The event elevated the theme that there are many ways to serve one’s nation and community. During the National Service Blitz, Interfaith America’s team facilitated a day-long training on the skills of bridgebuilding as part of the Team Up Project. It was an honor to join AmeriCorps members from Habitat for Humanity, the YMCA, and Catholic Charities for a day of training. In the same week, they were also working with over 150 AmeriCorps members to build 7 homes across the Fort Cavazos area.
Michael Smith, CEO of AmeriCorps, launched our day-long training with gratitude to the members and conveyed his commitment to prioritize 1) research-backed measurable impact, 2) diversity and equity so that members reflect the diversity of the nation, and 3) integrating bridgebuilding in service to address the nation’s polarization. He shared stories from his own life of personal relationships shaken by polarization and reinforced his organization’s investment in expanding the skills of bridgebuilding throughout AmeriCorps.
A Window Into the Training with Amena Khan:
After the thoughtful framing by the CEO, what followed was a day full of learning, laughing, and partnership. I had the honor and privilege to spend the day with a group of inspiring AmeriCorps service members who are stewards of their community, always thinking about the needs of others before themselves. Many spoke about wanting to engage across lines of difference but did not feel equipped to do so — and that is when I knew we were in the right place.
As my colleague, Tina Grace, walked them through a workshop on how to craft their own story, and the invitational nature of storytelling, you could see (and sometimes hear) individuals having “aha” moments. For some participants, the “aha” moment was realizing that one of the best ways to build a relationship with someone who is different from you is to tell them a little about yourself and offer space for them to do the same. In practicing this skill and sharing their stories, the room became more comfortable with each other, showing how powerful just one element of bridgebuilding can be. Through the different exercises and pair-shares, I was able to see members from different national organizations learn and grow together. Eager to practice their skills, many walked away with plans to engage others at the Service Blitz and were intentional about the bridges they wanted to build when they went back home.
A Window Into the Training with Tina Grace:
Undoubtedly, the participants in the room were bridgebuilders. They were natural at storytelling, and their stories inspired not only each other but me as well. One participant (who I will call Kelly to respect her privacy) shared in a storytelling session that her key values were hope, faith, and love. I became very curious about why she chose those values because they were like my own, which are faith, love, and grace. Kelly said, “I choose love because everyone wants and needs love,” I followed up with a question about how that fits into why she does her work. Kelly then told me about her past and how she often felt lonely and isolated from her peers. She was bullied because of her looks, and people made assumptions about her before getting to know her. She expressed that the lack of love and acceptance from others impacted her deeply and inspired her to get involved in work that focuses on spreading positivity. This was eye-opening for me because when I think of love, I think about how my life was impacted by love’s overwhelming presence, unlike Kelly, who was impacted by its absence. Even though we shared the same word to describe our values, the reason stemmed from various places.
Even the small conversations reminded me that bridgebuilders come in many forms.
This interaction was the essence of what we teach. Getting to know someone beyond the surface allows space to build a deeper connection and work towards a common goal. Even the small conversations reminded me that bridgebuilders come in many forms. Some are on the front lines diving directly into the complex topics of race, politics, and social issues, but some do the work by sharing their story and reaching out to those who are often overlooked.
An Ongoing Invitation to Team Up and Serve
Our day at the National Service Blitz closed with dinner and dialogue alongside 150+ AmeriCorps members and leaders of affiliates from across the nation connected with Veterans Corps. A representative from the Home Depot Foundation was applauded for their decade-long partnership with Repair Corps and sponsorship of the National Service Blitz. Garrison Commander, Colonel Chad R. Foster, taught the room about General Cavazos, for whom nearby Fort Cavazos (previously Fort Hood, named after a confederate general) was newly renamed. With facilitation from The People’s Supper, people dove into discussion on the themes of values, change, and becoming.
Across the nation, people are serving every day, in AmeriCorps, at Habitat, Catholic Charities, the Y, in the military, and beyond. In our day together, members further developed the skills of listening and storytelling, learned about the dynamics behind growing polarization, and developed achievable and practical plans for more explicitly engaging across deep differences in their work in their own communities. It is humbling and a joy to be part of the Team Up Project. To all who serve, thank you!