you for your ministry of welcoming and weaving community.

Notes From Our Worship Sharing While Writing the Minute

Read More…

Relationships at Frazer Center

Someone recently asked me how I have seen God most in this year, and without hesitation thought about my relationships at Frazer Center.  Coming into the center my first week struggling to remember the 100 adult participants names, 150 children’s names depending on which class I was in not to mention my coworkers who are weary of another employee who may not make it past the first week (a hard to break pattern of new hires).  I knew it would be a difficult adjustment to settle in and get to know all of these new people, but had no idea what the end point would look like, or how rewarding the journey would be. IMG_0656

At the beginning of the program, I had very little direction on what I should be doing day in and out, which was incredibly challenging. Wandering around amidst strangers asking where I could be helpful, trying to figure out how the program functions and runs without much knowledge on the wildly diverse behaviors, abilities, and attitudes of the developmentally disabled population we serve.  Every day was a struggle trying to make friends with adult participants and co-workers alike while trying not to look overwhelmed—which I was wrestling inside. For these first few months, I gravitated toward working one-on-one with adults in different classrooms, which allowed me to begin to build trust and friendships.

One of the pivotal moments of my experience at Frazer came when I was trying to figure out how to handle one of our new and most difficult adults who presented dangerous and self-destructive behaviors.  Something I have learned from years of exploration along my own spiritual journey is the importance of being understood and listened to, and how

important language is in that understanding.  Our adult is mostly deaf, and communicates mainly through sign language and gestures.   When looking at our staff, only one or two have had any sign language experience and didn’t really use it with this adult. I began to notice his behaviors stemming from confrontation amongst

peers and adults where he couldn’t communicate, and I saw a deep need for ability to communicate with him—so I began to learn some basic sign language.

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Starting with “how are you?” and “stop” I began looking at sign language books, taking online sign classes, and learning from those with experience around me.  I now teach a weekly sign language class for both hearing and deaf adults, and have also been working with staff to learn easy ways of communicating with the many adults who use sign at the center every day.

The ability to listen and understand these adults has been paramount to my settling into the program and feeling like a part of the community.  Each of these adults has an amazing and unique personality that is essential to the vitality of the community.  Letting their voices be heard, often through non-traditional forms of communication is the challenge that I face everyday, and it pushes me to listen in ways I’m not the most familiar with.

I can’t describe what it feels like to walk into a room and see smiles of people who are genuinely happy to see me and to be heard.  It’s the sustaining quality of this work, where it seems that much of the rest is setting one up for burnout.

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