Each summer — as the program year winds down — we invite Fellows to reflect on their experience and write a testimonial to share with Friends. Madison Wagner, a young adult Fellow who served in Philadelphia during the 2019-2020 program year, shares major takeaways below from the three core parts of the program: Service/Justice, Community, and Spirituality.
This year, as part of QVS, I was placed at Bread & Roses Community Fund. Bread & Roses is a social justice fund that raises money from individual donors in the community to provide grants, technical assistance, and leadership development to constituent-led, grassroots, social change organizations in the Philadelphia region.
As an associate for the Giving Project, I help our facilitator team coordinate and design various workshops about racial and economic justice, fundraising, and grassroots organizing. Solely from a knowledge perspective, this position has enabled me to learn so much more about our country’s legacies of both racial violence and resistance through organizing. I’ve also gotten a much clearer idea of how capitalism works as a system and an ideology. These topics are hard to confront, but necessary in the path toward liberation. I’ve been most grateful for the work I’ve been able to do about my own whiteness, and how I’ve internalized various elements of white supremacy culture. At my job site, we actively acknowledge harmful elements of white supremacy and take steps to dismantle it, through working more collaboratively, with less urgency and hierarchy, and with more flexibility. My work at Bread & Roses has equipped me with the skills to really show up as a white person in this work of dismantling oppressive systems, with both humility and confidence.
On a broader note, one of the biggest takeaways from my year in QVS is about failure. My supervisor has pushed me to get really okay with messing up, with making mistakes, with failing. Growing into a better person and taking risks will inevitably involve messing up. While it’s important to learn how to accept feedback and acknowledge any harm you’ve inflicted, these mistakes can result in some of the biggest learnings and transformation. This has been a hard pill to swallow growing up as a perfectionist. But it’s been so liberating to embrace, especially as I’ve grown more committed to unlearning internalized racism and understanding my role as an ally (where the fear of messing up can become immobilizing). Additionally, on a less related note, this year has offered me my first experiences with mentors and supervisors. I’ve been so grateful to learn how fruitful it can be to be able to ask for support from people I respect and am building a consistent relationship with.
“There’s a level of seriousness and commitment to this program that I really appreciate; we’re all young adults trying to figure life out and have normal amounts of fun, but we also want to intentionally grow and explore our relationships to spirituality and social justice work.”
Madison and her coworker dress up as Bread and Roses for Halloween!
My work experiences haven’t been the only impactful elements of this year. Even though I’ve had several collective living experiences before QVS, our house community has changed me and pushed me in innumerable ways.
If I’m being honest, at the beginning of the year, I had some pretty serious doubts about living well and becoming close friends with the assortment of strangers who were my housemates. But, over many QVS days, house conversations, 1-on-1 hangouts, and personal reflections, I not only learned to confront where my frustrations stem from on my end, but I also came to see the strengths in every single one of my housemates, who I’ve ended up becoming really really close with. I’ve always thought that my first impressions of people were pretty dead-on, and this year has challenged that idea. None of my housemates were obvious choices as friends when I met them, and yet I’ve learned to love them and really see how all of them have innumerable strengths and skills to bring to our community.
I’ve also learned a lot about conflict and about facilitating a decision-making process. It is hard! But so incredibly important and generative, both in terms of a community’s stability and in terms of personal growth. I’ve had to push myself to remain open to hearing other points of view, and listen to understand instead of to respond. This experience has really made me work on reminding myself that the way I see and think isn’t universal, and that everyone’s point of view is truly valid, even if I disagree with it. We all have stories and experiences which led us to form our set of values and opinions. It’s helpful to hear each other out and get curious about each other without judgment. I know many of my opinions and methods have been stretched or changed just by hearing out others’ ways of thinking and doing.
I started QVS very skeptical and otherwise disinterested in the spirituality aspect of the QVS program. This year has shifted that almost completely. Around January or February, a conversation with my spiritual nurturer helped me reframe why people have spiritual practices and spiritual communities to keep them grounded and accountable. At that moment, I just stopped holding so much judgment against people who are religious. Now, I am generally a lot more curious about people’s spirituality and spiritual practices, and even actively working on my own spirituality.
My house community has transformed my relationship with spirituality. Our weekly worship nights are some of my favorite things about this whole year. I never could have imagined doing this sort of thing with a house of my friends. There’s a level of seriousness and commitment to this program that I really appreciate; we’re all young adults trying to figure life out and have normal amounts of fun, but we also want to intentionally grow and explore our relationships to spirituality and social justice work. Our worship nights have felt incredibly important for our house to pause, come together, reflect, ground as a community, and explore modes of worship with a true openness around what they can do for us. It’s been so amazing to learn from other people about how they want to spend that time, and I know I’ll keep returning to conversations and practices that were bred from this ritual.
These communal spiritual practices have also helped me improve my own personal practices and self care. I’ve gotten better at confronting and understanding my bad habits. I find myself making smart goals, and setting practices that will set me up for the growth I want to see in myself. And, I’ve learned how to be okay with not being my best self around my housemates, even with asking for help when I’m depressed/anxious/sad.
These thoughts aren’t clean, but I think that’s pretty reflective of my experience this year. Growth is messy, non-linear, ongoing. What I do know is: I couldn’t have imagined a better, richer, more supportive experience than this QVS year. Our local support community always tells us we’re noble to be making sacrifices this year, but it’s never felt that way. Rather the opposite, that I’ve been given an abundance of tools, friends, mentors, and healthy environments that have set me up for continual growth going forward, in all aspects of my life.
More about Madison
Madison Wagner feels most at home in organized chaos, having grown up in the suburbs of Chicago sharing one shower with her five siblings. Since high school, she’s had the chance to live, work, and travel all over (including Colorado, Seattle, France, Tunisia, Vietnam, and Ecuador). Madison’s favorite things are exploring, dancing, and finding friends in unexpected places. At school (Scripps College in SoCal), she studied French and Africana Studies, disciplines which allowed her to engage with untold histories, Marxist political theories, issues around food justice and urbanism, gender theory, and film. Madison is always down to cook curry (spicy), chat about reproductive health, or support local artists, musicians, and comedians. She adores living in intentional communities, and can’t wait to deepen her experience in community organizing as a Fellow for the Bread & Roses Community Fund in Philly, where she’ll have the opportunity to gain exposure and insight into their thoughtful, democratic and grassroots work.