When exploring various options for a service year, one of the reasons I ultimately decided to apply for YAV over other programs, was its size and support system. It seemed that YAV was big enough to offer great opportunities but small enough to receive personal attention. I did not want to participate in a program where I would be a number among thousands of volunteers. Well, my inclination was accurate! As a YAV I have felt very supported on multiple levels by many people.
The Young Adult Volunteer program has a small national staff, made up of five people. I first met a member of the national staff when I had my initial interview, back in January. Rev. Richard Williams, the YAV coordinator (head honcho), spoke with me over the phone for probably an hour describing the program but also getting to know me and addressing my questions. It seemed that he really cared about my experience, that he wanted me to go to a site that would be a good fit, and that he would be available to me all throughout the process. The majority of my interaction with the national staff occurred during Orientation. The staff made up of five unique and quirky personalities offered training and support. We saw their serious side while explaining policy, and their silly side while performing in the talent show. Now, in my YAV year, I don’t communicate with the national staff too often, but I know that I could contact them at any time, and they would respond, knowing my name, and be happy to help. I was reminded by their presence and support when Richard sent me an email after I was hit by a car while biking to work in October. He told me that I was in the thoughts and prayers of the national staff, asked how I was recovering, and offered encouragement as a fellow biker.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ve seen me reference our local Site Coordinator, Alison Wood, on several occasions. During a one-on-one meeting with her during my first week in Tucson, I told her that I wasn’t quite sure of the role of a site coordinator. She responded, “I’m not your friend. I’m not your boss.” Don’t tell Alison, but I think that she is actually both.
I understand the sentiment of her words, though. She is not my boss in the sense that she does not oversee my work at my site placement. She does, though, offer support related to my site placement and can serve as an intermediary between me and my placement supervisor if needed. She facilitates our community discussions each Friday, with a focus on developing vocational discernment tools and living into the value of intentional community. She holds office hours twice a week, which is an open invitation to chat one-on-one. She also offers not-so-optional opportunities to chat during monthly one-on-one check-ins. During retreats, we have played board games together and joked around. I like her sense of humor. After my bike accident, she drove me to the emergency room, and sat with me for hours, blowing up rubber gloves and telling me silly stories. When our 1998 Saturn, that serves as our program vehicle, does not start, she takes it to the shop. Really, she does a lot, so there is no way that I can include it all. The bottom line is: I can call her anytime, with an emergency, or with an existential question, and know that she will respond, not with answers but with challenging questions that allow me to grow.
Local Board of Directors
Each national YAV site has a board of directors. They function as the site coordinator’s bosses and an additional support system for us. Our board is made up of members of local churches, former YAVs, and community members. It is odd to refer to them as board members because they feel more like what I would usually call “family friends.” We see them at churches sometimes. Some have invited us over for dinner. Others have taken us to community events. I especially like when board members with young families invite us to do stuff with them and their kids! We typically do not interact with board members on a regular basis, but I know we can always reach out to them if we need assistance, and they will be happy to help and support us.
I do not know if other YAV sites have discernment partners or if it was Alison’s idea, but regardless, it was one aspect of the Tucson site that caught my attention during my initial interview. After getting to know us for about a month, Alison matched each of us YAVs with a discernment partner who she thought was similar in temperament, interests, etc. I prefer to call them “mentor buddies.” Our discernment partners support us human beings. They are not our Site Coordinator, nor on the Board of Directors, nor associated with our site placements, so they won’t heckle us about fund raising or specific assignments. They are just people we can talk who will support us. The idea is that we meet about once per month. My discernment partner and I usually meet for coffee in the evenings and chat for an hour. Others have gone on hikes, shared meals, or participated in other activities with their partners. Per the title, I think they are supposed to guide and offer support especially as it relates to vocational discernment. My experience is that my mentor buddy likes to get to know me, see how I’m doing, and hear my reflections on various aspects of life. It’s nice to have a neutral person with whom I can just chat.
This is not an exhaustive list of my sources of support. I also feel support from my supervisor and co-workers at my site placement, my family, church members, and friends of the YAV program. However, I wanted to take the time to describe the levels of support that are inherent in the YAV model. Yes, I moved to a new city in August, but I did not feel stranded or estranged. I was immediately enveloped in a caring community, and for that I am very grateful.
Sorry I’ve been out of action for so long! For me, blogging can be very tough and exhausting at times. So after full days of work, I often find it hard to motivate myself to work and write more. We’ve been quite busy round here so I’ve been out of the blogosphere.
Last week, we Tucson/Douglas/Agua Prieta YAVs had our Lenten Sojourn Retreat. For this we went out to Cascabel, a beautiful area near Benson AZ. We were there to camp, enjoy each other’s company, and the wonderful nature out there.
For the first day and night at least.
For the next two nights and one day after that, we would be out on ‘solos’. This meant that each of us would be taken to individual sites away from each other to spend our time meditating, reflecting, getting away from the busyness of our lives, and hopefully hear a little bit of God’s whisperings to us. While I was stoked to go camping, I was a nervous to be alone for 36ish hours.
