What I Learned This Year

by Torey Siebart

Program Manager and Site Liaison to Pine Ridge, Pittsburgh, Poland, Northern Ireland, and Italy, Nick Grimes, shares his year of in-person programming and facilitation. 

I joined the Amizade team in January 2020. It was an exciting time, and I was eager to travel. In fact, by early February, I already had my flights booked to facilitate my first program in Italy in mid-March. Then COVID-19 hit and the whole world was seemingly turned upside down. What followed over the next two years was difficult for all of us, Amizade included. Our work was suddenly unethical and, in many cases, illegal due to travel restrictions. Over the next several months, we completely pivoted to virtual programming. This lasted until March 2022, when we finally relaunched our in person programs (although, we still run virtual and hybrid programs today and plan to continue for a very long time).

In mid-March, I got my first opportunity to facilitate an Amizade program in The Navajo Nation. And just last week, I finished facilitating my last in-person program for the year in Washington D.C.  After my first year of travel programming, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned this year.

My first program was to the Navajo Nation with Agnes Scott College, a historically all women’s college in the Atlanta area. While a few of the students had some experience working in rural settings, the majority had spent most of their lives living in the city or suburbs. However, when it came time for the service, it was virtually impossible to tell which students came from where. Whether it was splitting wood the old-fashioned way with axes, digging out an old irrigation canal for several hours, or butchering a sheep, every single one of the students was open to trying and doing things outside of their comfort zones. After 2 years of COVID, these students proved to be eager for new experiences.

Over the course of the spring/summer/early fall, I ran multiple programs to Washington D.C., both with college groups from the US and high school groups from Northern Ireland. These programs were focused on three fundamental issues we face in the United States but are amplified in the nation’s capital: Homelessness, Food Insecurity and Gentrification. While these issues were at least vaguely familiar to most of the students, most of them only had the most basic understanding of the root causes.

Nick and students from Northern Ireland at Martha’s Table in Washington, DC.

Again and again, I was surprised by the attentiveness the students showed our speakers from The National Coalition for the Homeless as they explained how they came to experience being homeless and the policies and services that helped them to overcome the situation. I was also impressed by how hard the students worked at our partner sites, such as Martha’s Table, which provides tens of thousands of meals per year to people facing food insecurity in the greater D.C. area, and So Others Might Eat, an organization that provides comprehensive services to the area’s homeless population. At the end of each program the results were the same: the students not only showed a great deal of empathy for the people they helped to serve but also could clearly articulate ways they wanted to continue to help people when they returned to their own communities.

Students from Slippery Rock University on an rainy Amizade program in Pittsburgh
Students from Slippery Rock University on an Amizade program in Pittsburgh.

Finally, I had the opportunity to facilitate a program in my own community, Pittsburgh, focusing on many of the same issues we explore in our D.C. programs. We spent two days serving at Light of Life, an organization that also provides comprehensive services to those experiencing homelessness, and meeting with the Executive Director to discuss how the organization serves the population and some of the challenges the organization faces to meet its mission. During one of our final reflections, I was, again, impressed by the students. Not only for their deeper understanding of the issues and empathy with regards to people experiencing homelessness, but also their willingness to acknowledge that they needed to do some more personal reflection regarding their political beliefs, across the spectrum, and reconcile the idea that many policies put in place to address the issues often have unintentional, negative consequences that can make these issues worse.

I guess, what I’m getting at here is that all the negative stereotypes we constantly hear about the current generation of young people are, if not false, at a minimum are greatly over-exaggerated.  They work hard and show a desire to try new things. They genuinely seek to better understand the experiences of others and empathize with them. They don’t wall themselves off and aren’t content to live in the echo chambers of only others who agree with them.

They are the future of the country and the planet, and if this year has taught me anything, it’s that if we continue to provide them with opportunities to learn and grow, the future is in pretty good hands.

Thank you, Nick, for doing a fantastic job facilitating these programs and for sharing your learnings with us!