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Personal Development

I joined the service corps to “know myself” is the sense of

to thine own self be true,

and it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man

and

Runnin’ through the 6 with my woes

Countin’ money, you know how it goes

Pray the real live forever, man

Pray the fakes get exposed.

Upon moving to Houston, I invested most of my time and physical energy into “self-care.” Here are three examples. I learned how to budget (in Google sheets) and tithe (setting aside part of my grocery money for others). I joined the Parish Choir (at Christ Church Cathedral). I found safe spaces downtown with my METRO pass (the Tellepsen YMCA for exercise and the Julia Ideson Library for reading).

In August I waited, then petitioned, for placement at a service site. After two free weeks I interviewed with my supervisors, Shaoli and Salimah. I was hired onto the case management team at a refugee social service office.

Leading up to November, I challenged myself to study for the GRE mathematics subject test. Every Saturday through September and October, I dragged myself to UH for practice questions (on limits & series, differentiation & integration, and groups & rings). In the middle of October, I shaved my head in anxiety. At work, Shaoli joked that I got caught up with the Hare Krishnas. But yes, after I sat for the text, I was free—running outside and cartwheeling across the lawn.

As cooler weather crept in, my service work fleshed out. Salimah needed her old clients archived and fresh clients updated in the new SQL database. Shaoli needed her clients to be arranged with medical appointments, transportation, interpretation and pre-authorized health coverage. I biked (and bused) to work earlier in the morning (red light blooming over me) and stayed later at night. I chewed on the play of words “for myself, unto others; for others, unto myself.”

Waiting for the bus at the transit center, nestled against the curving circuit of the freeway exchange, I felt that I was turning inside out. At this time, I was mainly serving clients by scheduling their medical appointments and by accompanying them as they learned to catch a bus. I also applied for health care benefits and rental assistance, while instructing clients what I was doing, how they could do the same for themselves, and encouraging them to do so as soon as they built up enough English proficiency.

Administratively, I helped transition our case files out of Microsoft Office and into a standardized database. I also parsed the storage room to shred old case files and bring our archives up to grant compliance. (As I learned about a person on paper, they appeared in the office to ask for help: rental assistance, translation, et cetera.)

Since I joined the service corps I have left Texas twice, for Thanksgiving and Christmas. During Thanksgiving I stayed in my old room, but it was too familiar: steeped in lukewarm nostalgia, apparently unchanging, almost menacing. Over Christmas, I slept in my family’s computer room. The uncomfortable pull-out couch reminded me of my bed Houston: it was small, a little lumpy, and I stumbled into things when I walked around at night.

I’m back in Houston, again pushed out into its metropolitan flatland, again stranded to pedal back and forth to work on my bike, while the un-neutered cats lounge about on their roof-tops and houses of the Near Northside settle into the bayou, all of which is slow-flowing to the ocean.

As a consequence, I have a clear picture of what I want to do for Shaoli and Salimah. I’m aware that I’m going to spill out of the other end of the service corps before I know it (as if I’m calling blind down a corridor and, by its null echo, I can hear that the other side is gaping open).

It’s January and I have about 6 months left. Now or never, right?

In Solidarity,

-Colton, YMCA International Services in Houston

Here to change the world…

I am a daydreamer, and my dreams are big. I want to inspire someone to become the best version of themselves, I want to give a TED talk, I want to be a leader, I want to travel to places that scare and amaze me , I want to make a difference someone’s life, I want to change the world.

A few short years ago I thought I knew what I was going to do with my life. I thought I felt at peace. But, as my senior year of college crept closer and eventually came, that peace was no longer there as dread began to take its place. I might not accomplish my dreams. So I applied to the Episcopal Service Corps, because I thought this would be an unforeseen stepping stone towards those dreams. And, maybe check a few dreams off in the year of service. 

The application and interview process did not go as I wanted, I once again thought that my changed plans were going to take me off my path to my dreams. I felt unprepared and nervous. How was working at an early education non-profit in Texas going to get me where I wanted to go. This was not placement I had wanted. This is not in my skillset. 

