We’re famous!

Miami YAVs took over the YAV Instagram yesterday! Check it out 🙂




“While there is prejudice and bigotry and discrimination, we are not free.”

My home church always has an incredibly moving Maundy Thursday tenebrae service that I look forward to each year. We go through the narrative of Jesus’s last moments, gradually extinguishing candles, leading up to a loud drum roll under someone reciting his final words, followed by silence. It feels strange to say that I enjoy Maundy Thursday, but I guess it’s just a day that I know I need each year, especially in order to sing Hosanna on Easter morning.

This year, Riviera Presbyterian held a seder followed by communion on Maundy Thursday. I had participated in seders before and honestly did not expect much out of this experience. My experience with seders in the past felt like I was participating in this cool meal that perhaps my ancestors participated in generations ago, but it wasn’t necessarily something relevant to me today.

Thanks to the leadership of Riviera, I saw the seder in a new light on Thursday. I spent a lot of Thursday fuming about the North Carolina passing “the most anti-LGBT bill in the country.” I was embarrassed because everyone here knows how proud I am to be from North Carolina and I was left speechless after Governor McCrory signed the bill into action on Wednesday night. I wanted to be in Raleigh, standing and marching as an ally to show that #WeAreNotThis. I began to think that maybe I was too focused on current events for Holy Week. Shouldn’t Jesus’s betrayal and death be more important to me than local politics?

Maundy Thursday’s seder ended up feeding me words that I had not yet been able to express. Here’s an excerpt we read leading up to eating the matzah, the bread of affliction:

“For the Jewish people, the hope of freedom has been symbolized by the prayer, “Next year in Jerusalem.” But even were we right now sitting in Jerusalem, we would still say, “Next year in Jerusalem, the city of hope,” for this year, the freedom of all humankind remains diminished because tyranny still reigns and hatred still divides. Next year, we hope all will celebrate in “Jerusalem,” that is, in a world made one and world made free.

For the sake of our redemption, we say together the ancient words that join us with all people in need, with the wrongly imprisoned and with the homeless in the street. For our redemption is bound up with the deliverance from bondage of people everywhere.”

Easter is lovely and wonderful and should certainly be good news to everyone everywhere, but this Holy Week has been a reminder that we aren’t quite there yet. It’s hard to rejoice and sing when your friends are still fighting their own freedom in this world.

“For the road to freedom is not an easy road, and we will not soon reach its end. Yet it is precisely this road which we all have chosen; and having chosen, we shall forever struggle to complete this journey.” 

Tomorrow morning will be joyful for me. Spiritually, I am free, but I can’t say the same for my neighbors.


A Day in My Life

Around this time last year, I was going through interviews for the YAV program. I remember reading the blogs of past YAVs to get a feel for what my year might be like. I also remember noticing that 9 in 10 blogs slowed down around November with significantly less posts throughout the spring months. I told myself that I would not do that. And here I am.


I get asked by countless people what my job entails. When I began at Miami Rescue Mission, I was given a job description for the administrative assistant role they had created for me. While I certainly do my fair share of administrative tasks, I don’t feel like saying that I am the Center for Women and Children’s administrative assistant is the most accurate answer I can give. Here’s a typical day for me.

I wake up between 6:00am and 7:15am, shower, and get ready for my day (=minimally comb my hair and hope for the best, shove eyeliner in my purse to apply later, spend 20 seconds looking at how peaceful/warm Shinhye looks sleeping in her bed). I catch two buses to get to work. The first one is typically on time. The second one has yet to be on time. Depending on when I decided to get out of bed and how the buses were, I get to work between 7:30am and 8:45am. If I arrive on the earlier side of that, the kids are still hanging out and waiting to go to school or daycare. Some of them will bashfully smile at me when I say good morning to them, some of them will follow me to my office to hide from their moms, and most of them will test me to see if I will let them have candy for their morning snack.

Once I get to my office, I go to the kitchen and make coffee. Here’s a secret that I’m a little ashamed of. I always make just enough for myself because I’m insecure about my coffee making abilities at the point in my life. I don’t want to put my coworkers through my inconsistent brews.

I take my cup of coffee to my office and read the top headlines on Huffington Post for a few minutes. Lately, Huffington Post has just been full of Trump and Hillary headlines, so I let myself venture to Buzzfeed for a more entertaining take on what’s important to know that day.

