Each summer — as the program year winds down — we invite Fellows to reflect on their experience and write a testimonial to share with Friends. Rose Shuker-Haines, a young adult Fellow who served in Boston during the 2020-2021 program year, shares about celebrating birthdays and community-caretaking this year.
When my birthday was coming up, in mid-September, I honestly didn’t know if my housemates would care.
Not that I would blame them: we were just a bunch of strangers, who had known each other for around two weeks at this point, and we were all masked for one of those weeks. It felt like a lot to ask, for these strangers to celebrate me and my life when we had just met.
But to my surprise, they did care. A lot.
The date was starred on our house calendar, and housemates would ask me supposedly hypothetical questions about my favorite desserts and whether I had other plans that Friday evening.
I woke up that morning to the living room covered in paper flowers and other decorations.
That night, we dressed up, got vegan takeout, played games, and danced. It felt special, different from a normal day, which is ultimately what you want your birthday to feel like.
Birthdays have remained an important part of our QVS year. With nowhere to go and no other people to invite to parties, we have put in effort to make each day special and to tailor the celebration for each member of our house. We planned affirmation circles, trivia nights, and outside dinners with surprise appearances from family members. Even early in the year, when we didn’t know each other very well, we tried to make each day special, to make each birthday unique to the person.
That attitude of care has extended throughout the rest of our year as we navigated pandemic safety all while living in a house of seven people.
And yet, we learned how to have tricky conversations together, how to cook together, how to put plastic on our windows for winter insulation together. Throughout this year, our care has taken many different forms, from birthday celebrations, to cooking communal meals, to holding one another accountable.
The care that we express as a house is not always so warm and fuzzy, or as celebratory as a birthday party.
It sometimes means that our house meetings go on for two hours as we try to navigate different levels of COVID anxiety and precaution. It also means that we have to be honest with one another when we’re upset, or hurt, or don’t feel up to things.
This emotional honesty has been one of the harder things to learn for me, who is used to just being easy going and getting along at all costs, and not digging deep into my actual needs or feelings. But to live in a house with other people, especially during a pandemic, in an intensive year of community living, also means being brave, being honest, being vulnerable, and working through feelings with one another.
Our own feelings and needs can be gifts that we give to each other, just like paper roses or glow-in-the-dark balloons.
Now, with a fully vaccinated house and declining COVID rates, that care is manifesting in a new way: giving each other space. As we are able to spend time with our fully vaccinated friends and travel more safely, we are allowing one another space and grace, letting people miss our house dinners and coming up with creative solutions so that people can attend our house events from far away.
We all needed to find time to nurture the parts of our life outside of our house and our jobs.
When I entered this house in September, I was worried that my outside friendships and relationships would put me at odds with my housemates and the close community we would create. There was a hesitancy to ask for time for myself, or with other people in my life. I felt nervous and unsportsmanlike when I asked that house dinners not be mandatory. But then I realized that of course all my other housemates have other lives, other relationships as well. So, as things opened up, the hard boundary that separated our house from the rest of the world began to thaw. We began to see other people, to visit home, to spend the night at a friend’s house. And it feels good, and freeing and the community that we have made in our house doesn’t feel any weaker for it. We have both created spaces where we could be together and space for each other to be apart, knowing that we need to treasure both our relationships within the house and outside of it.
There are two more birthdays coming up in our house, and now we can invite other people to celebrate along with us. I’m very excited for our community to come together once again, like we did in September, October, February, and April to celebrate one another, and to make something bright and special during a very strange year.
More about Rose
Rose Shuker-Haines has long been immersed in Quaker spirituality and activism, having grown up with family deeply involved in the Quaker community and having close ties to Quaker intentional communities. She is interested in how we can build radical and loving communities and is excited about learning more about building these communities in her year with QVS. She recently graduated from Wesleyan University where she studied Political Science and American Studies, with concentrations in Political Theory and Indigenous Studies. At college, she was also involved in the student farm and the prison education program, and she wants to continue to work on issues of food justice and prison abolition. Last summer she worked with Boston-based environmental justice organization Alternatives for Community and Environment and this year she continued doing environmental justice work with MCAN.
What sorts of programming and tools are Fellows offered during their year?
Every other Friday throughout the 11-month fellowship, QVS Fellows attend QVS Days instead of working at their site placements.
QVS Days offer Fellows a chance to slow down and be in community. For the first part of the year, QVS staff take the lead in planning and facilitating QVS Days. They support Fellows in exploring their individual and communal journeys, as well as discussing work, community living, Quakerism, spiritual practices, and social justice issues. As the year progresses, Fellows take a more active role in planning and facilitating QVS Days.
Over the course of the year, Fellows learn tools like: clerking and Quaker decision-making processes, clearness committees, conflict transformation, signs of defensiveness, and tons more. Additionally, at the start of the year, Fellows attend a week-long orientation with all QVS Fellows from across the country, as well as a mid-year and a closing retreat with their city cohort.
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MaryGrace Menner served at Metrowest Worker Center – Casa del Trabajador during the 2017-2018 QVS year. Check out the following QVS Alumni Spotlight to learn about MaryGrace’s vocational path and how the key pieces of a QVS year stayed with her.