Br. David Darst Center

I realized that I hadn’t actually shared my work placement in Chicago, so here it goes:unnamed

I am working at the Br. David Darst Center as a Retreat Facilitator. The Darst Center is a Social Justice Education Center, we host high school and college students in Urban Immersion retreats and provide unique service-learning opportunities. Rather than simply discussing social justice issues in the theoretical, we take students into partner organization that work directly with communities affected by social injustices.

I love my placement. I have a chance to facilitate conversations on the root causes of issues such as poverty, homelessness, and community violence with students who have varied exposure to these topics.

Along with the Urban Immersion Retreats, the Darst Center is a space that can hold community conversations on some of these topics. For example, a few weeks ago we hosted a Speaker Series with CROAR (Chicago Regional Organizing for AntiRacism), a regional partner of Crossroads (the organization that did YAV training at Stony Point Orientation).

Besides facilitating retreats and preparing the space for other events, I am also working with some of the programming (to get exposure to some of the daily tasks that go into working in a non-profit) as well as having an opportunity research Policy-related actions on the different levels of government.

Different Realities

No two people have the exact same experience. Even though two people may witness the exact same event at the exact same time, there could be two totally different interpretations of the event. Past experiences shape a person’s understanding of current events. These same past experiences, as well as factors that an individual has absolutely no control over compile into various realities in the same space.

I recently had a conversation with a woman that progressed into her understanding of relativism as it pertains to religious practices, faith journeys, and the role of religious beliefs in moral and ethical situations. She and I didn’t necessarily agree on many aspects of the conversation, which at the time infuriated me; after a few days of reflection, I realized the reason she and I could not see eye-to-eye was because our worlds that we live in are conflicting. My perspective is that she has been fairly sheltered to some of the things in the world; yet, the same argument could be made about me depending on with whom I am conversing.

I like to think I’m a realist. I have a decent grasp of a lot of the social injustices I witness regularly, and I am enraged by how saturated our society is with systems that perpetuate those injustices. I know that my US American experiences (and my relationships with the systems that perpetuate injustices) are not the norm in US America.

Multiple realities exist. It is only with the acknowledgement that contending realities are valid, can there be progress.

20 minutes…

63rd Street and Woodlawn. An intersection that I am not likely to ever forget.

This morning my fellow YAV’s and I embarked on an observation tour of the Southside of Chicago. Basically we got on a bus and stayed until we were well past the White Sox stadium. After we got off our second bus, we started walking through the edges of Hyde Park, and that’s when I saw it. A man of color started to collapse on his wife, and when I went over to inquire I realized this man was NOT okay. I introduced myself as a First Responder and asked if I could do a Primary and Secondary Assessment so once the EMTs arrived on scene the process would be streamlined.

By this point a small crowd of varying demographics had started to form. A couple of police cars drove by, to ask MY  (predominately white, obviously middle class) group what was going on, not even acknowledging the crowd of people of color surrounding Daniel, and not even bothering to get out of their car to check the scene on their own. It wasn’t until an officer finally got OUT of his car to talk to me did he realize he should probably radio an ambulance.

Because of the intersection, because of the demographics of that neighborhood, there was no sense of urgency for this medical emergency. Daniel was around 65, and his symptoms indicated a stroke. And because we were in a neighborhood occupied by people of color, a bystander was on the phone with 911 for 20 minutes before the ambulance was even summoned…

My heart aches.

 

(Dis)Orientation and Community

“You see the top of the schedule where it says ‘Orientation’ mark it out and write ‘Disorientation.'” These were the first words I heard at Stony Point Conference Center in Stony Point, New York. More truer words could not have been spoken. During (dis)orientation myself and 66 other YAVs were forced to sit in some discomfort, literally and figuratively (seriously! sitting in straight-backed chairs for 12 hours is not comfortable!). The figurative discomfort was more because of the tough conversations that had to be had. And while those conversations were incredibly important, the thing that sticks out most to me was the development of community.

One of the core tenets of YAV is living in intentional community with one another. Logistically that translates how to live with different people in different environments and not absolutely hate each other at the end of the year. But there is more to developing community than just hanging out with your housemates. I’m talking about developing relationships with other YAVs outside of our site. There are close to 70 Young Adult Volunteers serving this year, so being able to create friendships outside of my site is crucial. It is inevitable that at some point this year I am going to need to talk to someone who is not in my house, but understands what I am going through; I have those connections post-Stony Point.

