Thursday, December 6, 2012

2 Amazing Things in my life!

1. The amazingness of my amazing state where anyone can marry their best friend!

2. The amazingness of my amazing job where we really are a family!

And something to think about:

I was at Pastor Linda's Bible Study at Mary's Place on Wednesday, and I haven't been able to go very often recently because we changed my schedule around, but I happened to have extra time this week so I joined! We were talking about Advent, and waiting, and hoping, and Pastor said something that wasn't part of her planned topics, but it really caught my attention! She said "If I knew God's plans for my life, if I could see them laid out in order, I would probably try to manipulate them!" I was like ....ohhhhhh! That is something I've been worried about for most of my life, like how am I supposed to know what God wants me to do, and why can't it just be straight-forward so I can do it right? Duh, cause I'm a control freak and I most certainly would try to control it if I knew what it was! Or I would congratulate myself on what a great plan I had after a successful execution, and I would forget that it wasn't my plan in the first place!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hats & Tea & College Students!

Ok! So big events in my life for October: recruiting college students and our huge fundraiser Hats & Tea!

The last two weeks of September, I traveled to different colleges to speak about volunteering at Mary's Place. I was really excited to find that many colleges in the area have a service-learning component to their freshman and sophomore classes. This means that they must do a certain number of hours of volunteer work besides the normal class time, and they will apply what they are learning at their volunteer sites to their classwork. It sounds awesome, and I wish William & Mary had done something like that!

Organizing all the different schools was a little hard at first because I originally planned two orientations and said that if they couldn't make those dates I wouldn't have time to plan others. This worked until the day of the last orientation when a school I had not previously heard from, had not been asked to speak at, and which did not have an easy online list of interested students (the other schools did!), sent me like 5 emails with more coming each day of interested students! So I planned for 3 more orientations, stressed myself out a little (more like a LOT), and settled on the 25 or so students I currently have.

The problem was not just taking extra time for orientations, but I had also made a schedule of which students would come when, not putting too many at one time, and now it all had to be altered to fit 10 more people! Now that it's pretty regular, I know who to expect to do what tasks each day, and they are so awesome! They really help me stay focused, and end-of-the-week trash runs are not so daunting!

The other reason I was super stressed and busy in October was because in the middle of planning for college students, I also had to gather all the volunteers for our annual Hats & Tea fundraiser. This is a HUGE production, which after planning, I was so excited to be part of because it reminded me of old-time southern fancy-pants tea parties which I had never been to while living in the South!

We started having meetings in September to talk about the pieces of the event, one of which was a sandwich-tasting meeting: awesome! We decided on chicken salad, salmon, pimento cheese, and open-faced cucumber sandwiches (this term slowly grated at my nerves as I frequently heard someone talking about the specifics required; oh yeah, open-faced cucumber sandwiches are a big deal because we CANNOT have soggy sandwiches haha!) Basically we had to find church groups to prepare 100 of each kind of sandwich, and the Friday before the Saturday event our kitchen crew cut them into fours and de-crusted them, EXCEPT for the open-faced-cucumber sandwiches which were delivered in pieces to be assembled as close to the time as possible! (They actually ended up being my favorite-tasting sandwich!)

Besides the groups to make desserts and sandwiches, we had a phone list I had to set volunteers on for asking for donations for the silent auction (also my first time at an auction!). This was not a popular task because you had to be comfortable talking on the phone and soliciting, but I had two or three solid people who worked on it, and many people had donated in the past or would be notified through word-of-mouth. Luckily that's all I had to deal with for the auction other than finding volunteers to help on the day because it seemed like a very detailed job, and those in charge of it did great!

I was a little worried about finding volunteers for the set-up on Friday because I didn't plan very well for that one, but we ended up taking some of the ladies from Mary's on a field trip and they helped with my major task: the tables. Each table had a specific placement for each of many items that were to decorate it, and with some confusion along the way when people would start on the next task without me explaining how it would work, we did it!