The next eight hours are spent doing the following:
– answering phone calls. 80% of these are people asking how to get into our center. Unfortunately, I have to tell most of them that we have a waiting list for intake and I can give them another shelter to call, but they probably also have a waiting list. It has taken me a while to get over the responses that happen in these conversations. It’s not uncommon to get cursed at. I typically let them take their frustrations out on me because I’m not living my worst case scenario and I believe that they aren’t actually angry at me.
– working on special projects for my boss, Ms. Aline. Currently, my project has been creating a training manual for new employees. I’ve learned how Ms. Aline prefers things to look over the past few months (for example, drop-down boxes in spreadsheets make her happy. I’ve come to love them a lot…and fancy spreadsheets in general. I’m very proud of one specific workbook I created a while ago) and am very appreciative of her balance between giving me creative freedom but also having a few key things in her own vision of the outcome.
– helping clients. The amount of daily interaction I have with clients varies from day to day based on the amount of staff that are in the office. I can often be found giving them their cell phones as they leave the Center, handing out snack, preparing lunch (unwrapping tin foil and setting out serving spoons…I don’t have to cook!), distributing hygiene items, unlocking rooms/closets, and making ridiculous faces at babies.
– sorting donations. We get daily donations from community members of anything from clothing to school supplies to diapers. We have to count each of these items and report it back to our administrative office as we receive them.
– expressing my honest feelings with my facial expressions and (professional?) sarcastic tones. anyone who knows me should not be surprised by this.

There are tons of other things I’ve certainly done at the Mission that aren’t included in this, but I hope this gives you a better idea of what I do on a daily basis. I’m enjoying working at the Center for Women and Children a lot. I’ve learned how to better interact with people who are different than me – in age, in race, in how they were raised, in they language they know. I’ve learned what parts of working in an office I enjoy and what parts I do not enjoy. I work with women who always have a story to share for each situation I encounter. I don’t experience the dread I often did with my college job and with classes each morning and that’s saying something for this notorious slacker. It’s not as easy as ringing up people’s frozen yogurt, but it’s so rewarding. 1125x1500.jpeg.1539d08c94c3402aab0ea4a67be94e94.large.jpeg

Here’s what I  look like at 7:30, running on 4 hours of sleep the day after my birthday. My coworkers decorated my office and surprised me with a birthday cake. CFWC is good at celebrations and, in a place that can be exhausting or discouraging at times, you come to learn that you need celebrations in life.

The Privilege of My Naivety

I’ve been working at Miami Rescue Mission’s Center for Women and Children for about two months now and I’m gradually getting more and more comfortable with my position. The Center has been around for years now and the programming they provide is very well-established. It can be incredibly intimidating to be the new person who brings forward new ideas to a system that has been running for 10+ years.

When women come to stay at the Center, they typically have the option to join a 3-month program or a 6-month program. In order to be in the 6-month program, they must participate in Alpha classes. Alpha is a weekly Bible-based program focused on overcoming addictions (with an emphasis that we all have addictions in our lives, not necessarily drug-related), growing a relationship with God, and making better choices. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend these weekly classes with about 9 other clients.

After attending the first two sessions, I was really encouraged about how open the women were being with each other already. This encouragement sent me into a Presbyterian spiral thinking back to small groups at Montreat and other relationships I’ve built in the Presby world that are similar to the relationships these women are building with each other. That’s when I realized what was missing. The covenant.

Presbyterians love covenants. I dare you to find a conference that involves small groups where you don’t create a covenant with the group. Our house has a covenant that includes a list of agreements about how we will live together. We won’t be too loud after a certain time at night. We will wash our dishes after we’re done. We will have fun. We’ve signed it and are able to hold each other accountable for our actions. It makes confrontations less awkward,

I approached one of our case managers who helps lead the Alpha classes and offered the idea of creating a covenant with the ladies. Despite it being a new concept to her, she allowed me to help lead part of the next class.

Usually, writing a covenant only takes 15 or 20 minutes. In my experience, most of the agreements in a group covenant are easily agreed upon. There will be a few rules that people feel uncertain about, but it gets worked out quickly. The Alpha group spent an hour on writing their covenant. Initially, I was very frustrated. It was almost like they were taking the assignment too seriously. Because it was a covenant mostly for them, I decided to sit back and see where the conversation took them. One of the biggest issues that emerged from creating the vows was that these women have had so many levels of trust broken in their past, that they were not comfortable diving into the covenant. They have been hurt so many times by lovers, coworkers, and even their parents, that asking them to blindly trust 8 other women with some of the most intimate details of their lives was not possible.

This year, I’m gradually learning more and more about my own privileges. I have a lot of them. Being a part of that conversation added another privilege to my list. The ability to trust the world around me. I have never really been hurt. It is easy for me to assume the best about the world around me. I chose to move in with four strangers a few months ago, trusting them to see the most vulnerable sides of me and it wasn’t a hard decision.

