Greetings from Wilmington, Delaware! It’s been eight weeks now since the six of us moved into the aptly named Koinonia house. It has truly begun to feel like our new home. Living together and getting to know each other has been a very fruitful experience so far. We have a lot of fun together! Our weekly dinners together are often filled with laughter. There’s already a whiteboard hanging on the wall in the dining room, filled with ridiculous things each of us has said, and inside jokes. The closeness of our housemates (along with a collective level of sassiness that I am rarely ever prepared for…) has made me feel that I have not only gained five new friends, but five new siblings.
What brought us all together in Delaware was a commitment to a year of service, and a year of living in intentional community. We are still thinking critically about what living in community means for us. But we are starting to hit our strides in new roles at our job placements.
Four of the six of us, including myself, are working at the Ministry of Caring this year – a non-profit with the mission of uplifting the poor and homeless of Wilmington. We all have different roles: Kari is working at the Guardian Angel child care center, Brittany at the Mary Mother of Hope House I for single women, while Elizabeth and I are both at the Administration building, working in Communications and Grant Writing respectively.
Of the remaining two house members, Adrianna is a serving as a Community Educator the DuPont Environmental Education Center, and Emma is working as a Food & Shelter Assistant for Lutheran Community Services, another non-profit committed to helping the homeless and hungry in Wilmington.
As we face daily challenges at our new placements and continue to embark on our journey of living in community this year, we’ve thought about what it means to be part of a community. We’ve been encouraged to think about how we can engage more with our local community. To ask ourselves how we will confront the city that was quite recently hundreds of miles away and foreign us, that we now find ourselves in the heart of.
While thinking about this, I have observed quickly that the greater community in Wilmington is facing challenges of their own. I grew up outside of Detroit in southeast Michigan, so I thought I would be well familiarized with the problems of a typical impoverished American city: familiar with the effects of large scale “white flight” out of the city and into the nicer suburbs, the effects of gentrification and new highways splitting apart neighborhoods, the effects of budget cuts to programs helping those who need it. In Detroit, I’d already seen blighted areas. I’d heard about drugs, gangs, and prostitution; the opioid epidemic and it’s many casualties. But it’s different now that I’ve seen some of these things first hand, not too far from where we live.
I’m used to hearing about places like Detroit or Flint being too dangerous and not worth going to. But now, when I hear people say something negative about the blocks of our own neighborhood, I’ve begun taking it more personally. I live in that neighborhood now. Despite how ugly some parts of it may be, that’s our community that they’re talking about.
I’m not saying any of this because Wilmington is unsafe or because we have not enjoyed what it’s offered us so far. We’ve met so many people here that care about this community, that are fighting to make it better. Things are getting better, and there is hope.
This early in our service year, we have many reasons to remain energized to good work. I’ve been blown away by the level of generosity of many in Wilmington, and that generosity seems to be contagious. In September, the community gathered for the Lutheran Community Services Hunger Walk/Run (Emma’s placement) and raised over $40,000 for their organization. One weekend later, the statewide AIDS Walk Delaware event raised over $90,000 for HIV/AIDS research and awareness.
We’re fortunate to have an established support group here dedicated to us, and we’re thankful for their generosity to us too. Even with a small stipend to live on, we’ve thought about how we can go about giving more back to local charities. We’ve considered how we give our time, even it’s simply to “show up” for one another, and have been there for each other at local events, dinners, and fundraisers for our placements.
As I continue to think about challenges that will surely face us the rest of this year, it can be easy to get discouraged by the problems visible around us. Lately I’ve reminded myself that helping even just one person can make a real difference. Part of my own journey has been volunteering once a week at the Ministry of Caring Job Placement Center, where I meet with clients to create and develop their resumes. One morning after I helped one woman, I handed her new resume to her and she said she “thought no one would want to hire me, and had no idea I could look this good on paper.” She was elated and thankful to have come in to see me that day, hopeful that someone might hire her now. I always smile when I think back to that moment. In just one hour, I gave a stranger hope that things would get better.
It’s only October, but I think that the 2018-19 LVC volunteers will be able to smile in reflection as they remember their own experiences and moments like this. It’s important to remember how good it feels to love and help one another, no matter in what ways. As we move forward, we should continue to remember what brought us here to serve and join these communities in the first place. God helped bring us together for a reason.