As GraceWorks enters the midpoint of the modified 2020 summer ministry we would like to do a shout out to Saint Luke’s youth. They have worked with us every other Thursday. Together we have been clearing a historical cemetery’s fence line. We have also had the Mize family join us one day a week. Together we mowed, weeded, and maintained the vegetable beds of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, green beans, watermelon, herbs, and peppers. Many days the youth and children have learned new skills and enjoy surveying and talking about their accomplishments. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, GraceWorks has only AmeriCorps Vista members and a graduate camper preparing to be staff next year on the campuses each day. Our AmeriCorps staff performs direct service and administrative tasks during their 40 hour week at the GraceWorks site. We would like to share one member’s first impressions of GraceWorks and then her reflection as we came to the midpoint of the summer ministry.
Clear a Path: Reflections from an AmeriCorps Member
By Janice Washington
AmeriCorps brings me to Grace Episcopal Church. Conceived by President John F. Kennedy, brought into fruition by the Lindon B. Johnson Administration, it is the domestic version of the Peace Corps. From nonprofits to municipalities, from educational institutions to faith-based organizations, AmeriCorps members serve at the intersection of capacity building and direct service across the nation. Countless volunteers have rolled up their sleeves in service to America since the program’s inception. Its mantra is simple: “Go where you’re needed.” This summer, I am needed at Grace Works. I would quickly find that in many ways, I in fact needed Grace Works too.
Imagine this: I began the program at a strange time in our country: America—the one immigrants flock to for opportunity, the one refugees seek for asylum—was on fire, literally, metaphorically, politically, and morally. The news had become a mosaic of Corona Virus death reports, Black Lives Matter signs, peaceful protests, broken windows, emphatic rioting, and militarized police brigades. I could not hear e Pluribus Unum over the sound of police sirens and heated rhetoric debating whether right was a shade of blue or a shade of red. There was much to grieve, much to process.
Dawned in my neon yellow work shirt, I’ve spent my first week learning about the needs of the community and the way Grace Episcopal Church has positioned itself to meet those needs. Taking interest in the whole human, this church undoubtedly embodies the “Go where you’re needed” sentiment that AmeriCorps champions. While weed eating the greenspace next door to the church, the director walked over and showed me a technique that helps blend the grass to give it a neater appearance. “You have to clear a path,” she said as she showed me a more efficient way to maneuver my weed eater.
Those words stuck with me. While I’m working, I’m often in deep thought about the state of our nation as well as that of my internal disposition. As I employed her technique, “Clear a path” continued to resonate. Sometimes the path is littered with trash and overgrown with weeds. Sometimes those weeds are our yards and sometimes they are in our justice system. Sometimes the path is rocky where it should be grassy and grassy where it should be paved. Sometimes the path is unclear, and you simply must take what you’re equipped with and clear it yourself.
Armed with a weed eater, I cleared a path. In doing so, I left the environment in better condition than when I found it. And just like the director, who offered up effective methodology for getting the job done, it will be my responsibility to share the wealth, when the weeds get high and good fruit is threatened. That day, I was proud to be a part of a team that continues to do the work needed— come heat or rain, Corona or Flu, protest or riot, discipline others to do the same. This type of work points to a narrow path and bloodshed of an altogether different nature. This is Grace Works—grace, at work.
It is my honor to spend my summer of service in her midst.
One Man’s Trash: Janice Washington’s reflection midpoint of GraceWorks 2020
As an AmeriCorps Summer Associate for GraceWorks, I’m finding that our projects are diverse, but our aim is singular: To meet the needs that present themselves. One day we’re preserving the Integrity of a Historic Cemetery, the next we are constructing a rainwater collection system, the next we are organizing the food pantry, and the list goes on.
One particular day we were working on making the community garden wheelchair accessible. The endeavor involved lots of patience and lots of bricks. My fellow service member, who had been chiseling off some of the bricks accidentally broke one and called out to inform Ms. Kay. “I think I may have overachieved a bit with this brick,” she said in her lighthearted way.
Ms. Kay responded, “Place it in this pile over here, we may be able to use it.” What I’ve discovered is that her response is the same for everything, not just the bricks.
Exhibit A: A cart breaks. Response: Pulls out power tools and refurbishes it instead of tossing it out. It’s limited in what it can carry, but we still use it to transport items that we need.
Exhibit B: Multi-gallon Mountain Dew syrup canisters are no longer in use. Response: Refashions them to store water that will be used to maintain fruit-bearing trees for the community in the food forest.
There are countless examples, but at the heart of this habit is a statement: “Not all things labeled “trash” should be discarded. GraceWorks reconsiders. GraceWorks recycles. Point, Blank, Period. This program ascribes value where others see nothing more than garbage. It unlocks potential. It assigns purpose, calls forth a mighty army out of dry bones.
GraceWorks remembers the forgotten, sees humanity in the drug addict and looks on the hungry with compassion. Society may say “trash,” GraceWorks whispers “treasure.”
It is as simple as repurposing a broken brick. Sometimes, we have to reevaluate the category that we place people, places, and things in. Sometimes we must cease from our haste long enough to re-envision the people we pass, places we disregard, and things we consider useless.
In the spirit of Grace Episcopal Church, “Put it in a [different] pile. We may be able to use it.”