I see the things that are happening in Missouri on social media every day. I’ve tried so hard to imagine what it would be like to not feel safe on my college campus. I can’t imagine it. When I read updates on the situation, I feel like I”m reading a dystopian novel. Similarly, I can’t imagine being in the same city as my sister, but choosing to stay at a homeless shelter because it is truly the safer situation for me.

By the end of our time together in Alpha yesterday, we had come up with a list of agreements for our covenant. It’s going to be challenging for all of us to stick to the covenant. Safe spaces don’t just create themselves. We’ve all been broken and hurt in different ways and to varying extremes. We have to work together, use our words, and encourage one another in order to grow individually and as a community.

신혜와 함께 다시 배우는 모국의 문화

(The title roughly translates to “Learning About My Country’s Culture With Shinhye.” Thanks, 신혜!)

It’s becoming my favorite time of year. I feel like it’s so cliché for someone of my demographic to love the changing leaves (okay, that’s not happening in Miami), going out with friends on Halloween, making pumpkin-flavored treats, suddenly reflecting on what I’m thankful for, and listening to Christmas music.

This year, I have a reason not to be so self-conscious about my basic white girl status, thanks to my roommate, Shinhye. She has come to live in Miami all the way from Incheon, Korea, and has been so eager to take in as much as she can about North American life. She apologizes regularly for asking us so many questions and for filling her sentences of impressive English with pauses. She thanks us daily for being patient with her as we get over the occasional language and cultural barriers that we encounter. I often want to thank her for being patient with us as we assume she already knows everything there is to know about the United States or as we assume she knows nothing about the United States. Long story short, she’s a great person to live and learn with.

Living with Shinhye has encouraged me to learn more about the traditions that I’ve embraced for 22 years. This afternoon, we were discussing our plans for Halloween and Shinhye asked about the history of Halloween in the USA. When I realized I genuinely had no answer for her, we sat down and did some research. Moments like these have helped me better appreciate the traditions I have grown up with.

To prepare for Halloween, our house spent a Saturday doing October-y things. We carved pumpkins (lesson learned: you REALLY shouldn’t expect them to last longer than two weeks), roasted pumpkin seeds (at the request of Quinten. They turned out terribly because none of us knew what we were doing), made pumpkin chocolate chip bread (I messed up the recipe and only half it actually baked), and watched scary movies (Shinhye didn’t have a good night of sleep after watching Saw). Halloween isn’t even a big holiday for me or my family, but living with new people makes each holiday even more fun. I already have all kinds of plans for the best holiday of all – Christmas (and really the entire Advent season).

Experiencing the holiday season through Shinhye’s eyes is like experiencing them for the first time and it’s so, so enjoyable. It gives me energy to go out and do things that I think are a waste of time (carving pumpkins) and to step back and let myself appreciate old and new traditions.



Our pumpkins the day after we carved them and our pumpkins today. We learned our lesson.

So You Want to Make the Best Decision of Your Life Thus Far?


Disclaimer: All opinions are my own. This is based on my individual experience in applying to the program. This is not an exhaustive guide. Some of the processes may have changed, so this is not a promise that your experience will go the exact same way mine did. 

I know it’s only October, but perhaps you are in the same situation I was in a year ago. For some reason, you’ve decided to dedicate a year (or two!) of your life to a year of service while the rest of your friends are either beginning to apply for graduate school or are thinking about applying to various jobs. I know that some view the YAV year as a back-up plan if other opportunities fall through and that’s a totally acceptable route; however, it wasn’t a back-up for me. Being a YAV was first on my list of things I wanted to do after graduation. It took a lot of filling out forms, hours of conference calls and Skype interviews, and a healthy amount of waiting. The application is now ~*~live~*~ and ready for you to begin, so I thought it might be helpful for potential YAVs to get some guidance from someone who recently went through what they’re about to go through.

Before I continue, it’s important that you understand the system for applying to be a YAV. You’re not just sending in your resume to a company, hoping that they like you. You’re also not getting appointed by a committee to work somewhere new. The YAV application process is one of mutual discernment.

