Change Can Be A Good Thing – Kenna Rago

“Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become”  -unknown

St John's Community Care
[I helped come up with the wording for this sign for Valentine’s Day!]

If you’ve ever read “Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life” by Spencer Johnson, you would know the allegory that is related how change fits into our lives. The moral of this story about mice finding cheese in a maze is this: You must change with your environment or you will not survive.

I’m finding that I’ve had to cope with changes and make changes myself throughout the year. I was originally placed at Coordinated Youth and Human Services as a paraprofessional in a classroom for elementary school students with behavior disorders. I was COMPLETELY unprepared for this placement. I have no background in working with kids with special needs and I believe that my personality is simply not right for that profession. When the stress of my agency placement started affecting my health, I decided it was time for a change.

My new placement is with St. John’s Community Care in Collinsville (about a 20 minute drive from my house). St. John’s Community Care is an outreach of St. John’s UCC that is committed to providing services to people challenged by aging and disabilities.  I am splitting my time between marketing and the Adult Day Program. In the Adult Day Program, I am running a pilot early memory loss program called Memory Fit. In marketing I do a lot of different things. One of my favorite tasks is writing prayer devotionals for the St. John’s Community Care Facebook page (Like us on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/stjohnscc?ref=aymt_homepage_panel )

I absolutely love my job at St. John’s Community Care. It is a completely different environment where I feel like I actually fit in and am making a difference while using my gifts in an effective manner!

There are HUGE differences between Coordinated Youth and Human Services and St. John’s. Coordinated Youth seemed to be reactive in their mission. St. John’s is incredibly proactive in addressing the social justice issues they deal with on a daily basis. It appears that this general “forward thinking attitude” makes a big difference in the work environment. I am quite pleased with this change and am truly grateful for St. John’s Community Care. I look forward to finishing the year with them!

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Dear Lord,  Help me to have eyes that see the best in people and a heart that forgives the worst. Please grant me with a mind that forgets the bad things in life and help me to find hope in trying times. Most importantly, please give me a soul that is faithful to You, for Your love is Everlasting. In Your Holy Name,  Amen.

Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Heavenly Father,  Help us to let go of habits that no longer serve us. Reassure us in times when we do not know the next step. Help us to trust in Your Divine plan. May we surrender all our anxieties to you with the faith that You will guide us through the chaos of this World.  Amen

Doing vs. Being – Emmanuel Mancilla in Seattle

Emmanuel1

Picture of the Faith-Led march, Seattle, in response to Ferguson’s jury decision in no indictment of officer Darren Wilson

Emmanuel2
Picture of me (Emmanuel) all nervous before beginning my community workshop.

I am an intern at The Church Council of Greater Seattle and there are a set of responsibilities that I have/had to fulfill. I started a resource guide and website counterpart for migrants in our community, I set up our monthly living wage working group meetings, and recently I created a couple community workshops for those who would be affected by Obama’s new immigration reform announcement. All good things, but after my conversation with a friend of mine I realized a balance between the idea of “being” and “doing” was missing.

You see,“doing” is so much easier to do. We can quantify what we do, see, count, and judge our results. We can also count the results of not doing. After we accomplish something our next thought tends to be on the “what’s next?” There’s never this moment of reflection on what has been done because we are so consumed on tackling our next tasks. For myself I can see how I’ve been caught up in the “doing” versus the “being.”  Somewhere along the lines I lost my passion for doing some of the things that were mentioned above. They became things on a checklist that had to be checked off before certain due dates. I had lost that energy I came into the program with.

I’ve had many moments where I began to ask myself the “why I am here” questions and then start a list of all the things I could have been doing this year. I think the reason why I find myself in these states of mind is because my sense of being was somewhere buried underneath all of the deadlines, tasks, and projects that are constantly growing. I believe the idea of “being” is challenging one self to think of how the work we are doing drives our spirituality and how our spirituality drives our work. If no reflection is going on then you might find yourself (like me) disconnected between your work and who you are. They become a year long to do list.

What does it actually mean for us (me) to march in a rally for social justice?
What does it actually mean for us (me) to advocate for a living wage?
What does it actually mean for us (me) to advocate for the rights of those undocumented?
What does it actually mean for us (me) to advocate in ending homelessness?

I am at a point in my life where I am being reminded of what it means to fully live out (be) the work I am doing rather than to just do my work. I want to learn more about who I am in this year of service and leave the program a year from now knowing that every Mon-Fri I was able to enhance the Kingdom of God in either small or big ways.

Thanks for reading.
-E

Here is a Link to the Sin Fronteras Resource Guide I was able to work on.
http://www.sinfronterasguide.org/

Practicing newly learned advocacy skills – Honah Thompson

Apple

It’s been a busy start to 2015 so far! After a short visit to see my family in Northern California for Christmas I am back to the grind. I am hard at work helping to plan Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day with the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and love every chaotic minute of it. As of today, I have made 98 phone calls and scheduled 54 meetings with Washington’s 147 legislators. With luck, I will have all 147 scheduled before the big day comes on February 17th.

Beyond my work at the Housing Alliance, I am working on coordinating advocacy action with my congregation for a piece of legislation that will be going through state house and senate this session. This bill would create a program referred to as “Breakfast After the Bell,” which would allow students to eat breakfast in the classroom after the bell has rung. It goes without saying that hungry kids can’t learn. Furthermore, hungry kids are less cooperative and are more often disciplined. Current statistics presented by United Way show that 1 in 4 kids in Washington state struggles with hunger and that 67% of students eligible for free and reduced-price breakfast at school do not receive one for a multitude of reasons. The solution is to get back toward targeted participation in the National School Breakfast Program by implementing Breakfast After the Bell.

