A Year of Service for a Lifetime of Change

My name is Haley Whitson! I graduated from Hendrix College in May and I am excited for this next step in my life, doing a year of service in Tucson, AZ (2019-2020).

This opportunity allows me to be invited into community and relationship, with a community that has been active and caring for one another long before I arrived, and will continue serving one another long after I am gone. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be working with and learning from those, at a community partner organization, CHRPA (Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona), that serves people in Tucson and Pima County.

Thank you for the many different ways you, as part of my broader community have and will continue to support me and the community of Tucson I will be serving alongside, throughout this year.

Some of the ways you can further support me throughout this year can be simply keeping me and the Tucson community in your thoughts and prayers. Also I invite you to donate as you are able, for ANY amount helps to support the Tucson Borderlands program and my year of service. I have a goal of raising $4,000. Please follow this link to find my personal fundraising page: https://donorbox.org/haley-w

To donate by mail, send funds directly to the Tucson Borderlands YAV office, with checks made out to Tucson Borderlands YAV, my name can be put on the memo line to indicate you would like to contribute to my personal fundraising.


Tucson Borderlands YAV

400 E University

Tucson, AZ 85705

The Desert

At the beginning of March, as TBYAVs we were about to embark on our sojourn retreat and were asked to reflect on the what the desert meant to us. We also reflected on the times the desert is talked about in the Bible. In the Bible the desert is a place of challenge and where we see Jesus tempted. As I’ve been in a program that has the opportunity to bear witness to border issues, the desert has shown again and again to be a place of challenge, death, violence and separation.

However, I have continued to learn the desert is a place of extremes. Very hot days, and in the winter very cold nights. Within these extremes I see the opposing sides of the spectrum. This year a common practice for our check ins has been the Examen. A time in which most often we reflect on the questions: what has been something that’s been life giving and what is something that has been life draining? Or similar questions maybe where have you felt God, where have you felt an absence of God? It’s easy to perhaps see one of these as the “good” or the “bad” because we live in a world that often thinks in binaries. However, I appreciate the acknowledge of these opposing presences whether they are seen as good or bad, or makes someone feel more joy rather than sadness, we can appreciate them as parts of our life and existence.

So though it’s been more prevalent thinking of the challenges and suffering present in the desert, the hurt, the death, the separation, there is the presence of life, and resilience and hope. There is the need for God to nourish the desert, it is a place that both needs God’s attention and where his presence can be felt.

Solitude in Community

At the beginning of March, which in this time of COVID-19 now feels so long ago, my fellow Tucson Borderland YAV’s and I went to Cascabel, where we stayed in the canyon that hosts sojourn experience. These are experiences to be in solitude for an amount of time. We spent our first night together but once we woke up in the morning we headed out to our solo campsites for two nights and three days of solo time before returning to our group for one last night together to celebrate and reflect.

I left my phone at home during our retreat, so my time during our sojourn is not well documented with pictures, but this is an accurate representation of how fierce and one with nature I felt.

There was something unique about our experience, even different from the sojourners who typically come to this canyon for time of solitude. Though we still practiced solitude, this was something we were getting to practice while also in community. This was something I reflected on while in my alone time. As I saw each sunset, I wondered if Laura was enjoying it just as much as I was. As I shivered at night, I wondered if others were also having trouble sleeping through the night. As I drank my coffee, I wondered if Hannah was also enjoying a cup of coffee. As I journaled I wondered if others were processing what they wanted to in this time and space. I wondered if my community was sharing in the same joys of being surrounded by nature, I wondered if they share similar fears of being alone, if something were to happen. I wondered if they felt comforted knowing Alison was bring us water and checking on us by coming to the tree at the base of each of our camps where we’ve tied rags to signal we are ok. I wondered if they also felt empowered by being in nature and being able to have less pressure from the rest of the world, and the ability to only listen to the needs of their body. I ate when I needed to, I used the restroom when I needed to, I rested when I was tired, I returned to my tent when I needed to relief from the sun.

