QVS City Coordinators are the cornerstone of the Fellow experience. 

In each city, Coordinators accompany young adult Fellows from the time of their interviews and selection to the program year’s closure. This includes building and delivering programming twice monthly for QVS Program Days, meeting with each Fellow monthly for mentoring and spiritual support, leading seasonal retreats, regularly evaluating Fellow and site supervisor performance, recruiting new site placements, and supporting Fellows in building relationships with local Friends.

The Coordinator role was originally designed as a half-time role (20 hours/week). In 2019, we surveyed Coordinators and found that they spend an average of 25 hours/week on QVS work. In weeks when staff must travel for National Orientation and staff retreats, or when Coordinators are away with Fellows for seasonal retreats, Coordinator hours far exceed the 25 hour threshold. Since 2019, with the support of numerous new and long standing supporters, QVS has increased compensation for Coordinators. Thank you to those who have contributed towards this important work.

 

The following interview with Eli Phillips, QVS’ outgoing Minneapolis/St. Paul Coordinator, illustrates the gifts Coordinators bring to our Fellows and the impact QVS has on our staff. This interview was conducted by Claire Hannapel, QVS’ Development Director.

Hi Eli! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with QVS. What led you to this position?

I see my path to QVS as following a long thread that started when I was 11. I started attending Opequon Quaker Camp then which was my first official entry into Quakerism. What resonated with me right away was the idea that any and all have access to Spirit, and we can find Spirit in the way the light comes through the trees, how the wind rustles the leaves… I’ve always found my spirituality connects the most in nature, and that felt very held within Quakerism, especially at camp. 

The next piece of the thread was returning to camp as a counselor, a role that I held for a few years. One of my former counselors had told me about Guilford College, a Quaker school in Greensboro, NC. So, camp led me to my college, where I found out about Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) and felt very clearly led to apply to be a Fellow. I ended up being selected as part of the first cohort in Minneapolis/St. Paul in 2018-19. That was a magical year; lots of hard work, leaning into challenge, all of which led to deep growth and transformation. I remember saying a few months into the year that someday I could see myself enjoying the City Coordinator role. Little did I know that the position would open up at the end of my Fellowship year. I applied for the position and felt so honored to be selected for the role. It felt like the Way opened pretty continuously to lead me to this role. A lot of things felt like they didn’t work out but those doors closing were necessary for the right doors to open.

What does your role entail?

I see this work as centering the experience of Fellows in our program. It involves a lot, and there are folks in a lot of different areas that support that experience. Working with local site placement agencies in recruiting new ones each year and maintaining existing relationships is a big facet of that work. Fellows spend 40 hours a week at their site placements so that feels like a really important aspect. 

Collaborating with local Friends is also huge. There are so many amazing people who have been/are part of my community through that, and have helped Fellows form community and engage in Spiritual life. 

Working with QVS staff is also a big piece of my role.

As far as directly working with Fellows, I meet with each of them monthly for a check-in. I plan and facilitate many QVS Program Days throughout the year (every other week), I invite co-facilitators, and I support Fellows in planning their own days as well. I see the direct work with Fellows very much as a role of accompaniment. My role is not to fix problems for Fellows, as hard as it can be to see and hear about struggles they might experience. Instead, my role is to provide tools for them to navigate their experiences. Every once in a while, something might really be amiss and that is when it feels like it is right for me to step in more directly. More often, though, it is to ask good questions, remind Fellows of their own power and agency, and help create reflective spaces to process and synthesize the experiences of a QVS year.

 

What tools or frameworks do you lean on in your role?

