Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lessons Learned and Next Steps

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”
–Romans 12:12

The experiences I have had this year tested my abilities to live true to this verse. This is my favorite Bible verse; it provides simple, yet direct guidance on how to handle the different challenges you come across throughout life. The challenges I have faced this year have been great learning experiences, where I have been behind the curve more than I would like to admit. I wish I could share everything that I’ve learned from my YAV year, but I feel like I’ve been constantly learning. So, in order to keep this less like a novel and more like a blog post, I’ll give you a few examples.

First, I have learned the true value of persistence, and how to recognize it in it’s many forms. I’ve repeatedly witnessed the dedication this community has. They are driven to be involved in their community, to learning and achieving something for themselves and others. One woman in her 50’s, Mrs. Patsy, has been studying and practicing for years to try and pass the GED test. She is relentless. Every time I talk to her and ask her what she’s been up to she answers with some version of “I worked on my math worksheets all last night, I’m trying real hard to bring up my math score.”  She is so diligent in trying to achieve this goal of having her GED. 
Another example of true perseverance is Mrs. Fatuma, a Somali refugee who has been attending the ELL and Citizenship classes at the CWA Learning Center all year. She applied for U.S. Citizenship, made the trip to Memphis, and failed her first interview attempt. Shortly after, the classes at the Learning Center were letting out for summer break and she would no longer be receiving constant tutoring and guidance, the way she had been. Considering her few months left to prepare for her second interview, I told her that if she could come to the center twice a week I could continue to tutor her for her upcoming interview.  I had no idea the amount of information potential citizens had to know in order to be prepared. There was a lot of information to cover, but each tutoring session Mrs. Fatuma was there and attentive and ready to learn. She was so determined to pass this interview, it made me devoted to helping her. We were in it together. She even studied on her own at home so that she could know the answers to the questions for our next session. I truly enjoyed the opportunity to be able to laugh and learn with her while we prepared for her interview. I am ecstatic to report that I received a phone call from her today, informing me that she passed her citizenship interview! I could not be happier for her. I feel like this entire journey has truly been a case of being “joyful in hope”.
Now, this example showcases how willing the community is to give and be involved in their neighborhood. During the holiday season, I was given the opportunity to lead a project. This project was community blanket making and required no sewing, knitting, or crocheting skills in order to participate. It was an opportunity for community volunteers to learn a new skill while also producing blankets to be distributed out to the babies in the community. The blankets were fleece fabric, and the concept was to cut the edges into strips and tie knots in them.  The community volunteers tied in their hopes and love for each of the babies with each knot. It turned out to be a great way for the community to give back to each other. But it also showed me something that I had previously not seen. The women that live in this neighborhood were eager to participate in this project and donate their time. They enjoyed being able to sit around together making the blankets and talking with each other. The project was extremely successful. In fact, when we finished the allotted amount we needed for our holiday event, they asked for more fabric so that they could continue giving back and having the opportunity for fellowship. I know they feel a true sense of connection to their community when they see a baby in a stroller covered up with one of those blankets. 

My most important lesson from this year would have to be the importance of relationship building. I know this is the most important one because I saw evidence of it every day. Relationships are built on respect, actually on mutual respect. The CWA Learning Center has a computer lab, it’s open to the public Monday through Thursday from 10am-2pm, and all different types of people come in for the computer access. One thing I know is that it does not matter who walks in the door, you have to treat each person exactly the same way. This is the best way of laying the foundation to relationships. I always greet each person and ask how he or she is doing. I basically make small talk with them, but from those conversations they see that I care and am making an effort. This leads to so many things. One woman has been trying to get a job for some time now and has applied to multiple, been on interviews, and actually got a job, then was accepted into a new training course at the YWCA.  How do I know all of this you ask? Because she tells me, she is always so excited to come to the center to tell me her updates. Last time, when she came and told me about the training program, I congratulated her and she thanked me for my support. I haven’t done anything other than listen to her and talk with her about her progress towards finding a job, but that relationship made her feel like she had somebody backing her.  Another woman, a Somali refugee mother comes into the center each time she checks her mailbox. She walks in the door, hands me her unopened mail and says, “What does the mail say today Miss Susan?” This is because she cannot read English. So, I open each envelope and we work our way through what is in her mail. I explain things like solicitations and flyers and then we discuss things like bills and even call offices to set up payment plans when necessary.  Her verbal English is excellent but her abilities to read and write English are at a stalemate. This is because she has three young children that she watches each day at home and has no place for them to go if she were to attend the ELL classes at the CWA Center. There is no childcare provided for the ELL students’ children. This is a perfect example of being “patient in affliction” as she tries her best to navigate her way through with her Limited English Proficiency (LEP) until she is able to find a way to attend classes.