“Chicago? You know that’s a dangerous city”

Chicago: the home of President Obama and known nationwide for the violence. The title of this blog is a direct quote from an older gentleman in the local coffeeshop. Similar concerns have been made to either my parents or myself over the last seven months since I received my placement. It baffles me that people from my town can move to Charleston, Atlanta, New York City, or even Washington, DC without as much as a blink of an eye or a word of protest. People must think Chicago is in some developing country based on the reactions I get from, not only strangers, but those close to me as well. In an upper-level history class in college, we discussed different European Revolutions and the patterns of all those events. Violence occurs when economic, social, and cultural issues collide. If Chicago is as violent as everyone assumes, maybe, just maybe it’s time to take a good, hard look at the causes, rather than just accepting it as another group’s problem.

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to live and work in city, which many people in my area have written off. Its daunting to think that in less than a week, the journey I  have been working towards for a year will finally begin. My to-do list for the next six days keeps growing. From figuring out how to pack a year’s worth of stuff into two suitcases to making sure I get to visit with everyone I need to see before I leave, a week I thought was going to be restful has turned out to be anything but. It’s all starting to become real; I will be living in a new city, with five other people, working at a job that is still unknown. This process has already forced me to learn that you don’t always get answers when you want them and I am diligently trying to work on accepting that fact.

My fundraising is progressing. While it was just as nerve-wracking as my previous post predicted, I am truly honored to have people in my life who want to support me. (Opportunities to give  can be seen here.)

 

 

My name is Meredith and…

My name is Meredith and I am not good at asking for help. Any kind of help. I don’t know why, but I have always had this mindset that if I were to ask for any kind of assistance for anything, it was a sign of weakness and being seen as weak should be avoided at all costs. If I couldn’t figure out how to achieve something on my own, then I thought I just hadn’t thought of everything yet.

Segue into how this little confession is at all relevant to my journey to Chicago as a Young Adult Volunteer. In preparation for my year in service, YAVs are expected to raise money to help cover a very small portion of the costs. It is also supposed to be a way to get my home community invested in my service year; rather than simply knowing that I’m living in Chicago with a program supported by the PC(USA) and DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection), I am living in Chicago with a program supported by the organizations AND the people who have helped raise me, loved me, and watched me grow in my faith over my 23 years on this earth. But if this is the goal, then why does it feel like I am betraying every single person I know by asking for money? Why do I get this gut feeling of dread every single time I sit with my address book to send one more letter?

Money is always a taboo subject in our culture. With the exception of the one time a year during stewardship at church, money just isn’t a thing that’s talked about. And quite frankly, if I could write a check to go to my YAV year and do it all by self, I would. But the fact of the matter is that $4,000 is a lot of money. So here I am, going against everything that feels normal and comfortable asking for money for an opportunity that I am so excited that I can’t even put it into words.

Money: life would just be so much easier if it wasn’t a thing.

Bringing Home Here

Adulting is tough. A few weeks ago I got strep throat, and while I’m no stranger to being sick, there is always something about having to take care of yourself when you feel pathetic that really reinforces the fact that you’re an adult.

With Easter right around the corner and me living 5,000 miles away from my family, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the holiday traditions that will always mean so much to me. Easter in my family always meant spending the weekend on the beach, dying eggs for hours Saturday night, and eating loads of delicious food with the family of our choosing. We didn’t spend it with the hoards of distant relatives, rather Easter lunch was spent with friends that chose to love us (and like us) instead of completing some misplaced family obligation; 20 people, none of which were blood-relatives, crammed into the beach condo eating mac&cheese, green bean casserole, ham and all the other deliciousness we could think of.

As my siblings dispersed, traditions were tweaked. This time last year, we travelled to Texas for my youngest nephew’s baptism and Easter celebration. This year, my brother is in the middle of the ocean somewhere serving in the US Navy, my parents are returning to Texas to spend their Spring Break with the grandkids (along with my sister and brother-in-law, because ya know they created the grandkids) and I am in Hawaii, spending my first important holiday away from my family.

For days I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m going to do; because I didn’t grow-up going to Easter Service, I figure I’ll probably go to a beach and just be. But really it’s the potluck that I’m going to miss the most. The idea of cooking all the staples (is it really Easter without green bean casserole, deviled eggs and mac&cheese?) is daunting, but the way I figure the way we hold on to traditions is carrying them out for yourself as much for anyone else. While I’ll probably make a few portion controlled adjustments (like only doing a ham steak vs an entire pig and maybe only a dozen deviled eggs vs closer to 4 dozen eggs) I’m resound in the idea that it wouldn’t be Easter without the elements that just scream home. Easter is all about love, and it is through the love of this cooking is going to bring home to Hawaii.