In my year as a QVS Fellow, I worked at Casa del Trabajador, an immigrant-led worker center which advocates for injured, unpaid, or otherwise vulnerable workers. My year with QVS and Casa del Trabajador gave me many, many things — but primarily, it gave me tools and hope for the road ahead.
Our community learned that our spiritual lives must not be separate from our activism… we must practice resiliency and hold the pain of injustice — while also fighting against it.
After QVS, I enrolled in law school, hoping to bring justice to underserved communities in a wholly unjust legal system. Before I started school, many people told me how it would change me, and distance me from the social justice causes which drove me to law school in the first place. Through QVS, however, I had gained a powerful tool: engaging with Spirit within my “work,” without boundaries. My community taught me to live my values in action, bringing my full self to the intersection of social change and spirituality.
The lessons I learned in my QVS year stayed with me as I finished my first year of law school and decided to go on a week-long trip to Dilley, Texas. There, I worked in the largest detention center in the country preparing recently arrived immigrant women and children for their asylum interviews. What I saw there was heartbreaking and infuriating. It was impossible to do the “work” of legal service, without also holding space for the trauma and grief I was both witnessing and experiencing.
Yet, QVS really prepared me for this. During the fellowship year, our community learned that our spiritual lives must not be separate from our activism. And that we must practice resiliency and hold the pain of injustice — while also fighting against it. My Quaker community reminds me of what this work is all about: collective liberation. My work in law school, and ultimately in legal practice, lifts up the core of who I am and what I believe: in peace, in love, in justice, and in community.
MaryGrace Menner served as a 2017-18 QVS Fellow at Metrowest Worker Center in Boston. She graduated in 2016 from Fordham University in the Bronx, NY, majoring in English and Spanish. It was as a Fordham retreat leader that MaryGrace began to cultivate a life of spiritual intentionality. Her studies also led her to backpack through Central America where she studied social justice, peace, and community engagement in a Latin American context. Following her graduation from Fordham, MaryGrace spent a year living in Immokalee, Florida, working as a legal assistant with the migrant worker population. While living in Florida she discovered Quakerism and began attending the Fort Myers Friends Meeting. Following her year with QVS, MaryGrace began law school at Northeastern University School of Law.
This past summer MaryGrace spent a week working with asylum seekers in the largest detention center in the country. She wrote about her experience and shared it with us here.
This is the first time I’ve read an account of a person working directly with refugees to present their petitions for asylum. I was very much moved. I am so thankful for Quaker Voluntary Service for providing young people with the opportunity to learn to work in community for the achievement of the hopes and dreams of justice and fairness for all people.
As a QVS alumni myself, this is really a beautiful insight into a post-QVS life where what we learn and do informs what we will continue to learn and do. Thank you for sharing