The Process:

  • Fill out the application
    • The first deadline is December 1, 2015, which means that everything required for the application must be submitted. I am a fantastic procrastinator and began the application on November 29th, thinking that all I would have to do was answer some essay questions. Wrong. I didn’t make the December deadline because I waited until the last minute to ask my references and church for support.
    • If you don’t make that first deadline, don’t worry. You’ll be okay. This is not like applying to college on a binding early decision basis. Try to submit the application as soon as it is ready so that you can start the process as soon as possible. Many phone calls are involved, and scheduling these can be difficult dependent on your schedule, so allow yourself plenty of time to complete all of the steps of the application process.
  • Check your email daily. You will get notified as each of your references completes their part. In the mean time, begin thinking about what sites you’d be interested in. Come up with a list of 3-5 cities.
  • Wait for an email from the Louisville office. This email will let you know that you’ve completed the application (including references) and are ready for your intake phone interview. Yay! Schedule the interview as soon as you can.
  • Talk to Lydia or another staff member on the phone. This sounds terrifying. It isn’t. Be honest with her about your experiences, hopes, and fears. You will be asked to talk about what sites interest you. Having a list of 3-5 sites before the conversation will be helpful for this conversation, but keep an open mind beyond this list. I’m in Miami now, but I never considered it as a possibility in the beginning!
  • You will receive an email for each city you listed. These emails will include contact information for each site coordinator. Get in touch with them as soon as possible to make an arrangement to talk informally to them.
  • Have your informal conversation with each site coordinator. Now is the time to ask any and every question about the site, the city, and what you could be doing if you moved there. Take notes on any positives or negatives! This will help you in your interview and your decision making.
  • After each conversation, think about how you felt afterwards. Go to Hiretouch and indicate whether or not you want to interview with the city. If you started with a list of 5, try to narrow your number down to 2 or 3. Be honest with yourself. Don’t choose a site just because the city has cool music festivals. How did you get along with the coordinator? Were any job opportunities named that sounded interesting to you? Could you see yourself living in the city?
  • Once you have said yes or no to each city, you will receive another email for each one saying that you have opted to interview with them. Just as you did before, set up a time to interview with each city you have selected.
  • Interview time! If this is going to be the first real interview you have had, do some researching on the internet for tips, especially if your interview is going to be a video interview. Through my research, I learned that staring at my face or the other person’s face on my screen was not the same as eye contact. In order to have eye contact on Skype, you have to look at your camera. It’s weird. Practice it.
  • After each interview, you will be directed to rank your interest in each site. It is important to know that you are not ranking the sites against each other. You are ranking them as individual sites based on how much or how little you would enjoy being at each one. Meanwhile, the site coordinator will consider how good of a fit they think you could be for their program. This goes back to the mutual discernment concept. The ultimate goal is to find the best match for you and for the site. If a site sees you as a good fit for them and you feel called to be there, that’s most likely God’s thumbs-up to the calling.
  • Eventually, you should receive an email with an offer to go to one of the sites. It will give you varied emotions. I received mine as the cruise ship I was on for spring break got close enough to a cell tower to access my email. I remember exactly where I was, who I told first, and how I felt. Assuming that you still want to be a YAV and everything went well, you will then go online to Hiretouch to accept the offer.
  • Surprise! You’ll get more emails with more wonderful forms to fill out. They’re important. Submit them as soon as possible.

Important notes/reminders:

  • When scheduling conversations or interviews, always make sure that you and the other person are clear on what time zone you’re using.
  • Go ahead and make a folder on your computer to keep track of files you have uploaded on Hiretouch or emailed to various people. This will be especially helpful if you are applying to a city that is also a DOOR site as their office may also ask you to submit forms for them to have. The sooner you properly fill everything out, the easier it will be on yourself and the staff.
  • Some of your phone calls are going to include praying before and/or after the conversation. Just be prepared for that. It’s not a huge deal, but it was incredibly unexpected for me and made me panic irrationally. I know – that’s the opposite of what prayer should do to a person…
  • Set aside time after your interviews to have quiet time for yourself. For me, the phone and Skype interviews were exhausting. While they only lasted an hour or so, they honestly wore me out and left me wanting to sleep for the rest of the day. Yay, introverts.
  • Talk to different people who know different parts of you. Your friends are going to have different advice than your youth minister, but both sides are important in your decision making.
  • If you know you’re going to have a conversation on the phone with someone, feel free to give them a little Google search if you know that will make you feel more comfortable. It’s likely that they’ve also Googled you.
  • YAV alumni are generally very eager to talk about their year(s) of service. If you are reading this, feel free to contact me (natalie.wolf.93@gmail.com) and I would be happy to talk with you or give you contact information from another current/former YAV!
  • I did not apply to any international sites, so there is nothing in this post about the discernment event that happens in March. Therefore, I am leaving out a crucial part of the process.
  • After being at orientation, I cannot emphasize enough that not everyone’s experience is going to be the same in the application process. This isn’t even completely accurate to my own experience. You will most likely go through one set back or another, but as long as you keep constant and honest communication with the YAV office, it will work out in the end.

Important links:

Apply Here!
Service Sites
Application Checklist
Get to know the YAV staff
DOOR/Dwell website