Young Adult Volunteers rising to lead in a time of crisis

YAVs prove able to shift, adapt and learn on the fly

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Luke Rembold on top of the Sandia Crest Mountains east of Albuquerque, New Mexico, during local orientation. (Photo by Nathaniel Williams)

LOUISVILLE — While Luke Rembold isn’t grateful for the circumstances of the current COVID-19 crisis and the pain and fear it is causing, he is grateful for the way he sees his Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) responding.

Rembold is site coordinator for the Albuquerque YAV site and youth and young adult ministry coordinator for the Presbytery of Santa Fe. A former YAV himself, he is currently walking alongside four YAVs and is finding strength, resilience and opportunities for them to take leadership roles they might not otherwise have.

“I think this crisis is a rich learning opportunity for YAVs,” he said. “As someone who has worked with young adults for most of a decade, I’m constantly advocating that we carve out more space for our young people to lead us and I think this is a time for that to happen.”

Rembold says in some congregations, young adults have been able to use their knowledge of technology to help their congregations think digitally and help with new ways of worshiping, including live-streaming.

“It’s a fairly seamless transition for young folks to go to a virtual and digital world, something we’ve given them a bad rap for a long time because they are always on their phones,” he said. “Now it’s reality for everyone and we’re realizing: Hey, they really know what they’re doing. Suddenly, we see that knowledge as valuable. It always has been but it’s such a shift in the way that we have traditionally done things that we couldn’t quite see before.”

Two of the Albuquerque YAVs are currently working remotely from the home the YAVs share together. Another works at a shelter for young adults who are homeless or facing housing instability. The other was working largely in an office providing important data about the homeless population. Their entire administration building has been shut down, so he has shifted to working in the field.

“It’s been fascinating to watch him and see how excited he is about what he is doing. Rather than responding with fear or wishing he was able to do his old job, he’s been thrilled to learn something new and engage with people in a new way. He has shifted from a more digital platform to a more people-based platform. He’s learned a lot about safety and hygiene protocols as well. He has been able to let go of what he was doing and move into a new reality. It’s inspiring to watch,” he said.

Rembold says he believes that many of the core tenets of the YAV program have helped the YAVs make a smooth transition because they have been enacting practices like intentional community all along. They must learn to work out problems together, such as who gets to set up their home workspace in the dining room and who must work in their bedroom.

“It takes a lot of hard conversations and very direct communications and that is only amplified when those are the people you are spending that much more time with now,” he said. “Watching them work through that as a community, how to meet their own needs and work to accommodate one another in stressful times, requires them to offer a lot of grace and understanding at a time when they may not feel they are at their best.”

A joint border delegation with the Tucson Borderlands YAV site and the Austin YAV site in November. (Photo by Alison Wood)

Through the YAV program, site coordinators strive to engage YAVs in questions around identity. Questions include these: “How do I define myself by the work I do? How do I define myself by the community that surrounds me? How do I define myself by my productivity?” The current crisis has many people asking these same questions of themselves. Rembold said he believes YAVs can be leaders in this conversation as well.

Laura, a Tucson YAV, wrote about productivity in her blog:

“This year has challenged my idea of productivity. I have always thought of a productive day as one where I turn a to-do list into a to-done list. A productive conversation is one where there is a set outcome and action steps decided, right?

“As a YAV house, we have weekly community check-ins. Sometimes these meetings address specific issues: budgeting, community chores, schedules, etc. But other times we take time to have conversations that are really needed, but don’t have a defined outcome. We talk about how each of us is doing, how we are feeling about our community, work, and families. Sometimes there are lots of laughs during this and other times it is more serious. All of this is good. All of this is necessary. All of this is productive.

“A few weeks ago, while building a ramp one day for a Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona client, we sat down for a lunch break. Usually this takes about 30 minutes, but that day, the client’s caregiver struck up a conversation and we sat and talked for close to an hour. Sure, this slowed us down. If we were more focused and worked faster, we could have gotten further along on that day’s project. But every moment of that day was fruitful.”

Rembold, a former Tucson YAV, is a cradle Presbyterian raised in the Pacific Northwest. Family members for generations have been Presbyterian pastors.

“Ministry is something that is in the family, but my parents are educators, and I continue to learn from them,” he said. “In terms of my own vocational discernment, I’ve found an intersection of ministry and education. My folks remind me, you can have the same curriculum every year, but it’s always going to look different. The question is how we shift and adapt and learn on the fly.”

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