Christina Repoley serves as the Senior Director of Experience Design at the Forum for Theological Exploration. Her team works to make spaces for discernment, connection, resourcing and community building amongst various FTE constituencies including young adults, campus ministries, high school youth theology institutes, denominational organizations, intentional communities and faith-rooted volunteer service organizations. Prior to joining FTE, Christina founded the national organization Quaker Voluntary Service and served as its Executive Director for nearly a decade. She serves on the board of directors of Friends Fiduciary Corporation and on the National Advisory Council to the North Carolina Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. Christina holds an MDiv from Emory University's Candler School of Theology and a BA from Guilford College.
Rate, review, and subscribe to Sound of the Genuine on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Patrick: Hey, what's going on, it is Dr. Patrick Reyes here with another episode of the Sound of the Genuine. Thanks for coming back cause today we have Christina Repoley who is not only my colleague, but the former executive director and founder of Quaker Voluntary Service. She is a fierce advocate for justice and finding a better world and I have benefited from the many times we have sat together through this work. And I'm just so grateful she has agreed to join us, to share her story with all of you on the Sound of the Genuine. I am so glad to be sitting with you, Christina. How are you doing?
Christina: Doing well! Good to be with you.
Patrick: I know a lot about you, probably too much, probably more than most coworkers know about people. So I'm just going to preface for everyone who's listening, we have been working together and we've gotten to know each other, but I don't know a whole lot about your beginning. So why don't you take me back to growing up? I mean, I know you have a brother and all that, yeah. Take me back to the beginning.
Christina: I grew up most of my life in Charlotte, North Carolina. My mom's from North Carolina. So we moved back to be closer to her family when I was three and lived there my whole life until I went off to college.
So we lived in a fairly working class neighborhood close to downtown. My dad owned a company that painted houses and ran his own business out of our dining room. And my mom was a preschool teacher. I have one brother and we lived together in that little house in Charlotte
Patrick: All right, well you gotta paint a picture for this west coaster. I don't know anything about Charlotte. What is the community like? Is it a big city?
Christina: So Charlotte in the eighties and nineties, it's a big city. It's the biggest city in North Carolina. My mom's family is all Southern and she grew up in Concord, North Carolina, which is a little town just north of Charlotte. So my grandparents and my cousins and other people on her side of the family were all there. We were sort of the weird cousins that lived in the big city, Charlotte, and they lived in the smaller town. My dad had grown up outside of New Haven, Connecticut and so he was a little bit of an odd ball being the Italian-American Yankee in the south who had moved there to be with my mom. And there's lot more people now in the south that have relocated from the north but at that time it wasn't as common.
Patrick: And so you're in this big city of Charlotte, what was school like, what did they want for you as you're going through elementary and junior high and high school?
Christina: My brother and I went to what, at that time in Charlotte, they were called open schools. So this was like big, multi-age classrooms. And I think the idea was that it was a more progressive style of education. And so, experiential learning and different ages and more agency on the kids' part, I guess. I know that they both came from a perspective of really wanting us to have a lot of diversity in our life. We lived in a neighborhood with a lot of racial diversity and not much economic diversity, but racial diversity for sure, and our schools were the same way.
That's part of why we lived in the big city. And they both were very active in peace and justice work and in community organizing in Charlotte. So those were values that they held certainly. My mom and my dad were both the first and only people in their families to go to college and so I think they always wanted me and my brother to go to college. That was certainly a part of the expectation and wanted us to have a good education and enjoy school. Because that was, for both of them, something that made them different from their siblings and their cousins and their family members and sort of charted a path for them. Both of them did things very differently than other people in their families. And so, really valued that for us.
Patrick: You mentioned that your parents did organizing and of community engagement, they wanted this big city, multicultural life for you that engaged in this. What are some of the things that you remember them doing and what did that look like in Charlotte?
Christina: As a kid, I remember going to lots of meetings. I remember really clearly going to peace vigils, standing on the streets in downtown Charlotte and holding up signs. In the eighties, there was a lot of organizing around Central America and sanctuary movement and the ways in which our, you know, US government was intervening in Central America and there was also a whole movement around apartheid in South Africa and boycotting South Africa and what that meant. It was just always kind of in the forefront of our lives, where like they were just always going to meetings. We were always going to protest. We were part of groups of people who were spending a lot of time and energy in their lives working on those issues. All of my parents' friends were involved in that work. By extension, a lot of our friends were kids of those folks and a lot of their kids went to school with us and that sort of thing. So it was a big part of my early life, doing that kind of stuff with my parents. And it just seemed pretty normal.
