Dragging myself through this week knowing that my time with YMCA is coming to a close has been challenging. Looking into friendly yet curious faces followed by the question of: “So when is your last day?” or “Where will you be going after this?” has been, thus far, bittersweet. I planned my farewell lunch, my coworker stated that my parting gift has arrived, and I was able to inform a few of the clients that I would no longer be working on their cases and asked that they direct concerns to their respective case managers. I will miss them.
My service year has been an exceptional experience for me. I’ve gained a plethora of skills, such skills that have benefited not only myself but my various communities in which I am part of. One skill that I can humbly boast about is serving as sacristan for Houston Canterbury, a local episcopal college ministry led by the Rev. Eileen O’Brien. She took me under her wing as I was yearning to serve in a congregational space. Being a part of the great thanksgiving alongside Eileen and assisting with administering the wine was nerve-wracking for me at first because I thought I would drop the chalice or forget to say “The blood of Jesus, The cup of salvation” but she has been patient and teachable, therefore I’m grateful for her leadership. Other notable skills that I’ve gained from living in the ESC house are cooking and being a lively host when my friends come to visit. Pinterest has been a great tool for finding easy and fun meals on the fly. My favorite meal that I’ve cooked was for a dinner shared between my best friend and I was a lemon zest baked salmon entree with garlic roasted Brussel sprouts for a veggie side, and I trust her judgment on my skills in the kitchen.
At the YMCA, I served as program clerk for the medical case management department known as Preferred Communities. My responsibilities included maintaining quality assurance of the department case files, ensuring follow up in case notes and arranging appointments and transportation for clients. I had a slow start when I came on board due to the impact of Hurricane Harvey, but my station in the program got intensive in the months of January and February after which my site supervisor, Shaoli, asked me to assume case management duties when the program’s only case manager resigned from her position. During that time, I was able to interact with our clients from various countries such as Rwanda, Nepal, Burma, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam; we serve them on the severity of their medical issues, many of which are diagnosed with mental illnesses. We refer them to medical providers and help them maintain their health. There have been extremely challenging cases, a few of which Shaoli would request an extension from U.S Committee for Refugee and Immigrants (USCRI) beyond the initial case closure, and other cases have been less challenging by which clients would gain self-sufficiency in a matter of a few months. One case in particular involves a 11-year-old boy from Afghanistan who is dealing with a gastrointestinal disorder for which Shaoli was able to get a case extension so that the youth’s case manager could perform additional follow up. His disorder is causing him to lose a significant amount of weight, therefore, he’s been administered numerous sleep studies at Texas Children’s Hospital. Preferred Communities has been working closely with the client’s mother by teaching her skills such as ordering medical transportation via interpreter for her son’s appointments, following up with health results, and providers if needed. Furthermore, she has been taught how to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
To reprieve myself from the busyness I would attend yoga sessions at The Hines Center, a community center connected to Christ Church Cathedral. During my first months in ESC, I attended Acroyoga, a technique in which yoga and acrobat are infused, and learned about to use my wrists to hold my weight onto another person. *Two thumbs up* I’ll be honest in saying that I stopped going to classes because I couldn’t push myself to indulge in complex body tricks and settled for more gentle yoga practices on Saturdays whenever I’m up to doing so. Also, The Hines Center is where ESC fellows meet with our Program Director, Nick Puccio, for our Formation Fridays during which we meditate together, set goals, and get to know our individual selves. Those meetings have been lovely respites before engaging in tough tasks at the office. I tried taking up Salsa lessons with my chica, Liz Luna, but classes were cut after our first week due to issues with the venue in which classes were held. In lieu of that, we’ve been killing the dance floor on Friday nights at a local dance club. There were times when I would go walking at Hermann Park or Rice University in order to be one with God or simply allow myself to ruminate over issues or ideas.
God has been ever-present throughout this past year. The source of love that which motivates me to do what I have been doing and not throw in the towel when the going gets tough has given me the grace to live out the stuff of God’s dreams; seeking mercy, loving justice, walking with Jesus, and reconciling humanity with each other. Thich Nhat Hanh says that “The practice of peace and reconciliation is one of the most vital and artistic of human actions.” –I was challenged to do that work by sharing my living space with a white woman, the best roommate I could ever ask for, Katelyn Kenney. She is the epitome of what it means to be an ally. Katelyn cares and grieves for our nation and world, she is always willing to educate and bring issues to the table for discussion, and she’s always ready to participate in a march for justice. I truly believe that Katelyn and I are a product of racial reconciliation within the Episcopal Church. Katelyn has taught me many things, has made my life in Houston relatively fun and I’ve eaten some pretty good meals by way of her. I’m going to miss her Chicken Tortilla Soup.
What’s next for me? Well, I’m staying in Houston as I love this city too darn much. I’m continuing my endeavors with ESC for a second year, and my new role will be Missional Community Developer for our Diocese. I do not have all of the information as I am just clueless and excited as all of whom I have told, but I know that I’ll be in good hands, and I’m sure that whatever comes my way will only serve as a conduit of grace for my calling.
Grace and Peace,
Darin Deangelo Harrison
Darin served with YMCA International Services