The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with the fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
The above poem is titled “I know why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. I think it’s a perfect poem to open this blog with, It indeed has been in the back of my mind throughout this entire journey, a constant reminder of how blessed I am, always a reminder of what could be, what was, what is not, and what’s to come. I felt like a caged bird before coming to LEVN, many things were holding me back, mainly myself. I’m glad to finally be free and fly!
1. There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
 When People say Time Flys I think they are specifically talking about the LEVN program. I remember when I first discovered LEVN, I was at home trying to figure out how I could get out of the constant grind of working in restaurants. I had recently had a breakup and I knew I wasn’t following my dreams or even really helping people. If I’m honest with my self I was pretty depressed and was drinking way more than I should have.  There was a void I was trying to fill, I was filling it with food but even that started to bore me. I tried to fill it with unrealistic and unhealthy relationships, I poured my self into others and never ever refilled my self.  I think we know how those situations usually turn out.  I was at the end of my rope and in a quarter life crisis. When one of my good friends suggested a year of service I knew that LEVN could be the perfect program for me. It also didn’t hurt that it was close to San Francisco and the closer to San Francisco the closer I am to the beach.  Which for me has always been a place I can relax and collect myself.  I’ve always had an attraction to water. Water can literally do anything. One of my favorite YouTubers said it best ” It has the power to heal, crush, clean, quench thirst, and even has the power of becoming an energy source. It can conform or expand to practically any shape or form. It can even capture or reflect qualities of things that can’t even be physically contained such as light.” So for me being near water was a no brainer. I quickly applied. Plus, the thought of helping people while also being apart of a community, and being close to the beach was extremely appealing to me. It felt like it was my time to make a change, so I applied, prayed, and hoped that I would get my opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others as well create change within my self.
2. A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
Throughout this Journey, I’ve lost a lot of people. I feel like I’ve said that so many times it started to feel surreal.  During the constant loss of people I love,  I kept trying to figure out how to “bounce back” and I didn’t realize that this was causing me great harm. I lost people in various ways, Car accidents, Suicide, Heart Attack,  and various other ways the human experience is lost. Instead of trying to individually deal with each blow, (which until this day seems impossible)  I would simply sweep it away. Never really finding any closure from my losses. It affected me greatly, in my personal time, and as well as at my work site. I missed many days where I just couldn’t get out of bed, I would literally sit in bed with horrible anxiety. The work of dealing with my emotions was too much for me, and the idea of dealing with work also become extremely overwhelming. I look back at that time now and I know depression was at work. However that’s the journey and the irony of the disease, when you are deep in it, it becomes extremely hard to swim to shore. The work at LSS was an entire other “thing”.    Working for LSS this year was complex. In some moments I felt like I was really connecting with clients, I was proud that the few interactions I had with clients, they felt like they could truly open up to me. Their personal issues become my own. Their job struggles become my mission. The feeling of being able to help someone find employment is really life changing.  I saw first hand the issues that sprouted from not being employed. A lot of the clients didn’t see how useful and important they were to the world, many of them had come from very dysfunctional situations and were really lost. It felt nice to be a little bit of sunshine in a dark day. My feelings of being helpful didn’t last long. As things started to change at LSS my job as an employment specialist started to become very different than what I expected. While I use to look forward to coming in and interacting with clients, that quickly changed, when instead of employment I became a certified mover. Now let me be honest, as far as service work, It’s not always going to be pretty. Sometimes you have to clean garbage, Sometimes you have to clean apartments with panties, needles, old food, and mold. Did I sign up for a glossy year of service? No. Did I know that things weren’t always going to be easy? Yes. However, I didn’t realize that moving clients, moving boxes, moving, in general, would become my everyday. If I had of known that I would have just worked for a moving company over a year, saved money and moved to California with a few bucks and a dream.  But with all jobs, there will always be good and bad. So for anyone reading this, I don’t want to give a bad impression of LSS. Nonprofits have a hard time and while in transition they have it even harder. Unfortunately I suffered because of it. I am confident that next year’s volunteers will have a better experience. My only advice in regards to LSS would be “Don’t take any shit, Stand up for yourself,  Be open and honest, communicate communicate communicate, and always always leave your work at work!!”
3. A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build.
  Before I joined LEVN I was so accustomed to being surrounded by my friends and artistic community, so when I arrived here it was a shock to my senses. I felt so alone in a house of 7 people. It took me a really long time to adjust. In my life, I have prided my self on having a diverse group of friends, people who I could connect with, people  I could create with, people who would listen objectively. People who shared common ground with me, similar experiences, and even were pretty close in my age range. Things were shockingly different in Davis, there weren’t many people who looked like me, and not that I wasn’t warned about the lack of diversity but actually living in it was a lot different. Even at my job site, I had to deal with a lot of microaggressions from co-workers, jokes about blacks, jokes about women, and gross stereotypes were thrown at me on a daily basis, with only me protecting me. It was hard adjusting and to be honest there were times I wanted to be just as cruel and disgusting back to some of the people I was surrounded by, but I  knew that I didn’t have the energy for it. Instead, I took comfort in meeting new people every chance I got. I would head out to Sacramento and pop up at a poetry spot, sneak off to my favorite dive bar (GOLDEN BEAR), or lock my self in my room and create. I did whatever I could to let time heal me. There were a few times I felt torn down completely, but every time God gave me gifts as a reminder to keep going. She has constantly reminded me that I can get through anything with my ancestors protecting and guiding me, also a cheap glass of Trader Joe’s wine also never hurt.
4. A time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

I think I cried a lot during my time in LEVN. but I also laughed just as much, and I don’t mean some light hearted giggles. I mean full on belly laughs.  This experience has taught me a lot about my self, and every tear that came from my face was watering who I’ve become. There were so many times when I was just genuinely happy. In my life, there is a sure fire way to change my mood, and it’s always been with dancing. I’m not very good at it, however, It’s some of the best stress relief I’ve found. I’ve danced my way all over Davis, San Francisco, and Oakland. I’ve sweated my cares away to songs I didn’t even enjoy that much.As this service year comes to an end I am overwhelmed with the compassion of the directors of this program. If someone asks me about how I survived this experience I would definitely say that check -ins have been the key to my survival.  Both Pastor Casey & Pastor  Jocelynn have been beside me every step of the way, through every trial and tribulation. Their truly unconditional understanding has really renewed my faith in organized religion, I’ve never been able to be so honest and open with someone who was a leader in a church. I’m so grateful that God has put me on this path, not only has it restored my faith but it has allowed me to question the hang ups I had about organized religion before hand. I know they were rooted in being raised Catholic as well as going to Catholic school, but it was refreshing to get to learn about the origin and traditions of other religions.  As the last week of our Service year comes to an end, I am extremely appreciative of all the experiences bad or good I’ve had this year. I am glad to have interacted with my roommates in meaningful ways, I am overjoyed to have seen beautiful unforgettable parts of California during retreats, I’m thankful for the time I’ve shared with my new friends and love ones who I wouldn’t have met if I never took on this journey, I am thankful for everything Davis has given me, Everything my placement site has taught me, and I’m especially thankful to my self for being brave. I’m ready to Fly!

-Allyson
Lutheran Social Services of Northern California