Patrick: I know that, you know, at least the sanctuary movement and especially around the stuff for the School for America's, you know, faith communities were really involved, was that part of their faith commitments? Was it more secular? It was just justice oriented? Like what was their orientation towards that work?
Christina: Yeah, that's a great question! Because at that time it was not faith oriented at all. My dad being Italian-American had grown up in the Roman Catholic church and ran as far in the opposite direction as he could, soon as he had any agency. My mom had grown up in the Methodist Church in the south and was less allergic to religion than my dad. But they got divorced when I was 10 - and that's a big part of my story too - but when they were married and I was young doing all that stuff together, we didn't go to church. We weren't part of any faith community. We'd occasionally go to church with my grandparents or something, but it was not at all a part of my earliest childhood memories. And it wasn't, at least explicitly for them, what that motivation was about, at that time.
Patrick: Their splitting up at ten was a pivotal moment for you in your life. What emerged in that?
Christina: Well, lots of things, but actually, the spiritual path that both my parents went on at that time became a big part of my life. So my mom, when she was in college, had attended and been involved with Quakers, and was involved in anti-Vietnam war work. And so when my parents got divorced, she decided she needed more community. She wanted to explore parts of herself that she didn't really get to do when she was with my dad. She started going back to Quaker meeting and she took me and my brother.
It was right away that we started doing that. It was a really, really wonderful community for me, especially at a time where I was dealing with, what did it mean to have my parents splitting up? And big loss for me and trying to make sense of that.
And so suddenly I had this new community of people who, for me, and that was the first time other than the activists in my family's life, where I really had this intergenerational community of people who cared about me and adults who were not my parents that came to my school functions and, you know, stepped in for me and talked to me about deep things and obviously played a role in my life.
Meanwhile, my dad was also on his own spiritual journey, which was very different than that, but set of course for his life in a way where spirituality was actually at the core. Even though he had been so anti-religion for so much of his life, he was able to have the openness to explore what that meant on his own terms.
So for both of them, they went on different paths, but in some ways similar. And for me, the Quaker community was the only faith community I'd ever been a part of since I didn't really do anything before age 10. And the activism piece fit really well there. Right? So it became just a deeper place for me to settle in and have a sense of belonging that still carried forward some of the core values of my family and the way we had been raised.
Patrick: And I know that those values have been carrying forward ever since. And I think about the things that you've shared around being Quaker and moving on out of Charlotte, like you're thinking about your next steps and that community being important. What do you do when you have to graduate high school and go out and be an adult and be responsible for changing the world and living into these values that this community's been raising you with?
Christina: Well, when you're me, you have to deal with a lot of indecision and agonizing over your choices and part of that agonizing decision for me was where to go to college. I was choosing between Gilford and Duke, but I ended up choosing Guilford because my brother was there, I knew other people there, and it just felt like the place I needed to be, where I was supposed to be, was this little funky Quaker college that nobody had ever heard of, that wasn't prestigious, but had a really amazing sense of community. And when I would visit my brother there just immediately felt like home and people were going to be there that were going to nurture me and challenge me and all that good stuff.
And the summer right between high school and college, I had this experience, it’s called the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage. And so it was this group of like 16, 17, and 18 year old Quakers from all over the world. And we all went together to England, to where sort of Quakerism began in the 1600's - went on this little pilgrimage and saw all the sights and climbed Pendle Hill and, explored our Quaker faith together.
Christina: Cool, a trip to England sounds fun, but it was also a spiritually transformative experience in a way that I was not anticipating. Really for the first time I was with people my age who called themselves Quakers, who were also deeply Christian and biblically fluent, which was not true for me. But here I was in this deeply spiritually meaningful place for Quakers, and I did identify very much as a Quaker, but there are these people who were like, yes, I'm a Quaker and the Bible is really important to me. And that was mind blowing to my 17-year-old 18-year-old self. I was really excited by that. I was curious about that. I felt like, why didn't I get any of this?
