Friday, May 30, 2014

Beyond the Tomb

The following is a reflection by Caitlin Kerwin, one of this year's North House Volunteers. She shared this story as part of the North House community's Pentecost Reflections, which took place this past Wednesday.

I finally had a post-college plan. I’ll do a year of service, go to grad school to get my Masters in Social Work (whatever that means), and become a counselor. I was moving to a new city and doing something different and exciting. I couldn’t wait to get experience with case management before going back to school. I expected none of these plans to change in my 10 months as an Amate House volunteer, but things never really turn out exactly how I expect them to. God had something a little different in mind.

When reflecting on the Pentecost story, I couldn't help but see myself in Mary Magdalene as she opens up the tomb of Jesus to find something she does not expect. She does not find Jesus where she expected Him to be. She does not even recognize him when she does find Jesus. As my time as an Amate House volunteer comes to a close, I feel as though things have not gone as I expected them to go 9 months ago. I feel like Mary Magdalene clinging to her expectations of Jesus, just about ready to let go and walk in a different direction for something new.

Since August, I have been working at Lakeview Pantry as the West Pantry Assistant Coordinator (I know, what an exciting title…). Most of my position consists of running the daily operations of the pantry’s West site alongside my supervisor, Carrie. The other part of my position consists of working with the manager of client services by meeting with clients one-on-one during walk-in case management hours at the pantry’s East site. The main reason I picked my position was because of the case management experience I would gain. I expected this to be the best part of the job. Who would be better at listening to people’s problems than me?? I was wrong. Although I am not terrible at case management, it is certainly not something I want to be doing for the rest of my life.

This year has really made me question whether direct service is for me. Just recently, I had an absolutely terrible day at work. A client became very upset and told me that I should not be allowed to work at Lakeview Pantry. I was absolutely devastated and although I knew I should take what she said with a grain of salt, her words made me no longer want anything to do with direct service. A week later, I was covering for my supervisor once again during distribution on a Saturday. Toward the end of my day, a client came up to me and said the most gracious thing. “You know, you are doing a great job. It’s sometimes so hard to come to a place like this. It can feel so…undignified. But I do not feel like that here.” She had no idea what had happened a week earlier, but I felt like she knew I needed to hear this. She assured me that I was where I was supposed to be; doing what I was supposed to be doing. The best part of my job are the days when I am at the West site running the pantry. I know it sounds extremely nerdy, but this year I discovered how much I enjoy managing and supervising people. It brings me so much joy when the volunteers have had a great time and the clients appreciate the organized operations of the pantry. I love making people feel welcome and appreciated.

My time as an Amate House volunteer has made me even more confused than ever about my future. In the beginning of winter, I ruled out Grad school as an option because I don’t know what I want to go for, and I don’t want to waste money on something my heart is not completely set on. When I ruled out Grad school, I was still unsure about what jobs I even wanted to apply for. I had expected to love the case management part of my job, and that is the opposite of what happened. About a month ago, I started applying to jobs that I thought looked interesting and that fit with my experience running part of the operations of a not for profit food pantry. I’m still confused about what city I want to be in and what I will be doing after my time with Amate House, but I would rather be confused now, than regretful in Grad school. I am so grateful that I picked my site placement even if it was originally for the wrong reason. I’m taking one step forward and trusting that God is walking with me. I am no longer a confused Mary Magdalene, but the Mary Magdalene that finally recognizes Jesus outside of the tomb in the garden. I’m not sure where I am going, but I’ll see when I get there.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Senior Year at Amate

The following is a reflection written by Lexie Purcell, one of this year's North House Volunteers.

Changing diapers, singling lullabies, living in community, moving away from all my family and friends and surviving the coldest winter of my life-these were things I never envisioned happening all in one year, let alone during what was supposed to be my senior year of college. As everyone I've ever gone to school with graduates this month, I've started to reflect on what my life with Amate House has meant to me during this time in my life. I was blessed with the opportunity and option to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree one year earlier than the majority of my classmates. When this option was presented to me, I felt I was ready to graduate, but I wanted to make sure I took advantage of this rare situation in a special and unique way. I decided to take my ‘senior year’ and perform a year of service with it. I wished to serve others in need, contribute to a vibrant community of volunteers and grow in my faith life. Little did I know, I would be changed forever by so much more by joining the Amate House community.

As my classmates started student teaching, writing their senior capstones or attending their last semesters of classes, I was moving to a much larger city with 11 strangers from across the country. I had little time to think about the life I had left behind because the Amate experience was already at work. I was now part of a household and family of young adults, I was a teacher to infants and toddlers and for the first time, I realized I had a vital role in how and where I was living my life. What I did and how I reacted to situations not only affected me, but my community at home and at work. I was finally part of a true community-something I deeply desired to be a part of during college.

There is no doubt I would have grown in college by completing another year with my classmates. Yet, I now can’t imagine my life without Amate. Living in an intentional community challenged me, it allowed me to look inward in order to know myself better. It also gave me the opportunity to build lasting relationships with people I would have never been able to meet otherwise. My fellow community members have been with me on this journey every step of the way. They have laughed and cried with me; they have discussed social justice issues, faith journeys, work experiences, hopes and dreams about the future with me. In college I would have never imagined I could grow this close to people in a few short months; but now, I can no longer look back without thinking about my Amate experience.

