Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Twelve People, Eight Weeks, One Community: A Life Changing Summer

By Madison Ryan '17

I spent this past summer in an unusual way. I was a part of the Mulvaney Immersion Communities for Action and Humility (MICAH) Fellowship with 11 other students - 5 from the University of San Diego and 6 from Saint Mary’s College.

Here’s what I knew going into the summer:
We would live in two housing units at Alameda Point Collaborative. APC is an abandoned US Naval Base that has been converted into over 200 housing units that house and form a community to support formerly homeless families and residents. Each fellow had been placed with a community partner where we would serve throughout the week. I was placed at the Prescott-Joseph Center for Community Engagement in West Oakland where I would help establish a Family Resource Center and assist in the Healing Arts Therapy program. The way the fellowship was set up was very intentional. We were each going to be given a twenty dollar food budget every week to pool with our apartment, and we would be given two vans to utilize between the twelve of us. We were also going to be provided mattresses, basic kitchen supplies, and a folding table with chairs as basic furnishing for the apartment.

I went into this summer thinking that I would meet new people with similar interests, get to see the Bay Area, and have a meaningful internship. I left the summer with a new grasp on who I am and how that relates to the communities I am a part of, family-like bonds, and a tattoo (sorry, Dad!).

It’s difficult to put into words what occurred over the summer, but in the course of eight weeks, I genuinely changed as a person. I went into the summer prepared to give up the comfort of the luxuries I had become accustomed to. What I was utterly unprepared for was the way in which I would be challenged to give up the comfort of the various masks I used to protect my vulnerabilities. In committing to the creation of an intentional community, the twelve of us connected more deeply, authentically, and quickly than I can convey. Rather than coming home from work and scrolling through facebook while eating something I threw in the microwave, I came home from work to cook a meal for the family we had created. In our barely-furnished apartment, we sat at dinner and cried tears of laughter while we shared silly memories we had of our very different families and upbringings. We spent hours planning our grocery and cooking strategies for the week. We biked around the island we lived on and read books and woke up an hour early so our friends could get to work on time and spent time with the APC kids at the playground across the street. We pulled chairs into the kitchen to sit and talk while others cooked. We fought about how much salt to use in our cooking, and whether or not hot sauce should go in the cabinet or the fridge, and, at times, more serious things. We sat together every Wednesday night as a member of our new, temporary family shared authentically in what we called a “case consultation”. We gave honest, sometimes difficult to hear feedback, but always ended the night closer than we had begun. Like all families, we were sometimes passive aggressive, inconsiderate, and complicated, and we spent our Sunday night community dinners working through that - bringing both home cooked meals, transparency, and commitment to bettering our small community to the tables we pushed together to fit all 12 members into one apartment.

For me, this summer was full of feeling loved, accepted, and seen for who I truly am. It was also full of some of the hardest conversations I’ve had and the scariest risks I’ve taken. I came home and had no other way to explain it to people than as an personal “rip the band-aid off” experience. It was often challenging, and, at times, painful, but the ways in which I grew and healed will always make the difficult moments worth it.

I sat alone on the last day of the fellowship and reflected. I looked at the tattoo I had gotten the night before that signifies the lessons I learned and the self-love that I experienced. I realized in those silent, reflective hours what I had really gleaned from the tears, laughter, challenges, and successes that filled my experience. Over the eight weeks, I discovered who I am. I saw my strengths, gifts, and vulnerabilities mirrored in the people I lived and worked with. What’s more, in learning to love them (flaws and all), I learned to love myself. I will always carry that with me.

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