I got a whole lot of really fantastic social justice values and community values. And I felt really grateful for that community, but I also felt like, there's some spiritual fire and depth that these people have that I don't have, or that maybe I have, but I don't know how to talk about it or name it. So then starting college right after that I went into it already with this sort of like interest and excitement about how do I do more of this and explore this more, and became a religious studies major at Guilford. Sort of because I was holding still some of those questions but also if I'm honest, because at that time, if you cared about social justice you were a religious studies major and so it was kind of a bringing together of some of those old parts of my identity that felt pretty firmly established, but then some new questions and awakenings and wonderings about my own religious identity and spiritual identity.
And what was I supposed to do with this Christian thing? And this Bible thing that were really new to me, even though that was like actually a deep part of my tradition that I didn't really know about.
Patrick: And I have to take you back just a little bit on that, because if you have this awakening, you go on this experience, you become a religious studies major, your parents are the first to get a college education. Now you got this little obscure Quaker college, religious studies major. Let me say, I'm hoping that someone in your family asked, like what are you going to do? What are we doing sending you to England to have this spiritual awakening, to read the Bible, which we don't!
What are you doing in your college years with this kind of being the second generation to get a college education, doing the social justice/religious studies major, which is an obscure major within all these choices you had. What do you do with that? What does your community do with that? What do your parents do with that?
Christina: That's a really interesting question, Patrick, because before you asked me that, I almost have never even considered that question. And the reason is because my parents were both just so supportive of whatever I did, no matter what. And like my dad, this was like a little bit later when I had this experience with my dad where, we were up in Connecticut with some of his extended family who again, none of them had gone past high school and my dad went to college and majored in sociology.
And then he's painting houses, right? Which is what they all did too, was like painting houses and construction jobs and stuff like that. And we were taking a walk on the beach with his brother-in-law and he was like, “Bobby, I just never understood. You're the only one who went to college and you paint houses. I just never understood that. Why did you go to college and now all you do is paint houses?” And my dad didn't even have a response, he just kind of just kind of laughed. in later again, I found out, well, actually my dad went to college so that he didn't have to go to Vietnam. It was like either go to Vietnam or go to college. And he was like, I'm going to college.
I think my parents both made choices that were really misunderstood by their families. My mom, as a 16-year-old studied abroad in Turkey. And so she's like leaving tiny little small town, North Carolina and going to Turkey studying for a year. And I don't know why exactly they were motivated to do these things that were so different from their own families of origin, but they did. And so I think because of that, they were just like, do whatever you want to do and we'll support you and we'll figure it out.
Especially my dad who was so anti-religion and so anti-Christianity in particular, at that time he was exploring his spirituality, but in much less traditional paths. You know, it was still like, if that's what you want to do and that's meaningful to you, it doesn't matter. And to now understand what a huge gift that was because I don't think that was what he got from his family at all.
Patrick: Wow, what a gift from your parents, from your community, to stand on such firm grounding. Now I'm curious as to like, what was sitting on your heart as a 18 to 22 year old? Like what are you imagining is your call in the world? What do you want to do? What are you on fire for?
Christina: In high school, my high school year book, I was most likely to save the world. Like some version of that was like what I wanted to do. You know and I'm sure that was bringing forward a lot of my parents own formation of me as a person who was going to be engaged in some kind of work for social justice in some way, shape or form. You know, as a religious studies major I was taking classes like feminist theology and womanist theology and liberation theology, where again I was having the same experience of like, why was I never taught this? Like, I understand that I wasn't taught sort of certain traditional versions of the Christian tradition and narrative, but I also wasn't taught this really good stuff.
I think my community probably thought we want you to be able to learn for yourself. We don't want to impose anything on you about even just like an image of God, we're not going to give you this image. I think I identified what I felt at that time was like a big lacking in the way that I had been raised, as a liberal Quaker who hopefully had all these great social justice values and community values but then my religious education was just pretty much nothing.
And I think in some ways that was because many of the adults in my community, including my mom to a certain extent, had been wounded by their own participation in Christianity and didn't want to impose any of that on us. I can appreciate and understand that and I think that downside of that was that I wasn't given much else to kind of grab onto. I think I found that in college.
Patrick: And you've mentioned courses, you've mentioned the stuff you've read, but I also know that you've had experiences that push you beyond North Carolina's boundary lines. Can you tell us a little bit about, what are the people, the places that you've been around this time that also expand that imagination?
Christina: I can't leave out my college years and formation without mentioning that I studied abroad in Mexico a couple of times, twice in the same place during college. And I learned a lot - a lot.