I decided to spend my ‘senior year’ of college dedicated to a service oriented experience. Instead, I gained a new appreciation for life, a new love for all the children at my work site, invaluable knowledge about myself and what I want for my future, a community of supportive, energetic and loving housemates, a great leap in my faith journey and memories and lessons that will last a lifetime. I wouldn't trade my ‘senior year’ for anything in the world.    

Friday, May 09, 2014

Preparing to be Unprepared

The following is a reflection written by Jackie Fielding, one of this year's North House Volunteers.

If you had spoken to me this time last year, I would have probably told you all about my passion for birth work. I studied pregnancy, birth, and infant parenting for both schoolwork and as a pastime in college. One summer I trained to become a birth doula, which is essentially a support person, knowledge base, and advocate for families during labor and delivery. Amate House fit my interests perfectly: a year of service, getting close with a community of other people who enjoy helping others, and most of all, working with teen moms and caring for small infants. I was goal-oriented, and after checking “graduate college” off of my list, Amate was next.

I imagined cradling babies, helping teen moms realize their potential, and putting my four years of college knowledge to good use. I envisioned myself reading baby books, learning about the stages of development, and discussing interesting alternative parenting methods with my coworkers and clients.

I had some ambivalence in the summer before Amate, particularly because I didn’t visit my worksite before accepting the position. I was also suffering from FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out on another position that might help me explore the legal field, another one of my interests. But I walked into Amate fairly confident, excited to meet my community, and anxious to get to my work placement site.

My worksite held several surprises for me. While there were teen moms who came to the daycare center, there were many more middle-class white community parents. Most of the teen moms already had mentors, and when one of them finally agreed to let me mentor her, she wanted nothing to do with me. Rocking babies turned out to be hard. Actually, everything with babies seemed hard: changing the diaper of a child who is constantly flipping over on the changing table, feeding a child who is looking around the room with such a circumference that they manage to get pureed food on their shoulders, (attempting to) rock a child who so badly doesn’t want to take a nap that they are willing to scream, cry, kick, slap, punch, pull hair, writhe in your arms, and poke you in the face.

Looking back, the biggest surprise for me was how completely unqualified and unprepared I was for the situation. I had just assumed that my interests and my degree gave me a level of ability in any place I tried to work, but that was not the case. Without any experience, I felt that I was useless in my position, a failure. I was convinced that I had chosen the wrong placement, that I was not helping my center at all, that none of the kids liked me, and that I was just in the way. I was like a city girl on a farm trying to milk a cow for the first time: no amount of reading or mental preparation can prepare you for the doing part.

After a few weeks of struggling to stay out of everyone’s way, searching for any small task I could do that would seem helpful, and being upset with myself for choosing a placement that wasn't a good match, I spoke with my supervisor about making a change. The day I had started happened to be the day that the previous office manager quit. The center was struggling to get by without someone in that administrative role, and with my business degree, I knew how to do many basic office tasks.

It was a great fall. I got ten hours a week of classroom time, then the rest of my time I was working on improving the center behind the scenes, where I was comfortable: accounting, PR, and general organizational work. I got to spend much more time with my wonderful supervisor, who was also new to her position, and we learned so much side by side. Many challenges arose from the fact that the previous office manager left without training me, but I did the best that I could, and felt I was really making a positive impact on the center. God had really put me there for a reason.

Then, I got a message that AmeriCorps found out I’d completely switched my position, and did not approve. I would have to completely give up my eligibility for the AmeriCorps $5,000+ education grant if I continued working in the office instead of doing my original position description. I was heartbroken; I’d finally found where I was meant to be, where I could thrive and help out and feel fulfilled, and now I had to give it up.

Going back to the classroom was not easy, especially because it took months for the center to find a new office manager, so I was doing some administrative tasks on the side. The office may have felt occasionally lonely, but being in a room with sixteen other people for eight hours a day often feels overwhelming. And while my housemates had the entire fall season to learn about their jobs and get into the groove of things, I had been learning a completely different position, and now had to figure out my job all over again.

Fast-forward about six months, to where I am today. I absolutely, without a doubt, adore my kids. I have watched four kids learn to walk, nine learn to crawl, heard them stutter out their first words, helped them learn colors and animals. I have learned their habits, how to convince them to eat vegetables, what to do when they’re screaming for no reason, how to hold three babies in my lap as I read a story to them. I’ve learned the names and stories of forty-six kids, and built relationships with them. But more important than learning the fastest way to change a diaper and the cleanest way to open baby food, I’ve learned to live life past the goals. Caring for children is not a checklist, but a journey, a day-to-day encounter with the good, the bad, the messy, and the wonderful. And what I feared would be a monotonous, never-ending task without any “destination” in the end, has become a fulfillment in a deep-rooted desire for caring for others that I didn't even realize I had.

In the end, I think God did want me at my placement site. I learned and grew more than I might have in a different site that seemed “easier” at first. From day one of Amate I had been thinking about doing another year of service, and I recently (excitedly!) committed to my second year. I am so anxious and excited to see what kind of challenges God places before me. This time around, I’m prepared to feel completely unprepared for my new position!

I am so thankful for the supportive community, for my co-workers, and of course, my wonderful kids. Thank you for teaching me how to live each day as a learning, growing, changing person. I will definitely take the lessons and the memories learned this year with me for the rest of my life!