Surviving and Thriving in Austin

Hello all! Thank you for your patience during my gap between posts! Things in Austin have been extremely busy but so so so good. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers as I have been continuing my journey here in Texas as a YAV.

So, what the heck have I been up to!?! Well, for starters, I finally feel like there is a place for me in Austin. It may not be home, but it feels good to be here right now. I have grown closer to my community, feel a sense of purpose at work, still explore new things, and let’s be real the weather isn’t too shabby either!

To begin, Justice For Our Neighbors (where I work) always keeps me on my toes! Although much of my work right now is helping the place keep organized, triple checking our work, and figuring out new and better systems for our current procedures, this is the type of work that needs to be done with a still very new agency of less than two years. When I am not scanning, organizing, and other regular duties I sometimes get to go to court! This is an exciting (and also nerve racking) part of what JFON does with our clients. It was great for me to be able to get to experience this. We have had a lot of recent successes at court and now we are anxiously awaiting a lot of approvals for paperwork and officially accepting more new clients.

IMG_5800

The Travis County Court House in Austin

Also, we successfully had our first big fundraiser for Austin Region Justice For Our Neighbors. I had a major role in organizing the guest list and tables as purchases and RSVPs came through. I also helped the board stay on top of their duties and be the communicator between parties. This took up a lot of my time in the month of October and until mid November when the fundraiser was. Last I heard our tallies were in the $30,000 range. WOW! This is incredible for our organization. There were over 200 people there at the dinner with client stories, staff and board introductions, and speeches from a few special guests along with an amazing choir for entertainment from one of the local Methodist churches. And, there was a special announcement that enough funds were raised to begin a quarterly clinic in Smithville. What a night! ARJFON felt very special and loved that evening.

ARJFON Fundraiser set up ^^^

Another huge part of my life happened just this past weekend. I completed a HALF MARATHON. Wow! All of my training served me well, however, it was still one of the most physically challenging things I have ever done. I am so proud of myself for finishing—I did it! Also, it was so great to have my sister Brooke and Austen, a fellow YAV, with me in San Antonio for the race. It was a fun and exciting weekend. I am glad I can look back at my past two months of training and say that I accomplished my goal.

Riverwalk pictures:

Before the race:

After the race!

(More pictures are on my Facebook page)

Work and training have taken over big parts of my life but here are some pictures to see where else I have been out and about during the past weeks. I also got to take a trip home for Thanksgiving, which provided me with familiar faces whom I missed so much, and fun times with family. It was such a busy trip but I was glad I got to be home in Indy. I know this is a lot in a short post, but as always I appreciate you reading and your involvement in my journey.

Life here in Austin is pretty sweet—check it out!

My birthday:

UT Football game!

Out and about:

Lucky Week Seven

There has always been that phrase of “lucky number seven” which leads me into this new post. I have officially been in Austin for seven weeks! I cannot believe that I have been here that long. It seems like such a long time, yet I still have many more weeks to go.

As my lucky week seven began, I will say that I was not feeling so lucky. This week has been tough. Wow, I am HERE. In AUSTIN, TX. For ONE YEAR. I am here and I am doing this. I have finally adjusted to my surroundings and feel like a real resident of Texas, but with this comes the realization of how settled I am here. I recognize my routine and comfortability which only makes me realize that I am scared I am putting my “real life” on “pause”. What I mean by this is that this year was always something similar to a dream. I was going to go to Austin, have fun, learn about myself, my community, and job placement and then go home (Ok, I was going to do more than just those few things, but you get the point). Lucky week seven has come around full circle to make me realize that this is not a dream. This adventure IS a part of my life. My YAV year is not some far off land where all of my problems fade away. It is my life and my life is not on pause while I am here.

Realizing that my life is in “play”, I have awakened to the realization of asking myself, “What am I doing in Austin? Why am I a YAV? What does this year mean for me now and in my future?” I can’t run from these questions. I will keep y’all updated in my discovery process.

