I had the privilege today of watching the Coronado Area Special Olympics swim meet at the Edith Ball Aquatic Facility here in Tucson. Over my four years at Asbury, I was able to help out with the Jessamine County Special Olympics swim meets at our university pool. It’s always a great reminder to me that we can take joy from anything we do, and that we can do things simply for the joy of doing them. I love being a part of the Special Olympics and, even though I couldn’t help out today, I hope to have the opportunity to volunteer with them again here in Tucson in the future.

Sorry for the abrupt transition here, but I wanted to open with that because it was probably the best beginning to a Saturday I’ve had in a while. Anyway, I was able to start my placement with the Primavera Foundation this week and it felt good to finally get a routine of sorts established. Tuesday of this past week was the official beginning of our working year and it began with a community brunch at the Community Food Bank. All our placement supervisors were there and we walked through the covenant that each of us (YAVs, placements, the Tucson Borderlands site and the Steering Committee) agreed to follow this year. The status of my supervisor was somewhat unknown to me. My original interview with Primavera was handled by Jenna, who had since moved back to Kentucky to be with her family. Thus, I didn’t really know who I would be meeting at the brunch. Turns out it was a collaboration of Alonzo Morado, Primavera’s Community Engagement Coordinator, and Beth Carey, Primavera’s COO.

At the conclusion of the brunch, our jobs had begun. Just like that the idyllic, summer camp experience that had been my YAV year thus far ended and the “real world” began. It reminded me a lot of my freshman year of college when orientation ended and classes began. So my job with Primavera is, what I’ll call, a hybrid position. Basically, I have been tasked to assist both the After School Program Coordinator (another volunteer) and the Garden Coordinator (also a volunteer), however they need it. The Garden Coordinator is Destinee Wells, she’s originally from Michigan and is serving with the Mennonite Volunteer service. The After School Program Coordinator is Cody Bailey, she’s originally from Florida and is serving with NBA Xplor. Together, the three of us form what I have affectionately dubbed “the Squad”.

My work with Primavera will focus primarily around Las Abuelitas, this is an apartment complex owned and managed by Primavera to provide low cost housing to those in need. There are 12 units and Las Abuelitas is also the home of the after school program run by Primavera. There is also a community garden at Las Abuelitas, and this is where a lot of my gardening work will be focused.my-office

This is the office that Destinee and I share with the computer lab at Las Abuelitas. While the gardening program at Primavera is pretty defined and just a matter of putting into motion the actual gardening, the after school program is open to definition and design by Cody and myself. We have some great resources available to us and I think the program will be a good opportunity for me to stretch myself. The kids in the program are between the ages of 5 and 12 and come primarily from Las Abuelitas. In the past two years, however, the program has also started taking in students from the public housing development right next door to Las Abuelitas. Our goal is to continue to grow the after school program (which doubled in size between year one and two) and also increase the parent’s involvement as much as we can. I’m interested to see how our team grows together through this year and I’m looking forward to continuing being a part of Primavera’s work in South Tucson.

I sit here now, on this tenth day of September looking back at the first week of work. My position is an interesting one. As I mentioned above, I occupy a halfway point between the garden coordinator and the after school coordinator. Because of this position, I still don’t have a clear view of what my actual duties will be. Another job related note is the four day work week. It’s awesome to have every weekend be a three day weekend. I think the four day weeks will feel longer (especially once the after school program kicks into gear), but having a long weekend, plus time off work for retreats, etc., will be a good way to recharge. The past week was full of time for preparation. Preparation for the beginning of the after school program (YIKES!!). Preparation for winder gardening. Preparation for working with the Squad. So much is involved in getting ready for next Wednesday; I can’t wait to see the fruits of our labor. I just pray that it all goes smoothly.

mercado-san-agustinOne thing I love about life in Tucson is the Thursday night Farmer’s Market at the Mercado San Agustin. We’ve gone as a group the past two weeks and the atmosphere is awesome. There are always tons of food stalls with locally grown and harvested vegetables, fruits, homemade bread and honey. There is always a live band, last week was The Just Intervals, they are an awesome cover band, you should check them out on Facebook. No really, do it. You won’t regret it. Plus, one of my housemates, Erik works with the Community Food Bank and helps with the Farmer’s Market so we always have an inside track on what’s going on there.