I would like to say that while I was out there I spent countless hours meditating and listening to God. That I prayed ceaselessly and saw visions of my future. But I didn’t. I got bored. I pace around. Yes I did pray at times. I read my Bible. But I also stared at the grass. I looked at this one saguaro cactus for way too long (it had like 12 arms which meant it was outrageously old, but other than that it wasn’t too fascinating). And I actually learned some things. I learned that being alone doesn’t bother me at all. However, having nothing to do kind of destroys my soul. I learned that man could in fact live on PB&J alone. I was reinforced in some of the callings I feel in life and got completely turned around in others. I also learned that God could speak to us in boredom and in prayer. Two things I learned really stuck out to me though.
One was about what our coordinator Alison wisely called ‘the Tyranny of the Should’. I don’t know about y’all, but I often find myself telling myself that I SHOULD do things. I should do this or that, or I should study more of this or read more of that. So many shoulds! It can be overwhelming. But then our friendly neighborhood pastor Bart flipped that on it’s head for me. We were sitting around after lunch, waiting to be taken to our sites. I was telling about something I felt like I SHOULD be doing better. And he very calmly said ‘Ya know, maybe you don’t. That might just not be how you operate.’ It was so simple yet struck me. I felt like I constantly made myself do things that I didn’t really want to do but felt like I should do. That simple sentence of Bart’s made me feel more secure in myself and helped me realize that should can be really destructive.
I also learned that things don’t always meet our expectations, and that’s totally okay. I went into this desert sojourn thinking my world would be rocked and I would learn so many things about my life. That God would tell me everything I needed to know and show me visions of my future. But I didn’t. Those things didn’t happen and it was okay. Oftentimes we put unreal expectations on things and are crushed when they don’t happy. At first, I was upset that it didn’t meet my expectations. However, once I thought about it, I realized that it was totally okay that it didn’t meet all my expectations. Things can still be beneficial and help us learn even when they aren’t what we expected. And I am very thankful for that.
I am 24 years-old and I come fleeing from Guatemala. The reason why is because gang members in my neighborhood tried forcing me to deliver drugs for them. I refused. Within a few days, I found out that they killed a transgender friend of mine for refusing as well. So I decided to leave my country so that I wouldn't end up the same way. Now I'm in the Florence Detention Center (FDC) and I need your help to get out and meet my goals and dreams to continue studying here in the US."
- Estrella, transgender person currently in detention
"According to a November 2013 report from the Center for American Progress, LGBT detainees are 15 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than heterosexual and cisgender detainees."
Read more here: http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2014/10/14/op-ed-why-you-should-help-me-get-lgbt-people-out-detention
Detention is a horrible place for most detainees, but it can be an especially hostile place for LGBTQ individuals. Transgender or gender queer people like Estrella often face verbal and sexual harassment from guards and other detainees. Detention centers or prisons for undocumented people are divided by sex, leaving little room for people who identity outside of strict gender and sex binaries. Homophobia is rampant in these environments which creates a physically and emotionally unsafe place for LGBTQ people.
In addition many individuals like Estrella have experienced rejection, prejudice, and violent threats in their home country. When I visited Estrella at the all-male Florence Detention Center, she told me part of her story.
Estrella grew up in a large family in rural Guatemala. Accustomed to traditional gender roles, his family did not react well when he started to experiment with his gender expression and cut ties with him. Estrella moved to the city to find more economic and social opportunities. Unfortunately, Guatemala City was not a tolerant or accepting place. Powerful cartel members asked her to transport drugs for them. When she refused, they threatened her life. She fled Guatemala and migrated to the United States in search of safety and acceptance. After crossing the border, he was apprehended for Border Patrol and sent to detention. Estrella has been in detention since May 2014, seeking asylum.
Even though Estrella has faced unprecedented tribulations he remains positive and actively engaged in his community. He takes great pride in his work as a kitchen aid at the detention center, volunteering to work extra hours. As her name indicates, she truly has a powerful glow that surrounds her. Somehow, she has managed to maintain a sense of humor and generosity throughout this time. When I met with Estrella, we laughed about silly things, as he read my palm and predicted how many children is have. We daydreamed about delicious foods that are not available in detention. We cried about the abuses he has experienced. After talking for about two hours, we ended our experience by both praying for one another.
As I drove home from the detention center, part of me stayed back with Estrella. I imagined her walking back to her cell, escorted by a guard who probably inspires more fear than security. I imagined her serving food to the very detainees who had abused her earlier that week. I did not want to imagine her spending Christmas alone in a cold cell. More importantly I did not want to imagine him going back to Guatemala, where his life is endangered.
Please help us raised funds to pay the bond to get Estrella out of detention before Christmas. Give her the opportunity to fight her asylum case from a safe and loving place.
I will match every donation up to $100. Please let me know if you have questions or are interested in getting involved.
*Estrella uses masculine and feminine pronouns interchangeably.