I have met with representatives from Washington Appleseed here in Seattle to learn more about Breakfast After the Bell and have been inspired to bring this to my congregation. I am planning to share information about opportunities for advocacy at our next monthly breakfast (unfortunately we won’t be able to have school themed breakfast food like I had hoped, but it would have been cute!) and at a workshop after church at Plymouth Congregational in downtown Seattle in February. It is so easy to engage with lawmakers in the capitol, but so few people know how to do so. I am excited to apply my newly learned advocacy skills to a new project that is so user friendly (what is there to be afraid of? It’s kids and food).

TEACHING AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS – Maura Walsh

Love Wins
My host church of St. Peter has an elderly congregation, with the youngest regular-attending member around the age of 60. A lot of wisdom comes from the mouths of these amazing people, but also, a lot of outdated thoughts.

This is a story of the evolution of the outdated thoughts of one particularly amazing woman:

Before every service, there is a group of us that join for Bible study. This particular Sunday we studied Mathew 22:34-39.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

After some discussion, we decided this meant loving courageously.
Loving outside the norm.
Loving far beyond expectation.
The attempt to live out Agape toward every human we cross.

One woman expressed her concern in following this commandment. She mentioned that an African American family had moved in across the street from her, and she wasn’t sure how to act. This had never happened in her lifetime in Granite City.

My heart sank. I had never heard someone so blatantly speak about his or her prejudices in my entire life. Was this really the place I was supposed to live for a year? Was I truly surrounded by such closed minded people?

I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with anxiety over where this conversation was going….

Another asked, “Well, what would you do if they were White?”
She replied, “Probably nothing.”

“How are you going to love them courageously?”  The words just popped out of my mouth without my effort. I hoped I didn’t offend her. I couldn’t just sit there silently while people were having this conversation…

You could see her cogs turning. She didn’t know how to respond. She had never been asked this before. The conversation continued, but I did not realize the lasting impact my statement would make on this woman’s heart.

Since this day, she has made a very obvious effort to challenge her way of thinking.

The Wednesday after Veterans’ Day, she and her friend who is a 93 year old WWII veteran, presented a book on WWII to our youth group. It is important to note that our youth group is mostly black middle school aged boys.

During their presentation, one of the boys asked, “Were there any Black soldiers?”

She proceeded to show them the chapter on African American soldiers. Their eyes widened as their interest in the subject grew.

“Were people racist back then?” Another chimed in.

There is no possible way I could capture how eloquently she responded. Telling them the truth of the matter while explaining how significant her time with them has been to challenge the thoughts that had been engrained in her mind since childhood. How she is now beginning to see the youth as her own, regardless of their race.

This wasn’t the last time a conversation like this came up in youth group, and every time she has presented her truths with such a grace and vulnerability. She has created a safe space for these conversations to take place between young and old, black and white. She has expressed to this group how important they are to her. How they are helping her change her ways. They are showing her how to love courageously….

Maybe, just maybe, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Homelessness in Philadelphia

Homelessness in Philadelphia and the work of Old First Reformed UCC, and partner community agencies, the Bethesda Project, and P.O.W.E.R., to combat it, formed the topic of conversation on Friday, December 5th as interns from YASC network sites all over the U.S. joined to talk together.

The video “Have the Homeless Become Invisible?” (3 1/2 min.) started the conversation.  Pastor Michael Caine of Old First recounted history that has led to increased homelessness in the city and efforts to address root causes. YASC intern in Philadelphia, Timothy Kent, shared experiences of his work with the church’s cold winter shelter and clothes cupboard. YASC interns from different settings made connections or saw differences with the daily work in which they are involved this year.

Conversation took the turn of exploring the role of “mission exposure trips.”  Whose needs are being met, and how, by the service provided by groups that are hosted by the homeless men in the cold winter shelter at Old First?  What is the role of “mission exposure trips” for creating awareness and inspiring passion for deeper and lifelong involvement in change?

We were just getting started when the designated hour together drew to a close.  The conversation continues…

Social Justice in the Faith World – Honah Thompson

EAP 2014 Honah1 - Yakima
Photo courtesy of Washington Low Income Alliance
Honah at Emerging Advocacy Leaders Program, Yakima, WA September 2014

And we’re off! The past two months have been an amazing whirlwind in my community and agency placement, and I’m not sure there is anything about it I would change. Between my new experiences in the world of advocacy and my new involvement working with social justice in the faith world, this year is off to a rewarding start.

 At my agency, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, I have had the chance to work with various programs and policies affecting the homeless population of Washington. Before my first day at the Housing Alliance even began, I was taken to Yakima to take part in the Emerging Advocates Program, where individuals who have recently or are currently experiencing homelessness were given the tools to become housing advocates. This was an amazing weekend that felt like a crash course into housing and advocacy for myself, and I hadn’t even started working yet. I saw the participants engage and grow and I learned more than I could have anticipated in just one short weekend.

 Since my adventure in Yakima I have been taking part in planning for our annual Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day (if you’ll be in Washington on February 17, check it out! http://wliha.org/housing-and-homelessness-advocacy-dayas well as the 25th annual Conference on Ending Homelessness.  I’m sure you’ll hear more about these fantastic events in future blog posts from yours truly.

 I came into this experience expecting to grow, but had no idea how exactly that would be happening. In the past months I have experienced a positive shift in theology, challenging growth in understanding of systemic oppression, and a new relationship with myself, my idea of community, and my goals for the future. This year is just beginning and I can’t wait to see what else is in store as I continue to engage and change.