Adrian Nelson served at L’Arche Atlanta during the 2015-2016 QVS year. Five summers later, Adrian was deployed with a medical team to the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon. Check out the following QVS Alumni Spotlight to learn about Adrian’s vocational path and the impact of a QVS year.
In summer 2016, at the end of the QVS year, Adrian moved to Tacoma, WA and began working at the L’Arche community in Tacoma. In January of 2019, Adrian left full-time living in L’Arche. “I took a break, got my EMT certificate, and remained on L’Arche’s call as a respite assistant when needed… Currently, I am working full time as an EMT [with] a private ambulance company. I’m responsible for responding with a fire department and also a lot of interfacility transfers, hospital-to-hospital, so I do a lot of direct patient care work. I still help out at [L’Arche] when I’m able, even though COVID has complicated that.”
Name: Adrian Nelson
Spiritual Community: Member of Northside Meeting (Chicago), Illinois Yearly Meeting; occasional attender of Tacoma Friends Meeting.
QVS Year: 2015-2016
City: Atlanta, GA
Site Placement: L’Arche Atlanta
Did you grow up attending Quaker Meeting / Church? Yes!
“L’Arche gave me a lot of direct, hands-on experience in care work, and a lot of [experience] being with people in an emotional, medical and spiritual context.”
Discernment as “the thing I need, but not the thing I want”
Discernment is a big theme that surfaces in QVS. When young adult applicants apply to QVS, they interview with multiple site placements, ranking the site placements they’re eager to work with. Adrian shared some reflections about this process:
“On a spiritual level, QVS placed me with the thing that I needed, but not the thing that I wanted. It’s really funny — of all four site placements that I ranked when I interviewed with QVS, L’Arche was the lowest because I was very nervous about that field. And then it just turned out to be a thing that changed my life. Now that is, of course, just how my life personally works. Sometimes my opportunities are the things that I need, not the things that I want. I definitely encourage people to remain open-minded as to what they’re placed with and how they work with it. [Because] I think that was one of the best things, that I was able to be open to what was coming my way and I wasn’t too set on any one thing. L’Arche offered a really nice synergy with QVS.
I wouldn’t necessarily cite L’Arche as a place that connects me to the way I consider my Quaker spirituality — L’Arche is just so noisy, [and] for me, Quakerism has a lot to do with silence. What L’Arche did give me is a deeper awareness of growing into love for myself, which is possibly another way to [understand spirituality].”
The Intersection of Spiritual Work & Care Work
But discernment isn’t something that only surfaces during the application process. For Adrian, and many QVS Fellows, discernment is a theme throughout the QVS year. Fellows discern: how to spend their time; their spiritual gifts and how to be of service to community; how to move through conflict or how to bring joy into a community’s practice; a vocational path, job opportunity, and training or further education. Adrian shared:
“I was learning a lot of translation work in terms of what I was seeing, what I was experiencing, and how I was taking that into myself. L’Arche allowed me to explore [questions like]: do I want to do lots of hands-on, very direct care work? Do I want to do more broader picture work where I’m not working directly with people, but I’m doing things that influence a wider base of people?
“QVS fundamentally changed the course of my life by placing me with L’Arche, and I cannot emphasize enough how my being with that community has impacted me.”
I decided I need something more tangible and more concrete right now. I’ve done a lot of abstract, soft-skills work. I really want a lot of [practice in] harder skills like direct care work. I really want to take a break from the bigger picture stuff for a while. This is actually a good chunk of the reason why I went into EMS, and, of course, the other reason was I needed to not live where I was working at the time. So QVS and L’Arche [were] both good, but also overwhelming in that way. For me, I could only have that totality of my life eclipsed for so long, and then I really needed to find a way in which my work life and my personal life were a little bit more separate.”
Adrian also discussed more recently discerning that ze needed to leave L’Arche in Tacoma, sharing:
“I had to practice and still have to practice a lot of forgiveness for myself for stepping away from L’Arche. That was one of the harder things that I’ve done, and I felt I had failed at doing it for a very long time. And sometimes I still do feel if I had been stronger, if I hadn’t burned out this way, I would still be able to be involved in this deeply meaningful thing. And I wasn’t and that’s my limit and [it] sucks to have those kinds of limits. I think that might be a common experience for anyone who has to step away from a big community or time that was meaningful for them. So ultimately, it doesn’t mean failure, even if it feels like it.”
The Impact of Spiritual Relationships & Spiritual Tools
During the year, QVS Fellows are offered tools and relationships to support their spiritual growth. This includes: clearness committees, clerking, house worship, connection with a Local Support Committee, and a relationship with a Spiritual Nurturer. Spiritual Nurturers play an important role in accompanying QVS Fellows as they figure out how to sustain their own gifts in service of community and justice work. Adrian shared about the impact of zir Spiritual Nurturer:
“I really, really, really love my Spiritual Nurturer, Elizabeth….[who was] a wonderful part of my year.