I can’t share the beautiful nature I was surrounded by, during sojourn which included lovely sunsets, but luckily the desert sunsets are regularly this breathtaking. This is one of the many sunsets I’ve been enjoying as we shelter-at-home

There were other powerful experiences during my solo time I could reflect on or share, but in three weeks time a lot has changed, as the world faces this global health crisis. But this experience of solitude in community, continues to resonate with me, as my YAV house, the YAV program, the city of Tucson, Pima County, the state of Arizona, the United States, and countries across the globe are experiencing this crisis, and members of all these communities are also being asked to isolate themselves from one another to keep each other safe. We are isolating as a community and for the community.

Though at this time it’s been easy to feel isolated and alone, I’ve found comfort in the ability to creatively feel connected and in community. As I talk to my parents and friends, I hear the different fears and anxieties we share. As I watch musicians perform instagram live stream concerts, I see many other fans tuning in, showing me there’s many other people like me wanting to connect with music during this time. I feel a lot of comfort being part of a program, with a site coordinator and board checking in with us and offering support as we navigate and process this, in the middle of our YAV year.

As a house, we have made jokes that our sojourn retreat has prepared us to sit around and do nothing. But really, at least for me our time at our sojourn retreat has given me ways to reflect and see the beauty of community that is not always visible or means being in physical presence or constant communication, rather the beauty in community is even in complete solitude or mandated orders to shelter in place, it’s presence continues to be powerful and felt. Also always wash your hands.

Girls Just Wanna Plumb

Abi and I walked into a local family owned plumbing store in town. Compared to Naughton’s and Home Depot this store is tiny, instead of roaming through the aisles to find plumbing parts, you walk up to the counter and ask Bruce for what you need. He brings it right to you. There is free cold water to make sure plumbers are staying hydrated.

Abi and I walked into Bonnets, Stems, and Accessories to find a Price Pfister shower valve, we were excited to walk in, knowing the service would be so friendly and the store would more likely have the part we needed that is harder to find at other stores.

A man walked into this same plumbing store and was not expecting to see two females in this plumbing small store. Once again unlike Naughton’s or Home Depot we were in close proximity he didn’t see us walking down the aisle where he could, just quietly wonder what we were trying to find at Home Depot, keeping his comments to himself.

A man walked into this small store and before the door even closed Abi and I hear this man ask “are y’all female plumbers.. I didn’t know there were female plumbers?” We had just told Bruce what we needed and he had turned to look at his stock, but as soon as he heard this man’s comment he turned back around and let this man know, actually there are quite a bit of female plumbers. In fact Bruce’s mom has been in construction since the 80’s here and has had to have “bigger balls” than all the men in this field. Bruce told him that men learned quickly to be “more afraid of her than an 80 pound bulldog,” she meant business and knew what she was doing.

This man of course was shocked to hear that women were in this field, but he figured out it did make sense that women could do plumbing now, after all technology and tools have really developed to make it easy enough now for women to do plumbing. This has been the most direct comment from a man I’ve heard in my six months in this male dominated field of home repair and construction, questioning the ability of females to do the same work he does, just as well as he can.

Many people seem shocked to see that women are in this field. Some comments men make are more subtle when they are curious about women in this field. We have many questions about whether or not we are the crew that will do the work, or if we are just the assessors. We are often asked if we need help loading lumber onto our rack when we have five boards left after already loading our first twenty boards on our own. These comments don’t always sound like they are questioning our ability to do these things on our own, but also when I’m paired with male staff, I don’t receive these same questions. I am just left to wonder what assumptions or expectations are being made by men about me in this field.

Despite these comments in only six months I’ve started to gain confidence in my abilities, I’ve installed a handful of furnaces and water heaters, I have helped build the longest ramp that CHRPA has built, I’ve installed many kitchen and lav faucets and re-plumbed leaking water lines. I’ve learned how to use the many tools that do in fact make the job easier; I’ve learned how to use pipe wrenches, snakes, a rehau and wirsbo, and how to solder. These make it easy to make connections in water lines, and be able to do work faster.

I love working in a field that hasn’t traditionally been male dominated. I love getting to use power tools that make me feel empowered. I love working with other women in the field. I love wearing my pink work boots that make me feel like I can express my gender and the pride I have in being a woman. I love when female clients we work for are comforted by the fact that women are coming into their homes to help them. I love that female clients think we’re badass and rooting us on when we’re working.