Another thing I’m working through as I start life in Tucson is the confrontation with themes and events and things I see around the city that directly oppose everything I know and believe. It’s a strange environment to go from my home and university where everything lined up exactly or pretty closely to my beliefs (which isn’t a strange phenomenon) to Tucson, where it seems to be the exact opposite. I welcome this forum. I hope it works to challenge everything I’ve held dear and I hope to leave Tucson changed for the experience. Whether that means I change long-held beliefs or hold my beliefs closer and believe more strongly because of my year here.

And so, I find myself here, on the tenth day of September in Tucson, waiting for the beginning of things as yet unknown, looking for answers that are more obscure than the problems they solve, and struggling to discern how my faith and my core beliefs fit into this world in which I find myself.

And so we go.

Thank you, Loving God, for challenging us to move when we don’t want to, for leading us where we may not want to go, and for holding us in the palm of your hand no matter what.

Views from the Weekend

Hey all, the YAVs of Tucson have somewhat successfully navigated the first weekend of our year in Tucson. Orientation is over. We get to meet our placement site staff tomorrow at a community brunch and just like that our year will officially be underway. The path to get to this point has been long, challenging, and not without its share of tears, but its here. We begin the volunteering part tomorrow.

I just wanted to put down some final thoughts before I fear things become too busy to update everyone here as much as I already have. First, the support for YAVs in Tucson is incredible. Sorry to all the other YAVs but Tucson has to be the best environment in which to serve in the entire YAV program. Not only did we get to move into a clean and basically already fully furnished house (thanks to the Tucson Borderlands Steering Committee), we had a YAV shower with Mountain Shadows Presbyterian Church yesterday after attending a service there and we received even more household items (a recliner, which is obviously the most important part of any home, was my favorite) and the leftovers from a meal they served after the service (including a massive cake, obviously an important part of the food available in a kitchen). This is just the tangible stuff that I can see and have experienced since being in Tucson. People that I’ve met in the community are also incredibly nice and always willing to help the “newbies” to the neighborhood.

Second, the challenges are already upon us. We’ve had the ability to engage each other in deep and sometimes hard conversations as we’ve begun the process of community building. This is heartening to me. Hopefully it will make the rest of the conversations easy…or at least easier. I’m looking forward to learning from my fellow YAVs and hope that I can impart even half of what I have learned so far in my first week here.

Third, I’ve managed to forget the fact that we have to work while we’re here. The real part of this experience is here. Up to this point, the YAV program has felt like a glorified summer camp to me. The adjustment to working will be hard, I haven’t spent a day working in over two weeks now and the environment here in Tucson is very different from what I’m used to. The Primavera Foundation is where I think I’m supposed to be for this year and I’m looking forward to joining them in their ministry there. Here’s to hoping that this first week of work doesn’t bite me too hard in the butt!

I am also super glad to report that I have met one of our neighbors in the community! Her name is Lucia and she is originally from Italy. She became a naturalized citizen of the United States and she retired from being a hospital nurse for years. One of the coolest parts of our brief encounter was when I shared what it is that we YAVs are doing in Tucson. When I mentioned that we were volunteering at various agencies through the community, Lucia mentioned an interest in finding a place to volunteer to fill her time now that she’s retired. I thought that was pretty cool. I look forward to getting to know Lucia better and hopefully encouraging her in her desire to begin volunteering.

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Here we are. We have our bikes. We have been oriented to the extreme. We’ll probably get lost on more than one occasion, but that’s okay because we have each other…and our site coordinator.

And so we go.

Thank you, Loving God, for your comfort in uncertainty, your constancy in times of transition, and your ability to show up in the least expected ways.

Catching Up, Part Deux

Hello again. Scarcely have two minutes passed since my last post, but I have a lot of thoughts that I want to share and I don’t know when I’ll be able to effectively update this blog again. So part two, here we come.

September has arrived. There is still a lot left to do in our house. We’ve begun the process of forming our community and that, so far, has been filled with good ideas, helpful conversations, and intense vulnerability. There are still a lot of unknown factors (especially our schedules once we start working and how much our bills are going to cost), but four days into this thing, we seem to be doing alright. This week has been all about getting us all to Tucson, settling in, orienting ourselves to the city, and learning what YAV life is like in Tucson. We’ve worked through several activities to introduce us to thinking about the community as a whole and to prompt us in crafting a covenant to help guide our community here. Alison is a good facilitator of these conversations and we’ve done some simple things that make the process of sharing our stories easier. Take food for instance. Instead of each of us simply telling the group what we gravitate towards when we grocery shop, Alison had us brainstorm ten “essentials” that we always look for while shopping. Then, we went to the store, purchased these items, and brought them to the house where we shared our items and why we chose them. Little things like that make the process more interesting, fun, and meaningful.

