A friend of mine once told me that life in New York City is never black or white but a shade of gray. At first, I didn’t understand what he meant. Coming into GSV, it became apparent that life doesn’t always seem to fit the black-or-white boxes. It was a struggle to come into clarity with this new concept, but it absolutely changed me for the better. Each of the four tenets (social justice, community, spirituality, and simplicity) are so flexible, which makes GSV so unique and beautiful.
During the first couple of months, I had expectations for myself, my job, and everyone around me. The social justice tenet that is through Family Foster Care is my first “adult” job. Coming straight out of college in an industrial town, it can be a little overwhelming to be in a new, big city with a new job. On top of that, working with youth that have been abused and/or neglected isn’t something one takes lightly. A sense of community and building lasting relationships are important. Making friends comes naturally to me by having a positive vibe, so I thought that being in community-based living was going to give me instant friends. My faith in college was strong due to overwhelming support from my college friends and organizations. I felt that I would continue to grow in my spiritual journey with ease. Simplicity was one of the tenets that scared me the most, but I knew that I could manage with some help from GSV staff and community members.
My thought coming in August was, “What’s the worse that could happen? I got this!” However as the months rolled on, I realized I didn’t have it all together. As a Preparing Youth for Adulthood (PYA) Assistant, I recruit and co-facilitate programs for 16-20 year old youth, run credit checks, write and send out a monthly newsletter, provide individual support in career and educational aspects, and so much more. As an over-enthusiastic, ambitious 22 year-old, I had some very high expectations coming into this year. Week after week, my duties were not meeting those expectations: youth weren’t showing up to appointments or programs, I was doing a lot of tedious work, and programs had to end. I was feeling unequipped for my job because I was pointing the blame at myself.
Community, the one tenet that I knew I would enjoy the most, was also tough. I didn’t make the instant friendships with my community members that I thought I would. I was constantly comparing them to my nine roommates from college who I became friends with very quickly. Here, I felt I was doing something wrong to not make friends with the other GSVs and my coworkers. Spirituality was complicated because I was taught to do X, Y, and Z to be considered good in the eyes of God. I realized that I didn’t have the same community that I did in college to help me with my faith journey, so I had a hard time carving my own. Overall, the easiest tenet was simplicity, but even that is a very loose statement. Living simply created a barrier when it came to going out with friends, enjoying the things in New York City, and spending money in general. I felt I had to take things away in order to live simply. All of these things were incredibly overwhelming and draining.
I was talking to my wonderful supervisor one day, when she mentioned that this work environment calls for flexibility. You have to be okay with failure every once in awhile. To me, that was the scary part. Like most people, I don’t welcome failure but I had to learn to switch my mindset to be flexible and let relationships develop over time. This changed my whole way of thinking in all of the tenets. I made intentional connections with the youth that I serve, as well as my co workers so I now feel like a part of this beautiful, unique family within Family Foster Care. I became more relaxed at work through the idea of being flexible with my youth and meeting them halfway.
I had to be flexible within my community too and I definitely found that not all communities are the same. They have different priorities, different interests and beliefs, which can be incredibly beautiful. It’s also really important to understand that community doesn’t have to stop at GSV. Communities can go beyond that. I have met people throughout the city who I have been so blessed to have met, who continue to challenge me to grow. I have had coffee with complete strangers, sat with homeless men and women on busy streets, talked to people who are of different socioeconomic status, race, faith, sexuality/genders, etc. Through spirituality nights and seeing a spiritual director, I found myself taking practices from different spiritual beliefs to carve my own. I use the Buddhist practice of silent meditation and the Examine Prayer from Catholicism. This exploration has brought me a lot closer to God in a way I’ve never expected. I also found community within a church I enjoy going to. Simplicity, for a lack of a better word, is humbling yourself. It’s not about taking things out of your life, but about enjoying things in moderation. I learned to love going against the status quo and finding things for free or for cheap. For example, a friend helped me discover a bar that does $2 draft beers on Monday nights. I found a bakery over by my church that have great sweets for about $1.50. I found going to other boroughs and exploring to be just as exciting as going into touristy Manhattan (and it’s also free with an unlimited Metrocard).
As 2016 ends and 2017 begins, I have thought hard about what the next several months of GSV would look like. I thought about a word or a statement that I could take with me into the next year. The more I have thought about these past few months, the more I think about the word "perspective". “Perspective” made me stronger in not only using the four tenets, but in all areas of my life. I feel more free and confident through this new understanding. It has helped me form meaningful relationships. This word showed me the importance of self-care. This word demonstrated the true meaning of gratitude through both the joys and challenges of my service. Most importantly, this new perspective brought out St. Mary Euphrasia's mission in a new, clear light. It brought me to know that "just love" is not just a statement, but a way of life. No matter where you are in life, never let life be black or white. Change your perspective to a nice gray.
Written by Emily Mazzola
Family Foster Care in the Bronx
Washington Heights Community, 16-17