My pink boots and pups are the best part of the job

The smallest moments with female clients are truly special, they remind me of the many other times in my life I have felt surrounded by sisterhood. The community I have found with women in my life has been incredibly healing and powerful in not allowing me to feel alone. The comments and feeling uncomfortable with some of the men I interact with in this field still at times is something I continue to struggle with, but finding community with women within my work brings me joy, and the desire to continue to use my strengths and abilities as a women.

Flash Blog: Travels to the Border with the Pope

As a Tucson Borderlands YAV, who resides in Tucson, about once a month we visit Agua Prieta. In Tucson we are still in the Borderlands, however every time we are able to go to Agua Prieta/Douglas a border town in Arizona, we are at the heart of the borderlands.

Every time I’ve gone to Agua Prieta I’ve felt really moved by the different bible studies we’ve attended. Yesterday we had a bible study at the wall with fellow hermanas y hermanos de Cristo. They sent us a picture from their side of the border. They had a beautiful mural on the wall, we sent a photo back that had an aggressive amount of barbed wire on it blocking our view of the community we were getting to have that time of reflection with. This Bible study was held in both languages, and was extremely powerful. Each Bible study I’ve attended held by Frontera de Cristo is the most I’ve felt the presence of Christ and community. Being able to turn to the Bible to a place of justice and liberation and at times a source of hope, has been powerful. In Agua Prieta I see people being able to find strength in the Bible that shows stories of people thousands of years ago fighting the same injustices.

O Come O Come Emmanuel

This Christmas season has had a different meaning as I have had the opportunity to looked at it through the lens of the borderlands.

About a week before Christmas I had the opportunity to attend a bi-national posada. This posada took place on both sides of the border. Posadas are a Mexican tradition that focuses on the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay to give birth to baby Jesus. The bi-national posada paralleled the story of Mary and Joseph asking and being turned away from inns with those seeking asylum in the United States.

We moved through stations of the posada singing a call and response song in which people on the Mexico side asked those on the US if they could come over, to help support their children and keep them from violence. The US side had a response for each verse rejecting and not listening to the needs of our neighbors. The last station of the posada, those on the US side of the border crossed into Agua Prieta and met at the gate of the Migrant Resource center, where people who are seeking asylum and waiting on the Mexico side until they are at the top of the list to have their cases heard. At this point those of us who are mostly U.S citizens that crossed the border joined the Mexico citizen that live in the community of Agua Prieta, all of us at the gates of the migrant center ask the asylum seekers if we can come into the center to join them. Even though the U.S side rejected the Mexico side in the previous parts of the posada, the migrants gladly welcomed us in to join the party.

The next day I had the opportunity to attend a bible study in which we further discussed the story of Mary and Joseph. As I continue to live in the borderlands of this country in this time where immigration is one of our biggest issues dividing our nation, this story of Mary and Joseph being rejected and unwelcomed at the inn seems to resonate. Everyday people are coming to the United States looking for a place to safely care for their babies, their children, and a country that has more than enough, turns them away. Jesus was denied a place to stay and be born but still came and brought the world salvation.

I think that there is a generation and children being born each day that like Jesus are coming to help save our world, to help and teach us to love our neighbors once more, to bring equality and end oppression and racism. But right now there is a generation and children soon to be born that are being rejected, being treated as criminals, and dying in the desert, instead of being welcomed and celebrated as though they just maybe the children born to save this world.

I ride my bike, don’t drive no car

As a Tucson Borderland YAV at the beginning of the year I got to pick out my very own bike and helmet that has become my main mode of transportation around the city. This was perhaps one of the things I felt most hesitant about coming to Tucson, I have never really liked biking. I was uncomfortable feeling unbalanced as well as not feeling in control of the speed of my body. I got a pretty cool bike; we took a bike safety class, and I’ve been riding almost everyday since I got my bike. I feel much more comfortable, even confident on my bike. And I am actually loving biking! When we took our bike safety class we learned about the ABC Quick ✓, which a good bicyclist will do before each ride. ABC Quick ✓ stands for Air, Brakes, Chains (or cranks and cassette) Quick releases, and yay all checked, ready to ride! I’m going to go through a little different ABC Quick ✓ to give a little bit of a glimpse of my everyday with my beloved bike.