Just that experience of displacement for me, of being in a very different context, in a very different place, where I didn't speak the language and my family wasn't there. And my context was different. In those days, we barely had email, let alone anything else, was hugely formative and transformative.
And after college I went to Philadelphia, and that time in my life was, again, one of the most pivotal sort of two or three years of my life in the connections that I made, the people I met, the relationships and the knowledge and then a developing sense of my own call at that time I would say. My own sense of like, what am I supposed to be doing with my life?
I was introduced to people in the Catholic worker movement, I lived in a Catholic worker house for a short time. I met people like Ched Myers and Elaine Enns. And I had known Nelson and Joyce Johnson from my time in Greensboro, but reconnected with them while I was living in Philadelphia. And so was introduced to this much broader group of people in the world who had figured out I what, I think, I had always been trying to figure out, like how do you integrate this kind of social justice commitment that I'd been raised with and a very deep and grounded, spirituality, religion, sense of the divine?
And then at the same time, I got to experience the Quaker community in a much different way than I ever had in North Carolina. In Philadelphia, which is like the center of sort of Quakerism in the US, there was a Quaker meeting on every corner practically. And so I just got to have this much more expansive experience of my own faith tradition.
Patrick: You are piecing together like so much love, support, community, I mean you're starting to put together a mosaic of your life and I know you're action oriented. You can be a career student, I mean I think you're like one of the few people I know who is like a lifelong learner, but who also wants to put some pragmatic handles on this. Like, okay, so now let's do something. And also my sense of you is probably, even then, how do I lead this? I want to do this, I don't want to just do someone else's thing. How do I do this? What's your next step?
Christina: That's exactly right. So I was about 23, 24 at that time. And all those things were happening. I was like super on fire about being in these Christian communities that were super radical and prophetic in my experience and having those mentors and elders in my life. And I was also really excited about being a Quaker. And I felt like the gems of the Quaker tradition were there, but like hidden in plain sight. they had been missing from my life, but they were there and I wanted to figure out how to bring all that together. And as a young adult, just figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, there were very few opportunities within an explicitly Quaker context to try any of this out.
I was living with some young Mennonites at the time in Philadelphia, and I learned about Mennonite Voluntary Service. And then I learned, oh, there's like all these service programs oriented for young adults exactly like me who are like, trying to make sense of the world, but have this deep sort of sense of commitment to social justice in some way but they're really supported by their faith community. Wow, what would that be like? So I started putting this idea out there to literally anyone who would listen to me. We need a program like - at that time I was just basically like - like the Mennonites, like the Jesuits, we need a year-long service program for young adults in the Quaker tradition that's supported and blah, blah, blah, had all these different elements.
In the early 2000’s in Philadelphia I even wrote a proposal at that time and submitted it to Philadelphia yearly meeting. And I didn't know anybody, nobody knew me. I was just like putting this idea out there. It was rejected. I know this is a good idea. Somebody just like needs to listen to me. And now in retrospect, many, many years later I can see that it was a good idea, but it wasn't quite the right time. I wasn't quite prepared to be able to fully step into it. I mean honestly at that time, I think it was somewhat stubbornness.
Just like I have a good idea and I'm not going to give it up. I'm just going to keep at it. And so I, didn't ever give up on the idea, but I did sort of put it aside and figure out like where else in the Quaker community, are pieces of this happening? Is there anybody that's focused on supporting young adults, even if it's not in this full thing?
There were some Quaker initiatives and Quaker groups and organizations that were trying to figure out how to better support youth and young adults and so I became involved in some of them. Was there anybody in the Quaker world who was doing some form of intentional community and yes there were, so I made some connections with them. Was there anybody that was trying to be more intentional about re-invigorating and reclaiming and re-understanding the Christian roots of the Quaker story that I felt without which we weren't going to ever be as radical and prophetic as we had been in centuries past and decades past.
And yes, there were people, in the Quaker world who were doing that work of re understanding and reinvigorating and trying to educate and teach those practices again. So I've sort of tried to build some of those connections and those relationships. I felt really clear that I was being called to do something like that. I didn't ever let it go just because it wasn't working out immediately.
Patrick: I'm curious about how stubborn you are on this idea because I know there's like a three-year master divinity degree in there between all of these rejections as a 23 year old. Was it like part of your application essay for Emory where you eventually studied for three years to do this? I mean, like how stubborn was this idea sticking in with you?
