How do I begin? How do I summarize an experience that has spanned two years of my life? What words could possibly communicate what I feel? The answers to these questions elude me as I contemplate LEVN and all that it means to me.
LEVN has been a roller coaster ride from the start to the finish. There have been tears almost as much as there has been joy. There has been frustration and pain for every laugh and smile. I have learned a lot about myself, about life, and about God and I know that the learning will not end just because my time in LEVN has ended. No, the learning continues because an experience like LEVN leaves an impact in almost every aspect of your life. An impact whose full force cannot be completely understood right away.
As a LEVN volunteer, I have gained invaluable life experiences from my placement sites. The two years I spent as a volunteer at Saint Francis Episcopal Church have been especially significant. During my last week at Saint Francis, I spent a few hours training one of the parishioners how to do some of my primary tasks. Tasks like producing the monthly digital newsletter, managing the church website, and uploading videos to YouTube. Tasks that were once new and strange but were now habitual. I had become the expert when not two years ago I was the novice.
As a volunteer at Saint Francis, I have also been exposed to and become a part of a church quite different than the one I was raised in. And I don’t just mean because Saint Francis is an Episcopal Church and I was raised in a Lutheran Church. Saint Francis is a small aging congregation that has been through a lot. As a result, the people of Saint Francis have a certain quality about them that’s hard to describe. I suppose the word I’m searching for is fortitude, but it’s more than that.
Saint Francis is a very faith-driven community that excels in hospitality and empathy. What’s more, they genuinely just want to help those in need, particularly those in their community who are suffering from pain or loss. However, they are limited in what they can do by their age and lack of resources. So, they do the one thing they can do: they pray. Even though I still consider myself a Lutheran, I have started to use the royal “we” when talking about Saint Francis because, in many ways, I have become one of them.
Moreover, I have been repeatedly inspired by the people of Saint Francis. Even in the face of potentially problematic issues like racial prejudice, same-sex marriage, and death, they have stood firm in their faith. In short, they have taught me about the kind of Christian I want to be. And I thank them for that.
My role as the Social Media and Outreach Intern with The Impact Foundry has also taught me a great deal. I would say that the most important thing that I learned there was a new respect and understanding of the nonprofit sector.
I can’t tell you how many times over the course of the year someone came to The Impact Foundry’s office inquiring about how to start a nonprofit. I have heard The Impact Foundry’s Resource Manager give the “How to Start a Nonprofit” spiel so many times I feel I can almost recite it. And let me tell you, it is not easy. To start a nonprofit, it usually requires a lot from the person/people who bring it into existence in terms of both money and time. In fact, it is recommended that people not start a new nonprofit because of the amount of the work it takes and the oversaturation of the market.
What’s more, due to my position as the resident social media expert, I have read a lot of nonprofit blogs and have communicated with many nonprofit organizations who are members of The Impact Foundry. In doing so, I have gained a general awareness of nonprofits outside of Sacramento and come to realize just how important and how prevalent the work of nonprofits is. The fact is, nonprofits are everywhere and I didn’t even realize it.
For instance, I have been to the Davis Community Clinic several times over the course of the last two years. And guess what? Davis Community Clinic is a nonprofit organization. The fact that the clinic I sought medical advice from is a nonprofit really struck me. Because I realized that by attending Davis Community Clinic, I was living in solidarity with others who are reliant on the services provided by nonprofits.
Blogger NonprofitAF says that nonprofits “[fill] in gaps that the government especially sucks at doing.” I first read these words while looking for potential blogs to post on The Impact Foundry’s Facebook page, and I was really moved by them. They speak to the very reason why nonprofits exist. Nonprofits exist to provide services, the kind of services that everyone as a human being has a right to, whether they can afford it or not. Services like healthcare and education and shelter and so much more. Moreover, we as human beings should support the work of nonprofits because they do more than we know.
LEVN has been also period of personal growth. I discovered a lot about myself, some good and some not-so-good. I discovered parts of myself that I wasn’t previously aware of, parts of myself that I want to change because those parts don’t reflect the person I want to be.
For instance, I realized that I tend to judge people too quickly, and most of my judgement is based on preconceived notions and my own expectations. I found myself judging my housemates on several occasions, especially at the beginning of my first year as a volunteer. The fact is my housemates were nothing like I would have expected and I didn’t know what to make of them. Even with my newfound awareness, I still judge people on occasion. However, now that I have a greater awareness of it, I often catch myself before my judgment of another gets out of control.
In addition to my tendency to judge people, I also realized that I take offense a bit too easily. That is, I take criticism a bit too personally. And I tend to react poorly. Now, this is not always the case. In fact, in many situations, I welcome criticism so that I can improve my performance and skill sets. However, I have found that in certain situations, where I was not expecting criticism, I feel that I am being personally attacked and I don’t react very well. Hopefully, my greater awareness of this will help me prevent such reactions in the future.
I have also become more aware of my confidence or lack thereof when in new situations. Now, this is by no means a new issue for me. However, I have become more mindful of it. And by mindful, I mean that I have realized that I can prepare myself mentally when I know such a situation is about to occur so that I have a game plan going in and don’t just freeze up, which is what I tend to do.
On the flip side, I also learned where my passion lies, or at least one of my passions. And it is with the church. No real surprise there. However, what I realized is that my passion for the church translates into passion for any work that I do for the church. Again, this seems obvious. But it took me working two part-time jobs at the same time, one in the church and one outside the church, for me to really understand this. The fact is I just felt more driven to do my work at Saint Francis and more wanting and willing to put in the extra hours when needed.
The discovery, or rediscovery I should say, of my passion for the church only adds more questions to my mind as I continue to discern my path in life. What is my role in the church? I have been told by the people of Saint Francis that I display a certain level of leadership, but I don’t feel like leadership material sometimes. And yet I do find enjoyment and enlightenment from writing sermons. And developing worship services has always been a highlight for me. I still ponder the meaning of these things and how to proceed in terms of my life and career choices.
As I reflect on my LEVN experience, I would say that, more than anything else, LEVN has taught me self-awareness about who I am, who I want to be, and why I am the way that I am. I have become more aware of my talents are as well as my flaws. However, what’s even more important, it that I have started to question many of the things that I once thought to be true. Things that were ingrained in me from an early age due to my upbringing and due to the types of people that I surrounded myself with. Not that those people were wrong or bad. It’s just that they were like me. LEVN allowed me the opportunity to live with and be around people who were not like me. People who I would not normally gravitate to because they looked or thought different than me. And I will never be the same.
As LEVN ends, I find myself feeling empty. I need rest. I need to be refilled. I need Jesus. I feel I have exhausted all my energy and have nothing left to give. And yet there remains so much to process, but to process such an experience will take time. And yet there is also much work to be done and many questions to answer. What now? Where will I end up next? These questions linger in my mind and yet only time will tell the answers.
St. Francis Episcopal Church