FrancisCorps | Syracuse, NY

Our Stories

Phoebe Lay, FC 22

How did your FrancisCorps journey begin? In quarantine. Just kidding, that’s just my humor shining through. This blog post is kind of lengthy, as I’ve always found it difficult to concisely recount my story. Consider yourself warned. 

In the Fall of 2019, I was serving as the Coordinator for a big retreat that semester. I was told that an alumni (who happened to be the former Coordinator for the same retreat a few years ago) wanted to get her hands on our new retreat shirt, and I happily obliged to deliver it to her. She happened to be helping out with the Service Expo, so we decided to meet there. 

I soon found myself in the atrium at the University Catholic Center (UCC), welcomed by a joyful Brother Rob. Ahead of me, tables lined the atrium – Catholic organizations ready to recruit students looking to pursue post-grad service. Despite my involvement at the UCC, I was only vaguely familiar with the annual Service Expo. I only had one other friend who did a service year with one of these organizations. Unfamiliar with the process, I decided to peruse the Service Expo – 50% motivated by curiosity, 25% by the need to give the alum her shirt, and 25% wanting free Tiff’s Treats. So there I was at the UCC, ready to get my social face and small talk on. 

I left each table grateful for the information but still not particularly swayed one way or the other. I got a pamphlet here, a conversation there. My last stop was to give the alum her retreat shirt. Turns out, she was also a former FrancisCorps who was helping speak at the FC table. I listened to her explain what FrancisCorps was all about and describe what it was like to have real Fall weather in upstate NY, but in all honesty, it was all going in one ear and out the other. After all, I completed my task; I delivered the shirt. At this point, I was just trying to be polite and make small talk. I proceeded to leave the UCC, conversations in mind and chocolate chip cookie in hand. 

As the semester continued, I began to tack on “LOOK INTO GAP YEAR PROGRAMS” to my to-do list. Being who I am as a person, I researched jobs, organizations, programs, and basically every medical-related opportunity I could devote a year’s worth of time to. In my mind, I was so set on doing something related to clinical work, thinking of opportunities that would be “relevant” to a medical school application. But when you’re a 20-something and about to graduate in eight months, reflection becomes one of the most important things you can do during your senior year. What did I want? More specifically, what do I want to get out of my gap year? What kind of growth did I want? When I’m 80 years old, what do I want to say I did with my time in my 20’s? When am I ever going to get another opportunity to do something different for a whole year? These were definitely questions I didn’t want to sit down and think about. 

Weeks of conversation, prayer, and a silent retreat later, I had a better––albeit vague–– idea of what I wanted. I wanted something meaningful, something fruitful. I wanted my 80 year old self to look back on my 20’s and be glad I took a leap. I found myself defining the values that have served as the backbone of all my personal and professional pursuits: I want to be able to have a positive impact on my community––whether that is defined by the area I find myself living in or the people that surround me. I want to leave a place knowing that someone else’s life was made better, easier, helped. I want to use the skills I’ve nurtured over a lifetime to be an advocate for another human. These are all the things that drove my involvement during my time at the UCC. These are all the things that drew me to a career in healthcare and medicine. And now, these were all the things that nudged me to seriously consider a year of service with FrancisCorps. 

I narrowed my search, recognizing that I didn’t necessarily need to spend my year in a medical-specific setting in order to have a “meaningful” and “worthwhile” experience. I’d (fingers crossed) have plenty of time in the clinic later. But for right now, I needed a different type of space to shape me. At the core of my personal values is showing love via acts of service, and that in of itself is meaningful to me. While I clicked through the FrancisCorps website, I found myself more and more drawn to the niche worksite placements, emphasis on intentional community, and space to expand my worldview. I decided to start my application… and the rest is history. 

To be honest, I still don’t have my FrancisCorps spiel perfectly articulated. I stumble on my words, I get the timeline twisted, I include extraneous details that might be better left out. But with every iteration of my story, I see the ways in which I was continuously being nudged to get to this point. Sometimes my mind indulges itself on the “what-ifs” – What if I didn’t meet up with the former Coordinator/FC? What if I didn’t go to the Service Expo? But of course, dwelling on the what-ifs only leads you down a rabbit hole. I’m just really happy to be here, and I look forward to being stretched and shaped as my story continues to unfold. 

What excites you the most about the FrancisCorps experience? I’m excited to check more ice cream spots off our house bucket list. I’m excited by the idea of being at a different state park within an hour of driving in any direction. I’m excited to see what Autumn actually looks like. I’m excited to read more books, something I hadn’t willingly done since junior high. I’m excited to get to know my community members better, learn more about my coworkers at CYO, and better understand the community of Syracuse. I recently finished When Breath Becomes Air (I told you I’ve been getting back into reading!), in which Paul Kalanthi writes: 

In the end, it cannot be doubted that each of us can see only a part of the picture. The doctor sees one, the patient another, the engineer a third, the economist a fourth, the pearl diver a fifth, the alcoholic the sixth, the cable guy a seventh, the sheep farmer an eighth, the Indian beggar a ninth, the pastor a tenth. Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete. 

The description of these relationships parallels that of my FrancisCorps experience thus far and what I hope to continue seeking. I am but one person in this quaint little place of Syracuse, and there is so much to learn from the people in this community. Everyone that I’ve met––my new little FC22 community, my co-workers, and the refugees here all come with their own story and knowledge to share. I’m excited to integrate their perspectives into my own as I continue to navigate post-grad life.

Phoebe is a Refugee Orientation Coordinator at Northside CYO. Visit our service sites page to learn more about Phoebe’s site and others we offer. 

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