Hello from Austin!
It’s been almost exactly a month since I arrived here to begin this year of service; it’s been a fruitful month of learning and living and growing in intentional community, and it has seriously gone by fast.
AYAVA house had our first retreat last weekend; It was lovely to get out of the city, spend some time with each other, process the past few weeks and enjoy nature. We cooked for one another, enjoyed sunrises, sunsets and stargazing, and spent a morning sharing our spiritual autobiographies. It’s always important to remember that everyone comes from different places based on their varying life experiences, and in a large community like AYAVA (YAV, Americore, and Episcopalian Serivce Corps), the time we took to put that into perspective was incredibly valuable.
After the retreat, we were all brought back to the real world of work, fortunately rested and renewed. It also rained this week, and the hot weather has broken- It’s a Texas miracle! Rain really does symbolize new beginnings in Texas. Louis Sachar was on to something when he wrote Holes. Or he was just making use of an age old archetype… (Probably the latter)
Work at JFON (Justice for our Neighbors) got pretty busy toward the end of this week, so Wednesday to Friday. I would explain more, but I figure it’s best not to launch into what would probably be a poor explanation into various immigration forms and what they do. After all, they were just letters and numbers to me three weeks ago.
While, as I said, I’m not going to tell you about form numbers, I am going to talk a little more about Austin Region JFON, where I work. As I learn more, so do you all!
Justice for Our Neighbors is a national nonprofit that provides low cost legal services to immigrants; this is the overarching concept, but each JFON site can have a different focus.
In Austin, a large portion of cases are SIJ, which stands for Special Immigrant Juvenile. I’m going to attempt to explain it, but I’m also going to attach the USCIS page in case you want the official government explanation:
SIJ status can be granted to undocumented minors who arrive in the US if they were neglected or abandoned by a parent and it is deemed unsafe for them to return to their home country. They are often sponsored by a family member living here in the US. Through the SIJ process, it is possible to get a green card for permanent residency.
Every day, I learn more about the minors we serve, their stories, and the lives they have and hope to have in the US. Every day, I am angered by human injustices such as violence and poverty, especially as these are things these kids have faced. Yet every day, I’m also amazed by the human capacity for love and for passion and aspiration. The SIJ kids that we serve have hopes, dreams and ambitions. They have hobbies they love and family and friends that they love. These are the generalized versions of all the things I get to process whilst filling out immigration forms. Welcome to the YAV Program y’all.
I am also grateful for the people I work with at JFON; four intelligent and dedicated women who are passionate about the work they do. The Methodist church that houses our offices is warm and welcoming, and often bustling, as they host a variety of ministries. JFON has recently been getting donations of backpacks from another local Methodist church; they’re slowly taking over the office floor, but the kids are always excited to get one. The generosity of the churches and volunteers that help support JFON is such a wonderful thing to witness.
I’m excited to see what the rest of this year will bring in the AYAVA community and at JFON. This first month has brought so much, from solace, to sadness, to amazement and to gratitude. Onward into the next month.