Slowing Down: A Reflection on a Year of Service

This week, corps member Elisabeth Ivey shares about some of the challenges she’s faced in her year of service and offers a reflection about how she’s been able to process through the doubts and emerge with a desire to take intentional steps through life. Continue reading below! 


A year of service has its challenges, and one of the most significant ones for me was discerning if I’d made the right decision in the first place. Taking a step forward down my chosen path, I looked to either side, wondering if I should’ve chosen one of the different routes my friends had taken.

As a new college graduate, each decision I made felt heavy-laden with pressure, but despite the uncertainty, this year has afforded me time to distance myself from the frantic pace of undergrad years. Through this opportunity, I’ve been able to clearly appreciate where I am, even if I’m still unsure of what’s ahead.

A year of service can mean many things and have many manifestations, and for me, it meant slowing down, which is a reminder I continually need. Recently, I published an article with The Porch Magazine in which I explored these thoughts more deeply. Continue reading below to read how I decided to lean into a meandering way of living.

The Meandering Way


Above image by Eddi, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

A Day in the Life

Corps member Madi Keaton shares a day in the life at the Sycamore House!

A Day in the Life of a Sycamorean
7:30—Time to get up! If the honking and screeching brakes of the cars on Front Street trying to get to work don’t wake me up, then my alarm certainly will.
7:45—Bed made? Check. Teeth brushed? Check. Face washed? Check. I quickly pick out and outfit and then head upstairs to pack a lunch. Generally, my lunch is made up of a lot of little snacks that we happen to keep around the house, like string cheese, hard boiled eggs, baby carrots, and a piece of fruit. On mornings where I feel especially groggy, I boil some water in our electric kettle to make coffee from our French press. I pour it into my trusty Mason jar, gather my things, and head to my placement!
8:30—Thankfully, my commute to the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project is only a few minutes’ walk from the house. I sign in and head upstairs to my office, where I start my computer and begin checking my email. The rest of the day varies according to the projects I’m working on. I’m either doing research or writing or attending meetings—or a mix of all three! Today, I’m working on a document detailing how to bring diversity and racial equity into the workplace. Many of this year’s trainings have been focused on creating an inclusive and equitable workplace, so I am compiling all of the notes as well as outside research into a comprehensive report that can be referred to for years to come. I am also doing other miscellaneous tasks, like writing emails, printing rebuttals for cases, and having check-ins with my supervisors.
4:30—I leave work and head back home. For now, I’m taking a break from the mental labor of work and watching Netflix until I get ready for dinner.
5:30—I begin to prepare dinner. One of my favorite things to make is tacos. I grab corn tortillas from the fridge. Then, I heat up some black beans over the stove with salt, lime juice, and chili powder. I heat up the tortillas too, melting shredded cheese between them to keep each pair together. Then, I place the black beans and a dollop of salsa on each pair. Simple, but delicious! If some of my other housemates happen to be grabbing dinner at the same time, I’ll generally sit and eat with them.
6:00—I clean up the dishes from dinner and decide what to do with the rest of the evening. Usually, I spend it doing chores like laundry or sweeping a room and then relax for the remainder of the night. Sometimes, I go out to an event, like a book talk at Midtown Scholar or a performance. Occasionally, my housemates will all want to go out and hit our favorite spot—Arooga’s! We collect the coupons off of the back of Giant receipts. They allow for one free drink or a buy one, get one free appetizer. It’s a great way to drink and eat food that is bad for you when you’re on a budget!
10:00—Time for bed! I brush my teeth, wash my face, and set my alarm for the next morning.

Above image provided by Elisabeth Ivey.

Behind the Placement: Chloe

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


My service placement this year is with the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club. As a national grassroots environmental advocacy group, the Sierra Club is largely volunteer-run. The majority of my work supports the state’s Ready for 100 campaign. Short for “Ready for 100 % Renewable Energy,” Ready for 100 is a national movement advocating for clean and equitable energy. Volunteers throughout the U.S. join the movement to urge their local legislators and decision-makers to make commitments to renewable energy and offer action plans to back these resolutions.

As the Chapter’s Ready for 100 Organizing Fellow, I provide support for new and existing Ready for 100 teams throughout the state, particularly the Eastern half. I co-coordinate the statewide team, planning and facilitating calls along with my co-worker Kelsey, an organizer for Western Pennsylvania. These monthly calls are a space for volunteer leaders from across the state to join, share updates, workshop issues, and plan state efforts. I also on-board new volunteers and help start new teams in places throughout Pennsylvania. Part of this means scheduling calls with volunteers, workshopping any issues they may have or connecting them with resources, information, or online trainings. And part of this means brainstorming or helping volunteer leaders plan events in their own towns and cities to build momentum or relationships with community partners. A goal for my position is to work alongside other staff and volunteers to create a Ready for 100 “toolkit” to provide easily-accessible, Pennsylvania-specific resources to teams so that the state team can move towards greater self-sufficiency before my position ends.