Another realization brought by lucky week number seven is that no one else’s life is on pause either. My family and friends from back home and wherever are also off living their life… And I am not there. I spent much of week seven talking, texting, or on the phone in some form with people who are dear to my heart. It is always a joy to catch up, check in, and talk like nothing has changed. This week, I am grateful for technology and its ability to keep me connected. However, with these many enriching, insightful, and just plain awesome chats also came sadness, longing, and feeling like I am missing a part of myself in Texas. The people I know are a part of who I have become. Even though this week has made me sad and feel like parts of myself are missing, I feel so blessed that I have people in my life who support me no matter what and who make it hard for me to move away. I have some incredible people in my life.

Other adjustments that I have ran into during this lucky week seven involve work and community. I have found out that Piper, my YAVA supervisor at work, is leaving to begin her seminary adventures. This is great and means that she will still be around (because I live at the seminary) but it also means that there will be a lot of change at work with a new person coming in. A minor set-back, but she will definitely be missed. I am still trying to adjust to the news, but a huge part of my YAV year is change and adjusting, so let’s just add this to the list! Adjusting to community life can also be a challenge. Everyone in my community is awesome, however, we are from about 9 different states in the US, giving me a lot to learn from them but also accepting differences between us. As a larger community of 11, I also find it challenging to be involved with everyone all the time. Just like I put effort into my work, I have also learned that a lot of effort goes into living in community. I appreciate my community and I hope we can all have patience with one another to learn together this year and put effort into our community.

My seventh week was when I began to slow down, realize my routine and semi-comfortability, and also pause to realize the realities of my move to Texas. I am here. I am doing this. And as hard as it is to not know many people here, not know much about the city, not know much about different opportunities, and still adjust to basically everything, despite these surreal realities I am still trying to embrace my surroundings. I am hopeful for my life that I will live in “play” while here in Austin. It is way more adjusting and balancing than I thought, but I know that this year will be a chapter in my book that I’ll appreciate. I am living my life in Austin, time to press play and see what happens.

As always, here are some fun photos of what I’ve been up to:

My amazing family came to visit (: We did much more, but here is what was documented:

Dad, mom, and Brooke!

Dad, mom, and Brooke!

IMG_5637    IMG_5701   IMG_5639

^^ Photos of our visit to New Braunfels to a small cute town home of the oldest dance hall in Texas (Gruene Hall… some may recognize it from the most recent season of the Bachelorette).

Now, photos of some fun things we did in the city:

Adventures on South Congress-

IMG_5632   IMG_5636

IMG_5706   IMG_5708

Homeslice pizza… a must in Austin!

Took the family to hang out on Rainey Street

Took the family to hang out on Rainey Street

Last minute visit from a high school friend– A work trip to Dallas meant a side trip to Austin! Out shopping and stopped at Hopdoddy burger for a great meal.

IMG_5722      IMG_5720

Beautiful night adventures…

IMG_5726

IMG_5730

IMG_5729

Went to watch the sunset with some fun people

As always, thank you for reading!

Loving, Embracing, and Accepting my Neighbors

It is a true blessing when relationships and connections begin to blossom. The past few weeks that I have had here in Austin have incorporated a lot of love, embrace, and acceptance for those around me. I am getting to know not only my surroundings, but those who surround me.

Each week at Justice For Our Neighbors I find myself more and more invested in what I am doing. The more I do, the more questions I have about immigration policy, what the form I am completing actually means, and learning along the way how my work directly encourages loving, embracing, and accepting my neighbors. I have been scanning, researching, watching, reading, filing, organizing, asking, and taking things in to the best of my ability these past few weeks and I am finally feeling some comfort at work. Piper, my co-worker, is now convinced that I am the good luck charm in the office because since I have been working at JFON our number of accepted Special Immigrant Juvenile statuses went from two to four and now eight! Granted, they did all of the hard work for these clients before I got there, but being there when getting notified of the hard work that has been done is an incredible feeling. A few screams, claps, and jumps are exchanged despite the fact that we are in the middle of the church building where we work. It is in these moments that I find myself loving, embracing, and accepting my co-workers and each of our new neighbors that now have a piece of paper that grants them something that they never thought they would have. This week marks my fourth week at JFON, which is crazy! I am intrigued to see what will come next.