ABC Quick ✓

No Air in My Tires…

Every so often in the desert little goat-heads, love to get in my tires. I’ve fixed more than a handful of flat tires in the few months I’ve had biking as my main mode of transportation. Just last week I was looking at my tire and pulled out a goat-head and immediately heard a hissing sound come from my bike. Inside of bike tires are tubes that get pumped up with air, so when there’s a hole from whatever pokey thing I’ve ran over in the desert I remove the tube and put a patch to seal up the hole. The tube is good as new.

Sometimes the hole is hard to find, and one of the easiest ways to find the hole is with a bucket of water. First you fill the tube up with air and then submerge part of the tube and work your way around the tube until a stream of bubbles starts coming from the tube.

Flat tires will sometimes come at the most inconvenient times, especially when me and Laura are ready to head to work or partially through our uphill morning ride adding some extra effort for my legs.

However some of the fun moments in changing flat tires is sitting in the living room the night before an early morning ride, while my roommates sitting on our couches. Our bikes, including the many pesky flat tires is a big part of community life.


Though biking doesn’t give most my muscles a rest, it gives my brain a break. Growing up as an athlete being able to be active has always been a space for me to process or just get completely out of my head. Biking after a long day of work gives me time to decompress, listen to music, and talk to my housemate Laura.

Recently we had a week of border delegations, which was a very powerful and emotional week that I hope to blog about when I can find the words to explain the experience. We were in Agua Prieta for half a week and then returned to Tucson to continue learning about different organizations that are doing work with the border and immigration. I was so excited to be back with my bike.

Especially on some of the most emotionally draining days being able to bike allows me to breathe, focus on the ground in front of me and changing gears and pedaling. It allows me to feel like me time to look around at the mountains and the sunrise or sunset. It allows me to focus solely on my physical body, what I’m seeing, what I’m hearing, the air that I feel rushing against my skin. It allows me for a small amount of time not feel overwhelmed by my emotions


A very big part of my YAV year is my site placement, CHRPA, also know as Community Home Repair. Like all of my housemates commuting by bike is a part of our everyday workdays. However, my housemate Laura and I have the longest commute in the house. We bike 9 miles each way.

Our first couple of months work started work at 6, so we can climb on top of roofs and work on coolers during the cooler part of the hot summer days. Our 9 mile bike ride in the morning is mostly uphill and started out being about an hour and a half, as we got faster and began to know our way better our ride is a little bit under an hour. Somedays on the trails we see a few of our coworkers, who are a little bit faster riders than us, pass us. Once we get to work our bikes get hung about on a bike hooks enough for the many biking workers at CHRPA.

Many of my coworkers have been able to give me advice about biking in the cold, how to avoid knee pain, and many different fun bike trails.

Quirky bike things

Each of my housemates have our own bikes, we got to pick out ourselves. Mine has a green basket that comes in handy for holding my lock, water bottle and a bag.

I’m convince mine and Laura’s bikes are best friends, after all they spend all day together.

Tucson has a bike repair shop called BICAS that recycles bikes and bike parts as much as possible. Whether it’s reusing bike parts for another bike or in art pieces. They have pros that will help people learn how to use the tools to fix and do maintenance to their bike.

And Check! I’m ready to keep riding!

All these different parts of biking have been a big part of my YAV experience. I’ve found a new activity I really enjoy, and it has also brought me together with community, that shares similar experiences of the many joys and some of the annoying parts of biking.

FLASH BLOG: What Service Means To Me?

FLASH BLOG: Sometimes it’s easy to overthink blog posts and wanting to edit, edit, edit till it’s perfect. Alison is giving us the challenge of writing on a topic she gives us for ten minutes and then clicking publish. So that’s what this will be, very unedited and raw. Prepare for spelling errors and grammar mistakes, and incomplete thoughts.

PROMPT: According to the Presbyterian Church, as YAV’s, we are in mission service, what does that mean to you?

During orientation as we talked about serving during our YAV year, we had a day where we unpacked the word mission and that definition, what it has meant in the past and started thinking through what it means to us. That was one of the last days after a pretty heavy week of orientation, so I don’t really remember exactly what we talked about. I know we talked about mission briefly, but I am pretty far from knowing what I think “mission” service means. During that day we did talk about the fact that something about the word mission may make us feel icky or like it doesn’t really describe what we are doing.