Over the past six months, I have greatly appreciated the way the Sierra Club as an organization and Ready for 100 as a campaign are both so dedicated to equity as part of a holistic approach to environmental issues. Ready for 100 commits to follow the “Jemenz Principles” for democratic organizing, which emphasize the importance of equity at all levels of a campaign or organization. They hold that there is no shortcut to just action and that justice is only done when all voices are heard.

In light of these principles, I have been challenged to model equity in the meetings that I host.  I am constantly learning new ways to facilitate discussions that allow all voices to be heard. And I have also been challenged to speak up myself, coming forward with new ideas or solutions.

The threat of global climate change and the ecological degradation of places I love have often made me feel anxious, terrified, and full of despair. I have realized that individual actions, no matter how honorable, are not enough to halt the patterns of destruction that our human greed has created. This year, however, I have learned a new way to address the destruction of our world. And that is, to organize: for the local communities, places, and people that we love.

Thank you.

-Chloe

Link to Jemenz Principles


Above image by Ken Lund, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Behind the Placement: Ben

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


Hello everyone!

It’s crazy to think that my year of service is about halfway done. So much has happened, and I hope to carry the lessons I have learned with me as I embark on my next journey. Many of these lessons have been through my two service placements, which are at Habitat for Humanity and Beacon Clinic. Both service placements have been incredible so far, and I love the work that I am doing for both organizations.

My role at Habitat for Humanity is to lead efforts in grant writing and grant research. As you all may know, Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization that focuses on neighborhood and community revitalization. Due to the nature of the organization, they rely heavily on grant funding to support their proposed programs. Many different types of organizations, whether they are private or public, offer many grants, and it is my responsibility to research and figure out which grants we are eligible for. After researching and finding the right grants, it is my responsibility to start writing drafts for all of the grant questions and compile all the necessary documents for the grant application. It’s been really great to work on my writing in this position and to also see how the work that I have put in for these grants has transferred over to help with the revitalization of Harrisburg.

My role at Beacon Clinic is more people-oriented. Beacon Clinic is a non-profit health clinic serving those who are uninsured. The clinic takes in a wide variety of patients, and it is my job to conduct eligibility interviews with the new patients to determine their eligibility status for the clinic as well as help them go over any insurance questions and potentially guide them to other avenues of medical support. It’s been really great to work with patients and help the clinic with its needs. I also work closely with the director at the clinic, helping her with any administrative duties that need to be done. Serving in a health clinic has always been something that I am passionate about, and it’s been great to be a member of Beacon Clinic and to serve the underserved populations of Harrisburg.

Overall, I have been immensely grateful with the two service placements that I am in. Being in two placements means that I can experience different ways of serving the community each week, and I appreciate the diversity that comes with the two placements. I’m glad that I can do more administrative service at Habitat for Humanity, and then focus more on patient service at Beacon Clinic. It’s been an incredible journey so far here in Harrisburg, and I am excited for what’s to come!


Above image by jfcherry, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Behind the Placement: Elisabeth

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


Although my journey with the Sycamore House began in August, my relationship with the Center for Public Humanities started all the way back in March of 2017. While studying abroad in Thailand, I snuck away to a quiet corner of the house and made a call for an interview. On the other end was Dr. Corey and the then Program Coordinator and former Episcopal Service Corps member, Jonathan Barry Wolf. As we chatted, they explained the various facets of the Center for Public Humanities, and how, as a fellow, I would get the chance to work with young students through poetry and participate in the humanities symposium that provides a venue for many brilliant minds. I served a year as a student fellow when I returned to campus, and I’ve now had the wonderful opportunity to continue my work with the Center for Public Humanities as Program Coordinator!

My role involves many moving pieces. One of my favorite programs, Poetry in Place, invites middle school students from the Harrisburg school district to explore different aspects of the city. Whether we’re walking through the State Museum of Pennsylvania or riding on the Pride of the Susquehanna riverboat, I’m constantly learning new details about Harrisburg’s past. Perhaps one of the most sobering discoveries for me was about the Old 8th Ward in Harrisburg. Because of the efforts to make Harrisburg a more beautiful city, that entire community was uprooted and displaced from their homes. Now, the Capitol complex stands there. Thanks to the research conducted by Digital Harrisburg (another branch of the Center), students got to hear the names and learn about the lives of people who lived there all those years ago, and they wrote poetry to reflect on that experience. They blow me away every time as they connect deeply with issues like social inequality and also dream boldly to envision a better future.

