When looking back on my year in Service Adventure, I initially felt overwhelmed. How could I sum up an entire life-changing 10 months in a few paragraphs? I decided to think of a few words that came to mind when I thought back over this last year: community, adventure, and love.
Community is something that needs to be built and tended to. When we attended our very first church service, I remember looking around thinking, "You're gonna get to know these people; this is your new church family, your new community!" My home church in Ontario is a small congregation full of sweet people, mostly retired/elderly folk. We are a tightknit community that often puts on potlucks, community barbecues, and interesting Sunday school discussions. I was happy to come to Albuquerque and find a similar environment that felt familiar enough to relax me. I soon got to know members of the congregation through fellowship over meals, fun game nights, cookie decorating, and scattered youth events. I'm so thankful for the support from my church community this year, both as an individual and as a Service Adventure participant.
Speaking of community, there has been a great sense of friendship and support within the Service Adventure household this year. Our group has made real, deep, honest connections with one another that I think we will always cherish. I have felt a sense of community in our household routines of meal planning, grocery shopping, and chores. I have felt myself opening up to be honest with the people around me, and growing real friendships based in trust and love. I always look forward to dinner every night because I know we will all sit down, exchange funny stories, listen to any struggles, go over the latest upcoming activity, and just be goofy, as friends are. The long road trips and meeting new people along the way have also allowed us to grow closer together when facing something new. I have so enjoyed experiencing new things with familiar people and being able to process it together later. It has caused us to grow stronger together and will only make it harder when it's time to say goodbye.
Next, I want to focus on the adventure part of this year. I am the type of person who likes to keep moving, who enjoys routine in small doses, and who always wants to push myself out of my comfort zone. The adventure aspect of this program for me was more than just traveling around in or out of the state. It was also about going somewhere without my friends or immediate family and experiencing something totally new for myself. Adventuring by starting a new job, talking to new people at work, setting up my things in a new room. Adventuring by exploring our own neighborhood, and going to the YMCA for the first time. New beginnings are always an adventure to me.
Leaving home to explore new things also came with challenges. I definitely struggled with homesickness throughout different points this year. Having a loving family and boyfriend is such a blessing, but it can also make leaving them so much harder. Throughout this year, I have had to develop an inner strength and resiliency and learn to dig deeper and rely on myself more to get through struggles.
Finally, and in some ways most importantly, is love. I have felt and reciprocated so much love this year: through my work, my housemates, my host family, and my church community. Every day when I walk into the preschool at work, the kids sitting on the carpet for circle time get up and run toward me for a big hug. This is my favorite part of the day because I am immediately greeted in a warm embrace by a group of charging 3- and 4-year-olds. I've felt so much love and appreciation through these kids that I honestly can't express on paper. These children have impacted my life so much that I've grown to love them and will miss them all dearly.
This year has also been a very special opportunity to spend more time with my aunt and uncle, whom I normally get to see maybe once a year. Being able to spend time with both of them and having opportunities to connect more has been a blessing that I will always cherish. It's been so awesome being able to do things such as meeting up with my aunt at different protests, going out for breakfast and having meaningful conversations, exploring New Mexico through hikes and road trips, going out on tea dates, or just staying home and watching a movie. I have felt so loved and cared for throughout my time spent with them and am sad that soon these opportunities are coming to an end.
Lastly, love has been spread all around our Service Adventure home this year. The support that each of us provides to one another has been really meaningful to me. Small expressions of love have been shown through cooking meals for each other this year or taking the time to guide someone (and I'm mostly referring to me) on how to properly care for and maintain our bikes. Asking each other how our days went and genuinely caring when someone had a bad day, or thanking someone when they took the extra time to do something nice for the house, are just a few of the examples of the love I've felt. This group has been an amazing example of how to love one another and live in harmony together.
To conclude, I want to thank the church once more for supporting this program and allowing all of us to create our own life-changing memories this year. I am going to miss so much about this place: our house, the beautiful weather, our church congregation, my aunt and uncle, and my second family I've made. These final weeks are a bittersweet experience for me; I am excited to reunite with my family and start the next chapter of my life, but I will always miss my Albuquerque home once I'm gone.