Where to begin…
This past week 85 YAVs, 10 YAVA (YAV alumni) and 5 members of the YAV staff congregated at Stony Point Center in Stony Point, NY for an incredible orientation.
Before this week I had no idea what was in store for us at orientation but upon my arrival, I quickly realized how amazing and transforming this event would be for myself.
When I began to think about this blog post, I was overwhelmed with the amount of information I wanted to share with you all. Here is my best overview of what went on during this past week; I’ll try to keep it short..
Everyday had a similar structure, with worship after breakfast and at the end of the day and various seminars/ speakers interspersed with mealtime. To break up the talks we participated in and reflect on what we were learning, everyone split up into small groups that met at least once a day, led by a YAVA. This allowed us to check in with each other and talk openly about orientation with about 6 or 8 YAVs.
The seminars, while sometimes very long, were so awesome! Props to the YAV staff for bringing in some cool people. Our first day, Jessica Vasquez- Torres came in to do a crossroads seminar about Critical Cultural Competency. We discussed liberation theology, the circle of praxis, the various privileges we all carry and how powerful (and destructive) privilege can be. Jessica had us identify the norms in U.S. society to create an image of what constitutes as the “center” of society, and how that contrasts with the borderlands, or those that are minoritized by not have the identities of the center. Stereotypes or characteristics of the center include white, heteronormative, cis-gendered, English- speaking, U.S. citizen, male, materialism, individualism, capitalism, able- bodied, healthy, upper-class, and Christian. Contrary to these, the borderlands include non-white, community, socialism, lower- class, non-male, disabled, unhealthy, non-English speaking, LGBTQIAA, and non-Christian. As YAVs, we will be positioned on the edge of the center and borderlands, with one foot on each side. The idea is to use our unique position to bring equality to both sides and alleviate the struggles of those in the borderlands while not necessarily bringing them to the center.
Some of the other seminars we went to talked about power, advocacy and faith, interfaith, mission as a partnership, and how to effectively, and respectfully share our story (through our blogs!). My favorite day by far was our day away on Thursday. We were split up into four groups and went either into NYC or New Jersey for a multicultural day; the four locations being Broadway Presbyterian Church in NYC, a mosque located in Queens, a Sikh Gurdwara in NJ, and the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN. My group went to the Sikh Gurdwara in New Jersey and it. was. awesome. Hands down best day ever. We learned about the Sikh faith, participated in a prayer processional, and ate lunch with our hosts. My condensed thoughts -> their religion makes sense to me, is inclusive, advocates for social justice, and practices radical hospitality. If you want to learn more about their amazing faith, I encourage you to visit the Sikh coalition at http://sikhcoalition.org/.
Overall, orientation was eye opening and so empowering. We heard from the YAVAs each night about their own YAV stories, and learned about the beauties and challenges of living in an intentional community. Our last day of bible study with Rick Ufford-Chase (co-director of Stony Point) closed with three proclamations to us as YAVs: 1) Accompany those that don’t have what you have 2) Advocate with your power for those that ask for it 3) Risk the resources you have to be with people that are struggling (aka risk your privilege). This message speak volumes to me and how I wish to live out my YAV year- by maintaining respect for those I will be working alongside.
Our jobs as YAVs are not to “fix” the community we are in, but to work as partners with the communities and people we interact with, to accompany them in their various struggles. As a YAV, my goal is to carry myself with respect and awareness of my position as someone from many “center” identities and challenge myself to put myself in uncomfortable positions (not unsafe) that allow me to learn and grow as an individual.
Orientation took me by surprise. I did not expect to meet and grow close with so many awesome people during a single week. While I am so sad to leave the amazing space of Stony Point, I am excited to actually start my YAV year after talking about it for a whole week. Stay tuned to hear about the move into our house in Asheville and my first few days at Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity!!