The nice thing [about our pairing] was it was very mutual — we learned a lot from each other. A lot of our conversations revolved around the kind of care work that I was doing with L’Arche. We talked a lot about disability, and a lot about limits [and the] kind of stuff that was coming up for me during the year and at my site placement. It helped that my Spiritual Nurturer was already familiar with the kind of work that I was doing. She was also a chaplain. We connected at a level of being queer people in this kind of profession and in this spiritual community. We also had a deep and abiding love for the Indigo Girls!”
When asked if having a Spiritual Nurturer impacted how Adrian sought out spiritual community or spiritual relationships going forward, ze shared: “Because of my background and my [Quaker] upbringing… I wouldn’t say it had as big an impact on me as someone who never encountered that kind of relationship before.
It’s certainly given me [clarity about] what I want out of a mentorship. And it is one that I’m seeking right now, professionally speaking in EMS, because I very much feel like I’m making a ton of s**t up as I go along. And I never liked that feeling, frankly. I mean, I’ve learned a lot but I would love a mentor for EMS, and I definitely do not have one right now… So, I just have to split up all my mentorship needs among 15 different people who will occasionally find the answer to my question.”
Continued Involvement with the Religious Society of Friends
Beyond the QVS year, involvement with the Religious Society of Friends and continued spiritual exploration looks different for each QVS alum. Some alumni stay in the city where they served, continuing to worship with a host meeting or church. Others move around as they seek meaningful work and community, new jobs and opportunities. Joining or participating in a geographically-based spiritual community isn’t always accessible to young adults. Adrian shared one perspective as an alum who is five years out of the QVS program:
“My spirituality has grown progressively less concerned with labels of being ‘Quaker’ and more with living and yearning towards the fundamental ideals that Quakerism, at its best, represents.”
“Post QVS, particularly since I moved out here, I haven’t been deeply involved with the Tacoma meeting. Mostly because I worked on Sundays, and the other times in which they met were not accessible to me. By the time I was able to attend meeting regularly, it was close to when everything shut down again. And then zoom worship has not been super fruitful for me. Instead I jumped back into my yearly meeting for most of last year to help start the Committee on Anti-Racism, which is now rolling ahead at full steam. And I’m deeply grateful to finally see my yearly meeting picking up on this. Then I realized, ‘Okay, this is at a distance… I really have to step back and focus on other things.’
Life Today: Deploying to the Oregon Bootleg Fire
This past summer, Adrian deployed to the Oregon Bootleg Fire for 21 days. Ze shared more about that experience and the idea of saying yes to something not always knowing what it will lead to.
“I honestly thought I was gonna be there for a couple days. Turns out I was there for the full 21 days, which is the maximum number of days you can be deployed in a row. Keep in mind that those 21 days were 5am to 9pm, no days off in between or anything like that. You had to be on call if something emergent happened. Now, most of the time, that’s a lot of downtime, nothing happens. There’s just people fighting the fire and there aren’t that many medical emergencies and then occasionally something goes wrong and then that’s what you’re there for. So most of my job was not actually on the fire line, but was staying at the main base camp. I was the primary point person for all of the very minor, but occasionally major, medical needs of everyone in the camp. So it’s 600-800 people at one point. They come around to our tent and they ask for blister care or band aids or ibuprofen or whatever and then you know, occasionally we get breathing troubles.
It was definitely a huge learning experience in terms of the way things are structured and the kinds of people who are out there and running under a hierarchical command structure— it’s a lot like the military. The way that things are set up and it was very efficient, and it works.
“It was an immersive experience, not unlike a QVS year that once you were there, you were a part of something that is much bigger than yourself.”
It was invigorating — I was learning constantly. I was using different parts of my brain that hadn’t been used before and it was fulfilling. I was rewarded for just being good with people and being organized and taking initiative on a lot of different things and being a good communicator. It wasn’t anything that I would necessarily say was inherently a spiritually-grounded [experience] but it was a cultural thing almost. It is a very particular type of culture. And you can see why people come back to it time and time again, because people really feel like they belong, like rules are very clear. It’s very much outlined what you need to do. Everyone follows the same set of rules, no matter where you’re coming from, whether you’re flying out from Massachusetts or Florida, or you live in the next hill over and you don’t want your house to burn down.
The main way I got there was by saying yes to a lot of things. This was one of the opportunities that my company offered. And then there were lots of things that you could sign up for and transfer and I said, ‘Yes, I want to do that.’ And when they called and said, ‘You want to come?’ I said ‘Yes, I want to do that.’ It was one of those moments where I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do it, but I said yes anyway, quite similar to QVS, to L’Arche, to moving out here.”
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