I step off the Green Line train onto the rustic pavement of downtown Saint Paul. The building I am heading towards is old yet stately, packed with bustling offices. This is the home of Mary’s Pence, also my new work-home for the next 11 months. I feel excitement and a hint of tension as I walk in the door, as I’m new here – the St. Joseph Worker for 2016-2017. Good day! My name is Svitlana.
St. Joseph Worker Program that I’m part of is a harbor for young women who are passionate about justice. SJWs spend a year living in an intentional community and serving at social justice organizations such as Mary’s Pence. Beyond that, the program helps us find a spiritual compass, exercise leadership skills, and build connections with professionals throughout the country. When I realized that Mary’s Pence was on the list of potential placement sites for SJWs, I knew that I would end up here. After all, Mary’s Pence brings into life the voices and imaginings of actionable change. My love of language will be of use at this organization.
A couple of months ago, I graduated from Macalester College with a double degree in English and Psychology. Throughout my senior year, I worked at a cognitive neuroscience lab, translated renowned and contemporary poems from my native Ukrainian into Engish, and breakdanced. Some of the translations I’ve authored were published in the anthology Letters from Ukraine, a volume that came out in honor of the Lviv-Wroclaw cultural exchange. My capstone in literature focused on translations from Vasyl Stus, a Ukrainian dissident poet who had been imprisoned for his outcries against the brutalities of the Soviet system. It’s a work in progress, as I am still compiling drafts and commentary. Vasyl Stus’ work carries as much intensity as his life story, and is kindred to all who seek and express a true voice even in the middle of political turmoil. This awareness I’ve built for the intersections between the personal and the political within every human story will enrich my experience at Mary’s Pence.
The mission of Mary’s Pence to support community projects for women resonates with important aspects of my identity. As a graduate of Emma Willard, the oldest all-girls’ boarding school in the nation, I recognize how vital it is to empower women. Collaborations among women do have the tremendous power to bring innovation, non-violence, and progress into the world. As someone who grew up in rural Ukraine, a land traversed with patchwork of private gardens, I know that the dearth of resources for local start-ups and small projects can be lethal to communities. With that, the focus of Mary’s Pence on smaller-scale projects initiated by women conjoins the values I hold dear.
Perhaps just like Mary’s Pence grantees, I feel vulnerable to the realities of non-profits, conferences, constant noise of money and power. I am honored to start my work journey, encouraged by the stories of women who keep up their stubborn pitch of kindness.