Ten Tips for Making the Most of Your Service Year

By Elyse Wegner, serving in Los Angeles with the Episcopal Urban Intern Program

Changing the world starts with you

I have had the honor of being an Episcopal Urban Intern in Los Angeles for the past ten months.  I know that when the program ends, I will leave a completely different person. I will leave with a newfound passion, energy and vision for social justice. I will leave my cohorts, fifteen unique and inspiring individuals, but we will always stay connected through this experience. Ultimately, I will leave the program and this year will come to a close, but the program and the valuable lessons I’ve learned will never leave me.

Lesson one: No expectations allowed  
Leave your expectations at home. Don’t expect to get everything right away. Don’t expect to be everyone’s best friend. Don’t expect to always get a seat on the bus. And definitely don’t expect for everything to go your way. Intentional community is about compromise and realizing that what you do affects those around you.

Lesson two: Try new things

The Episcopal Urban Interns together on a retreat

Most of my job entails traveling to our 17 partner churches and helping the program coordinator facilitate free cooking and nutrition classes. In these classes, we teach the participants about health and try a new recipe every class. Some participants are hesitant to try dishes with ingredients that they are not accustomed to such as whole grain noodles or vegetables. However, they are pleasantly surprised one hundred percent of the time. This kind of exposure opens up a world of opportunities and truly changes lives.

Lesson three: Ask questions 
It’s okay to ask questions. It shows interest and stimulates conversation. You will do yourself and those around you a disservice if you pretend like you know everything. This service year is about broadening your perspective and recognizing that people are resources.

Lesson four: Just do something 
There are those who crave significance, and those who work hard for causes they believe in and thus, create significance-a lesson I learned from our Executive Director at Seeds of Hope who is always sharing his wisdom. It has been so inspiring to watch people I work with just making stuff happen and I’m hoping that their company has decreased my tendency to procrastinate. Just do something, start somewhere and use failure as a platform to humble yourself and learn.

Lesson five: Invest in relationships 
Give people the time they deserve. Greet them, get to know them, and most importantly, listen. Productivity and collaboration go out the window when someone feels like they aren’t being heard, especially in underserved populations. You will encounter people from all backgrounds who will think very differently than you. Having thoughtful and difficult discussions will instill confidence to share your opinion while respectively hearing someone else’s perspective.

Lesson six: Share your ideas 
I remember it was my first or second week of work and I was still unsure of my place within the organization. We were at a meeting and ideas were being thrown out about how to solve a problem. I kept my ideas to myself because I did not want to intrude. Later on in the car I mentioned my idea to my boss and he asked why I didn’t bring it up in the meeting. I did not share my ideas because I lacked the confidence and was new to the professional world. Sharing enlightens the discussion and might spark creativity within someone else.

Teamwork makes the dream work

Lesson seven: Honor your commitments 
You will be glad that you did. I came into this year knowing that every week I would share a meal with my housemates and gather as a group of fifteen every second Sunday. The community aspect was what drew me to the program and I welcomed the structure and expectations. However, what sounds really good on paper, can end up becoming a challenge in real life. There are days when I don’t feel like going to church or having a long discussion about house duties with my roommates. But I do my best to be there because it brings me out of my shell and allows me to see the world through other perspectives.

Lesson eight: Go with the flow
Not one single day at work has been the same. I love the spontaneity of my job and most days, it doesn’t even feel like work because I am enjoying the service and company of those around me. However, there are days where I find myself digging into really tough ground to plant a tree or shoveling a truckload of mulch into wheelbarrows and feeling like the pile never shrinks. But you get through it and stick to the task because if you put it off until later, it will never get done. Remember, you are not above any job and having an open mind will make you a better team player.

Lesson nine: Stay Positive
It’s simple. Complain less. Give thanks more. Doing so will enrich the experience and create a positive environment that others around you will appreciate.

Lesson ten: Doodle and always tell the truth 
Our executive director always shares a stroke of genius with us at our staff meetings. We actually have a quote book of “Tim-isms” that have just left the rest of us in awe. This quote speaks to me mostly of embracing creativity and maintaining your integrity.

There are so many more lessons that I will cherish and keep close to my heart, but these ten are a good place to start. Invest in people, moments, places, and causes you believe in. True wealth is measured by our memories.

To learn more about serving with the Episcopal Urban Intern program, click here

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