These are only a few examples of what I’ve learned this year, but I think it’s safe to say that I truly could write a novel.  As for my future plans, I will be studying a Master’s Program in Human Rights and Genocide Studies for the next 18 months in Europe. Click here to check out the program's website, if you're interested. When I complete my master’s degree I hope to attend law school and eventually work in the field of international human rights law. Considering the intensity of the field of work that I intend to enter, I completely recognize the necessity for me to be “faithful in prayer.”

Thank you all so much for your prayers and support throughout this year! It's been an amazing experience that will forever shape the person I am.  :)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Update from Nashville :)

Hi guys!

I’m back to bring you an update about what’s been going on in Nashville.  Everything with work has been going really well.  I’ve been keeping busy with multiple different projects and situations. One not so happy thing is that the Nashville Adult Literacy Council (NALC) recently lost the funding that paid for the Citizenship classes we were offering at the center. Now, we only have ELL classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and currently no classes on Mondays and Wednesdays; but hopefully we can find a way to get something going in those places soon!

On Mondays at Kid’s Café we serve a hot nutritious meal to the community, and every other week the Renaissance Hotel provides the food for this. They also go out of their way to provide other things for the kids in the community like the Christmas party that they hold each year for the kids to come have some food and fun during the holidays while making sure each one of them leaves with a bag of presents. In February they also held bike raffle for the kids in the Cayce-CWA community.  They donated five bikes and for a month ahead of the drawing we signed kids. We had a community member draw the names of five kids and informed them that they won! Each of them was very excited!

Mom, Dad, Sarah and Connor came to visit for Mom’s birthday in January. They had a good time. We went to the Opryland Hotel so they could see it and their Christmas decorations were still up so that was neat. Mom has always wanted to go there at Christmas to see the decorations so it worked out perfectly! I showed them all around town and even took them to work to let them see the CWA Learning Center. When they came to help me move in we tried to find it but couldn’t figure out exactly where it was, so this time they were able to see it and actually go inside. It was a nice trip and we celebrated Mom’s birthday with dinner at the Loveless Café and a cake from Fiddlecakes. Mom was so surprised when we presented her with her gift of “50 Years of Memories” she loved it. Thanks to everyone who helped out with that!

I’ve also been running with a group from my church, Downtown Pres., as we train to participate in the Country Music Half Marathon, which is the last Saturday in April. Megan, Sarah and I have been doing this every week for a while now and are growing more excited as the day draws near.  This will be my first half marathon so wish me luck! Here's the link with more information about the marathon and half-marathon in case anyone is interested.

Lastly, on April 11th I will be leaving for a weeklong trip to Northern Ireland!  My roommate, Ashley, who is from Northern Ireland is going home to visit/ attend weddings for 3 weeks and she invited us to come along so Megan, Allison, Lee and I will be joining her for the first week of her trip home! I am sooooo excited! Please keep all of us in your thoughts and prayers as we travel and I’ll be sure to let you know all about it when I return.

I think my next post will be a story I share with you all about typical things I come into contact with in my job so that you can get a better picture of the types of things I do.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful Sunday afternoon! Love you all!

 Abdiyah, Zeinab and Khadija are Somali refugees who attend our ELL classes. It was raining after class so they suited up in plastic raincoats we gave them.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sorry it's been so long!!!

Hi everyone!

In the past few months I have been so busy back and forth that I haven’t had a chance to catch up on my blogging! Sorry for the delay, but I won’t make this a long boring catch-up blog that’s incredibly long and takes forever to read. Instead of that, I thought I would just give you a few of the highlights from the holiday season.

-The Titans Football team donated 500 Turkey Dinners on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving as well as sponsoring a coat-giveaway for the kids in the community in December.

-The kids in THRIVE program at CWA decided to do a community service project for the holidays.  They chose to make holiday-themed centerpieces and donate them to the residents of Edgefield Manor, a high-rise building that mainly houses seasoned adults. The residents there enjoyed the visit from the kids and loved the centerpieces!

