NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) — When it came time for Corinne Jager to decide what to do between high school and college, she sought distance away from where she grew up in Pennsylvania so that she could grow further on her own.
Moving across the country to Oregon to join Mennonite Mission Network's 10-month Service Adventure program in Albany fit the bill, Jager said during the unit house reunion Zoom call she attended on Sept. 23.
Jager, with fellow 2008-09 program alumni Alli Eanes, Josh Kanagy, and unit leaders Curt and Karin Weaver, shared memories of the gap year designed for 17- to 21-year-olds. (Fellow participant Eve Janzen, of Germany, was not on the Zoom call).
"The social justice bug was seeded in my high school years and had been growing ever since my family started going to a Mennonite church when I was 12," Jager shared on the interview led by Susan Nisly, Service Adventure director. "Becoming part of the intergenerational community in our unit household really helped those seeds to grow even more."
"I got to have relationships with Curt and Karin, who were older like my parents, but who weren't my parents," Jager recalled. "They held the space for us burgeoning 18-year-olds to be ourselves, and they were never disappointed in where we were at on our journey. They were always encouraging us."
Part of that affirming power was the balance struck between the fun and the serious, the hanging out and the volunteer work, the freedom to question and the choice to decide.
In the comic category was the time that Eanes, a volunteer at an elementary school in Albany, ran into a student while the unit was trick-or-treating during Halloween. "I put a pillowcase over my head because [I was dressed in a crazy costume], and I didn't want the student to recognize me," she said.
Add to that memory the time when Kanagy and the Weavers' small son, Jonathan, gave Rosie, the household cat, a shower. It didn't end well: A traumatized feline. A wet floor. Scratches on arms.
The ever-present silliness spiced up the more mundane food shopping trips and balanced out the serious check-ins with the leaders. Spur-of-the-moment antics wove through star gazing, cranberry picking, beach bonfire building and harmonizing to the music of Coldplay.
"I have a lot of warm, fuzzy, cozy memories, with lots of good music," Kanagy said. "Lots of drinking tea. We were just a big family, and it was really special."
That coziness helped provide a safe space to explore faith and take some risks. Kanagy found the freedom to explore issues he hadn't before, including discrimination and oppression. "It felt really good to have honest conversations about these things, and it was the beginning of my becoming an activist in the context of the church by pushing against some conventions," he said.
More than 10 years beyond the 10 months
More than 10 years since that slice of shared life, the once very young adults are older and settling into careers. Eanes works as an elementary school teacher in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Kanagy, who in Service Adventure served as a nursing home activities coordinator, now lives in Portland, working as a counselor for children and youth. And Jager, who served in mediation for her assignment, lives in Boston, where she works as a fundraiser for a global organization that challenges abusive corporations.
The hard and happy of young-adult formation helped form intergenerational bonds, as did the older teenagers becoming big brother and sisters to the unit leaders' small children, Jonathan and Chloe.
"It wasn't easy, because you're this disparate group of folks that have to figure out how to live in community," Karin Weaver said. "Not only did we have to move our family and live with four teenagers, they had to live with our two little kids."
The family bonds continue. For example, Kanagy is still a part of the Weaver family in Portland. It's where Curt Weaver serves as a pastor of children and youth at Portland Mennonite Church, and Karin Weaver is a palliative care social worker. Kanagy, whose name is on the family's Netflix account, continues to be a big brother to the children who will soon be the age he was when he first met them.
"We first learned to know these guys when they were 17, 18," Curt Weaver said. "Then we watched how they grew and what they ended up doing with their lives."
It has been an amazing transformation from wet cats and Halloween costumes to fruitful careers and faithful lives. "We are just extremely proud of them," he said. "They turned into really cool people."
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know has a Mission Network service story to share, let us know! Head over to MennoniteMission.net/Alumni for other alumni interviews and to schedule your own. For more information about Service Adventure and other Mission Network programs, go to MennoniteMission.net/Serve