Monday, March 26, 2012

Evolving Definition of Community

One of the biggest concepts I've wrestled with in my year with Mercy Volunteer Corps has been my sense of 'community'. Growing up in small towns, I have always been accustomed to being close with my neighbors. I could easily define community as the group of people that I lived near and interacted with on a daily basis. Similarly, in college, my community was clearly defined by the geographical borders of my campus. While I spent hours reading and discussing environmental and social justice issues, much of these realities were easy enough to dismiss in the "college bubble".

   The transition to Philadelphia challenged many of my previous definitions. While I live outside the city, I spend a lot of my time traveling to and through much of Philadelphia. I work in the outreach department of Project HOME. Depending on the day, my role ranges from street outreach, answering the hotline, to seeing clients in the office. The goal of outreach is to help individuals who are homeless reconnect (or connect) with supportive networks. In other words, we work on rebuilding community. Unlike my prior definition, this sort of community is not limited to a neat plot of land. While I'm frequently in the office, our office extends beyond our building to the streets and train stations. I have come to appreciate how my job has provided me a unique introduction to Philly. Instead of the old adage: 'don't talk to strangers', my position in outreach has encouraged me to practice the opposite. These experiences make me question how we, as a society, have placed unnecessary limitations on our sense of community. I am encouraged that in the next 6 months I can begin to discern how to take this evolving definition of community into my life post-MVC.

Julianna Ryan - Project H.O.M.E. - Philadelphia, PA