During one year as part of the United Church of Christ's Young Adult Service Communities program, Kathryn Murdock is confident she learned more than she ever would have in a typical entry-level job. While serving at the Seattle/King Country Coalition on Homelessness in Seattle, she worked on projects that dealt with voter registration, city budgets, and back-to-school programs, and was able to participate in a Washington State legislative session. As a recent college graduate, Murdock was unsure of the direction she wanted her future career to take, but says the YASC program was key in helping her figure it out.
"I now know that I want to eventually work in public policy or government," she said. "This year has truly been an amazing growing experience both personally and professionally."
The year-long YASC program is one way the UCC offers young adults ages 21-35 the opportunity to transform their lives while transforming the world by participating in a multi-faceted training program designed to combine faithful service and social action. A similar, yet shorter program, Summer Communities of Service is a summer-long experience for young adults ages 19-30 and is a joint effort of the UCC and the Alliance of Baptists. Participants of both programs serve four days a week with a community agency where they engage in direct service or advocacy, and one day a week with their host congregation where they work to deepen the connections between advocacy and faith.
Jenn Hagedorn is another alumni of the YASC program and served as an intern at Seattle's Plymouth Church UCC and The Church Council of Greater Seattle. She worked to organize churches around social justice issues and coordinate them with local nonprofits, community groups and labor unions. She said she chose to participate in the program because, while she grew up in the church and knew she wanted a career centered on helping others, she had yet to figure out how her faith and her passion for social justice would connect in her adult life.
"Through my work, I have learned about the unique way that faith-based organizations can move people and companies toward a common good," Hagedorn said. "Whether or not I end up working in another faith-based organization, I know that my growth this year has built a foundation of endurance and hope that will serve me well for many years to come."
Both Murdock and Hagedorn remain connected to their programs. Hagedorn now serves part-time as Plymouth UCC's social justice liaison, and Murdock will serve this fall as a recruiter of the YASC program in Seattle for the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UCC. And with the experience and insight they gained, both young women believe that this connection will last long into their personal lives and professional careers.
"When I applied, I made sure that I would be able to have the space within the program to grow professionally without the faith aspect of the program taking over," Murdock said. "Yet, through this program, I ended up learning that my professional and spiritual growth doesn't have to be separate. I discovered how my commitment to social justice comes through my faith. And it has driven my commitment to advocacy in my professional work."
Applications for both programs are currently being accepted. Host church locations for the 2014-2015 YASC program include Westford, Mass., Philadelphia, Pa., Bethesda, Md., Chicago, Granite City, Ill., Carlsbad, Calif., and Seattle. Locations for the 2014 Summer Communities of Service include Chicago, New York City, Pass-a-Grille, Fla., Charlotte, N.C., Kirkwood, Mo., and Centerville, Va. For more information or to apply, visit the Young Adult Service Communities Network website.