Finally the day came on October 20th! I was in charge of the high school students who served each table, and they did a great job! I forgot to ask in the beginning if they had been told what the event was for, I assumed they would know since they signed up, but I figured out about half-way through Saturday morning before the event that they didn't really know how big of a deal this was, and one of the women from Mary's who now comes back as a volunteer helped me tell the stories of some of the situations people face while dealing with homelessness. I think this really helped convince them (and remind me!) of why their job that day was so important.

The day started with the auction, where endless gift baskets lived among cool items like home-made American Girl doll clothes, jewelry made by the women of Mary's Place, expensive knife sets, and so many other things that I wish I had taken a picture of! As people were deciding on the auction items, my high schoolers got to go around serving sparkling cider on trays, feeling super fancy themselves!

After the auction, people found their seats and were served tea, sandwiches, fruit cups, and desserts as they listened to and participated in the program. We had a few performances by our choir, a guest choir, a parade of hats, a time for Pastor Linda to talk with some of our moms about what it is like to raise a child on the streets, and "The Ask" (which I didn't know had an official title, but indeed each piece of a fancy fundraiser is appropriately named!).

This was an amazing day, and the guests were left with the words from The Ask, that giving more may hurt them a little, but it would hurt a lot of families a lot less. And they must have really believed it because we raised about $11,000 more than last year, and the most we've ever seen at this event! This was really great because we are opening our new night shelter at our old location which should be able to hold 12 or so families, and after working out the legal issues with turning the building into temporary housing, the funding was a big thing we needed to get it started.

So that was my October, the next few months will have lots of planning around holiday events!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Voting Day!

No matter what happens today, I am so excited to finally be living in a state that wants to give everyone the chance to marry :)

Monday, November 5, 2012


It's been a really busy month, but the reason for my business is what I had planned to write about next anyway! I'm going to explain one part of my job at Mary's Place, as the Volunteer Coordinator:

I think I mentioned this in the last post, but Mary's Place was started from the Church of Mary Magdalene as they began to have more resources available for the women and children who came to the church. Now they are separate non-profits although we still exist in the same location with some overlap of staff, and many women attend both the church and Mary's Place the day center.

The position of Volunteer Coordinator has not been around for very long, and before my supervisor was a Mission Intern around 2008, volunteer options were more limited because two staff members with other job descriptions had to also tackle volunteer inquiries. But once Liz got here (followed by Rachel, followed by me), volunteers had one person to go through who could explain more about the program, figure out where the volunteers' interests lie and how they could apply that to serving at Mary's Place, and manage big events requiring lots of volunteers as well as recruiting college students who could fulfill their service-learning requirements for school while helping the staff have less stress each day.

For the first month I was here, I spent most of my office time looking through Rachel's old emails, figuring out the information in her/my desk, and answering a few volunteer inquiries since it was the end of the summer and not as many people were around or ready to commit to something. When I get a new volunteer in, we pick a date to meet where I can explain more about Mary's Place, give them a tour which includes explanations of how they can help in different settings, answer any questions, find out what their interests are for volunteering, and explain some ethical concerns while volunteering.

There are endless ways that people can volunteer, which is awesome because most people that come in aren't really sure how they can contribute. The least-involved (but certainly not least-helpful!) thing people can do is to bring in donations, from baby supplies to hygiene products to food to paper coffee cups, or anything else people may need for daily living. I've heard that one guy (I think one of our board members?) has a big hot sauce party each year where the entrance fee is a bottle of hot sauce which gets donated to Mary's Place! Another less-regular way to be involved is by letting me know that you'd like to be put on the "as-needed" list, where I will contact you about coming in to fold newsletters when they are ready, helping out at a fundraiser or holiday event, or any other one-day volunteer opportunity.

