Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) was founded in 2011 and though young in years, QVS sees itself as “a modern expression of a long-standing tradition of Spirit-grounded service and witness in the Quaker tradition.” The first QVS house was piloted in 2012 in Atlanta, GA. It was soon followed by others in Philadelphia and Portland, OR, Boston, and finally Minneapolis.
Since launching, QVS has placed more than 200 QVS fellows in meaningful jobs across the United States. QVS’s new Alumni Coordinator helps former Fellows stay connected with current QVS Fellows, their own program cohort, as well as with the Religious Society of Friends. This extends a year of engagement into a lifetime of benefit.
Half of QVS Alumni had not been involved with the Religious Society of Friends before doing QVS, but many report that their QVS experience built important life skills that also happen to be Quaker skills. These are: clerking and ‘clearness’ committee know-how, a sense of spiritual nourishment, and a connection with worship.
In 2020, QVS conducted an alumni survey and found that their organization builds lasting bonds among program participants. 90% of surveyed alumni maintain friendships with their QVS peers and 31% of respondents continue to live in intentional communities with QVS friends. 46% of surveyed alumni actually worship at a Friends meeting, church, or worship group.
We’ve interviewed Andrew Huff (QVS 2015-2016) about his year at QVS. He now works in Philadelphia as the Senior Case Manager for Bethesda Project’s Church Shelter Programs (he’s written a 2018 story, Life in a Box, about that shelter experience in Friends Journal).
Here is what Andrew has to say about his QVS year.
QVS emerged to meet a need – pairing young adults with work experiences that align with their values and interests. How did you find QVS and how did the career experience they offered meet your needs?
I found QVS at a time when I was seeking a post-undergraduate “experience” to help me clarify my immediate next steps in life.
I say “experience” in quotes because I didn’t have much direction at all at that point. I had just completed a major cultural milestone—college—and realized that whatever was “supposed” to come next was, actually, extremely uncertain.
What appealed to me about QVS was that it offered clarity about educational, professional, and vocational paths within the context of spiritual development and nurturing. I knew I wanted my educational, career, and other life goals to be firmly grounded in spiritual principles, but I didn’t quite know how to do that on my own.
During the site placement discernment process, I felt very drawn to Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP). I didn’t have any experience in medicine or homeless services, although I had volunteered for several years as a Patient Escort at Planned Parenthood, so I felt deeply connected to the work of accompanying people during moments of vulnerability or crisis.
I deeply appreciated that Hilary Burgin, who at the time was our Boston local coordinator, helped me think critically about this decision instead of just picking something randomly. My site placement at BHCHP was a thrilling and intense year where I was welcomed—and valued—as if I were a full employee at the agency.
I worked as a Case Manager at two different sites: the Center for Change day shelter and the BHCHP walk-in clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital. The work provided great material for spiritual reflection, but it also provided great professional development. For example, I got to experience superb supervision and underwhelming supervision; the autonomy to engage in job crafting; the fulfillment of mission-informed work; the contrast of working on a team and working alone; all of which helped me further discern what kind of career I am seeking and uniquely capable of fulfilling.
By the end of the fellowship year, QVS had given me significant real-life work experience that made me fully qualified to begin working as a Case Manager at Bethesda Project’s Church Shelter Program in Philadelphia, PA.
Why should this opportunity be on the radar of PYM meetings, and what should Friends be doing to be in relationship with QVS?
Young adulthood is confusing. Navigating the transition from being a college student to being a young professional is awkward.
QVS takes this transition seriously and honors its importance. There is something very transformative, meaningful, and joyful about making this transition in a spirit-led, intentional community of young adult peers. QVS supports young adults in a way that families, friend groups, and faith communities aren’t quite equipped to do individually.
Young, professional adulthood looks different today than it ever has before, and QVS is an organization that fully embraces and nurtures it. It creates a very affirming, spiritual container for young adults to go deep, work hard, and grow. I look back on my experience from 5 years ago and continue to be grateful that the foundation of my professional life was a year of spiritual discernment, reflection, nurturing, and intentional community.
From day one to your final week of work, what is the QVS journey like?
