This winter QVS Executive Director Hilary Burgin shares with us her reflections on translating across generations.  

While my business card might say my job title is “Executive Director” I find myself often in the role of a translator. 

Many Fellows critique capitalism before, during, and after their year with Quaker Voluntary Service. What comes to mind for you when you hear the word ‘capitalism’? 

When asking Friends aged 50-90 this, I heard: 

  • “Reliance on the private sector to foster economic growth.” 
  • “An economic model that’s outlived its usefulness.”

When asking Fellows and Alums what they thought of when I said “capitalism”, I heard: 

  • “A bad, corrupt system… [an] opportunity to transform our system into one that is more just and community-oriented” 
  • “The evil triad of capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy that we need to take down …to build a liberated future”

You may be wondering, what does capitalism have to do with QVS? Why is Hilary talking about the economy? We believe if QVS’ mission is centered on young adults, then we’re required to honor and understand the perspectives of the current young generation.

“We believe if QVS’ mission is centered on young adults, then we’re required to honor and understand the perspectives of the current young generation.

Today, young adults considering QVS lived through the Great Recession, rising cost of living and education (e.g. student loan debt), and COVID-19 all before they discerned their vocational path. This essential context shapes how this generation communicates, their trust (or lack-thereof) of institutions and systems, and decision-making.

Therefore, the work of QVS includes translating between generations. Otherwise, we can talk past one another. 

When we translate, we can understand how we’re arriving from different perspectives to a conversation. When older Friends talk about capitalism, they often see a neutral system. When Fellows talk about capitalism, they are often talking about a desire for equity and justice. We’re not having the same conversation. One Friend astutely said: “When I was growing up, capitalism was the good guy against communism. The USA was immersed in the cold war. Now, capitalism is used as a term to describe inequality and oppression.”  

QVS staff and Fellows talk regularly about spiritual translation: the work of listening to what the chosen words mean to the speaker, rather than reacting to the words themselves. When you use the tools of spiritual translation cross-generation, it matters. It means that you get to be in “the river beneath the river” together. 

Your gift to Quaker Voluntary Service supports staff members who work as generational translators. You support young adults bringing curiosity (and agitation) to the nonprofit sector. You support local Friends accompanying Fellows as Spiritual Nurturers. You support outreach to young adults, welcoming and recruiting a new class of Fellows. You support growth and transformation.

Thank you!


More about Hilary (she/her)

Hilary (she/her) joined Quaker Voluntary Service in January 2015 as the Boston Coordinator. In that role, she supported three cohorts of Fellows through the QVS program. In November 2018, she stepped into the Executive Director role. Hilary sees QVS as an integral component of the Quaker movement the world needs now.

Connect with [email protected].

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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