For those who are looking for a regular volunteer opportunity, there are two categories of options: skilled and I-don't-have-skills-but-I-want-to-volunteer-anyway! The skilled volunteers include people who want to bring a particular program or activity to the women, such as volunteer nursing, prayer groups, arts and crafts groups, workout groups (we have a belly dancer who comes about once a month!), playing music, kids activities, or anything else you can think of and would like to share! For those who have no idea what they want to do but want to help anyway, they might do office work (usually mine or Carol or Ann's since we have a lot that can be easily explained), help organize the pantry or the donation closet, help clean at the end of the day, take out the trash (not an easy task, it's usually like 3+ carts full!), help prepare or clean up lunch, join in on a discussion group, or anything else the staff needs help with. The biggest thing I tell people when they don't know what to do and the staff has no work for them is to just interact with the women and children because Mary's Place is not just a drop-in center for people to get things, but it is a supportive community, so much so that women who were formerly homeless come back to be there for their sisters.

In the interest of not making a super long post, I will save the college students and big events for another time, but now you know what the volunteer side of my job looks like from a general, everyday view!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

In the Beginning...

I finally have a mostly stable source of internet in my apartment, so in the next few posts I'll be sharing about the program I am part of here in Seattle!

Although my official title is Volunteer Coordinator for Mary's Place, on Saturdays I work at the Church of Mary Magdalene, and today we had a special service to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the church, and to welcome the church into the new space at Gethsemane Lutheran Church. So this is probably confusing; what are these two places with similar names, and why are there two churches mentioned here?

In the beginning, there was the Church of Mary Magdalene:

The church was started by Pastor Jean Kim, who preached this morning and explained her call to this ministry. 21 years ago, nearly my whole lifetime ago, Pastor Kim started the church out of the back of her car for homeless women. In her sermon today, she explained that you can be homeless physically, which many of the women who attend the church are, but also emotionally and spiritually. She said that this church was so important because you can be saved from your physical homelessness, but if the emotions and the spirit are not healed, then you'll still be lost. (Her stole has a rainbow and the words "No Homelessness")

She therefore decided to name the church after Mary Magdalene, who Jesus healed from 7 demons. Pastor Kim stressed that Mary Magdalene and many other women were Jesus' close friends and disciples although men are primarily mentioned in the Bible. Women today, then, can find healing in Jesus, and we can minister to each other in community. Community is such a big part of the whole organization, which is obvious through the many women who continue to attend church and help out at Mary's Place after finding homes, and by the hugs that we share while "Passing the Peace."

What Pastor Kim started in 1991 grew until more services for the women of the church were able to be provided, which turned into Mary's Place the day center in 1999. Now the two are separate organizations, but they are still connected by the women, and some of the staff members (like me!).

For reasons of space constraints, Mary's Place and the Church of Mary Magdalene moved this summer into a beautiful space in Gethsemane Lutheran Church, so now Mary's Place happens during the week on the bottom floor, and the church exists on Saturdays in the sanctuary upstairs. (Hopefully this cleared up all the names I threw out at the beginning!)

So what do I do at the church? On Friday afternoons, I prepare this huge and not-so-easily-maneuvered cart with our instrument box, hymnals, mic & amp, keyboard, music sheets for the songs not in the hymnals, a projector, coffee supplies, feminine products, bandaids and aspirin, cups & plates & silverware, two music stands, two small tables, a compost bucket, thank you notes for the breakfast and lunch cooks, the bulletins, the key to the outside trash door, and probably a few things I end up forgetting and have to run back downstairs to get! Yes, this is a pain in the butt. Most of this stays on the cart during the week, and I just have to refill the coffee supplies and eating supplies, but hauling it upstairs every week, even with the help of two staff members, is frustrating to say the least. And then we get to bring it back downstairs afterwards! I always end up forgetting things, ugh.

Luckily though, we do have wonderful breakfast and lunch crews who come in with a meal prepared, and once the cart and things are upstairs things tend to run pretty smoothly! During breakfast, the women sign the thank you cards, and we give one to the breakfast folks. Then we head into the sanctuary for a hymn sing at 10, and the service starts at 11. The hymn sing is awesome because anyone can call out songs they would like to hear, and Sari, our music director, plays the keyboard and sings fabulously while we join along.

