Updated: Nov 7, 2019
By Erin Tolar
Hello from Asheville, North Carolina! My five housemates and I arrived on Monday, August 27th after a week of YAV program orientation in Stony Point, New York. Orientation in New York with the other approximately 60 YAVs serving across the nation and world was both amazing and exhausting, but I’m happy to finally be settling into my new home for the year. We’ve spent this past week moving into our two shared apartments, getting to know our site coordinator, exploring Asheville, and starting to establish our intentional Christian community. Here we are checking out one of Asheville’s most unique activities: Friday night drum circles!
A particular moment stands out to me as I reflect on the week. One of my housemates will be working at AHOPE, a day center for people experiencing homelessness. Here, people can receive mail, store belongings, take a shower, grab some coffee, and start to meet with agencies who can help match them with housing. While witnessing the lively chaos of the center on a tour, my mind flipped back to a recurring theme of our (dis)orientation week in New York. We were constantly talking about the people at the “Center” of society (think: White, heterosexual, male, able-bodied, housed, middle class, etc.) and people in the “Borderlands” (people of color, LGBTQ+, women, people with disabilities, experiencing homelessness, working class, etc.). Everyone’s positionality in this model is unique: for example, my Whiteness places me at the center, while being female places me in the borderlands. While not simple, it is a helpful way to think about what pieces of identity are rewarded by society or pushed to the margins.
AHOPE is serving people deeply entrenched in the Borderlands. Many of the people experiencing homelessness were also marginalized in other ways. As we walked through the center, I was both amazed and ashamed at how I have been taught by society to shrink away, to avoid, to dehumanize these people who are children of God just like me. The seven of us (my site coordinator, 5 housemates, and me) were clearly conspicuous in this space, because as we left, a man called out to us: “What are you going to teach us this time?” I was floored. This man saw people he identified as out of place, and concluded that we must be there to teach — with all of the condescension and judgment that so easily comes with service. As I struggled with how to respond, our site coordinator jumped in and said: “No teaching, just learning!”
What Selena articulated so beautifully is what I struggle to explain. For me, and for this program, it isn’t about “fixing.” We’re asked to learn: by working alongside people who are already doing great work in their community, by listening to people who get brushed aside by society, and by holding each other accountable to simple living in our intentional Christian community. YAV is designed to be “A year of service for a lifetime of change.” I look forward to leaning into discomfort, sharing my stories, and living alongside my YAV community in Asheville.