BY GEORGIA RAWHOUSER-MYLET
One morning this week, I put on my sneakers and went for a jog in the morning before work. It was a sunny El Paso morning and the October air was finally cool. I started running, motivated to get my body moving before a day of work. In front of me were the Franklin Mountains, contoured in greens and browns lit up in the clear morning sun. I’ve seen and admired these mountains most days since I moved to El Paso; we can see them clearly from the driveway of the volunteer house. That morning they tugged at my senses and reminded me to leave my head and open to the world around me. I slowed to a walk so I could focus just on the mountains in front of me, trying not to dwell on the work day ahead and just be.
On my way back home I noticed in my neighbor’s garden a wall of vines with purple-blue flowers that I think were morning glories. Their deep color contrasted with the muted hues of desert browns and greens around me. I stopped to spend a moment, observing the blossoms.
I had been stressed that morning, maybe worried about work or building relationships in a new city. The simple act of disconnecting from my mind and focusing only on what I saw in front of me slowed my thoughts and brought me into the moment.
I returned from that walk with more resolve to work towards accepting the present this year.
This program and my placement bring up questions daily. Is my work impactful? How can I take everything I’m learning from my dedicated and brilliant coworkers and use it after this year? What is my role in social justice movements? What gives work meaning, and how can I use my beliefs about that to shape what I do after this year? What will I do after this year?! Questions and worries spring into my mind in the moments between calling clients at work or while eating dinner with my housemates.
Some of these questions are big and important, and I want to ask them persistently. But when these worries press relentlessly for solutions, I want to acknowledge them and then let myself not have the answers. In this moment, I am in a place of learning. I don’t know how I’ll take what I’m learning this year with me yet, or how best to work for social justice. I am striving to accept that and sit with my unknowing.
When my mind starts to dwell or I begin to feel overwhelmed with all the things I haven’t yet figured out, I want to connect to my senses and be present to where I am now. I will strive to reflect on rather than dwell on the unanswered questions, and become comfortable being where I am.
Georgia Rawhouser-Mylet (she/her) grew up in Portland, Oregon and graduated from Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa with majors in Political Science and Spanish. At Grinnell, she was involved with the Liberal Arts in Prison Program, where she coordinated academic programming for incarcerated students and tutored math and social studies in prisons. She was also a member of the choir and loves singing and is trying to learn to play guitar. In her free time, she likes cooking, gardening, hiking, crafting, listening to podcasts, and going on walks with friends. She is interested in politics and public policy, especially as tools of social justice. While living in El Paso, she hopes to continue improving her Spanish and learning new vocabulary words. She is excited and grateful to be a Loretto Volunteer this year and is looking forward to her work at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.
BY JAX VITEZNIK
I have always found it difficult to visualize anything new. When I first applied to the Loretto Volunteer program and accepted my placement with Loretto at the UN, I had no idea what to expect. It was my first time living outside of the Pacific Northwest, my first time working a full 40 hours, and the first time I was encountering adult life outside of college. But as I reflect on all my anxieties about the unknown, it is hard to remember. The Ford House, Denver, and Loretto feel like home now. My volunteer year feels like the most natural progression from leaving college and seriously considering how to shape my future with social justice, sustainability, and solidarity in mind.
Living in an intentional community has been the most lively and loving living situation that I have encountered. I imagined it was going to be similar to any roommate situation I had in the past, but I have found it to be a thoughtful and honest support system. Denver has also become a familiar place that I enjoy more than I expected too. I thoroughly enjoy the privilege of living in a place so close and connected to nature. But I have also been challenged by city living. I have seen the very palpable gentrification in the city and our Ford House neighborhood. Riding the bus around the city has shown me the two sides; as I wait for the bus in a still-developing public transportation system that primarily serves the BIPOC population, I am consistently passed by Teslas and SUVs. I also consistently encounter unhoused people and have been trying to unlearn my biases from growing up in a city with a similar housing crisis. Denver is a fun city to be in, but it is also a city that has made me grow in my understanding of how the city works and treats its citizens.
