Young Adult Volunteers commit to serving a minimum of one year in the U.S. or Internationally at one of our sites. YAVs have the opportunity to volunteer alongside local partners, engaging in work and conversation around issues that address poverty, reconciliation, and what it means to share the hope of Christ through service. This blog is a chance to stay updated on what is happening in the life of the YAV program, whether that is with our current volunteers, our abundance of alum, the YAV office, or our YAV partners. The conversations and tough issues that we spend countless hours talking about as YAV’s don’t end when the year does; welcome to the conversation!
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by Sarah Paulsen, 2013-2014 Young Adult Volunteer in Northern Ireland
On May 13th over 60 people, who have all in some way, shape, or form have had an impact of the Young Adult Volunteer program in Northern Ireland, gathered together at Whitehouse Presbyterian Church for a service of celebration of 20 years of YAVs serving and learning in Northern Ireland.
The evening began in the church with a service of celebration. Throughout the service we (YAVS) along with three YAVAs (Young Adult Volunteer Alum), Jessica, Nathaniel, and Kristina, sang familiar YAV songs: NNung Yah Dah, Canticle of the Turning, The Summons, Take, O Take Me As I Am, and others. Some songs, like The Summons, were already familiar to most people there: however, the other ones were not so familiar to people so it gave us a chance to introduce them to new songs and songs that are special to both us and the YAV program. The service started with words of welcome by our site coordinator, Rev. Doug Baker. We then got to watch a video of YAVAs over the past 20 years with photos from their time here in Northern Ireland. It was great to see all these YAVs before us at some familiar placements. Watching these photos reminded of this long legacy of YAVs that I am so blessed to be a part of. Some of the photos were group shots of YAVs in the same places our group has taken group shots this year.
The idea that we have stood in the same spots as previous YAVs is a special feeling that the YAV program is able to give us. The next part of the service was about giving thanks to all the people and sites that have supported and contributed to the YAV program. The thanks was written in a form of a prayer by former Northern Ireland YAVs Patrick, Anna, Karl, and Kendra. The prayer was absolutely beautiful and really reminded me how thankful I am for all the people from Northern Ireland who throughout my year have loved, welcomed, cared, and supported me. It also reminded me of the special bond a YAV year creates between the YAV and people living here. Doug then showed a PowerPoint of where the YAVAs are now. It was really interesting to see how many of the YAVAs current jobs involved some sort of work in helping others. Some have gone on to be ordained in ministry, some are involved in campus ministries, many are working for nonprofit organizations, and a few have gone into health care professions. Sitting there I began to think about how this time next year I will also be one of those past YAVs in a new place and point in my life. It is a great comfort to know that in my case there are many YAVAs who have made a similar journey in their lives as me of going from a YAV year to seminary. Doug and his wife Elaine then led everyone in a prayer for both past YAVs as well as us current YAVs. The prayer was for those who have served in Northern Ireland about where they are now. The struggles that they may be facing as well as the joys that have experienced since serving as YAVs. We then sat and listened to Mark play the guitar as a PowerPoint with pictures of YAVAs’ statements of what this program has meant to them played. There were so many relatable statements written by YAVAs.
My year isn’t even over yet and I can already see how HUGE of an impact this year has had on my life and will forever be a part of me. I have learned way more about myself then I ever thought I would. I have learned so so much about caring for others in the community and church as well as all the hard work that goes into working for reconciliation and peace. My YAV year like those before me will ALWAYS be a part of me and credited for helping to form who I am. Three people from three of the sites got up and spoke about what having YAVs at their sites has meant to them and their church or community center. One of the most memorable parts of one of the speeches was how Stewart Kirkwood (41st Boys Brigade Captain) spoke about how having YAVs at his church reminds him of the words from the hymn, In Christ There is No East or West: “In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love, throughout the whole wide earth.” Hearing Stewart say that about the YAV program was a huge reminder of why the work we do as Northern Ireland YAVs is so important to these places. In a country that is so divided, to hear that just our presence alone reminds them that it is possible to work to live without the labels of location is meaningful and important. It is so easy to get caught up in not feeling like you aren’t or questioning if you are having an impact on the people and places you work in. This quote and speech was a good reminder of the whole idea of sometimes it is just about being present not always doing.
The amount of love, joy, and excitement that I felt that evening is immeasurable. It was also such a unique opportunity to see ALL the people who have impacted the YAV program in Northern Ireland in one room together. Just to see how many people truly believe and support what the YAV program has done and continues to do in Northern Ireland was an incredible experience I will never forget, even years from now. I doubt words will ever be sufficient enough to explain the feeling that evening in the room celebrating the 20 years of the YAV program there.
Sarah Paulsen was adopted as a newborn from Tegucigalpa, Honduras and moved to New Brunswick, NJ, and later Atlanta, GA. Her home church is Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. Sarah graduated in May 2013 from Georgia Southern University with a degree in Marketing. The above is an excerpt from Sarah Paulsen's article on the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Northern Ireland YAV Site .
To read the article in its entirety, including more pictures, follow Sarah's blog, which you can find HERE.