Christina: Yeah, so I relocated to Atlanta, specifically for a job to work at the American Friends Service Committee, which is like the largest Quaker organization in the world, specifically focused on social, economic, racial justice, peacebuilding work. I was hired to lead the peace building program for the Southeastern region, which is headquartered in Atlanta. Again, if you'd asked me in college, graduating college, what is your dream job, that was it! I was getting paid to do peace organizing work in the state of Georgia. And I still had this idea in the back of my mind about the Quaker volunteer service program, but then I was still engaged in serving on committees and doing work within my denomination supporting youth and young adults.
And so again, I kept bringing this idea up whenever I had the chance. Meanwhile, I was doing this work that I thought was my dream job. What could be better than this? And as it turns out it was extremely demoralizing in some ways I was burned out. I was like 27 years old and like, I don't think I can do this anymore. It was so exhausting. It was just full of toxic and unhealthy patterns and behaviors and organizational dynamics. I literally remember sitting at my desk downtown Atlanta, feeling like, what am I doing? Just thinking about, and remembering those folks who I had first met in Greensboro and then in Philadelphia, Nelson and Joyce Johnson, and Ched and Elaine, and others like that, who I felt like they are doing work that is way harder than the work I'm doing right now as this peace building job in Atlanta. It was hard, but it was nothing like what the Johnson's have been doing for decades and decades in Greensboro, right? And yet they keep going and they have a spirit of joy and vitality and playfulness in the midst of this incredibly hard dehumanizing life-threatening, you know, for Nelson and Joy's particularly, work that they're doing… What gives? I should not be having this hard of a time.
I realized like, well, the difference is they are doing it from a deeply grounded faith perspective and community, which has surrounded them for a long time in which they can draw on, that I was very much lacking at that time. And I was sitting there having all of these feelings, I'm thinking all these things. I don't even know where it came from, but there was a brochure on my desk from Candler School of Theology with the Howard Thurman quote about “don't ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive and go and do that because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
I had heard of Thurman. I had read Jesus and the Disinherited in college, but I don't think I'd encountered that particular quote. I truly felt like Thurman was speaking to me like, go figure something else out - this isn't it. You need to get up and go do something different. I was a religious studies major after all, an MDiv might make sense. And I went to some prospective student days. Lo and behold, Dr. Luther Smith was teaching a class about Howard Thurman that I could sit in on. So again, it just was that feeling of I think this is what I'm supposed to do. And I was still holding this idea about the Quaker volunteer service program, but it just felt like I can't do anything else until I figure out how to integrate these parts of my life better. How to really pay attention to what makes me come alive and not keep making choices that felt like the thing I was supposed to do by some other standard, other than my own interior well-being and call.
Patrick: For those who are discerning that next step and trying to figure out how to piece all these things together, as you think about seminary, was it like high fives down the hallway? Was it three years of just affirmation and you emerge on the other side of this as like the founder and executive director of QVS? I mean, what was it like to have all this stuff come together?
Christina: That's not what happened. I had to do a lot of things I didn't particularly feel like doing or felt like I should have to do. So no, I still got some no’s at Candler as it turns out, but a couple of things that come to mind about that experience. Dr. Luther Smith became my thesis advisor and worked with me very closely on digging into research and thinking more intentionally and looking at the history of Quaker service and why, in the past, Quaker service programs had been extraordinarily formative and transformative for generations of Quakers and then they were ended - why that was, interviewing people, looking at documents, talking with folks who had experienced that, and then really being able to spend just dedicated time to think and write about this vision of mine simultaneously continuing the organizing process.
And it was during my time at Candler when we really sort of got the beginnings of Quaker voluntary service more fully off the ground. It felt like this like set apart time to be able to really focus on that. My first academic advisor at Candler was Dr. Brent Straughn who was an old Testament professor. I remember sitting with him on one of my first days and he said something that stuck with me because he said I can see you're struggling a little bit with taking three years away from working in the world and being an on-the-front-lines activist. I just want you to understand that you are having this time to read and write on behalf of others who can't do that, or who don't want to do that, or don't think is important, but on behalf of a community, on behalf of your family, on behalf of others.
I took that really seriously. To say, this is not just about me but that this was about me doing something on behalf of a wider community and that whatever I got out of that time sure better be put back into service to other people who didn't have the privilege to go get a degree for three years and mostly focus on reading and writing and thinking. I focused a lot of my time on putting the thinking behind and then the beginning, organizing into creating Quaker Voluntary Service.