To start the service, I go up and do some announcements about Mary's Place activities (although I usually don't know what to say so I get my Camp Director face on and say Really! Happy! Crowd-Pleasing! Things!) We'll usually do a Call to Worship (some of this might be out of order, but these things all happen at some point), one of the women comes up and leads us in our Affirmation of Faith (which I will have to post because it is mind-blowing to me), we take a moment for silent confession, we Pass the Peace, we have an evangelism moment where Pastor Linda passes out fliers for the church and encourages people to tell others looking for a support system to come join us, we share testimonies, one of the ladies reads the scripture, Pastor does the sermon, the choir sings, we have an offering, and we have some closing remarks.

Offering is probably the coolest part for me. We get two pieces of paper, one to write something we are giving to God, and the other to write something to take back with us. At offering time, we go up and burn the one we are giving to God. This can be an actual intent to give back, like your devotions or your time, but it can also be a way to lay your burdens down. Lately the latter option has been what I give, and I think those are important too because you have to give up the time spent worrying or the memories that fill your head when they get in the way of your relationship with God.

I really like it though because this past year or two I've realized that I missed the reverence for God and recognition of His holiness in growing up, and I've wanted to have that be part of how I see Him too. The burning reminds me of how offerings used to be made in the Bible, and thinking about the chemical changes that occur in it make it nature-y to me, and I get happy about God in nature. It's also really cool because I think it requires faith to do, like a prayer. If you're writing things down and keeping them, then you have proof they exist, and it could just be a message from you to you, or to whoever reads it. But by writing it and burning it, it only existed for a few minutes to you, but after burnt it no longer exists in the world. So you need faith to believe that God received the message.

Oh! Other important thing about the church! It is ecumenical, and completely open to any religious persuasion or lack thereof, which is awesome. The women can be there for whatever reason they feel, and with whatever beliefs they hold. Some people only come for meals, but many people stay for the service and share their stories with each other.

At the end of the service, we call the lunch crew up and welcome them, giving them the signed card, and we head into lunch. Up to two of the ladies can sign up to earn some money doing cleaning jobs after lunch, so we take a trash run, wipe down the tables, and make sure everything is out that is ours.

Annnnnnnndddddddddd then at the end of the day we scramble to make sure all of the items return downstairs, which stresses me out, but it gets done, and I'm off to my weekend! It's actually a really nice weekend too because I usually get home around 5:30-6:00 from a normal workday, but on Saturdays I get home around 3:00 unless I hang out in the city on really sunny days, and then I have Sunday and Monday off. And Monday is great because everyone in town is at work except me, so I usually try to sight-see or catch up on reading. Or both!

So. Long post, but now you know about the Church of Mary Magdalene, and I will soon disclose the secrets of what I do at Mary's Place! (Which is sure to be longer.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Health & Beauty

One of the biggest things I had to consider in packing for Seattle was (other than books) clothes. I knew I would be working with homeless women, so I figured it would be inappropriate to take a lot of nice things because homeless people tend to have a lot less. However, in my decision to wear jeans and a t-shirt to work the first few days like I would a mission trip, many of the women commented on how young I look, thinking I was a teenager. Not that looking young is a bad thing, and I'm not too far removed from the teenage years, but I think people tend to have more confidence in older-looking people than young, especially in relation to their own ages. 

At the same time, I began hearing from some of the women about how inspiring it was for them to see the staff dressed nicely. And the women themselves each have their own styles and look darn good too! I think that maybe the freedom to express yourself is one of those things you hold onto when other things in your life are out of control. And being able to look nice in however you define attractive helps you feel good about yourself which brightens the rest of your day sometimes! That's why I tried harder to look good during test days at school, so that by feeling good about myself I was less worried about the daunting exam.

When clothes and style does become a problem though is when it takes up too much of your energy and devotion. I think it was good for me to leave a lot of my clothes behind, and I've decided that if I buy something new I will have to give something up because I just don't need all that stuff! What I've also noticed is that there are many ways to look nice for cheap, and so dressing up does not necessarily mean you're loaded with money. That was something I was worried about too, looking too rich and seemingly unable to relate to the people I work with. 