For me I think it’s easier to think about the word service, and say I’m doing a service year. I’m using my gifts and strengths, and growing in my weaknesses as I serve others. One thing during orientation that continued to stick with me was a story our YAV coordinator Richard told us one of the first days. When he served one in his YAV year, I believe a bishop from his host country told him a very humbling and powerful message. As I paraphrase, Richard was told something along the lines that the people you have come to help, do not need you, they have been working and serving one another for many years before you and they will continue their work many years after you are gone. You are wanted, you have been invited, but you are not NEEDED. Richard reminded us this throughout our week of orientation. That has been something I have continued to hold in my thoughts during this year of service. For me service means being invited and welcomed into community to accept the many blessings, that are in the community that is allowing me to grow my different gifts of service.

What’s wrong with being confident?

On my first Sunday in Tucson, the YAV’s and I went to Trinity Presbyterian Church for worship and fellowship. As we worshiped Will You Come and Follow Me (The Summons) is a hymn I’ve heard many times before. As we had already spent a week in New York and a week in Tucson thinking about what service means to us and reflecting on what the year ahead may hold, the fourth verse has stuck with me:

Will you learn to love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Alongside the powerful verses, the sermon has also stuck with me. The pastor talked about confidence in one’s self is something God calls us to do. But she noted an important distinction between arrogance and confidence. In order to be in relationship and use our gifts as God calls us, confidence in those gifts and one’s self is necessary.

There’s a lot of me I hide that I know comes from fears of vulnerability. A lot of insecurities I deflect through laughter and sarcasm. These parts of me require vulnerability, because there often parts of me I don’t really love or are confident enough in to share with others. There are big parts of me I remain hesitant to share. Some of the ‘me’ I hide, includes parts of me that help drive my passions. When I’m not confident in the parts of me that are very entwined with what I’m passionate about how can I be confident in the work I will do to serve others. I think even more so thinking about gifts and talents, I have; if I am not confident in the gifts I have been given, if I am hesitant to share my gifts, how am I really serving or being in relationship with others to the best of my abilities. I feel like I really struggle being confident in all parts of who I am, because I have many fears of what others may think of me, or whether my most vulnerable parts of myself will be accepted.

Perhaps a reason I’ve struggled even writing this first blog post, and sharing with a lot of my community the different experiences I’ve had thus far, is a pretty big fear of vulnerability and putting my thoughts out there for others to read.

I hold a lot of fears everyday. Fears of being a women out and about each day, especially at night if I’m ever biking alone. Fears about biking and being on the road with cars that may not be paying attention. Fears of being vulnerable around my roommates or my co-workers. Fears about saying something wrong or hurtful to others in my community. Fears of causing tension in the house. I have lots of questions about these fears. I wonder often where they come from, what places of privilege some of them come from and what places of past trauma they come from. And my biggest question what do I do to acknowledge them, but not be crippled by them. If I learn to not just suppress or ignore fears I have but quell the fear inside can that lead me to never be the same. Googling the definition of quell it means “to put an end to, typically by the use of force.” I like the use of this specific word, cause it call attention to some of the intentionality necessary to combat fears that are rooted in privilege, racism, or holding on to past traumatic experiences. Put an end to fears of vulnerability or saying the wrong thing, or being scared of people based on stereotypes by using force, by making conscious decisions to take a second to look at where this fear is coming from and how healthy it is to continue to hold on to that fear. I think there are fears and gut feelings that keep us safe, but I think there a lot of my fears that just keep me feeling comfortable. If I learn to recognize some of these fears and put an end to them, how can that allow me to be open to many different experiences, community with different people, and connect with them in a very intentional and deep way where vulnerability is appreciated and necessary.

I will learn many things from my year of service. Some may be new physical skills like how to use power tools or install a water heater, some may be how to listen, and discuss tension and conflict with housemates. But what I think or hope I will learn about most is myself. Learn why I hide parts of myself from others, what confidence can look like, where my fears come from and how can I confront them, and perhaps one of the harder questions I’ve had a harder time thinking through, the question the verse of the Summon ends with will I use the faith I found to reshape the world around? I hope in a year of service, with a program focused on intentional Christian community I can start to think through how me and my faith (something I have hesitance in sharing) can be used to confidently and fearlessly serve and help others.

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