My first day at my placement site I was so nervous. I couldn’t hear a thing my boss was telling me as she was showing me around. But, I did notice that at my cubicle was a piece of paper taped up that read “Kaitlyn McCurdy ….hear to change the world.” Those words that day and every day after have grounded me. I might not always feel like my everyday is doing something to change the world, but I get to watch and learn from the process that is ongoing to do so.

Everyday I get the opportunity to drive by an elementary school on my way to work. Everyday I watch these kids wearing oversized backpacks and mischievous grins cross the road to go to school. They don’t know anything about “word gaps”, quality care, or reading scores. But, I now do, and I get the opportunity to assist those working for these kids at the crosswalk. That they may get a quality education and learn to read, and then pass those skills onto their own kids. I get to do my part, however small, to change the world for these kids. 

My time here has already taught me to plan on changing the world, but don’t have a set plan to do so, because you may find you already are.

-Kaitlyn, Early Matters in Houston

Finding Vocation, and ESC

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

This quote by Frederick Buechner on vocation has been one that I have pondered numerous times. I have wrestled to understand its meaning, its deep implication, and what this would look like in my life. I have found it to be a calling to explore and pursue and a prayer that this statement would be true for me.

Joining ESC Texas was part of the answer to this question. Over the past couple of years, pieces of the puzzle have been revealed to me. I knew I wanted to serve people in more tangible ways, incorporating my passion for mentorship, spirituality, and my peculiar love of hospitals. In time I realized that where these gifts and unique interests converged was in being a chaplain and a therapist. Furthermore, as I struggled to recently make sense of the reality of our current world refugee crisis, I asked, “Where do I fit in all this? How can I contribute and be part of alleviating suffering and caring for others in this situation?” I was at a crossroads deciding what my next steps should be, when a friend shared the ESC program with me. I was intrigued by the various elements incorporated into this service year: engaging spiritually, intentional community, and reflection on vocation. Working at an emergency homeless shelter for immigrants and refugees was one of the placements that ESC Texas offered. I fell in love and at peace that what I desired and what the world needed were converging.

Over the past two months, I have experienced many moments of grace. Whether I am supporting one of my housemates, engaging in vulnerable conversations, creating community, encouraging and supporting a resident at work, or helping one of the residents navigate American culture or the housing system, I am filled with joy. I have the honor to share life with these various individuals and in doing so, am fulfilling my calling.

As we enter into a season where we are asked to acknowledge our gratitude, I am overwhelmed by all that has been manifested in my life through being a part of ESC Texas. I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue to explore what this vocation means through doing ESC this year. Living in community, working at the shelter, and allowing for times of introspection have been invaluable. I am humbled by the gift to have this time and to further engage in the question where my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meets. I think I am finally figuring out what that means for me.

-Austin Corps Member

An Honest Reflection on Retreats

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was told our house would go on retreat. What even does retreat mean? Retreats make me think of days filled with back-to-back activities, long sessions of team planning and organizational visioning, and maybe some awkward or occasionally fun ice breakers and team building activities. Honestly, the retreats I’ve experienced before don’t actually include much “retreating” from the life activities that I already engage in on a weekly basis.

Our house retreat turned out to be different from my understanding of retreats. To clear up any confusion, when I say “house” I mean the eleven individuals I live with this year in Austin as a part of ESC. The house includes members of the Young Adult Volunteers (YAV) and Americorps Literacy First Volunteers in addition to the Episcopal Service Corps. We live together in intentional community, and do weekly programming with our two program coordinators.

After an hour in the car, all eleven of us (plus Christy and Martha our program coordinators!) arrived at Rancho de Vida, a secluded spot which includes a hammock, a pool, a tree house, two swinging beds, two steers, two alpacas, a stunning view of the surrounding valley, and tastefully placed string lights all over the property. I felt a bit like a kid in a candy shop because there were so many beautiful things for me to take photos.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this retreat had a healthy dose of relaxation built into it, something that becomes very hard to find in my daily life when I find myself constantly “busy.” There was plenty of time to spend reading, walking, floating in the pool, talking, and laughing to our hearts content. This time provided us the space for a deeper level of relaxation and bonding with one another.

