Emmy SmithIn April of 2016, I was sitting in the basement of my sorority house at the end of senior week, about to share post-graduation plans. As my senior class started sharing their plans, some people said they were going to grad school, many were taking a 5th year, and a few were going directly into the workforce. I was the lone senior announcing that I would be taking a “year off” to invest in full-time service in Chicago. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I knew that something beautiful was coming. Looking back, this year as a MercyWorks Volunteer has been a year defined by compassion, action, dynamic friendship, and growth.

“As you live your life, the world will change you, you will change the world, or you will be one of the few that gets to experience both.”

Tim Cahill writes, “A journey is best measured in friends, not miles.” It is hard to understand what an “intentional community” is until you get to live in one. Living in community gave me the experience of living with eleven of the most courageous, dynamic, and passionate individuals I have met. One evening in March, I was watching TV with some housemates when I got some really great news from home. As I sat crying over a text and a Facebook post, I was embraced by my community as overjoyed as I was. For me, this was the moment that solidified the shared experience we all had within each other’s lives. Not only had these men and women been present for my lows, they were present during my highs. I walked a path of servant leadership where I was accepted for who I am, but challenged to grow into my greatest self.  And is that not what this whole living thing is about? Finding people who challenge you, care for you, accept you as you are, and experience your highs as much as they are present for your lows.

Because of the support I had from community, I felt confident walking into Speh Home where I would work with boys ages 11-14. Once I got into my program, I was immediately taught the beauty and joy that comes with working with middle school boys. A young man spent his afternoon yelling at me, calling me every creative word that came to his mind. That night, he comes creeping out of his room, meanders all the way to staff office and says to me, “Emmy, I can’t be mad at you because who will tuck me in at night?” During Christmas, one of my youth came running out of his room as I was about to walk out and hands me a Thor key chain. When he had first moved in around Thanksgiving, he and I bonded over our love of super heroes, his favorite was Superman and mine was Thor. Every single night one youth and I would add a part to our secret handshake. It is currently 215 steps long, and this is how I end every shift. It is these moments that radiate the joy of Speh Home. Despite crisis, incidents, or negative moments, I walk out of program each night smiling over even a small moment of joy.

My mentor in college taught me a very memorable lesson, “As you live your life, the world will change you, you will change the world, or you will be one of the few that gets to experience both.” As quickly as I was put into the work of service, my life was being transformed by those I interacted with. Thanks to the MercyWorks Volunteer program, I had the opportunity to be one of the few that could experience both.

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