By Elizabeth Davis
I’m not going to lie- I did not have high hopes for Philadelphia as a city. My placement? Absolutely. Living in intentional community? You bet. But Philly? The thing I was the most excited about was the fact that I did not have to drive for a whole three-hundred-and-sixty-five days. I have now been here for almost five months, and as is generally the case with moving halfway across the country and starting a new job, it has been much more than I expected (shocking, I know.).
I have been somewhat biased against the Northeast as a whole, and there was not much I had ever heard about Philadelphia that prompted me to look closer. I arrived in the middle of July, when the free outdoor events were in full swing- concerts, movies in the park, yoga by the Schuylkill, beer gardens- this painted a much more lively and exciting picture of the city where my highest expectations were of reasonably well functioning public transit (we've escaped one SEPTA strike so far, I'll keep y'all updated). It turns out that Philadelphia is actually a really cool city, with some rich history and interesting organizations to boot.
My placement as a case manager has been an incredible learning experience, and there has never been a dull day. I am the first full-time case manager at my placement, which means I have not only been learning the ropes of my position, but working with the house’s program coordinator to shape my role in the house. This location is home to sixteen formerly homeless women with a history of mental health diagnoses and/or substance abuse. My day-to-day role includes working with residents on creating care plans, assisting with daily living skills, interfacing with social service agencies, planning community building events, and dealing with mental health crises. Working with the women at my placement has taught me some valuable skills that I will be able to take with me to practically any career, as well as cemented my desire to continue my education and eventually earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
The third piece of my move to Philadelphia that has gone above and beyond to exceed expectations is the community living aspect of the program. Our housing placement is currently home to four SY members (as well as two rather exuberant yellow labs whenever the Rector is out of town). We all rapidly bonded on move-in day over a mutual love of Harry Potter. Never actually having read the last book (I know, I know, but I’ve read them now, okay!), I spent the month of September re-reading and reading all seven of the books. We have also bonded over a mutual love of Disney and puzzles, and rather quickly formed a tight-knit group. We all have different placements (and work schedules), and it has been great to come home every day to such a supportive community. We have some established routines and guidelines that make our community living more “intentional”. We try to eat all our meals in the kitchen instead of our individual rooms, we have community dinner on Tuesdays, and we say compline together on weeknights.
It has become clear to me that I rather underestimated both the city I now call home, and the program that brought me here. I fully expect for the rest of my months here to continue to exceed even the revised expectations I now have for my year of service.
Elizabeth Serves as Case Manager at Bethesda Project.
By Chris Neville
I think my experience in Servant Year thus far can be boiled down to these two realizations:
Take this, for example: I remember, during orientations at various retail jobs, my new employers telling me that I was going to gain customer service skills that would be valuable in my later career. I nodded politely, thinking to myself, But actually no, because I am not planning on making retail a career. Heh. Guess what?Those grueling shifts at Arby’s and Bath and Body Works really did hone my customer service skills, and I really am using them. Thanks to those experiences, I can throw myself into a Saturday morning grocery distribution at St. Peter’s and manage to be kind and present to every client and volunteer, no matter how crazy the last one I met was. If I can exude positive energy toward a woman ready to take me to court over an expired coupon, I can be positive toward a grumpypants who needs some food. My service sector supervisors were right, after all. Wow. Thanks, guys.
As a student, when I would have to work with or talk to people who got on my nerves for one reason or another, I would do my best to appreciate their good qualities. Always in the back of my mind, however, was a thought akin to: This person needs to learn ____, or she will not make it in the real world. You just can’t act like that! I think I assumed that all “successful” adults possess a fully formed array of social skills. That, it turns out, is not true. Lacking social skills does not mean you lack marketable skills. As a result, difficult people do not disappear from your life after college. Darn.
My senior year of high school, when I was applying to colleges, a few people recommended that I take a gap year. The thought terrified me. A year of aimlessness? How about “no”? My life needed to follow a defined course of action. So I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. I admitted that was a problem, but delaying college and taking a mysterious unstructured year in which to “find myself” would have been a much bigger problem. You see where this is going.
Servant Year is very much like a gap year (for some people, it is one). I am not working toward a structured, multi-year goal. I am exploring career options, going to discernment meetings, and trying new things. Wonderfully, I have become ok with this. Even through the end of my last year at college, I was working fervently to nail down exactly what my vocation is and to make it happen.
Through the readings we have had for spiritual formation meetings, I have come to accept that my vocation is not one thing that I have to find before I can fully live my life. Rather, I have come to respect that I will find my vocation by listening to my inner leadings. I can appreciate God at work in my life now instead of trying to envision what a God-filled life would look like. I am finally at a place where I am comfortable spending years exploring different careers and lifestyles. Alleluiah.
Chris Serves as Program Manager for St. Peter's Food Cupboard.