-Martha O’Bryan held a holiday showcase on December 16th for the community members to come and enjoy a program from the kids in the programs and the staff.  Kawema was in charge of this successful event which was complete with dance performances by the elementary and middle school kids, a Nativity story skit, a community blanket gift to the babies in the community (these were fleece, and made by community members tying knots in the strips of cut fleece around the edges, it turned out to be a great way for the community to give back to each other)

-The other Nashville YAVs and I attended the Nashville Christmas parade downtown which had huge balloons like the ones in the Macy’s parade! I have never seen those before other than on TV in the Macy’s parade and then in person in Chicago for the Thanksgiving parade. It was sooo much fun! 


-Just before all of us YAVs in Nashville left to go home for the Christmas holidays we went to the Opryland Hotel to see the Christmas decorations!  It was amazing! The place is HUGE!! There’s even a boat ride inside of the hotel! After we finished there, we went down the road to a camp site called Jellystone Park, with Yogi Bear on their sign and drove through their Christmas lights dancing along to the music! We turned our radio to a certain station and then drove through the camp ground as the lights that covered the whole camp site lit up and appeared to dance along to the music! It was a lot of fun too! 

Sorry again about the delay! I will get you guys up to speed about January very very soon!

Peace and love to you all!


Sunday, October 30, 2011

A little bit about work... and pictures from everything else!

So over the few months we’ve been experiencing some internet problems so even though I have definitely used my procrastination skills in how long it has taken me to write this post, I must say the uncertainty of the internet at the Cabana has also contributed.  But now we have faster internet and a new router and it’s so much more reliable and fast, all of us are VERY excited!

I realized that I mentioned Ben in my last blog but did not explain who he is or what his role is in my year here in Nashville. Ben is the site coordinator for the YAV program in Nashville. This is his first year as site coordinator and I have to say I think he is starting out with one wonderful group of YAVs, if I do say so myself.  Since our “work week” is only Monday through Thursday at our job placements, we meet with Ben on Friday mornings each week and discuss different things and go to different places. Friday mornings are always interesting, or at least they have been so far. So for two Fridays in a row the activity was for us to have written our spiritual autobiography (8 to 10 pages long) and then for us to present it to the rest of our group, with four of us going on the first Friday and then the last four of us going on the second Friday. Of course, being a procrastinator as I mentioned previously, I opted to go the second week so that I could allow myself ample time to prepare. This was more specifically because I had originally planned to rebel against the assignment.  This was not a secret though, considering that when Ben asked us in our Friday meeting a week before the first group of presentations he asked us what we thought of the assignment, to which I answered that I was thinking of rebelling.   He responded very calmly, as Ben always does (no matter what we throw at him) and asked me why I was feeling that way. I have to mention here that I was not the only one that felt this way. However, after a one-on-one discussion with him about possible things to discuss in my spiritual autobiography I felt less rebellious and did, indeed, write mine. I think it was a success.

Okay, so my dad suggested to me last time that I should mention something about what I do at work each day in my next blog, so here it goes. I don’t actually have a typical workday, meaning that I never know what to expect when I walk in the door each day, which I honestly love.  First of all, I work at the CWA/Cayce Learning Center.  The center is actually three apartments in the CWA Apartment complex with the walls knocked out between the three of them to make one big center. So on the bottom floor we have the office area, the kitchen area (complete with an air hockey and foosball table), and then a large room with tables and chairs set up like a classroom. Upstairs there are a few more offices, classrooms, a small library and then the computer lab.  During the morning on Mondays and Wednesdays Mrs. Bonnie, from the Nashville Adult Literacy Council, teaches an English Language Learning or ELL class in the large classroom downstairs. Then on Tuesday and Thursday mornings she teaches a Citizenship class.  The students in these classes are refugees from Somalia right now at least, in the past there have been refugees from the Congo and Sudan.

I started helping Mrs. Bonnie with a few women in her ELL class that need a little more one-on-one time than some of the other students. I am loving it! These two women are so amazing. They think I am hilarious or crazy one of the two, I’m still trying to figure out which.  They even taught me a few Somali phrases during one class, which I could tell they really enjoyed.

My supervisor at work is Kawema. She is awesome. I could not imagine a more perfect match for me for this year. She is so down-to-earth, straightforward and caring all the time. I know that she is a large part of the reason why I love my job at the learning center so much.  However, a couple of weeks ago she caught something and was out sick for a few days. During these few days there were a couple of meetings planned that Kawema was meant to run. In particular, the community meeting was one of these. This is a meeting that happens on a quarterly basis (at least I think that’s right) and serves as a time where the Family Resource Center department meets with members of the community it serves to engage with them about the programs happening and how the community is perceiving them, they make suggestions and learn about upcoming programming plans that they can participate in as well. It’s really a great idea in theory and in action.