Another city that opened my eyes was New York City during my Loretto at the UN trip. It was thrilling to be in such and big and iconic city, and I felt incredibly proud of the fact that I had made it to Manhatten, even if it was for short time. Beth Blissman has been an exceptional mentor while I have been placed and working hard at Loretto at the UN. My trip to NYC was filled with our preparation for the International Day of the Girl, but also with many meetings and encounters with seasoned NGO Representatives from similar Catholic organizations as well as many partners from our Interfaith groups and associations. Loretto at the UN has been an incredible experience for me, allowing me to continue my major in International Relations with a focus on advocating for issues that matter deeply to me, such as girls’ education and climate change. I gained practical knowledge of the very complex UN, and am looking forward to the spring when the campus is hopefully open to civil society and can dream of the day I may work in those buildings.
Jax Viteznik (she/her) grew up in Portland, OR and attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. She is looking forward to her time and Denver and hopes to expand her role as an intersectional feminist, focusing on reproductive rights, racial justice, disability accessibility, and sustainability. Jax loves to travel and meet new people, but as an introvert at heart, she also loves to read, write, and spend time with her dog.
BY EMILY FORDHAM
Since arriving to Denver and beginning my journey as a Loretto Volunteer, I have stepped into so many spaces where growth and transformation have been necessary for existence. I feel so grateful to have been provided this opportunity for so many reasons, but especially for the ability to self-discover and learn through connections with those around me. I want to explicitly recognize how the privileges I hold have allowed me to take the time to volunteer for a year, and how by nature those privileges contribute to others’ oppression in the systems we hope to one day be able to change. Myself, and my fellow LoVos, are here because we can be.
Stepping into my first day in intentional community and later my first day at The Women’s Bean Project both had similar feels: I was completely awe-struck. At WBP, I was so amazed by the constant hum of projects being developed, women making delicious food products and coworkers caring for one another like family. I think that the LoVo community we have formed in Denver feels a lot like The Bean now. Both are interconnected communities of folks desiring to learn, grow and be intentionally in care of one another. The women who I am lucky enough to work and live alongside of have taught me so much about the power of difficult conversations, self-sufficiency, bravery, resilience and believing in myself.
This year I have set a broad intention to commit to paying attention to all things around me and to strive to act and advocate more justly- no matter how messy it may be. I feel so empowered and full of motivation to make change in my own life and that which is around me that I can influence. WBP and Loretto have begun to show me all that confidence, acquiring the skills needed to succeed, and having a community of supporters who believe in you can do to anyone’s life. I look forward with hope for the rest of this year to continue to expand my horizons in the tools of advocacy and further develop my skills as a young woman with a belief in a future that can be a better and brighter place.
Emily Fordham (she/her) grew up in Moorestown, NJ but also calls the town of Mashpee, MA her home, as she has spend many summers living, visiting family and working there. Emily graduated in May 2021 from Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, PA where she studied Psychology primarily, with minors in Autism Behavioral Studies and Philosophy. Emily has many hobbies including singing, going on long walks, playing ukelele, eating ice cream, and reading. Emily intends to explore all that Denver has to offer and looks forward to living in intentional community with fellow Loretto Volunteers and serving at The Women's Bean Project.
BY HAYLEY MORGAN
To embrace and experience a new city is a difficult task. It is lovely to visit but to become enmeshed into a community is an entirely different thing. I won’t pretend I know El Paso intimately, despite the deep love I’ve developed since arriving here. But, how was I going to immerse myself when I am restricted in the ways I can socially interact with the city and people around me?
BY BECCA KRASKY
On a recent Friday evening, I started pepper seeds in one of the empty bedrooms at my house: Early Red Sweet, Early Jalapeño, Tolli’s Sweet Italian Pepper, Beaver Dam Pepper, Carnival Blend of Sweet Peppers, and Orange Habanero. I only needed to start a few plants total, but reminded of last year’s pepper disaster, when I didn’t know pepper seedlings needed compost and thus produced the most wimpy, unable-to-withstand-the-scorching-sun-of-Denver pepper plants (only one of which survived the season), I went slightly overboard and planted six varieties.
We only need a few orange habanero plants, so I put those seeds in a tray next to the Carnival Sweet Peppers. I promptly dropped the tray face down on the carpet. There I was, laughing, realizing that Habanero seeds look the same as Carnival Sweet Pepper seeds, and of course, I’d spill the Habaneros, the only variety whose seeds I’d just used up. So, I replanted all the seeds I saw, back in the tray. As I wait for the seeds to germinate, I’m ruminating on parallels between life and seeds. You think you’re planting a beautiful Carnival Sweet Pepper but might end up with Fiery Habanero. Sometimes two options look the same on the surface, two pepper seeds, but will have wildly different outcomes.