It also provided me the space to become centered again. I often feel decentered throughout the week as I am pulled in 8 different directions, going through back-to-back meetings, irregular work hours, planned and unplanned community time, outside social gatherings, and struggling to get a decent amount of sleep each night. I thought my life would become more relaxed after college, but I was wrong.

There was one programmatic piece built into the retreat, and that was the sharing of our spiritual autobiographies. We were paired up and shared our spiritual journeys, whatever form that may take, with one other person in the program. Having a complicated and dynamic faith story myself, I found this to be an interesting challenge. I grew up without religion, and am now feeling out that space for myself to discover what my spirituality looks like.

It was a vulnerable experience for all of us – to wholeheartedly bare our soul to one another. We all come from a diverse range of spiritual backgrounds, so presenting our truths to each other and holding those truths up in acceptance and understanding was moving. I was paired with my housemate Christine, who grew up with both parents as clergy in the Methodist church. Sharing my story with my Christine, and reciprocally hearing hers, turned out to be a very spiritual experience for me.

I’m fully aware that this year will be a hard year for various reasons that I won’t go into here, but I know it will also be a year of great learning and growth. I’m excited to face my growing edges alongside my housemates and learn more about myself and about life with others in intentional community.

ranch6

-Gillian, Interfaith Action in Austin

Cease To Expect

“Cease to expect and you will have all things.”  -The Lord Buddha

As with all new adventures, I began this service year with the Lord Buddha’s quote in mind. I didn’t have expectations walking in, no false hopes that I’d quell my millennial, existential anxieties and find answers to the tough questions like “who am I?” “What should I do with my life?” “When/where/ what is Truth?”

While I didn’t begin this year with expectations, I did have concerns. As a Queer person who grew up in a conservative Christian community, the journey toward spiritual Truth has been one marred by dogma and riddled with tension. For the past 7 years, I’ve actively wrestled with the intersections of my identity, attempting to find a space where the words Queer and Christian could coexist. I was afraid this year with ESC would unearth the religiously inflicted traumas of the past. I was afraid I would have to reopen psychological wounds, asking me to, once again, confront issues of queerness and morality through tight readings of scripture.

My ESC year has been a gift. Far from narrow mindedness, I’ve found a loving and supportive community, both in my home life and at my place of service. I’ve had the privilege of meeting radical Truth seekers, hell bent on creating a more safe and inspired world. I’ve engaged in works that bridge difference, catching glimpses of how another makes sense of their conscious experience. At my place of service, I’ve come face to face with people that have made tremendous journeys across the Earth’s surface in search of a safe sacred space.

While this year hasn’t necessarily provided answers to glaring existential quandaries, it has provide space for me to settle into myself, my difference, and my strength. I am incredibly grateful to the Episcopal Service Corps.

-Erin, Casa Marianella in Austin

When God Closes a Door…

In the musical the Sound of Music, Fraulein Maria, finds comfort in the words of the Reverend Mother, “When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.”  Though my situation is gravely different than that of the Von Trapp family, there have been many times in my life when I also find comfort in this thought.

When I decided to apply for the Episcopal Service Corps, I was at a place in my life that not all up and coming college graduates are unfamiliar with: it was something along the lines of “what am I going to do after graduation?” My super cool fancy political job fell through (and thank goodness for that) and moving home wasn’t something I wanted to do.  For quite some time I was interested in serving with the Peace Corps but I had reservations and wasn’t quite sure that that was the right path for me. ESC came to me through my mom and after reading about the program and the non-profits that fellows had the chance to work with; I knew this was the window that I had been looking for.

This year hasn’t been easy and there were many times when I found myself questioning if this was all worth it. Was it worth the hassle of trying to qualify for food stamps? Was it worth the hassle to work in a job placement that I knew was important but wasn’t what I wanted to do in the future? Was it worth it to be so far from home and live in a city that I was unfamiliar with?

I felt many doors close this year without any windows being opened. But as my year of service comes to an end, I am thankful for the big window that opened; a job. In July I will be moving to Houston to begin working for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas as Bishop’s social media assistant. And while this will be another move and another new start, I am looking forward to seeing how God uses me in this position. This was the window that I didn’t know I sought, but ended up being something that I wanted. If I learned anything this year it was that no matter what doors close, keep an eye out for the opening windows because at the end of it all God has plan.

