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Young Adult Volunteer program provides fulfillment and challenge

From Dallas to Denver, YAV balances demands of a service-based life

by Judy Everett Ramos, Director of Communication, Grace Presbytery | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Melissa Rift. —Photo provided

Melissa Rift. —Photo provided

Melissa Rift is living in Colorado as a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program. Young adult volunteers like Melissa Rift explore God’s calling in their lives while living as part of a Christian community in YAV partner sites around the world. Rift, whose home church is Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church, said she knew about the program for a long time and was always interested in the YAV experience. Rift’s sister also had an influence on making the decision to apply to YAV program.

“My twin sister, Emily, was working as an AmeriCorps volunteer in New Orleans and happened to work for a nonprofit that employed a few YAV participants every year. Through her relationship with the New Orleans YAVs I came to learn more about the program and everything it had to offer,” Rift said.

The time was right for joining YAV. Rift said she was completing her master’s degree in social work and marriage and family therapy and wanted to work in the field in an area that matched her background. That is how she ended up in the Mile High City.

“I am currently living in Denver, working at an agency called Urban Peak,” Rift said. “Urban Peak is a nonprofit that offers several services to homeless youth in Denver. I function as a full-time staff member working as a case manager in the Drop-In Center. There are a number of things that youth experiencing homelessness can access there. We have basic needs services like hot breakfast, showers, laundry, hygiene products, computers, phones, mail boxes, and more.”

Rift said other services they provide go beyond basic needs.

“We also hold life-skills classes as well as offer case management services, such as connecting clients to housing opportunities, detox and rehab centers, hunger relief, and other services offered in the area,” she said. “At Urban Peak, I feel that I get to use my skills as well as foster meaningful relationships with the clients who access our services.”

There is also time spent being a YAV that occurs outside Rift’s work placement.

“As YAVs, we have committed ourselves to five core tenets of the program—intentional community, [simple living], social justice, spiritual formation, and vocational discernment,” said Rift. “We engage in weekly community days with alternating focuses on each of these tenets. Through our community time, we participate in activities that expose us to the local community, such as the experiences of marginalized populations and multi-faith experiences. We have visited multiple places of worship over the past few months. We have spent a lot of time outdoors exploring Colorado and challenging ourselves physically and mentally.”

Rift said her YAV experience is about what she expected, but she said the key to not being caught off guard is to start the YAV year with an open mind. Relying on her social work skills, learning to live with new roommates, and being very busy are what Rift said she tried to plan for when she signed up for the YAV program.

“The spiritual formation piece has been different than I’ve expected,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much PC(USA) churches were in my comfort zone until we attended churches with very different styles of worship. That’s something YAV really stresses, exploring your discomfort zone when it comes to spiritual formation, and I really appreciate that.”

Rift said she has some advice for anyone thinking of YAV participation.

“Have those hard conversations with yourself before you begin your year and really examine your motives behind your year,” she urged. “I had originally looked in to going to South Africa with a different program, and I took a hard look at why I was interested in the things I was pursuing. Ultimately, it led me to this placement and I think it’s the best fit. Look at each of our tenets and examine how you would feel if you had to face each of those to the extreme. That’s not always the case here, but it helps prepare you for when you will be challenged. If you decide it’s for you, lean in to the discernment process and find what is going to have a balance of fulfillment and challenge. This program is incredible if you trust the process that it takes to get here.”

Rift also said it helps to understand that there will be times when a YAV feels vulnerable, and that is to be expected.

“Vulnerability is probably my favorite human experience because it ties in to whole-heartedness,” she said. “That’s the approach I’ve tried to take this year, going whole-heartedly into every experience and allowing myself to ride out whatever comes of that. One of my favorite social researchers is Brené Brown, and she has a pretty famous Ted Talk on vulnerability, which is aligned with my approach.”


Keep up with Melissa by following her blog at

Support the Young Adult Volunteer program by donating at this link.

Supported in part by your gifts to the Pentecost Offering.

June 1 is the deadline to apply for national placement in the 2016-17 YAV program. Student loan repayment assistance is available during the service year.

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