I’ve always described the QVS journey as intense, and I mean it. I found living in community to be infuriating, revelatory, and deeply meaningful all at once.
QVS will reveal your rough edges to you—and even though that can be very unsettling, it is also a gift. Oh my god is that really how I handle conflict? Is that how I talk to people about my feelings? Is this how I balance work and fun? Is this the place I give spirit in my daily life?
You will be surprised what you find out about yourself, but QVS ensures that you will confront these questions.
We live in a culture that encourages us to rush scatter-brained towards the next “thing”. Well, QVS is a yearlong experience of slowing down enough to consider how you want to be in the world, at work, in community, at home, alone, with others, with God, and really, genuinely think about those things. Like I said, that can be very uncomfortable, but again—what a gift.
QVS work projects are located in many geographic regions – how do all QVSers stay connected?
I participated in the first Boston cohort, and it seemed that our house focused most of our attention on one another and the local Quaker community. We didn’t seem to have much contact with the other QVS cohorts in other cities, perhaps because we felt deeply connected to the project of setting up the Boston community for the cohorts that would come after us.
What were your top three career “highs” during your QVS experience? Were there any lows? How did QVS change you?
Let me start with the career highs. One of my supervisors at BHCHP was the amazing Sarah Ciambrone, then the Director of Clinical Innovations.
Sarah generously mentored me on the core values of the organization and what it meant to demonstrate unconditional positive regard in a helping relationship.
I also deeply cherished my time working with another supervisor, Rachel Gannon, at the Center for Change day shelter.
Rachel brought such warmth, humor, and encouragement to our shared work. She believed in my potential to be a phenomenal Case Manager and helped me see that potential in myself. I continue to be grateful for the way both these women welcomed me into the work, held me to high standards, and encouraged me to excel.
Lastly, I have very fond memories of working with Cheryl Buchanan, a local poet and the director of the non-profit Writers Without Margins, to design a creative writing workshop for the participants at the Center for Change. I was inspired to contact her after one of the program participants shared his lifelong goal of writing a memoir.
About a year after I finished my QVS fellowship, I got a package in mail from Cheryl that contained the published writings of our workshop participants—including the introduction to my former client’s memoir.
Now for the career lows: I spent a lot of time wrestling with how to express unconditional positive regard for shelter guests who hold deeply homophobic beliefs that belittle my worth as a person. What does it mean to validate the humanity of others when those same individuals do not validate or believe in your own humanity? I never got clear answers, but I was grateful for the way this challenge led to rich conversations with members of the Local Support Committee and in our QVS house.
Another career low emerged in what I playfully called “Operation Escape from Massachusetts General Hospital.” Without exaggeration, I loathed the portion of my site placement that involved working at the hospital because my role there seemed like an afterthought. I was placed in an empty room, with no supplies, no supervision, and no clear job tasks and told to “do Case Management.” Excuse me? What? How?
With the support of QVS, I was able to recraft my schedule to dedicate more time each week at the Center for Change, and I eventually received some additional support at the hospital. But my time there never really improved. In fact, there may have even been a few times when I called in sick just so I could go work at the Center for Change that day instead.
Looking back, though, I have found value in the experience exactly as it was, mainly because it was my first opportunity to say, in a professional context: “I’m not happy with this; can we try something new?”, “I need more supervision,” “What if we tried this instead?” Sometimes a job, site placement, or experience is not fully formed when we get there, but that’s okay if we’re willing to proactively get involved improving them, or at least trying.
Upcoming March 7th panel discussion with Quaker Voluntary Service
QVS is hosting an Alumni Panel on March 7th from 4-5:30 pm. Panelists will share their transformational experience at QVS, and how they continue to engage in spiritually-grounded service and community today. The panel features four young adults:
- Olivia Chalkley, 2017-2018 Atlanta
- Paloma Collazo-Vargas, 2019-2020 Philadelphia
- Andrew Huff, 2015-2016 Boston
- Maire Moriarty, 2013-2014 Philadelphia
All panelists currently live and work in the Philadelphia area. For more information see the QVS Panel Discussion Event Announcement.