Mary, Sustainable Food Center in Austin

Gettin’ Weird On Love

love postEach experience we go through as individuals make up the essence of who we are, our own character. We are all playing vital roles on Earth and when we cross paths with others with similar destinies it almost seems as if it were Godsent, but it is true that all stories are completely different from each other. There’s a simultaneous feeling of melancholy and pride in the fact that no one will ever go through the same exact situations as you.  I’ve spent the majority of my life in Illinois knowing and seeing the same faces which I became so comfortably accustomed to.This is a main reason why it was so difficult for me leave home. I was afraid to leave because I thought it would be complicated for others to understand why I am the way I am because they had not grown up around me or couldn’t take the time to understand and get to know me. There was a growing anxiety within me that eventually led me to leave Illinois for ATX and continue my own independent journey.

Prior to moving to Austin I was graced with the opportunity to meet so many diverse people from past AmeriCorps service terms, all of which had shared their own perspectives of life which I’ve carried with me along the way. With each of these experiences there are certain people who influence the trajectory of your life, either positively or negatively. I’ve learned that one is not more important than the other because all of them have shaped who I’ve become so far. I’m extremely grateful and relieved to affirm that those that I’ve met in my time serving with the Episcopal Service Corps have provided me with even more insight and support than I had hoped for. So much support that at some point you ask yourself, “what do these people want from me?!” People like this redefine the word ‘love’ for me time and time again with an added layer of meaning. Everyone knew that onions have layers but who would’ve thought that love does too?

While being placed at H.A.N.D. (Helping the Aging, Needy & Disabled) as a Case Supervisor I’ve been opened up to a whole other world that is in dire need of assistance and service. The thought that there are so many individuals suffering from a multitude of illnesses and diseases has caused me to reevaluate my own priorities in order to avoid similar diagnoses for myself and my family. Amidst their own hardships, I am blessed to have met so many tender hearted individuals that are going through some form of critical condition, it goes to show just how strong the spirit really is. There is an overwhelming need for compassion and kindness at least in my eyes. Too often we let darkness take over and with it the light subsides and we forget our true nature for being alive, that is to work towards being a better version of yourself every single day; the kingdom of God is within us but it is up to us to find our way there.

There’s not much else to say about this year honestly. You know three years, in a row, of dedicating your time and effort to service eventually takes it toll on you when days seem to blend together. Too many moments have been spent asking myself questions and looking for answers in places that required eternal excavation and just recently have I found that I can’t live like that forever. You can’t wear the cape and forget who you are or else you forget how to help others. Will I ever reach that sacred realm of contentment within myself? Will you?

Even if I’m never able to answer any more of my existentially anxious questions ever again..I can live with that. I’m not supposed to have all of the answers but one thing I know is for sure; that is, as long we have faith in ourselves we will overcome all odds and choose love over hate. As for the my future endeavors, there are no set in stone plans for me post-service corps (with just a few weeks left!). So here I go again, into the unknown.

Godspeed. Take care. Give care.

“In the midst of winter, I find within me the invisible summer…”

–Leo Tolstoy,The Kingdom of God Is Within You

Chris, H.A.N.D in Austin.

Reflecting on My Year of Service

My name is Scott Fisher; I am 25 years old from Houston, Texas. Like a lot of millennials my age I came to a crossroads in my life where I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I was stuck in a dead-end job, struggling with my spiritual life, and struggling in my personal life. I would come home from my 9 to 5 job in downtown Austin, TX every day and think to myself, “I know I am capable of more than this.” I felt a strong calling from God that I should be doing something different and using my skill set to help people in this world who are less fortunate. I heard the call loud and clear, but I didn’t know how to pursue this call and frankly I was afraid to jump off the deep end and leave my fairly comfortable life.