But as I was thinking about it, and as I saw how great the women at Mary's Place looked, I realized that I rarely spend money on clothes. About 50% of my clothes are hand-me-downs from friends and family, 40% were majorly on sale, and 10% I have someone with me to say "Tara, you never spend money and you really like this, just do it!" You can ask my mom about how many times she threatens to throw things away that I've worn to the last thread, and you can check out my holey shoes that I like too much to throw away! 

So I guess what I'm saying is do not get caught up in yourself and your looks. Don't waste money on clothes and things, especially when others have greater needs than yourself. And also don't forget to be the best you you can be, expressing yourself in whatever colors and shapes and ideas reflect the creative powers you have been given!

Something that I have found useful since coming here is a prayer we do in the church I've been going to (a real-life reconciling Methodist church! -those are hard to come by where I'm from!), which we do during offering:

I pledge, O God, to discover how much is enough for me to be truly fulfilled, neither rich nor poor, and to consume only that. I pledge, O God, to be part of the discovery of how much would be enough for everyone --- not only to survive but to thrive --- and to find ways for them to have access to that. May this offering of restraint and justice teach me to live like Jesus, healing my life and the life of the world. Amen.

I am still prayerfully seeking what this means in relation to clothes, among other things in my life, and I hope to be able to condense as needed and expand where I am called to as well.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I came across John 12:24-25 this morning, where Jesus talks about the death of a grain of wheat. It has to go down into the ground, disconnected from the plant it was created from, and only there, alone, can it grow into new life. We talked about the life of a seed in one of my biology classes, and my professor said it was like the mother plant gave the baby a jacket (the hard covering) and packed it a lunch (the endosperm), and the rest was up to the Earth to provide.

I started thinking about how far away I was going from Williamsburg, and that not only was I leaving, but my family moved, and so even my hometown was split apart because going to visit them and visiting my home would mean two different things. I had to say goodbye to my town, my friends, my family, and even my side of the US.

Then I realized that two difficult experiences I had trouble forgiving over actually were part of this process as well. I would not be here if I had been dating the guy I had been with last year. I had a really rough time trying to understand that because I felt like he was the most awesome person I had been close to in life, and I thought we had done everything we could before dating to prevent a painful situation like that, and yet we broke up. However, if I was still with him I would have gone to Wake Forest this year to stay close to him, and I wouldn't be here now.

The other hard time was in losing my cat this summer. I thought that at least he would be able to come with me, but even he was not allowed to go.

Although these things are sad and I still deal with the losses, this verse helped me see the outcome of this pattern. God sent me with basics, stirred up my loved ones, and needed me here alone because the new life He has planned for me here in Seattle and beyond could not be started with any of these previous ties. Yes I will keep in contact with my family and friends, but I needed to be removed from everyone for Him to do something amazing in me. That's given me a lot of comfort in this transition.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Just a small-town girl in the city..boii

I am leaving for Seattle, Washington in 10 minutes (!) to be part of this awesome program called Mary's Place as a US-2 missionary. I am totally prepared for all people have told me about the city: I have rainboots and an umbrella for the rain, my camera for the beautiful scenery, and my garlic for the sparkling vampires. Other than that, I have no idea what is instore for me there but I am so excited! 

I feel closer to being an adult, kind of. I am moving away from Williamsburg, where I spent middle school, high school, and college. My parents and brother and dog left for Colorado two weeks ago, and I'm leaving behind my sister and cat who ran away. I've had multiple goodbye parties and lunches, and I got to spend the last week with my adopted family, the Welch's. We had dinner last night at Cracker Barrel, and Momma Welch had old fortune cookies in her purse, and mine said that I was surrounded by true friends, which is the most accurate fortune I have opened.

I have been drained and filled to overflowing with knowledge and love from training in New York, and I am eager to hear about the movement of God in my brothers' and sisters' lives as I encounter Him in a new place and way of life. I haven't lived through so many changes in such a long time, but I'm ready. In the words of Lecrae, "Send Me, I'll Go!"