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!
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.
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…
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
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