BY ELYSE MCMAHON
“I’m not against immigration, I just wish people would do it legally.” Growing up, I heard that sentiment in various spaces: church gatherings, high school and college classrooms, and random grocery stores. As I learned more about the immigration system, I knew people who were saying things like, “they should just get in line” were missing the mark. I understood our immigration system was in need of serious reform (or an entire uprooting), but it wasn’t until I came to El Paso to work as an immigration legal assistant that I saw just how limiting “legal” immigration in our current system is. In the short six months that I have been in this role, I have witnessed countless examples of policies that are arbitrary, contradictory, and cruel.
BY MADELINE BEAULIEU
Douglas Adams once said, “Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” All humans are innately different and hold knowledge that is unique to their own beingness, but as Adams acknowledges, we rarely use this to our advantage.
BY ELYSE MCMAHON
2020 has been a year of uprooting. Uprooting the places, people, and thought patterns that made me feel most comfortable. I left the city where I had studied the past four years and said goodbye to friends who felt as close as family, not knowing when I would ever see them again. I returned to my childhood home and had countless uncomfortable hours to reflect on where I had been and where I was going. I knew at the end of summer, I would be flying 1700 miles away from home to embrace even more change. As someone who loves meeting new people and exploring new places, I am equally averse to change.
At the beginning of quarantine, I read a piece by Gloria Anzaldúa, “Now let us shift . . . the path of conocimiento.” She narrates the process of moving from one way of knowing to a new way of knowing or conocimiento. It is a process of inner transformation and uprooting. She writes,
“To learn what to transform into you ask, ‘How can I contribute?’ You open yourself and listen to la naguala and the images, sensations, and dreams she presents...Your inner voice reveals your core passion, which will point to your sense of purpose, urging you to seek a vision, devise a plan. Your passion motivates you to discover resources within yourself and in the world. It prompts you to take responsibility for consciously creating your life and becoming a fully functioning human being, a contributing member of all your communities, one worthy of self-respect and love.”
Holding Anzaldúa’s words of advice close to me, I moved to El Paso and stepped across the threshold into the next stage of my life characterized by an unfamiliar language, vast mountains, and 100+ degree weather
BY BECCA KRASKY
This fall I’ve been reflecting on endings and beginnings, which seem to happen quite often in young adulthood. In July, my first year as a LoVo ended, in August, my second year began. Elections are endings and beginnings. Fall is an ending and a beginning. A recent ending for me was the conclusion of my Permaculture Design Course (PDC) through the Denver Permaculture Guild in early October, which marked the beginning of the “rest of my life”.
Permaculture is a holistic way of seeing the world by recognizing patterns in nature, and designing systems with those patterns. It focuses on abundance and adaptation, and the positive impacts people can have working to heal the land. While the structured world of permaculture was “founded” in the 1960s by two white European ancestry men in Australia, the methodologies and worldviews are really a compilation of indigenous wisdom and traditional ecological knowledge. My course, through the Denver Permaculture Guild, was entirely online due to COVID-19, but still managed to be a life-changing experience. One weekend per month, my thirty classmates and I logged onto Zoom, and spent the weekend together learning about the permaculture design process (both in ecological landscape design and human systems), and all of the ways to redesign our society to return to a right relationship with Earth.
We often referred to the class as “drinking from the fire hose”. Amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice uprisings after the police murder of George Floyd in my home city of Minneapolis, and the record-setting wildfires of this summer, this course helped me envision alternate futures of abundance and peace.
BY SARAH CRITCHFIELD
There’s something so sweet about a fresh start.
The end of my college career came abruptly and unforgivingly. Quarantine was spent scrolling online for hours and weeping white woman tears at the hopelessness of public health that hinges on individual choice. Could being asked to care for a stranger by covering your cough with cloth really spark an ideological divide? I was ripped out of my childish naivete as the importance, immediacy, and presence of illness, racism, and capitalism bled into my privileged and protected worldview.
This upheaval of my immediate surroundings struck my heart with constant questions. Jeanette Winterson asks, “Why is the measure of love loss?” I felt so much loss and was trying to pull the love out of those nostalgic achings. Scrambling between Facetimes and phone calls, my friends and I daydreamed about human connection and change.
I did not realize this change would glow like an El Paso sunset or that I’d fall in love with the world all over again.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.