After an exciting week of orientation in Stony Point, New York, I, along with my fellow YAVs, Lukus and Jake, have made it to our site in Austin! This past week has been a whirlwind, but orientation did bring me a sense of renewal that I will try to bring to my new community and to my work placement.
We are slowly but surely getting acclimated to our new home in Austin. We’ve been getting to know everyone living in AYAVA house, as our community is made up of YAVs, Episcopalian Service Corps, and Americorps. Yesterday morning, our site coordinator showed us around Austin Seminary, and yesterday afternoon, we were able to use some free time time to go to the Texas State Capitol!
The Texas Capitol definitely proves true to the saying, “Everything’s bigger in Texas.” It’s the second largest capitol building in the US… second only to the US Capitol itself. I was impressed with how accessible it was; free to enter, and visitors can easily go in the house and senate gallery. (Though not the house gallery currently, as it’s being renovated.) I enjoyed learning about some of the many interesting women in Texas history, such as Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards, but I have to say, finding out that the gift store stocks stuffed animal versions of Rick Perry’s dog was something we all found a bit unusual. Then again, none of us are from Texas.
At last week’s orientation at Stony Point, all the YAVs were encouraged to center our awareness, and to recognize the social privileges we carry with us. In this mindset, one of the first things I found myself noticing was that Austin has a serious lack of affordable grocery stores, at least here in the northern side of the city.
There’s an H-E-B not too far away that all of the AYAVA house residents can carpool to, so this isn’t so much of an issue for us. However, just walking around, we quickly noticed that there were not many grocery stores, and the ones that were there were organic groceries or co-ops. While I’ve nothing against such stores, per se, they’re expensive, and those living in poverty in an urban area like Austin are not likely to be able to afford to buy such food. In addition, anyone who doesn’t own a car wouldn’t have the freedom of movement we have to easily get to the H-E-B.
On observing this, I was curious about whether Austin has any food justice organizations, particularly because the YAV placements here focus predominantly on immigration and public policy. I found out later in the evening that one of the Episcopal Service Core members living in AYAVA House is working for a sustainable food center. This is one of the great things about AYAVA House; we all have a diverse set of work placements, so we’ll have a lot to learn from each other!
I am excited to start work on Tuesday; I will be working at a Methodist nonprofit called Justice for Our Neighbors, which provides legal services for immigrants. I do not know much about immigration law (they don’t teach that in music school) so this will be a completely new learning experience. You can definitely expect to hear more about JFON in future blogs!
Getting settled in Austin has so far been a positive experience, and I am excited to begin work and to spend more time with our AYAVA community!