The AYAVA community, which includes the Young Adult Volunteers, Episcopal Service Corps, and Americorps members, had our first retreat together this past weekend at Lake Dunlap in New Braunfels. Check out this beautiful place!

IMG_5609

IMG_5607 IMG_5608

IMG_5606

IMG_5611

I love that my community incorporates other service programs. We are diverse in every aspect, creating a community that breaks down barriers, challenges what I think I already know, and incorporates my ability of loving, embracing, and accepting my neighbors (and in this case my housemates). There are a lot of us in one community (eleven) and this provides for a lot of fun mafia games, card games, dance parties, and just plain running around. But, it also means that I have ten other people who are going to challenge me, put me to the test, make me vulnerable, help me to try new things… But it is these same individuals who will love, embrace, and accept me throughout this coming year. They listened to me when I began to share the beginning of my spiritual autobiography and listened to me whenever I felt called to speak this past weekend. I have truly gained a new comfort with everyone in my community from this past weekend. We can be complete goofballs yet we can sit down and really dig deep into what we are thinking. I love this. Plus, they really do challenge me and invite me to new things and exploration! I have been running with Austen, learning how to do head stands with Chris, slack lining with Erin, learning to cook real meals with Rebecca and Marianne, and SO much more.

LOOK AT THIS AMAZING GROUP!  (Not pictured: KC, Ben, and Christy)

LOOK AT THIS AMAZING GROUP!
(Not pictured: KC, Ben, and Christy)

As always, here are some photos of adventuring and experiencing new things in Austin!

Adventuring around Austin and free museum day:

IMG_5585 (1)  IMG_5594

IMG_5591   IMG_5593

REALLY close to accomplishing a head stand! Thanks to Chris (in picture) for teaching me.

REALLY close to accomplishing a head stand! Thanks to Chris (in picture) for teaching me.

And… the BIG announcement… I have signed up to run a half marathon in December! Cannot wait to work hard and cross that finish line.

IMG_5595

Thanks so much for reading, y’all! Your support means the world.

Assimilation AND Adventures

My first two weeks living in Austin have been filled with assimilation (the act of assimilating, or of absorbing information, experiences, and etc.) and adventure (a chance, an exciting or unusual experience) … how fitting! I chose these words for my blog title with the intention that they would accurately depict my year and I am excited that they actually are.

During my fourteen days here I have been exposed to A LOT! The south is pretty different from the midwest, let me tell you. Here are a few funny adjustments that I have had to make while here: Who knew that you needed to bring your own grocery bags to the store? (I tend to forget to bring them a lot which leads to awkward moments at the store). Who knew that the workers at the car wash actually washed your car for you? And you got out of the car!? (Austen, my fellow YAV, had many giggles herself when witnessing my deer in the headlights facial expressions at the car wash). Also, whoever thought that placing breakfast items into a tortilla to create the famous “breakfast taco”, which is extremely popular here in Austin, was a genius! For those of you who don’t know… breakfast tacos are a big deal here! And I picked up on that pretty quickly when each morning Martha Lynn, our supervisor, offered to get us some breakfast tacos to begin our days.

