Archives for July 2015

Expecting the Unexpected

“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy for you too.” – Frederick Buechner

At some point during each of the six audit projects assignments during the span of my fellowship with Habitat for Humanity International’s Internal Audit department, there has been a moment, if not moments, which have taken my breath away. These moments take on many forms – joy, heartbreak, discomfort – as I learned about the context in which Habitat is working. They are those moments that, while I can anticipate them coming, I can never quite be mentally and emotionally prepared. After this past year of service, I have learned to expect the unexpected.

As an Internal Audit department, our role distills to asking the right questions and observing the operations of each Habitat entity either domestically or internationally. Often, this involves analyzing financial statements, probing staff for longer answers, and most importantly, developing trusting and confidential relationships with each staff member. In addition to providing information on the Habitat entity’s operations, each individual provides critical insight as to the culture and socioeconomic situation of the communities and families Habitat serves. Anecdotes of her or his personal life pepper conversations, preparing me mentally for the homeowner visits.

The excursion to visit partner families in Madagascar is one that, five months later, I continue to have the same reaction. As the team piled out of the Habitat truck and proceeded to follow the GPS coordinates to the reported location, we set off on foot to traverse ragged dirt pathways. We zigzagged between half-finished houses, outdoor latrines, and buckets of standing drinking water as well as passing by families, children, and the occasional barnyard animals in the scorching 90°F heat of the January summer. I was reminded of the world’s deep need for more solutions for whom the fundamentals of daily life are missing – food, water, and shelter. Peering around a corner, I knew we had reached our final destination as I saw a home that was complete with a roof overhead and panes in the windows. That was the model Habitat home – a decent place to live.

During our conversations with the homeowners, who spoke only French and Malagasy, we learned that the mother and father felt that the Habitat home had provided a stable and dry structure in which to raise their three elementary-aged children. In addition to the primary goal of stable housing, the homeowners had been welcomed into the Habitat network of their rural community which provides additional non-quantifiable opportunities for support and friendship. The community formed in that village has brought deep joy to the partners and kids alike, and owning a decent and simple home has brought peace to the parents.

Each individual home I have visited this past year across the world – ranging from Madagascar to Malaysia – has provided joy, but only temporarily. It reaffirms the necessity of organizations such as Habitat to be working in locations of extreme need and poverty in order to empower partner families and provide sustainable support to these communities. But each project further stirs my intellectual and personal discomfort not only in the moment but months later as well. As my fellowship with Habitat for Humanity International draws to a close, I know that I will carry these moments forward which will prevent my own real peace and joy until the world’s deep needs have been met.

Preparedness

The recent months have been a whirlwind. With changing seasons, new jobs, and big hopes, I concluded my Davidson Impact Fellowship and embarked on a new journey. I have yet to have time to sit and think about the things I worked on and contributed to over the past year. So as I pause to write my final DIF post, an overwhelming amount of emotion and gratitude floods in.

What had I done in the past year? What can I say I accomplished? The first question is a bit easier to answer: I had worked with the first art museum in North Carolina. I led a team creating programs for young adults to engage with the museum’s collection. I trained a group of almost 80 older adults on touring strategies and special exhibition materials. I contributed to the museum’s newest initiative to bring area teens to connect with and learn from a beautiful collection of art, craft, and design. Frankly, I had been a part of more than I had hoped.

For the answer to my second question, I had to think a little harder. From writing resumes and cover letters for my next opportunity, I knew that I had accomplished a lot professionally: experience, ability, ingenuity, patience, dedication–all made easier by working for a cause I believed in. But what does all of that mean in the grand scheme of things? Yes, I am more qualified now, but why does that matter?

It matters because I am now prepared to move forward in the art world, helping to bring individuals of all ages, economic backgrounds, and ethnicities to an institution that speaks the universal language of culture: art. Art, as I have further discovered in the past year, can do more to teach us critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration. This amazing resource, which is housed in institutions across the world, should be advocated for. Every person should have access to educational programs at museums; everyone should have this chance to learn. This is what I am now more prepared to support because of my Impact Fellowship.

What the Impact Fellowship Program provides young graduates, in its most basic sense, is an unbelievable opportunity for a first job. On another level, it offers the chance to be part of a greater Davidson community that gives back. It provides the basic, yet invaluable, support of someone believing in you. At the highest tier, it provides preparedness–what I have come to learn as the most valuable trait that an individual can possess: the preparedness to jump into the greater community and work for what you believe in.

My Impact Fellowship has done exactly that: fully prepared me to take my next step toward accomplishing my career goals. It has led me to accept a position working for an art museum in New York advocating for free educational programs so that any visitor that might walk through the door–and individuals interested globally!–may have the opportunity to learn from the amazing cultural history we have available. Spending the past year in hands on experience in arts education has given me the material with which to support a wide variety of initiatives.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you to The Mint Museum, thank you to Davidson College, and thank you to the wonderful Impact Fellow Program. This incredible opportunity has given me more than I could have hoped for in a first job and has better prepared me to take on the challenges of working for a nonprofit, and a cause that I believe in.

Prideful D.C.

Although D.C. Pride did not have the same uniquely perfect timing as the San Francisco and NYC (and others’) Pride weekends enjoyed – theirs inaugurated with the historical moment of marriage equality for all ushered into America last Friday – it nonetheless provided for a week of amazing Pride-ful presence across the nation’s capital. Granted, my experience of the Pride Week was undoubtedly enhanced by the fact that I work for an LGBTQ non-profit organization and thus was able to march in the parade, work a booth for the festival, and even visit two local schools to spread the good vibes and awareness to youth in D.C.

That week, I visited both Woodrow Wilson and Cardozo High School for their Pride Day Celebrations as a Trevor advocate – an experience that brought back warm memories of the various efforts and endeavors of the QSA (Queer Straight Alliance) from my own high school. The group was active and motivated when I was a student there – and hopefully still is – and my involvement in the QSA was paramount to the development of my interest in LGBTQ rights and advocacy, especially in relation to LGBTQ youth. Generating ideas among a group of inspired teenagers, all working towards the same common ground, can be such a rewarding experience. I saw that same enthusiasm and interest expressed in students today at the event as groups of friends made their way over to the Trevor table and asked us questions about how to get involved and best protect their peers and themselves against the risks of suicidality and mental health issues.

I really enjoy working in the advocacy and public policy sphere of the Trevor Project. The work keeps me involved and attached to current LGBTQ politics and issues, even though I am not responsible for working the lifeline resource itself. I have such admiration and respect for the Trevor volunteers who spend their time serving on the lifeline and providing that vital support to the youth that need it most – and I’m honestly not sure if I could serve in that position myself, day in and day out. The stories we hear from the lifeline can be utterly devastating. But this opportunity today was unique and heart-warming in that I gained firsthand exposure, even if just for a couple hours, to the population of youth that we seek to support – and so many of them seemed genuinely interested in and thankful for the work that we do. I hope the young people in this country continue to hold onto that drive and inspiration.

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