Tessie joined us for a few weeks at the beginning of February – we were so encouraged by her willingness to serve and to for her interest in the city and our work. A Tessie headed home we asked her to reflect on her experiences and what were some of the things that she would like to share with others…
Tell us a little bit about who you are?
I am Theresa, though my dad called me Tessie as a kid, and the name stuck! I am a lifelong New Yorker, born in Brooklyn and raised/residing in Staten Island, a short ferry ride from NYC.
I have a Master of Education degree from St. John's University and a BS in Criminal Justice. Technically I am a licensed K-6 teacher. However, I have been working since 2011 at the Staten Island Young Adult Borough Centre (YABC) - an alternative High School for 'at risk youth'. My role is a career advisor, college advisor and all around tutor/mentor for students who are aged 17 1/2 - 21 and who are, to a large degree, from the most impoverished sections of Staten Island. Many of these young people are born and raised in New York City Housing Authority "Projects" and come from generational public assistance families.
All the way from New York! How did you hear about Edinburgh City Mission and what drew you to get involved in our work?
I first heard about Edinburgh City Mission from following the Mission's work on Instagram. Because I have a deep love and reverence for Edinburgh, The Scottish Reformation (and now the people, especially Leith :) I was immediately drawn to the Christ-centred support that the mission powerfully offers. I had been wanting to visit again and wanted to volunteer my time, rather than just take a holiday, so I contacted Edinburgh City Mission. I arrived just in time for Duncan's Commissioning Service and the amazing ‘Restless for Mission’ Conference, which was an incredible start to my journey. Thanks so much to Steve for the invitation and the accommodation at Faith Mission Bible School!
What has it looked like to be a volunteer with Edinburgh City Mission?
Before I talk about what I've been involved with as far as work with the mission, I should say that I am involved in my church New Hope Community Church, which is located right behind one of the toughest NYC Projects in West Brighton Staten Island. I became involved with helping the young people, (and not so young people) doing what I do in my day job at the YABC; writing resumes, job coaching and helping secure employment. My "ministry" spread by word-of-mouth and people from the neighbourhood of West Brighton, both members and non-members of the church, have reached out for help. I also lend a hand with the summer Vacation Bible School, the basketball league and with kitchen work when I am able.
At Edinburgh City Mission I was blessed with meeting the people who visit the Basics Bank for food and other necessities. I spent time in Leith, Portobello, Granton, Moredun and Newington. What I truly loved was that whilst people were there at the Basics Banks to receive provisions, they were encouraged to sit and chat over coffee/tea and sweets, sometimes for prayers and sometimes just for conversations. It wasn't a "food pantry" situation where a line of people jockeyed for position to get their stuff and leave. But rather, the Basics Banks are a lifeline of hope and human connection that factored prominently into the routines of the guests. What truly tickled me is that there are proper place settings, with china and silverware, which were meticulously maintained, where the people could linger and were treated as guests, rather than clients with lists of necessities for staff to fill.
What have been some of highlights of this experience?
One highlight was getting to know the guests who visited the Basics Banks who were interesting and engaging. Many of them were also receptive to prayer, even if their own personal beliefs weren't exactly Christian. Every Basics Bank had their individual culture and style. At the bank in Moredun, a meal was prepared by guests of the Basics Bank and then, we all sat together and ate in fellowship. This is powerful stuff. People being helped and then coming to give back. Blew me away! And the meal was delicious.
What has impacted you?
The garden allotments in Portobello. In the middle of February, under grey skies, I was taken a short distance from the church at Portobello by the wonderful Zoe and an amazing young guest of the Basics Bank. I was shown a pretty sizeable portion of land, sectioned into parcels called "allotments". Participants of the Basics Bank are offered these plots to grow vegetable and fruit crops. The food is then used by the guests, to consume, and to share with the others connected with the Portobello location. It provides an opportunity for the guests to dig in soil, plant, nurture and produce crops which is psychologically beneficial. Talk about the fields being ripe for harvest! And a wonderful teachable moment for sowing and reaping.
I shared this with a small group at my church who thought it was such a wonderful idea, that they took up a collection to help with the cost of seeds and garden tools. Perhaps we could earmark the unused land around our church for the same incredible purpose? I would never have seen this in practice, if not for my time spent volunteering with Edinburgh City Mission.
What have you learnt through this experience?
I think the Lord has been showing me to take my time and do a deeper dive in getting to know people, no matter how good my intentions are and how focused I am on the finished product. I strive to be as professional and productive as I can when I help people with resumes and employment. And sometimes, as with anything you've been doing for a while, it becomes mechanical. I am learning that blessings are a two way street, and if I spend the time to really get to know those who I am helping, I am surprised at what I learn about them, me and the character of the Lord we serve.
Would you recommend volunteering with Edinburgh City Mission?
I would absolutely recommend spending time volunteering with Edinburgh City Mission. Its model is truly unique, with Christ at the centre of ALL activities. The weekly staff meetings were kicked off by prayer, bible reading, sharing and response. This really set the focus for the work that each Mission Strengthener was involved in - kind of brings you back to why you are there in the first place, and all other stuff takes a back seat. I think that for me, being from New York, I learned so much from the team - to slow down and prayerfully focus on the individual and not just getting their physical needs met with basics. I know that this is only the beginning for the mission.
What’s next for you?
I am a writer and I have been inspired to begin a middle-school historical fiction series, drawing heavily from the Reformation and other key aspects of Scottish culture. I don't think I truly realised how much of a resounding impact throughout eternity Scotland has had on the world. I'd like to share that excitement with young people, so that they aren't so focused on novels that rely heavily on subjects like sorcery for excitement. Pray that the Lord will bless my work! And I shan't be a stranger to Edinburgh City Mission. As Steve Wright told me before I left, "You have family in Edinburgh" and in my heart I believe it.