In addition to Poetry in Place, I also work on campus at Messiah College, helping to coordinate the student fellows who work with the Center. During the fall and spring semesters, 8-10 students from various humanities backgrounds come together to have discussions, work on projects, and further our commitment to making our studies beneficial to and in partnership with the public beyond our campus. Last semester, several students coordinated interviews with elderly community members who shared their perspectives on education in Harrisburg. A couple of fellows have worked diligently on the Digital Harrisburg initiative, documenting the past of this city. Another team worked on cultivating a curriculum that could serve as a resource for Harrisburg school teachers, and yet another team documents this work to keep people updated on what we’re doing. I’m honored to be a part of the group, assisting where I can and learning from the students who have so much to offer.

Both as a fellow and program coordinator, I’ve been able to experience the challenges and rewards of collaboration. As we tread further into February, we prepare for the Humanities Symposium for which every member of our team has worked hard to prepare. This year’s theme is The Common Good, and we’ve been inspired by the Key Note speaker Marian Wright Edelman to learn more about education and how we must continue pushing for equity for children.  

I truly love what I do because it allows me to pursue meaningful work in a creative way. I’m thankful for the people that I work with, like Dr. Jean Corey, who has taught me so much about humility and dignity and hard work, and though I don’t know what step I’ll take next, I hope that I’ll find myself in a similar environment where creativity, social consciousness, and collaboration thrive.

– Elisabeth


Above image provided by the Center for Public Humanities.

Behind the Placement: Katie

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


Hi, everyone!

Hard to believe that the Sycamore House year is halfway finished! Seems like just yesterday I was moving into the house and arriving for my first day of work as an Associate Teacher at Capital Area Head Start (CAHS).  The goal of CAHS is in its name – we are giving children a head start in life. CAHS serves low income children and their families in Dauphin, Perry, and parts of Cumberland County. I work in the Paxtonia center, a new classroom site for Head Start this year. It consists of four classrooms, and I rotate classrooms approximately every two weeks depending on needs. When I arrive in the morning, I help the teachers with last minute prep for that day. As the children arrive, I join the teachers in welcoming them to school and supervise them as they go through their arrival routine. I help serve breakfast and lunch, facilitate small group, and function as an extra set of eyes and ears (and hands!) in the classroom. My favorite part of the day is “work time,” when the children can choose what centers they play in. They have the best imaginations, and I love hearing their new ideas every day! When the children leave, I wash all of the classrooms’ dishes, then help any teachers who need to prepare items for future lesson plans. If everyone is caught up, I read about our Highscope curriculum and Pennsylvania learning standards so that I can be more aware of why we do what we do. I also attend training sessions at our main office monthly. Working with preschoolers has its own unique set of challenges, but at the end of the day, I know I am making a difference. There is nothing better than seeing a child learn and grow right before your very eyes and knowing that you played just a small part in it. I love my job!

– Katie


The above image by Brian Hart, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Behind the Placement: Shannon

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


Hello everyone!

We are now five months in to the Episcopal Service Corps year, and so much has been going on around the Sycamore House. As we started the New Year, a lot of us spent time thinking about 2018 and changes or growth we want to achieve in 2019.

I am currently placed at the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania Bishop’s office in downtown Harrisburg. My role has me doing many things around Central PA and has given me the opportunity to meet amazing clergy and lay people.

As an events coordinator, every week and month can look different, depending on what events we have coming up on the horizon. For instance, every month we do a “Bishop Out of the Box,” where Bishop Audrey Scanlan and Canon Dan Morrow plan ways to get out into our communities, meet people, and have meaningful conversations with those who may not want to go to church.  So far we have done things such as a Live Nativity, a walk around Lancaster central market asking people what they are grateful for and what they hope for, and an Agape Love Feast.

Occasionally, I have bigger events on my docket that take longer to plan and require a lot of conversations. For instance, currently we are in the throes of putting everything together for the June 2019 Appalachian Camino and the Bishop’s Open Golf Tournament in May 2019.

Besides making phone calls, researching information, and answering emails, I get to take part in more coworker community time. Every week we have a staff meeting where we discuss what’s on all our plates, have a Bible study together that we take turns leading, and then take communion together.

Of course, we can’t forget one of the best perks of the job at the Diocese – Lily Grace and Rey. Our office has two adorable barn cats turned spoiled office cats that keep us all on our toes. With their playfulness, cat naps, and need for attention, we always have entertainment and kitty cuddles on hand for breaks.

Overall, working at the Diocese has taught me how to push the good boundaries, reach out to people in faith, and allow spirituality and church (meaning the community of believers) mingle outside of Sunday settings.

– Shannon


Above image provided by Shannon.