Another thing that has struck me this week is how much I rely on the internet to fill my time. We still don’t have internet in the house (which is why blogging has been interesting), but we have purchased the internet and it will be setup later next week. However, right now, I’m painfully aware of the absence of internet; this is something I hope to explore more fully throughout this year. I’ve also mentioned the house a couple times and I want to delve more into that. Its a great house. The perfect size to give us all the space we need, but small enough to keep us close. I’m sharing the “master” bedroom with the other male YAV, Erik. Coolest feature of this space: the waterfall shower head. It’s awesome. But yeah, we’ve been blessed with a wonderful house in which to share life together over this year.

The final thing occupying my thoughts, especially today, is the knowledge that, as of today, I am officially a year away from being a married man. Whoa. Standing on this side of my YAV year, I think this will be the most trying part of this year. How do I balance being present with this community here while also being present with my fiancée in this season of preparation? This will be a year-long battle.

I also want to give a shout-out to my church family back in Owensboro, KY! Thanks for your support and your continued interest in/prayer for my year and all the experiences I have had and will continue to have! Y’all are wonderful!

Thank you, Faithful God for providing nourishing places in which to grow and new perspectives on what living in community means.

Catching Up

Hello all 2 of you who have watched and followed what I’ve been doing thus far as I prepared for my year of service in Tucson. Your support is much appreciated!

Moving into a house without the interwebs has made it kind of difficult to update my blog, but I’m currently sitting in Starbucks (because the local library doesn’t open until 10 and I was ready to go at 8:30) and will do my best to blend two series of thoughts together into one post. Wish me luck.

So Monday of this week was our travel day as we said goodbye to the Stony Point Conference Center (thank you for your hospitality Stony Point!) and began our individual journeys to our individual sites. I was fortunately by myself on my travels. No offense to anyone else at my site, but I love introspecting when I travel so I tend to be a not very good travel partner. My day began at 7:15 as I woke to prepare for a day of travel through Newark and out to Tucson. I left Stony Point at 8 AM with a group of eight others for a combination bus, train, and airport tram trip to the Newark airport. Myself and two others were the first to leave our group of eight at the C terminal (but not before I managed to break the suitcase of one of my fellow YAVs, sorry Annie!) Newark was busy! Fortunately I had checked in with United the night before so all I had to do was get my bags setup and into the United baggage system. My flight left at 12:30 and we got to the airport around 10:30. I figured I would have plenty of time to clear security, find my gate, and then relax with some food and potentially write out a blog post. I figured incorrectly. Security was a nightmare. It took FOREVER with too many people and too few security lanes open. Long story short, I didn’t have my relaxing morning in the airport. Not only was security an experience, but after finding my gate (and with only 20 minutes left before boarding) there was an announced gate change. The morning, which I had envisioned as a relatively relaxing one rapidly devolved into a stressful situation.

So I made it to the new gate (with a snack) and was fully prepared to keep myself to myself and wait out the last few minutes before it was time to board. However, Pokemon Go, a small child and his father, and a bright young man would change that. The bright young man had come to stand at the window next to me, but we didn’t have a reason to interact any more than the cursory male head nod that serves as what seems to be a universally acknowledged greeting in the US. Then entered the small child and his father who had come to look at the plane, the small child was asking about there being Pokemon on the plane (like children sometimes do, especially in the age of Pokemon Go). The bright young man next to me held out his phone to the child and talked of trying to catch Pokemon through the airport. Thus began an interaction that completely changed the course of my day. The bright young man, named Milan, was from the island of St. Lucia. He is an actor, student, and an extremely hard worker who was doing everything in his power to better his life and realize his dreams. I only had the chance to talk to him for a little bit before I had to board. But he changed my outlook on a day that had, to that point, failed to live up to its potential for me. Milan, if you’re reading this, thanks for sharing your story with me. Thanks for allowing me to walk alongside you for that brief period in Newark airport. Thank you for your honesty.