Another adjustment I have had to make is going into work every day from 9am to 5pm. I have had jobs like this before but I need to get back into this routine. My job at Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) has been a huge assimilation for me this past week. I have had to absorb more information this week about immigration than I think I did during a week at school! So much goes into the process and I can’t wait to learn more and fill y’all in as best as I can. For now, I can tell you that my co-workers, three women, are very fun, honest, and passionate people who are helping my adjustment into the agency as best as they can. Piper, one of my co-workers, is even a former Austin YAV! I worked on and learned about the many forms that go into immigration this past week and even got the chance to fill out forms myself that will be very important for the Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJ) who are going to court in the next month or so. I also learned about the many complications, resources, and background that must go in to every case that is accepted here at JFON. Even though much of my job is at a desk, I am constantly reminded by my community and my co-workers of the importance and appreciation for what I am doing. Even though the big picture can sometimes be difficult to see, the work I do matters and I can’t wait to really jump into everything. Soon I will begin working on a fundraiser that is a dinner to support and celebrate Austin Region Justice For Our Neighbors (ARJFON) which I think will be a great way to learn more about the organization. Here is the link to their website again if you would like to check it out: JFON Austin

Now, moving on to the adventure part! Here are some photos of my time here in Austin, and these don’t even include everything! It has been a busy time but I hope you enjoy the pictures that I do have. Also, I think my mom will be quite proud that I documented as much as I did. Here ya go:

Mt. Bonnell overlooking parts of Austin- what a view!

Mt. Bonnell overlooking parts of Austin- what a view!

The steps to get to the view

The steps to get to the view

IMG_5479

Martha Lynn, my site coordinator, and her little boy Thomas

Martha Lynn, my site coordinator, with her little boy Thomas

Austen and I at Mt. Bonnell

Austen and I at Mt. Bonnell

Pictures of the University of Texas and the city of Austin:

IMG_5456

IMG_5453

IMG_5454

IMG_5461

Here is some of the wonderful food!

A must go!

A must go!

Woah, some good donuts come from that food truck

Woah, some good donuts come from that food truck

And this burger... so good! Also from a food truck.

And this burger… so good! Also from a food truck.

The seminary treated students to the famous Amy's ice cream

The seminary treated students to the famous Amy’s ice creamIMG_5458

My favorite place so far… Barton Springs! Great place for catching some sun and catching up on reading.

IMG_5462   IMG_5463

My roomies!

My roomies!

My desk at JFON

My desk at JFON

Thank you so much for reading my blog. I really appreciate you staying connected with what I am up to in Texas. Your support means so much and I truly mean that. Check out the right side bar to sign up for email updates and learn more about my program by clicking through the various tabs on my blog.

The Adventure Begins.

My journey with being a Young Adult Volunteer began about two weeks ago. My mom and I set off with my car and belongings and began the 17 hour car ride to Austin, TX. It was not too bad because we managed to split the drive up quite nicely. Our first stop was in Nashville, TN to visit friends and then on to Dallas, TX to meet up with one of my college friends, Shelby. The last leg of our drive included a stop at Baylor University in Waco before we made it to the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary where I will be living this upcoming year. Our four days here together included a lot of errands to get me settled but it also included a day trip to San Antonio. When we departed on our drive, I had never been to Texas and now I can say that I have been to Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio… A successful trip!

We had made it to Austin!

My mom and I had made it to Austin!

My next journey with the program began with my travels to orientation with all of the other YAVs at Stony Point Center in New York. This place is a center that welcomes all, grows there own food, and lives in intentional community. Everyone I met there was so hospitable and it was a great place to spend our week together.

So, what the heck happens when you have all seventy some YAVs, YAV alums (YAVA), YAV staff, and influential speakers all together for seven days in Stony Point, NY? Some weird yet inspirational stuff, that’s what! Our first activity we did together involved throwing ping pong balls into a bucket (this is the weird stuff), however, the conversation afterwards about our culture and society today was very inspirational. This is just one example from the week. I now want to share just a few parts about my week at Stony Point. 

The lovely Stony Point Center

The lovely Stony Point Center

On the first day we jumped right into the challenging aspects of being a volunteer.
What the heck am I doing here? Will this year even matter? How am I to make a difference in a society where social change seems so far out of sight? These were some of the few questions that we wrestled with at the beginning of the week and probably will throughout the year. We were awakened to some of the difficult realities facing our society today, such as the center and borderlands concept, privilege, and bias. Our speaker for the day, Jessica, was the one who mentioned that with faith comes certainty and doubt. It was so important for all of us to doubt and question our years of service and express our concerns because not everything is certain and even in faith comes doubt. Doubting leads to better understanding.