There are so many! I learn a lot of tools and frameworks from other QVS staff, Fellows, the internet, and beyond. One that has come up a lot this year is the stages of community, from M. Scott Peck. It’s a brilliant framework about forming community from his book, “The Different Drum.” Showing Up for Racial Justice has a brilliant resource on the characteristics (and antidotes) of White Supremacy Culture. That’s been great to look at both internally and at workplaces. It’s interesting thinking about this question, because these frameworks and others were mostly introduced to me during my QVS year. So much of what I look at is the same as it was then. The lessons keep unfolding as I dig deeper, and sit with them for longer. Some other cool ones that come to mind are Vent Diagrams, the podcast on Rest as Resistance, and Emergent Strategy by adrienne marie brown.

 

Over the last two years, what have you learned in this role?

I recently said to the Fellows and Local Support Committee that I’ve been thinking about how, often, the lessons of an experience aren’t that clear during or right at the end of that experience. The takeaways from my QVS year are still unfolding. So, what I have learned from this role will likely continue to reveal itself for years to come. 

Some of what I’ve learned that feels present at the moment is about boundaries. I think I knew a fair amount about them in theory, but having to practice them has been a real challenge. One thing is that naming a boundary is one thing, and it’s very different from actually holding that boundary within myself. That can be hard, especially when you care a lot. But remembering that setting and holding boundaries is actually an act of love and care has helped me grow in this. I’ve also learned a lot about what it means to show up and care about someone but not show up to fix what they are struggling with. Sometimes, sitting with a difficult thing and holding it in love, knowing that it won’t necessarily be fixed, is really all that is needed. But that feels so hard. Learning that support can be reminding people of their own gifts, strengths, and resilience has been a hard one, coming from the idea that support meant really showing up and directly working on an issue with the person, or taking challenges off their plate.

 

Where do you see Spirit in your work?

I see my role as a form of Spiritual accompaniment. I’ve gotten to explore my own spirituality more by way of it. I do see this role as spiritual, but sometimes I forget it. When that happens, I need to reground in that truth. I really struggled with Meeting for Worship on Zoom this last year or so. I carried a lot of guilt about not showing up for a while. Remembering that spirituality is happening throughout my work, and not just on Sundays, has been huge reminder for myself. I find Spirit in so many different ways and finding a regular practice of integrating it into my life and my work has been transformational in how I move through my work.

 

How do you see QVS contributing to movements for social change? How do you see QVS contributing to the Religious Society of Friends?

I think QVS connects intention to embodied practice. This feels true both spiritually and around movement work. A lot of Fellow applications express a desire to explore spirituality more. A lot of applications put forth a desire to put theory and knowledge into practice. I feel that QVS takes those intentions and gives Fellows the opportunity to really engage with that. What they do with that is up to them! 

By and large, it seems folks not only really dig into that during their year, but allow that to inform their next steps and it gets a lot of folks more involved in movements for social change in a long term capacity. QVS also bridges a desire that I’ve generally felt from the Religious Society of Friends to involve and include more young people. In some ways, by combining these elements, I see QVS as playing a role in moving the Society of Friends back towards its radical roots. 

 

What are you taking with you from this experience?

There is honestly so much that I am taking with me from this experience. I would say check back in with me in 6 months, a year, 3 years, 5 years, 10…but for now, some tangibles are real genuine, community, growth in my spiritual life, conflict transformation tools, time management skills, and a deeply held knowing that Spirit is in everything. I’m so grateful for this experience and for this opportunity.

More about Eli

Eli Phillips was a Fellow in the first Minneapolis cohort in 2018-2019. Following his fellowship year, Eli served as the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Coordinator for Quaker Voluntary Service. He supported two cohorts of Fellows in the program from 2019-2021. Eli came into Quakerism at age 11 as a camper at Opequon Quaker Camp, where he later returned as a counselor, staff member, and cook. Eli’s time at camp would lead him to Guilford College, a Quaker school, from which he has degrees in Music and East Asian Studies.

Eli is incredibly passionate about music and is a producer, collaborator, listener, and multi-instrumentalist. Eli is interested in further exploring the intersection of music and community and is hoping to co-create some kind of artist collective in the near future. Eli also loves to bike, climb, hike, cook, eat, and laugh.

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