Finally, one day I went to my dad and poured my heart out to him. I told him how I wasn’t happy, I told him about the call I felt like I was getting and he sympathized with me. He told me he would keep me in his prayers and that I should start looking for other jobs. I began searching job boards and leveraging resources in the Episcopal Church to find my next step, but nothing seemed to come. I prayed for a few weeks, but nothing seemed to come. I felt like I was drowning in a pool of uncertainty and doubt. I thought to myself, “is this how the rest of my life is going to be? Am I going to wear a suit to work and do the same monotonous tasks every day?”  Then, after weeks of prayer and searching, my prayers were finally answered. My dad sent me an email with information about the Texas Episcopal Service Corps and the title was “check this out”. I hesitantly looked through the email and I wasn’t right away convinced that this was the right step for me to take. I was worried about living with strangers, not making much money, and the idea of living simply. I ended up applying and then I called Matt Blank who was the program director at the time and he gave me all the details. The program was slowly starting to sound like it was the perfect step for me to take. So I ended up accepting my offer into the Service Corps and began packing up my apartment in Austin to take on my new adventure.

When I got to the house in Houston the blessing from God started falling in line. All of my roommates were unique and brought something new to the table for me. Paige is quiet, but very strong and we are both passionate about sports. Jordan is very smart, young, and has taught me a lot about life, he has been like a little brother to me. Koacher and I have a lot in common as far as music, sports, and our overall thoughts on life. Nick and Christy have been great mentors and have always been there for us when we need anything from them. One of the biggest blessings that came to me in my year of service was my host site, Avenue CDC. They gave me the freedom to use my professional skills and people skills to help the Near Northside community. The community that we live in and that I work in is very close to my heart because my family settled in this neighborhood when we migrated to the US from Germany. During my year at Avenue CDC I have been able to help rebuild dilapidated homes in the neighborhood, organize/ host community events, lead a youth group of high school students, and much more. Spiritually I have also grown tremendously throughout the year. When times were hard I was able to rely on prayer to get me through. I was able to lean on my roommates during formation night, because we were all going through similar struggles at our host sites. I began going to church more on Sundays which I wasn’t doing when I lived in Austin for a variety of reasons.

Lastly, the greatest gift I received during my year of service is the gift of Discernment. I came into the year completely lost and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Now I will be leaving the Texas Episcopal Service Corps with a clear vision of what my skills are and what I need to do with my life. I have realized that my gift is the ability to effectively communicate with a millionaire and effectively communicate with someone who is homeless. My passion is improving the lives of those who feel neglected by society and don’t know where to turn. I am now happy to say I know what I want to do with my life and I have escaped the quicksand of uncertainty and doubt in my life. Through my host site Avenue CDC, I have made a lot of connections in the neighborhood and just accepted a job at Wesley Community Center as a Community Connections Coordinator. This position allows me to find unique ways to connect community members to programs and services that Wesley offers. I am currently looking for a one bedroom apartment from my host site (who provides affordable housing) in the Near Northside neighborhood which I have grown passionate about. Without this year of service I’m afraid I would still be lost, walking blindly down a dark hallway. The Texas Episcopal Service Corps ended up providing the light I so desperately needed in my life.

Scott, Avenue CDC in Houston.

Houston is Inspired

hou insp

I saw this wall on the first day I started at my host site, and I pass by it on the bus every morning. Ever since then, I have been meaning to walk by it so I can get a picture. Way back in August when I saw this masterpiece, the first thing that drew me in was all the bright colors and the intricate patterns. I read the message on the wall “Houston is inspired” and thought “Oh that’s nice” but I never really gave it a second thought. Every morning passing by I would wait for my 5-second glimpse of the wall to see what new detail in the art I could spot.

Now as we move into June, we have only six weeks left in Episcopal Service Corps and my favorite graffiti wall has taken on new meaning. As I reflect on this year and what it has meant to me to be in the service corps, “Houston is inspired” has become more than a fleeting thought and a shoulder shrug. It now has become a sort of summary for what my time here has meant to me, inspired. The program turned out to be completely different than what my expectations were. Not to say that it was a bad thing, it gave me things I didn’t really come here looking for. My host site was vastly different than the others in the program, with my initial supervisor being forced into early retirement due to health issues. I was soon left on my own without any real direction, only helping out here and there. Once they hired a new person to fill that position I thought, “oh goody, finally someone to give me some work around here”. I soon found out that wasn’t case. It just shows that sometimes things don’t go as expected.