While at Stony Point we also discussed advocacy, interfaith, community, and living well on top of the cultural topics. Something that I really enjoyed about the week was the various amounts of culture we were exposed to. Thursday we had a day away in four different groups. My group went to the Presbyterian Mission Agency at the United Nations where we learned about the church in the U.N. and also attended an incredible service honoring the Nigerian girls who were taken from their school just over 500 days ago. The other groups attended either a Presbyterian Church who serves a vast community, a Mosque, or a Sikh Temple. It was incredible to immerse ourselves into the diversity around us. Not only will we all be serving in areas that are unfamiliar to us and hold a lot of cultural diversity, we ourselves are also culturally diverse. I was very fortunate this week to learn more about other cultures, sing in various languages, and be exposed to these cultures in real life as well.

Finally, on Sunday we all split into smaller groups and spread out to various local churches to be commissioned for our upcoming journeys. I was commissioned at Germonds Presbyterian, a small yet powerfully connected church. They were all so welcoming and supportive of my journey even though they had just met me. My group rode to church with a nice couple and then after church we had lunch with a couple and their son who is around my age. It was a wonderful morning spent with the community.

It is difficult to share everything from the week because it was so much! I gained insight from very inspirational people, such as Jessica, J. Herbert, Rick, and Anton, who were some of the speakers this week. I also experienced many insights and hysterical moments (like the talent show haha) with the YAV staff, YAVA, YAVs, and Alonzo, our chaplain for the week. The stories everyone shared this week made me feel every emotion and I am grateful for that, which leads to my final thoughts from orientation…

My twin Julie who is serving her year in Glasgow, Scotland.

My twin Julie who is serving her year in Glasgow, Scotland.

My amazingly inspirational and goofy small group!

My amazingly inspirational and goofy small group!

Honestly, by the end of the week I thought I was so ready to begin the journey we had all been discussing all week but when it came time to leave I did not want to. I met people like Julie and the individuals in my small group, who made me smile and I had great conversation with. I spent my week with some incredible, amazing, supportive, goofy, and socially aware individuals… And I did not want to leave them. I was a little skeptical about orientation at first, but I came to realize that my YAV year is not about me. It is about my fellow YAVs and the communities that we will all spread, share, and learn about with six different countries this year. I did not want to leave because I want to take this journey with everyone and be everywhere… But, I actually kind of am. This is the amazing thing about the community that we created this past week. I am leaving people that I care about and those who understand my deepest and weirdest concerns and excitements for this next year. As we all depart from our week together I will truly think about each YAV and their incredible experiences while I am having my own. I am so blessed to have people in my life that make it hard to say goodbye but we will forever be connected by this YAV community. Peace to all on your incredible journeys.

Be on the look out for a new post soon once I begin my work at my placement Justice For Our Neighbors (JFON). Here is the link to their website: JFON Austin

 

Thank you so much for reading! Please click on the right side bar to get notified through email when I have a new post. Also, the support my experience tab explains the many ways in which you can help support me during this journey. Thank you! 

Things are changing…

Just as the weather in the midwest fluctuates every day, so it seems my life is on a similar path. Some days I cannot wait for graduation and what is to come next, and then at other times I am not sure how I feel about leaving and moving on from the life I have gotten to know so well for the past four years.

Finding out I was accepted into the Young Adult Volunteer program, however, has made my feelings of transition a little more at ease. For one, I know what I am doing after graduation, and two, it is something that I am super excited about. When I think about this next year, I know I will be challenged, empowered, enriched, and so much more (that I will keep you updated on).

Still anxious with change, I hope and I know that this year in the program will teach me a lot about adjusting, embracing new things, and diving into the unknown. What a perfect step right out of college.

I can’t thank everyone enough for the support and prayers.

 

Anxious yet humbled,

Liv