Patrick: So how much time between when you finished up your MDiv and the launch of QVS, which has been incubating in your mind, your heart and your spirit and your community and your work for almost a decade before it officially kind of kicks off. tell us about starting an organization.
I mean, it's one thing to spend three years studying around like the deep spirit of all this. And then you have to think about things like, where do I incorporate my non-profit? Tell us about the pragmatics of this.
Christina: Yes. I often said if I had known all the things I was going to have to learn how to do, I probably would have never done it. Like, it's really good how naive I was or how uninformed I was about how hard it was going to be. Some of it started while I was still at Candler, but mostly it started about a year out of Candler when I began writing a 501c3 application and incorporating and building a board and figuring out how we were going to receive donations.
And how were we possibly going to find some young people, who were going to take a risk and do this brand new program that had never been done before and trust me with a year of their life. Were we going to be able to raise enough money for me to even be paid in that first year or more? How are we going to find a house? Like all of this stuff had to be figured out. I had a really amazing group of people who were the founding board and we worked together on this dream for a long time. I think it was really a combination of just like the really practical you have to get incorporated.
You have to write a 10-23 application to become a 501c3 and really using my network of people to help me. So an amazing family friend John Sweet, who was a lawyer here in Atlanta, he was generous and he sat down with me, walked through the 501c3 application that I had drafted and just gave me his time in that way. And so, that's how we were able to do that. There’s a phrase in Quaker tradition that when a calling is true and right and you're rightly led that way opens. And I really deeply feel that way opened for that project, but it wouldn't have, if I hadn't worked really hard and stuck with it. I feel like it was just this combination of yes, way opened and yes, it was rightly led and yes, the right people came together at the right time.
I feel strongly there was a spiritual synergy that had to happen and it did happen and it made it happen and there was a lot of just hard work and sort of stick with it-ness and stubbornness, right? And dedication and drive and just feeling like this is what I'm supposed to do with my life. When I look back in retrospect, it's like all these steps along my path were leading for me to be able to be the person, to carry this forward with a lot of support and a lot of help, and many, many other people playing crucial roles, but to be able to just carry it forward for so long And then finally bring it to fruition. It was the right thing at the right time.
Patrick: You've led that organization that you founded for more than a decade. So take us through what you built. What was that first house and that first class of young adults to the last one? How big was the program when you eventually, as a founder, walked away?
Christina: Our first program was in Atlanta. It was one house and there were seven young adults who came to Atlanta in the fall of 2012. Part of that was, convincing non-profits to take one of our fellows and give us money. Part of the business model was non-profits paid QVS a fee to have this full-time volunteer fellow for a year. And then we provided housing and we provided health insurance and programming and support and all this kind of wraparound stuff, spiritual formation, relationship with the Quaker community here in Atlanta. And we really benefited from the expertise and experience of the other faith-based service programs. And at that time, FTE was convening those service programs for a little while. And so I was able to learn a lot so that I could sort of take the best of their learning over decades in some cases and not have to reinvent the wheel on some of that stuff, but then really get to work on building relationships locally. Luckily, I had a lot of relationships locally in Atlanta in the nonprofit community from my previous work so I was able to say like, hi friend, can you do this with me?
And we found seven organizations that were willing to do that. And then we got to say what makes this uniquely Quaker? I got to have a lot of fun with here's the structure of the program, but now we get to design programming and learning Quaker practices and all kinds of fun stuff.
We were really clear that we wanted to do a national program. This wasn't just going to be a one location thing and so we launched the first program in the fall of 2012. I got married in the fall of 2012 and at the same time, I was traveling between Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon, getting the next two programs started.
By the fall of 2013, we opened a house in Philadelphia and in Portland, Oregon. So by the second year we were in three locations and had hired a staff person in Philadelphia and a staff person in Portland. So it was three of us. So I did a lot of organizing, a lot of traveling, a lot of just building momentum, a lot of fundraising, a lot of pitching my vision and convincing people that this was the right thing at the right time and that they should support it. It was hard. It was a lot of work, but was a vision that people got really quickly and we're excited to support.
