Read below for an Epistle from Board Clerk Damon Motz-Storey on the QVS strategic plan.
My lilacs out back bloomed fragrant and beautiful purple this year, overlooking a garden and sitting spot that I’ve been cultivating in the sunny southern half of my Oregon forest backyard. This time last year the lilacs in my backyard didn’t bloom. And this year, although I have some blossoms, it seems like very few flowers flourished. Was that because of the unprecedented, record-breaking April snowstorm of 2022, or the more recent, record-breaking May heatwave of 2023? This is what I ask myself as I try to remember what this place looked like the first few months I lived here.
The climate crisis is playing out in real time in ways that also rhyme with other signs of the times. Prices have been rising for a long time now on rent, groceries, and energy bills. It makes sense that many unpaid service year programs are reporting low numbers of applicants. When times are tough, and have been feeling tough for a whole decade, I understand wanting to try and earn what you can to feel stable and help others feel that way too. When I imagine if I were fresh out of college in 2023 instead of 2016, I can see how with a hot jobs market it would feel harder today to say yes to hitting “pause” on putting money into savings or making funds available for supporting family members.
Quaker Voluntary Service experienced a significant enough decrease in applications for the current year that our Board in Spring of 2022 made the difficult decision to pause our voluntary service program in Atlanta, Georgia, the city where QVS’s pilot cohort began. Our remaining houses in Minneapolis/St. Paul (MN), Portland (OR), Philadelphia (PA), and Boston (MA) had fewer sojourners in them than usual. Yet still in each house — as has been the case every single year of QVS from 2012 to 2023 — there are deep experiences of community, spiritual journeying, exploration, processing, conflict, and growth.
Applications for next year, 2023-2024 are still open on a rolling basis, but so far we’re not on track for pre-2022 levels of interest in QVS. Unfortunately, that means that we are not able to re-open our service house in Atlanta at this time. And we are also having to ask challenging questions of ourselves as an organization. Is this a sign of long-term change in interest that is beyond our control? Are there ways of communicating the profound value of a year of service embedded in community and spiritual seeking in places we have not thought of already? Is all of this a temporary shift?
Thankfully, some things feel clear amidst our questioning. After many months of meetings both on Zoom and in person, the Quaker Voluntary Service Board of Directors has approved a strategic plan that focuses on seasoning new ideas for supporting a wider range of young adults in being able to participate in a year of service and intentional Quaker community. This could include things like self-designed work placements or beginning to partner with businesses that are driven by a social change mission (not just nonprofits). And we’re pretty certain increasing compensation for staff and Fellows in order to keep up with rising costs is a crucial piece.
One group of people serving on a board of directors is not enough discernment for these big ideas. We will be looking to hear feedback and opinions from the Quaker community and people who have served as a QVS Fellow, staff member, Local Support Committee member, and more. Nothing will change about the QVS program until the 2024-2025 service year at the earliest. Stay tuned, as we hope to see you at a Quaker gathering or QVS-hosted Zoom session sometime to hear your thoughts on what we should do and how we should do it.
I may need to prune some of the dry branches on my backyard lilac bush. There really are not very many flowers on a fairly large plant. But I’m not going to prune it until I’ve gotten a sense of whether this year’s bloom was typical or if more flowers are still to come. And the flowers that are open are so pretty and pungent.
Long-term, might Quaker Voluntary Service consider needing to right-size to scale to an emerging trend of fewer youth who are able and willing to do a volunteer service year? Too soon to tell. What we know now is that this experiment in spirit-centered community as a force of loving transformation in the world continues to be a meaningful and important experience for the young adults that go on the journey and the Quakers, site placements, and neighbors that surround them.
That’s something to raise a glass to and celebrate with joy underneath my sweet-smelling lilacs.
Damon Motz-Storey, Presiding Clerk of QVS Board
Damon Motz-Storey (they/them/theirs) is presiding clerk of the Quaker Voluntary Service Board of Directors. Damon works in nonprofit fundraising and strategic communications and is a 2016-2017 alumnus of the Portland, Oregon QVS program. They still love living in the Rose City six years later (#RCTID).