Growing in Community: 2011 Young Adult Leadership Development Program (YALD) participants speak about their experiences
“We grow in so many ways: spiritually, socially, intellectually, physically…. I feel closer to God, and I hope that I am becoming more sensitive to the motions of that spirit, that love that moves us all towards our wholeness.” (2011 YALD participant Adrian Nelson)
Pendle Hill’s YALD (Young Adult Leadership Development) program brings together young adults ages 18-24 who are serious about serving as leaders in their communities, developing the tools for social transformation, and living a life grounded in God's Spirit. This summer’s program is happening now (June 18-August 7, 2011) with the theme Faith in Action.
The ten YALD participants engage in:
- Community-based service, both inside and outside Pendle Hill
- Spiritual formation and religious education; and
- Diverse community living experience practicing sustainable living.
YALD Coordinator Rachel Stacy (who coordinates the program with Assistant Coordinator Greg Woods), finds that “each summer, students arrive with different agendas, needs, and expectations.” Some participants are new to Quakerism while others “grew up in the Religious Society of Friends and find the YALD program a place of sorting through the fragments of experience and tradition in the building of an individual identity.” Rachel says that others are “strong in their Quaker identity and involvement” and “find the YALD program a place of supported reflection and an opportunity to try new applications of their faith.”
Each YALD participant is paired with a local service organization and works two days a week as a volunteer. Participants also take classes in Quakerism (this summer’s course, taught by Doug Gwyn, gets cheers for new learning), creative expression, and sustainable community. The program is supported by contributions to Pendle Hill which have made it possible for program costs and room and board to be covered. A small stipend is provided to each participant.
Work with service organizations
Five of the YALDers are volunteering with New Jerusalem Now, a community-run home and drug/alcohol rehabilitation center in North Philadelphia.
Ana Easterling describes her experience: “Their group therapy sessions are modeled on Narcotics Anonymous. I attended my first session as an observer, but now I am expected to participate. I was pretty nervous going in on the first day that I was a participant. It brought up a lot of questions about taking responsibility and about addiction. I felt brave enough to jump in and be part of the meeting, and I got a good response. The group sessions are sort of like Quaker worship sharing, but they move faster – there’s not that period of silence that allows you to collect and center yourself.”
Carl Sigmond discovered that that “the recovering addicts, some of whom are now recovered and are on staff, have very deep souls,” and it’s been a pleasure for him to get to know them and work with them on service projects. Carl’s project involves using his web design skills to help New Jerusalem Now gain a better online presence.
Sally Wiedenbeck’s off-campus site is a theater and arts camp called Yes! and… Camp. She’s had “great fun working with the kids, seeing them start to come out of their shells and interact with each other in new ways.” She notes that a lot of her work “is just trying to help the kids feel comfortable and encourage them to engage fully in the activities,” particularly by jumping in and participating herself.
Adrian Nelson is working at Our Brother’s Place, a homeless men’s shelter that is part of the larger Bethesda project serving the homeless in Philadelphia. “I’m really happy that the shelter’s mission is not just to care for physical needs, but also the emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of its guests and residents,” she notes. Her work includes preparing food and serving the midday meal, as well as spending time with the men, talking and playing chess (“and getting soundly beaten at that, I might add”). The mission statement of Our Brother’s Place is “to find and care for the abandoned poor and to be family with those who have none,” Adrian says, “so I’m part of a family; it’s not just work. The people I’ve met there are all wonderful and full of their own stories and lives—as are all of us. It’s a good place to push my own comfort boundaries as well as grow.”
Perhaps the most striking thing the YALD participants are experiencing involves learning in community. Adrian Nelson: “Pendle Hill and the YALD group have been the most open, loving and accepting communities that I have ever found myself in. It’s one of those rare places where a person can be completely themselves, and in that loving, as well as challenging, environment grow.” She notes, “It has been a breaking down and a building up time for me. A breaking down of who I am, coming face to face with my worries and insecurities and darkness; and a building up of myself, in the light and love of others, in the energy of this place, in the Spirit that covers Pendle Hill.”
Sally Wiedenbeck: “Every day I learn something new about how I live in and interact with communities and the world…. I think what surprised me most is how quickly the YALD group seemed to bond, and how well we work together as a community. I’ve been in a few different community situations in the past, but none have formed as easily or been as engaging and mutually supportive as this one.”
Adrian continues: “We went through a lot together in just the first couple of weeks alone, and I think that the shared experiences brought us closer. We’ve opened up to each other in ways that I’ve rarely seen people open up, and I am deeply honored and happy to be a part of it. We have something really special here—I don’t want to speak for others’ experiences, but I feel we’ll all remain a part of each other’s lives even after the program ends. It is one of the best things in the world to be ‘surprised by joy.’”
Sally again: “As a group, the YALDers work together amazingly well, and we have come together to form a really strong, supportive community in which we feel comfortable sharing ourselves and our lives. This support and openness has really enriched the depth of the program, both in scheduled and unscheduled activities. We also have been welcomed by the larger Pendle Hill community, and have come to know other community members, whether they are staff or resident students.”
YALDers describe many highlights, including group sharing, dancing, evening epilogue, volunteering, and the beauty of being outdoors at Pendle Hill. For Adrian, one special moment was “running out on the trails that criss-cross the land near Pendle Hill, which I like to take to in the early morning. The plants are slapping me with their loads of night dew, waking me up. The birds are singing as if there will never be another morning like this one, and the sun pours liquid gold onto the tree leaves and trunks. The heady humidly of a Pennsylvania summer is in my lungs, and the smell of the rich damp earth. My entire being is alive to God.”
What does Rachel Stacy hope for this summer’s YALD participants? “I hope that when the seven weeks are over, the participants will discover that they have grown along their individual journeys. I hope that these ten will emerge from the program with confidence in their gifts and leadings; confidence in the process of discernment and service through the seeking of others’ needs, the discerning of their own gifts, and the matching of the two in the best ways possible. She notes that the program leaders “encourage the development of systems of support and self care so that these emerging leaders can sustainably live into leadings and into service.”
Adrian concludes, “I have…met the most incredible people, whom I have grown to deeply care for and love in a short period of time, and whose footprints and fingerprints will remain on my heart long after I have departed from this place.”
To provide financial support essential to the YALD program