So that second year we were running an organization three times as big. The first cohort those seven people were just down for whatever. I mean, they were like, we are the guinea pigs. We are here to try this out, we know you haven't figured it all out. But by the second year, when we were a bigger program, we weren't so much the like scrappy startup. So there is a little bit more demands and expectations that had to be met. So for the first time we were like, oh, maybe we need things like a program manual. Maybe we need these people to sign contracts. You know, some of that stuff that we just hadn't done as much of before. So we were kind of figuring it all out as we went and learning really learning a lot, a lot from our early successes and failures. Suddenly as you're growing more and more, and it's like, now we need 30 people to do this. Now we need 40 people, you know? So, we just had to keep growing all of our operations. by 2015, we were opening a house in Boston. So that was our fourth location and hiring staff there.
Pretty quickly after that second year I realized I cannot run the Atlanta program and give the kind of support that the young adults needed almost daily, weekly from a staff person and run this national organization and do all this fundraising and travel and build up support in all these different cities and manage staff.
So we hired another Atlanta staff person to run the local program. And so by that point, we had local staff in each city working directly with our young adults and our nonprofit agency partners and Quaker meetings and I was running the national organization. And so a lot of what I ended up doing was fundraising, managing staff, worrying about all the infrastructure and the insurance and handling the fires that, you know, not literal, but there were some housing situations and things like that.
The year before I left QVS we opened a house in Minneapolis/St. Paul. So five cities and that's currently the size of the organization. We went from, $0 budget to when I left over a million dollars now, well, over a million dollars.
And right before I left, I was able to help start an endowment for the organization through, again sort of way opening - things coming together in a beautiful way, where another Quaker organization that had previously done some work with young adults was closing and needed to redistribute their funds and we were positioned to be able to receive those.
So yes, I stepped away at a time when the organization was in really good shape financially and we had gone from, you know, me being the only staff person to, by the time I left, there were 10 people on staff locally and nationally. We had hired other national roles by that point, so that I wasn't the only national staff. And lots and lots and lots of folks locally in all of our cities who were volunteering and supporting and being spiritual mentors and helping furnish the houses and donate food and all kinds of stuff like that.
Patrick: Christina, I am a little bit overwhelmed with, not just the way that it took off, but also you've done all this work. It's been sitting on your heart for a while. You worked on it in your MDiv experience. You had,Dr. Strohm telling you, you know this is bigger than you. It is. And then you walk away and come to FTE to support a national network of young adults. And, you know, it's not direct work with young adults. So, before I get to my last question, just briefly about that, what is it like to be a founder of something that has been a call for a while? Where the world has been making way for this to emerge and then to experience transition like that. This is just before the pandemic, you step away. You talked a lot about your father and his passing, I mean, that was also part of this transition as well. Like all these pieces are coming together and then say I'm going to do something else. Something else is calling.
Christina: Yeah, it was hard. Transitions are hard. You can be really clear about something that can still be really hard and really painful, and you need to spend a lot of time processing and grieving something. So I would say that was true for me about that transition. Yes, my dad was dying at the same time. I have two small children who were even smaller at that time. So there was a lot going on all of that was part of what made it feel like this is the right time for me to make a change.
I was wrestling with should I leave, should I stay, what should I do and also my whole identity was wrapped up in that organization. From the time I was in my twenties, that was my passion. That was my life's work. That's what I was known for. But the clarity I had was that it was no longer making me come alive. It was only at the very end that it didn't feel that way anymore. I had also gotten to the point where I felt like there's a lot of ways this organization needs to grow and change that are beyond me. I was the right person to start and grow and build up this community and lay the structure and lay the vision and all of that but I just didn't feel like I was the right person to continue to carry it forward for lots of different reasons.
So I had the clarity, it wasn't what was making me come alive anymore. I wasn't the right person. The organization needed somebody different to take it to its next phase of life. There were some people who said to me, well, if you leave everything's going to fall apart. And I remember thinking, first of all, if that's true, then I didn't do a very good job of setting this up in the first place, cause it was never supposed to just be about me. And it didn't fall apart, the organizations doing great. But the other piece of that was like if it does, it does. I was faithful to the vision that I was given. I was faithful to the work I was given to do. I got to the point where I said, you know, if this is it, if this is all, there's 120 young adults who have come through this program, and many of their lives changed dramatically because of that experience.
And that was enough, I would be proud of that. Making the transition for myself and to what came next was hard. And I was fortunate to be able to step into this work at FTE right away and still feel like I got to be part of work that really deeply mattered to me, to be part of a vision that I believe in, but it was really different.