Side note: I’ve just had to step away from typing this to help handle a minor stovetop fire in our kitchen. Everything’s fine though, just had something under the burner that caught fire.  Now we’re just letting the smoke out through the back door. You never know what to expect in this house, but Megan, Ashley and I seem to be able to navigate through all of it.

Back to the meeting though, since Kawema was out sick and the community had already been informed about the meeting, it had to go on. So, Leslie and I had to step up and fill in for her. Leslie is Kawema’s intern from Vanderbilt for the semester and she’s a lot of fun. We get along really well and have spent many afternoons on the floor in Kawema’s office talking, laughing, and story-telling. In the end, Leslie and I were able to have a productive meeting (after receiving instructions from Kawema over the phone) and had great notes to share with her when she returned.

A lot of what I do every day is based on being a constant positive presence in the community at CWA. Along with that, I am supposed to form relationships with the people in the community and make them feel welcomed at the center.  This way, the residents of the neighborhood feel that they can come to me with almost anything. Many community members come to talk about different issues or situations they are experiencing and need help with (including applications for state and federal programs (like food stamps and Medicaid), resumes, and even legal problems). My relationship with the residents is also so that they can come to me with ideas or suggestions for programs at the center, and also so that I can share information with them about ongoing programs or events happening at MOB or CWA for them to get involved in.

One example of an ongoing program is the fresh market grocery store bus. The area of Nashville that I work in is known as a food desert, for more information on what that is, click here.  Transportation is also an issue in this area.  Not everyone living in this part of town owns a car, or can afford to.  There is a transit system in place in Nashville.  However, in order to reach the closest grocery store (a few miles away) by bus, you would have to catch the bus on the main road which is a few blocks away into downtown where you would have to change buses to get to the grocery store that is only a few blocks away from your home in the first place. But, add to this scenario a very hilly terrain within those two blocks (or the entire way to the store, should you choose to walk the whole way), add on a few children (as most households in this area house more than one child), or your choice of disabilities (most people in this community have a variety of them, and when I say disability, I mean the kind that affects your capability to walk and get around).  Now imagine this scenario on the way home with your arms full of grocery bags. I’m not ashamed to say it’s not an outing I would look forward to. 

All of this build up is to explain the reason behind the fresh market grocery store bus. Due to the difficulties involved in getting to and from the grocery store for the people living in this community, Martha O’Bryan has a school bus that has been painted green with Martha O’Bryan on the side that is used every Friday morning to take the residents to and from the grocery stores so that they have access to fresh groceries and produce, etc. This program picks people up from MOB and from CWA, so to help get the word out about it I created this poster and taped it to the door of the CWA/ Cayce Learning Center. I used the pictures as a way for the Somali women that aren’t very fluent in reading English to be able to understand the concept of the poster.

Another program I am involved on at MOB is called Kid’s Café. It takes place every Monday from 4-5pm at MOB. This is an opportunity for the community (mainly the kids) to come in and get a hot meal, community fellowship, and feel like a guest is hosting them to a meal in their home. We work hard to maintain that community loving and welcoming feeling at Kid’s Café each week.  I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of this yet. I’ll try to remember to take one this week!

On a short note, outside of work, I’ve joined the Outreach Committee at my church, been to a Titans home game, went to a rugby watching party for the world cup quarter final game (Ireland v. Wales) at 1am, carved pumpkins at church, been to the Celebrate Nashville festival, discovered Food Trucks (more on those later), saw a scarecrow display at Cheekwood (Bellingrath equivalent), attended a suicide prevention conference, went to a Halloween party dressed as a Christmas Tree, and gone Trick-or-Treating with the kids from work at the sorority and fraternity houses on Vanderbilt’s campus. Pictures from some of these are below. Until next time everyone! I love and miss you all!!!!
Ashley and I at the Titans game

Me, Megan, Beth (YAV Alum), Ashley, and Nellie (Ashley's friend from Northern Ireland) ready to watch rugby!
Me, Lee, Allison, Sarah, Ashley, and Megan with our pumpkins!

Scarecrow at Cheekwood
Scarecrow at Cheekwood
Scarecrow at Cheekwood
Me as a Christmas Tree

Lee and Sarah with Scary Potter
Me with Scary Potter the scarecrow

Monday, September 5, 2011


Two orientations down and a more than necessary weekend of rest begins. Finally.  So, I moved into my house in Nashville on August 20th, unpacked my many many bags, realized how high maintenance my luggage made me feel, re-packed (much more lightly) for the first week of orientation in Stony Point, NY, and left for the airport in Nashville at 5:30am on August 22nd. 

