Tara (Bradley) Williams, CVV 1
Tara was a part of the first CVV community and lived to tell the tale! Her adventure in Denver began with a road trip and every once in a while she comes back to visit CVV while road-tripping west with the youth from her church in Wisconsin. She is a Spanish and ELL teacher in her community, continuing to grapple with the meaning of service.
I had the privilege of being a part of CVV 1. That’s right. The very first CVV year. While much has remained the same, including Bill and Mary Frances, the Pearl Street homes, and the optimism of young people wanting to make a difference in the world, much has changed, such as the neighborhoods where I lived and worked (now very trendy!), the expansion of the program, and the INTERNET! (That’s right, folks–we did not have internet access that first year!).
I came to Denver in August of 1995 – a naive, country girl from Wisconsin and recent college grad– ready to tackle the world and “help” people. As we all experienced throughout our CVV year, it was really us, the volunteers who were forever changed. Through the people I met at CVV, St. Elizabeth’s parish, and my work site in the Cole neighborhood at the food bank, Twin Parishes and Neighborhood Partners renovating abandoned homes, I met selfless people who dedicated their lives to helping the poor. I was hooked. I was changed. I wanted to live in the inner-city here I could affect the most change and help the most people. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others for the rest of my life.
This was me in my 20’s. This was my definition of serving the poor.
I then followed a traditional young person’s path. I went to grad school, held various jobs – many just to “make enough money to pay the rent,” met and married a wonderful man, had three children, moved to Wisconsin, acquired a mortgage, and “kept up with the Joneses.” For years, I struggled with reconciling my current reality of a traditional middle class existence with my reality of serving and fighting for the most vulnerable in Denver. I often second-guessed myself, asking if I was making a big enough difference in the lives of others, or had I become just another small town Midwestern soccer mom? I felt that I had abandoned my core values of serving others.
This was me in my 30’s.
Through years of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that service does not look the same for everybody. God leads people on different journeys. While it could mean working at a non-profit and living in the heart of the greatest need, it may be living in small-town America surrounded by people who “look and act like you.”
Now in my 40’s, I realize that I am exactly where God intended me to be. I AM serving others. I am an ELL (English Language Learner) and Spanish teacher in my tiny Wisconsin town. I have the honor of not only welcoming and teaching our new Spanish-speaking students and families but also am pushing for change by broadening the perspectives of administrators, teachers, students, and community members regarding immigration and language issues. I am leading
Last month I realized that my service has come full circle in the past 20 years. A recent service trip to Mississippi to renovate an inner-city house brought back memories of my days at Neighborhood Partners with CVV, along with using my time at St. Vincent de Paul food bank each week, similar to my work at Twin Parishes. Full Circle.
My definition of service has changed over the years. It has been a journey that God has put me on nonetheless to serve and hopefully make a difference in the world. It is not in a village in Africa, an inner-city neighborhood, nor even working for a non-profit serving the poor. I am advocating for Latino immigrants in my community, exposing high school students to a broader world, challenging traditional thinking, providing opportunities for service in our small town, and most importantly, raising three open-minded, service-oriented children. Father Tom once told me to “bloom where I’m planted” – whether it be in Denver or in Wisconsin. While it has taken me years, I now fully understand that expression.
Service has changed over the years, but it has remained a constant theme in my life. As my children grow and go off on their own adventures in a few years, I wonder where God will lead me next? Will my definition of service continue to change? I hope so.