Each summer — as the program year winds down — we invite Fellows to reflect on their experience and write a testimonial to share with Friends. Erica Loredo Belfi, a young adult Fellow who served in Portland during the 2021-2022 year, vulnerably discusses the discomfort and grief she experienced this last year, and how she prioritized her growth and commitment over her comfort.
My QVS experience has been a struggle. For a while, the struggle was finding my footing in a community of strangers. Establishing a baseline of trust, respect, and mutual concern was harder than I expected, and we had moments as a community house where that baseline was disregarded, and we had to rebuild. I by no means expected the year to be easy, but I did not anticipate wanting to end my experience early.
I most often keep my grounding in weekly trips to the local library, carrying home new books by the armfuls. I ride the bus back home, loving the freedom that public transportation provides and finding comfort in the reminder of my smallness in a city. As a Fellow with a remote site placement, I make sure to get out of the house and walk every day. I travel along the same two or three streets where I know I will run into the most neighborhood cats, many of whom are used to me stopping to pet them. In the type of intense community that QVS establishes, I need regular solitude to keep my head. It took me a long time to figure out that one of the best ways to maintain a community is to temporarily step away from it on a regular basis.
But even with this insight, I thought about stepping away from the program permanently. I would call my family and friends weekly, filling them in on the latest updates and frustrations I had concerning the house. At the time, I was feeling emotionally drained, unappreciated, and unseen.
I was mentally exhausted by world news about the new war in Ukraine, gun violence around the U.S., and discouraged that no matter how hard I worked at the War Prevention Initiative — my site placement, which is dedicated to demilitarization and nonviolent conflict mediation — it wasn’t going to be enough. I was struggling in my relationships with a few of my housemates. I felt uncared for and at times disrespected in our interactions, and I couldn’t see the possibility for change. I experienced a death in my family, and I was grieving 2,500 miles away from home.
When I spoke to my family and my most trusted friends, they all reiterated the same sentiment: Why don’t you leave the program? Why, they asked, are you still pushing yourself through it?
I was struck by the suggestion that I would leave early, but as I reflected on it, I realized it was telling that the people closest to me all suggested the same thing. I couldn’t clearly answer their questions beyond my sense of obligation to a commitment I made to the program and to my site placement. I left each conversation feeling stuck.
I returned to my journal, flipping through the pages and thinking about the past months. I came across an idea I had written down months ago, from a conversation on spirituality that I had with my housemates. It read: “Love is being invested in the (spiritual) growth of another person. And sometimes, it’s space.” Meaning, in order to care for one another – to allow for growth – sometimes the kind of love we are required to give in the moment is space: physical and emotional room to stretch, to fall, to feel overwhelmed.
I needed space. I needed to allow myself more grace to feel overwhelmed and be okay with it.
I considered taking that space at home in Ohio, away from the program, but I knew that wasn’t going to give me the closure that I wanted in this experience. I needed to find space in this community. There is potential for so many different things to happen in the last few months of the program, including change. If I cut things short, I would never see those possibilities unfold. Part of what I needed to do was reiterate my needs to the community we created and figure out how to adjust without ideal circumstances.
The light is clarity, neither good nor bad, but serves in the process of discerning the various parts of oneself. For me, recognizing the light is finding clarity in myself, my purpose, and the experiences that have shaped me. This process requires spaciousness. I want to open up to the light – to find transparency in myself through this experience. I have chosen to keep searching for it, here.
Nowadays, I take more solo adventures around Portland, have made more of an effort to reach out to Local Support Committee friends, and when I have space in my job to do so, I have stopped reading so much of the news. Given all of the struggles and grief of this year, I have felt a strong pull to step away from the QVS program. But for these last few months, I have decided to prioritize my growth over my comfort. I am not sure where my decision to stay will leave me, but I am ready to find out.
More about Erica
Erica Belfi (she/her) is from a rural area outside of Cleveland, Ohio. She graduated from Haverford College near Philadelphia, PA with a major in Political Science, minor in Health Studies, and concentration in Peace, Justice, & Human Rights. She began to explore Quakerism at Haverford College and lived for two years in Haverford’s Quaker House, a student-run communal living and organizing group on campus. During her time at Haverford, Erica also worked as a student associate at the Center for Peace & Global Citizenship, at the college’s library, and as a co-head to the Quaker Bouncers. She is especially passionate about issues related to health — human and environmental — and invested energy in disability affinity and advocacy groups on campus as well as in the AIDS Service Network.
In her spare time, Erica loves to run, read, cook with friends, and play music on her flute and cello. In the future, she plans on pursuing a career in human rights law and public health. Erica will be serving as a Ray Jubitz Peace Fellow with the War Prevention Initiative, an organization that focuses on demilitarization and peace building in conflict.
Why participate in QVS instead of applying for a job directly with a nonprofit?
QVS partners with organizations that otherwise might not be able to hire someone to help build up their capacity (perhaps adding a new role or helping spearhead a new campaign). QVS Fellows are also offered greater wrap-around support in their QVS city (housing and intentional community, training in conflict resolution and anti-oppression work, spiritual accompaniment) to help them engage in service long term and avoid burnout.
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