First Lutheran Church, Marshall
I'm a little shy when it comes to telling strangers I'm a Lutheran Volunteer (LV). Some people get it: they'll thank me and my housemates for our work; they'll buy us a drink or spot us $20 to treat ourselves to something. Others immediately ask if I'm "religious" and don't wait for the answer. To them, I want to explain that my Lutheranism has invested itself in my life in two significant ways that led me to the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC). First, I live under the wild notion that all people are loved. (I could go so far to say I believe in fairness for all people.) Second, I believe we (especially those of us with racial and economic privilege) need to examine ourselves and the communities we associate with to see where changes can be made in order to fully express my first belief that all people are loved unconditionally. With those principles in mind, I entered into my service year hoping to observe how communities are built among those who suffer from the effects of poverty in general.
Since starting my year with LVC in August, I have been experiencing what it's like to live by LVC's three core tenets: Simplicity and Sustainability, Community, and Social Justice. I live in San Francisco, Calif., in community with four other LVs in a three bedroom apartment. My housemates and I share food, time and resources in an effort to live simply and sustainably. The social justice component of LVC is fulfilled by my placement at the Lutheran Social Services of Northern California where I work full time as outreach and activities coordinator for a permanent supportive housing site.
Through my position, I have the opportunity to work with staff - to plan and implement events - and with clients who are formerly chronically homeless and potentially suffering from HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis C, mental illness, substance abuse and the effects of poverty in general. My goal to learn about community building is slowly taking shape in ways I rarely expect.
A few months ago, I assisted a client in setting up a phone in her apartment; a task I assumed to be second nature to everyone. Later, I found out it was the first phone she'd owned, in the first apartment she'd ever lived in. Her phone would play a small role in her goal to remain connected to friends and family as she continues to live with mental illness and AIDS. It occurred me the first step to building community is learning to acknowledge and be present with each person I meet; it's about building trusting relationships where each party can hold the other accountable.
I have to remember that sometimes the barriers the clients I work with face are so small to me, I forget to look for them at all. And that's when I have to remember to look critically at my own privileges and figure out how each person's outlook is formed. I have to hold myself accountable, too.
Now I'm learning to look for the small things. I've learned to say hello, goodbye and thank you in four languages, and there's something about these small pleasantries that illuminate the road to trust, to patience, to community.
After my year in LVC and at LSS, I plan to get my master's in education and policy. I hope to work in restorative justice to either challenge the "school to prison pipeline," the name used to describe a trend in which a large number of minority youth in poverty are incarcerated, or to create more opportunities for those who are already incarcerated to gain their college degrees.
For more information about LVC, visit its website: www.lutheranvolunteercorps.org.