That Monday was the last transition into my new life for this year of service. the final two legs of a journey that began in January and has “ended” with me here in Tucson. We made it. We have a house. We have our community. I’m nervous as all get out, but I’m excited for what the year has to bring.

Thank you, Father God, for safe delivery to this place and the promise of new opportunities.

One More Week

One more week.

One more week in the comfort of my house in Owensboro, my job with the Grounds Guys Landscape Management, everything I have that is familiar. This is strange to contemplate because it isn’t a permanent goodbye, but it almost is. I’ll be away for a year serving with the other Tucson Borderlands YAVs and, after I return, I’ll have a little more than a month before I get married in September and leave behind everything I know more permanently. So in a way, this coming year is a preparation for that eventual goodbye. Only now that I am at the cusp of it, I’m not so sure that I’m ready. Especially today the nerves have been overwhelming even though I know that this is something that will be good for me in ways I can’t even imagine yet. Still I am nervous and still, today, I found the need to introspect and add to this blog in hopes of finding some sort of inner peace. One more week until I begin the journey of a lifetime.

One more week until I get to meet the people with whom I will be serving over this next year, as well as all the other YAVs who have decided to answer the call and devote a year of their life to the work of God. This is a source of some excitement for me. I’ve been able to get to know some of the others who will be in Tucson with me, but there’s only so much you can do to get to know someone via email and Facebook. It will be good to get to meet everyone at last and learn more about what this YAV thing actually means. One more week until we are all finally together.

One more week until I move across the country from my fiancée Mariah. She has been a rock to me during this summer, even when she hasn’t quite accepted the fact that the date of my departure quickly approaches. But at the times when I need it most, she reminds me of why I’m doing this, even as she would rather me stay and be with her. One more week until the thought of leaving becomes the reality of separation.

One more week.

One more week to prepare myself through prayer. One more week until I begin to see if I have what it takes to complete this year. One more week until I face challenges like never before, grow like never before, and experience things that I never would have dreamed of.

One more week.

Preparation

Today is June 27, 2016. I now sit a little over two months away from the beginning of my YAV adventure in Tucson, AZ. It’s crazy but in the last several weeks things have begun coming together.

First, I addressed my church, the First Presbyterian Church of Owensboro, KY. I used a small minute for mission and let everyone know where I was going and roughly what I would be doing. This also served as my primary fundraising outreach to my church family. Through the gracious and generous giving of FPC and the Session, I was able to reach half of the total fundraising goal a couple weeks ahead of the first half deadline. I could not appreciate my church family anymore. They have provided me with a place to grow and question, they sent me out with a strong foundation as I headed to college, and now they are supporting me as I go out across the country to advance the cause of Christ. Thank you all for your generosity.

Second, I was able to go out a purchase my bike which will serve as the primary mode of transportation during my year. This bike was part of the generous graduation gift given to me by my grandparents who reside just north of Phoenix. It is a great bike and I am so thankful to them for their assistance in helping to prepare me for this experience.

Third, I finally received my placement where I will be working for the year! I will be working with the Primavera Foundation, a non-profit in Tucson that works with low income families in the area. I will be in the position of Garden Coordinator for Primavera. As Garden Coordinator, I will be in charge of the various gardens maintained at Primavera residences throughout Tucson. Through these gardens, I will work with those families who live in the residences to care for the gardens, building relationships and gardening knowledge with the residents. I will also work with other segments of Primavera with some after-school activities for local children in a Primavera community and regularly meet with the other management positions at Primavera. I’m very honored to have been offered this position and I am very much looking forward to working with Primavera!

As the details are becoming more settled for the coming year, I am faced with the prospect that this year is happening and it really is rapidly approaching. I am continuing to pray for guidance and discernment as I contemplate my coming experience and would ask everyone who reads this to pray for me as well. This undertaking is not something I take lightly. I want to be able to get as much out of this year as possible, both from the experience of working with Primavera and from the spiritual formation practices performed as part of the YAV experience. But it will also be a hard year. For those of you who don’t know, I recently got engaged so I have to contemplate preparing for a marriage while also spending a year apart from my fiancée. There is a lot that has me hopeful and excited for this year, and also a lot that has me nervous about this year. This entire process has been an exercise is leaving my life up to God and trusting His plan for my life…and that is the mindset I pray that I continue to have as I finish up preparing for this year and actually beginning this experience.