And as you know, being my colleague and friend through some of that time, I think for a long time I struggled with I don't really know what I'm supposed to do anymore. I used to feel like I was really good at everything and now I'm not sure, you know, exactly where my talents are best used or exactly how I fit or where can I find this aliveliness and sort of life energy again in my work.
So I think it just takes time. My work at FTE is really different than my work at QVS was, but there's lots of overlap. And I feel like I'm well positioned now in this phase of my life to be in a role that supports more organizations and more people more broadly than the Quaker community than I did at QVS.
So it feels like, very much a continuation of my life's work just from a different perspective and reaching more people and being a bit removed from the day-to-day. Actually that is a perfect fit for where I am in my life because I have two kids and I have life partner and it's been a big shift, in a good way, to be able to focus some of that life energy and time and passion into raising two little humans, and loving them into the world and helping them begin to see what makes them come alive. There's a right time and space for different leadings in our lives. And, you know, two of the best things that I'll do in my life are raise my two children. and that's something that I have a very different perspective on now a older person and, having lost my own dad and to prioritize that space and time with them.
So yeah, it was a hard change and a hard transition but an important one to just to settle into and recognize that are different phases of life. And there are different times and moments for different aspects of our ministry and our call and who we are and where we're supposed to be giving our time.
Patrick: As you say that it takes me to our last question. I'm going back to the beginning where you're saying you're sitting in meetings with your parents, with these activists, listening to them organize, make change, going to Quaker meetings after the age of 10, finding this beautiful supportive community, going off to college and experiencing all these things that just ignite your spirit and soul and questions and stuff you want to study. And the communities that you've found with Ched and Elaine and the Johnsons, and then going to Candler and sticking with this question around, there's gotta be something for Quaker young adults, some service opportunity for us to change our world. And then leading that organization. I'm really curious about what you would say - how much of your call is in community in that Quaker meeting, in that activist meeting, and how much is that still small voice sitting with that, not letting this idea go because I know it's a good one, I know this is the vision that's been put on my heart and my soul to carry out. How much of your call is community? How much Is it that internal voice?
Christina: I think it's always both. I would literally have not been able to do any of what I did in starting Quaker voluntary service if I had just kept trying to do it on my own. If I never heard a yes and kept hearing a no, I wouldn't have been able to do it even if I'd wanted to. There were so many tiny to huge ways that building community, being part of a community, having networks and relationships are what made it possible to do that work. And are what made it fun and enjoyable and enlivening and what held me accountable. I mean, the core of that idea was always my idea, but it got way better, way more successful, way more what it needed to be because of so many other people's ideas and work. So that accountability and being able to always return to a community large and small.
I mean, for most of those years, I had a group of three or four people who were part of what we call in the Quaker tradition, my anchor committee. So my committee that held me stable in all the stuff that was going on and would ask the right questions, would return me to my center, would make sure that I wasn't saying yes to all the invitations if it wasn't really keeping me on track.
And so even that aspect of my work I would never want to do any of it without community. Communities change and shift and it's not always the same community, it's not always the same group of people or the same focus, but yes, community and yes, that still small voice. Because I think that for me anyway, you know, hearing that voice, I need to test it with people.
I need to make sure that what I've heard is right and resonates and that I don't get too far off on the wrong track and that what I am doing is still meaningful and purposeful to others. So yeah, I think it's always the both/and.
Patrick: Christina, let me just say thank you for sharing your journey and your story with us. I know that personally, I have been the benefactor of all of those communities, of the wisdom of your father, your mother, the activists, the Quakers. Seeing a leader who has as much experience as you do has really been inspiring to work alongside and learn from, so thank you. I deeply love and appreciate you for all that you are and grateful we get to work together. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
Christina: Thank you.
Patrick: Thank you for listening to the Sound of the Genuine. You can hear so many other inspiring stories, not just on this podcast and the Sound of the Genuine, but if you're thinking about social justice and service ministry as your call, we have a course for you. Head on over to fteleaders.org, get more information and sign up as it will help you chart a path not only to do this work professionally, but to commit to it for a lifetime. That is what a vocation, what a call is!
I want to say thank you to Elsie Barnhart, Heather Wallace, Diva Morgan Hicks, and the rest of the FTE crew for getting this story out there, @siryalibeats for his music. Be sure to head on over to fteleaders.org for many more resources.
And please, please, please do me a favor, share this story with a friend and we'll see you next time on the Sound of the Genuine.