Once we arrived at the airport we were informed that our flight to Philly was delayed resulting in other problems related to connecting flights and our time of arrival at LaGuardia in NY.  The lovely woman at US Airways took care of us and changed us to a DIRECT flight from Nashville to NY on an American Airlines flight, and we were extremely grateful.  We arrived in NY even earlier than expected and had time to spare before the shuttle driver Sammy came to pick us up. The ride with Sammy was an eventful one to say the least. This is mainly because we ended up with four YAVs along with seven of the Nashville YAVs in the equivalent of a church van; then you add in some New York traffic, windy roads, a mixture of accents and a blaring radio, and well, we’ll just call the 45 minute trip to Stony Point a very snug one.  
                All of the YAVs and YAV Alumni at orientation in Stony Point, NY.

When we arrived at the Stony Point Center, we began meeting all of the other YAVs that will be serving this year in all of the different sites around the world and in the U.S. Then our first week of orientation officially began. It was very interesting, a bit overwhelming at times, and a great start to the year ahead for all of us. We discussed topics like critical cultural competency, the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, self care, housing issues and even culture shock  My birthday fell on the Friday (the 26th)  of orientation in Stony Point and the YAV staff brought out a cake for me at dinner. That night a large group of us went to the local Irish pub in Stony Point to celebrate mine and Gavin’s birthdays (Gavin’s birthday was the same day as mine and he will be serving in Miami for his YAV year). Seeing as Ashley (my roommate/ bunkmate for the year) is from Northern Ireland, she was happy that we were going to an Irish pub. We had a great time playing songs on the jukebox and dancing the night away. The pub, however, was about a mile away and we all walked there and back. Unfortunately, there were no sidewalks on these roads so we brought some flashlights to ensure our safety. When I left for the evening with my lovely crew I was one of the two in our group that had a flashlight though. Considering how dark it was and the absence of sidewalks I felt the need to turn on the flashlight and march with it shining on the ground by our feet singing “WE ARE HERE, WE ARE HERE, WE ARE HERE!” , from the scene at the end of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who, just to make sure that the cars knew we were there on the side of the road. My song and march was successful though, because we had no close calls or injuries on our walk back to the center.
   Ashley and I at lunch one day in Stony Point

On the morning of the 29th, seven of us Nashville YAVs loaded up with Sammy again and off to Newark airport we went. We arrived in Nashville with no flight issues, no lost bags and no major problems altogether. Ben (our site director) picked us up, and we told him all our fun tales from orientation on the ride home. We arrived at the Cabana and settled ourselves in to prepare for the next week of orientation.

Back in Nashville, week two of orientation began with a semi-repaired wireless internet (thanks to Ben, for making it at least semi), a dysfunctional thermostat, and the joys of having a gi-normous closet. We had an ambitious schedule for the week including a trip to everyone’s work sites. We still have two more work sites to visit next week, Lee’s will be on Tuesday night and Kyle and Jay’s will be on Friday morning. We have been able to have a very relaxing weekend so far, and are enjoying that it will last four days. Everyone went to their churches yesterday, and had a great experience overall. I had already met with the minister of my church, we had breakfast earlier in the week so it was nice to see a face that I recognized when I walked in. Close to the end of the church service he called me up to the front of the congregation, handed me a microphone, and asked me to tell them about what I’m doing here in Nashville and what I’ll be doing at my work placement.  So, that was fun but definitely caught me off guard. Earlier in the weekend, we (at the Cabana) started working on our house covenant, which are the house rules for the year that all of us living here together will agree to abide by.  We also decided that we will be using a chore wheel to determine who does what in and around the house each month. And lastly we made a collective list of groceries and went grocery shopping at Aldi yesterday, Aldi was a fun experience for Megan, Ashley and I. Especially because Megan and I had never been to an Aldi before. The experience at Aldi was actually one of the few things that Ashley knew about that Megan and I did not.  There are Aldi’s in Northern Ireland, so Ashley already knew the ins and outs to shopping there. This was an interesting turn around because Megan and I had been explaining the way different things are here to Ashley for the most part.   
           Nashville YAVs: (L to R) Ashley, Kyle, Lee, Jay, Me, Megan, Allison and Sarah

For now the fun continues, including laughing until our sides hurt, hilarious language barriers and continuous adventures. We all begin our first day at our work placements tomorrow, so keep us in your prayers!  Hopefully all will go wonderfully!

Peace and love to all of you!