Signing up for the ESC, I thought I was going to get out of my small hometown and experience the big city while doing great things to help create change and get some really cool job experience that I could use later in life. I certainly didn’t expect to come here and have things go the way they went but I have since learned that it is OK.  It turns out, as many of you may already know, the plan I had was not the plan that God had for me. For once in my life, I think I’m starting to put the pieces of that plan together. Just by being here in the ESC, I was inspired, like the wall says. Even though things didn’t quite go the way I was expecting or hoping for them to go, I was not going to let that stop me and let my program year go to waste. Amidst all the chaos at my host site, I found a voice, my voice.

You may be thinking that is an odd thing to say, but if you know me, you know how big of an accomplishment this is. During our fall retreat this year, we did the Enneagram personality test and I found that I’m a “Peacemaker”. It may not be strange for you to hear that the Peacemaker does everything in their power to not “rock the boat” so to speak. This most often comes in the form of staying silent when somebody does or says something you don’t agree with or that you have a problem with. You would rather keep quiet than take a chance of creating conflict. Reading about the Peacemaker, I had an Oprah “ah-ha” moment. Finally someone understood what my whole life has been like! My whole life I have done exactly that, kept my mouth shut so as not to create conflict and therefore, suffer in silence.

Knowing all of this, I challenged myself. Since things weren’t going as expected at my host site, I was going to use this opportunity to work on myself and find out who I am. I was inspired to take some chances and do things outside of my comfort zone. My host site situation was a blessing in disguise, with all of my free time giving me the opportunity to read the books from our book study and do some of my own bible studies. Reading up on these things inspired me to enroll into a class to become a certified teaching assistant. The valuable classroom experience I was already getting a few hours a day at my host site inspired me to enroll in the class to make more use of my time.

I took it upon myself to do a lot of exploring the city this year and tried to experience things I don’t get to experience living in a small town in Montana. My fellow corps members were not always able to go with me, but I was determined to not let that stop me. In the past I would never want to go anywhere by myself because I always felt awkward being a party of one in crowds of people who were either coupled up or in smaller groups. And quite frankly I was afraid to go places by myself for fear of being judged by other people on why I was out by myself and not with someone. I had read somewhere a while back an article on being single and it talked about how as a single person in a world filled with couples you need to take yourself out on “dates” and feel comfortable in your own skin, being able to sit in a room full of people by yourself and being ok with just having yourself and not having someone across from you to talk to. So remembering the article I took the year to do just that. I have gone to multiple different performance; all kinds of plays, the ballet, a monster truck show, sports events and more. Sometimes, I just wanted to get out of the house so I go to the mall or something to get some alone time. Other times I wanted to go sightseeing, so I just hopped on the train or bus and explored the city.  I would have never done this before I came to Texas and ESC. I am perfectly fine going on solo hikes back home but stick me in a big city with lots of people and my first reaction is to stay in the house and never come out. My time here has given me the confidence to do things on my own. I’m so glad I took on the challenge, I have gotten to see so many things that I will never get to experience at home and my life is all the more richer for it. ESC gave me the freedom and confidence to speak up and voice my opinion, not all the time but I have certainly come a long way from when we started in August.

Without the inspiration from the program and the staff I would probably still be lost about what I want to do with my life. But I’m happy to say I have found another thing that I am passionate about. When I finish the program, I will be finishing my teaching assistant class and will start the process to enroll into the early childhood education bachelor degree program at the University of Montana. I came to Houston dreading the Texas heat (and yes, I’ve been wearing sandals year round, and if my job would let me I would have been wearing shorts as well), but I am so thankful to the city of Houston for giving me the inspiration for personal growth, this place isn’t so bad after all!

Paige, Community Family Centers in Houston

Hines Center Partnership

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We are extremely excited to announce that we will be partnering with the Hines Center for Spirituality and Prayer beginning this August! This is a fantastic addition to the programming and experience of our corps members in Houston. More information on the Hines Center and the services they provide can be found here.