How do you measure success?

We often get asked questions around here like: What's the goal for your interns? What would a young adult get out of this experience? How do you measure the success of your program?

I used to dread these questions as the sort of life changes and transformations that happen through intentional, communal living are by and large more qualitative than quantitative...hard to chart or graph or put numbers to. (And people seem to want numbers these days.) We've been working on how to communicate clearly with the "numbers people" because that's important too, and we're getting better at it. But my favorite way to answer these questions now is to sit folks down and let them listen to our interns tell the stories of what they're learning, how they're growing, and how they're becoming more holistically healthy, caring, and thinking people in the world...how they're taking their experiences from internship into their next seasons of life and feel more equipped to be better neighbors, friends, employees, daughters/sons, wives/husbands, siblings, citizens, etc. And it's a real privilege & deep joy to get to walk together as all this takes shape. 

One of our interns, Jessie Lynn Smith, who is completing her second year at the Yellow House this week wrote out her version of this sort of story...of what these 2 years have done in her life and what she's taking with her as she moves on. If you've ever asked the aforementioned questions, please take a few moments to read Jessie's story. Honesty, vulnerability, lighthearted humor, and depth...they're all here. This, to me, is a story of success. And what a gift it is to read and share.

-Sarah Duet (YH Intern Director)


MY YELLOW HOUSE by Jessie Lynn Smith (YH Intern, 2013-2015)

In January of 2013, I don’t think I truly believed in the power of prayer, but I think I was out of options. A worrier by nature, a child of God who thought my Father was waiting for me to “get happy” so He could pull the rug out from underneath my feet.18, fresh out of high school, living in pseudo-community, disconnected, dishonest and lonely. I didn’t like my living situation, my financial situation, my community situation, etc. Although doubt was pumping through my veins, I asked God specifically for a living situation where rent was $200 so I didn’t have to work so much and could do something important with my time outside of school instead of show people to tables (Looking at you, Carrabba’s). My lack of creativity could not imagine an option suited for my desperation – thank God.

I was in a Psychology class, scrolling through social media under my desk when I saw the first advertisement for The Yellow House of Highland 2013-2014 Internship. Looking back, I can’t remember the thought process. I just know that I saw it, grabbed my bag, and immediately started walking back to my apartment to send my first email to the YH of Highland. Friends, when I tell y’all I sat in front of my computer for hours, I’m not exaggerating. Around 11 p.m. that faithful email ding resounded through the speakers of my computer like the message was sent from God Himself. I sped read the email where sweet Britney Lee was giving me some basic information before I officially asked for an application. One of the pieces of information was the rent: $200. I was sold (on what, I’m not sure – but we’ll get to that). Within 7 minutes, Brit would get another email saying “YES TO ALL OF THAT” and an application request. Within 18 hours an eager and equally naive 18 year old was on the front porch of that pollen colored house on Dalzell Street, placing my application in the mailbox. I met Britney, my future intern director/coordinator, that day. We laugh about it now, but I’m sure I scared her with my twitches and stutters. I would have plucked out every eyelash on that porch that day had she asked me to. I had been stalking her for years via Facebook. She didn’t know it then, but she was my hero. She may not know it now, but she still is. At least now I have less manic reasons.

The wait was on – Am I too young? Too persistent? Was I good enough? The questions kept me up at night. But, I would calm down when I thought about being in that house. I don’t know what I thought internship would be like. Except – an escape, a popularity ladder climb, a way to be known/important in the city. I was going to save the neighborhood. I was going to make new friends, make a new life for myself. My imagination ran wild when I thought of how amazing I would look to people. They would say that I’m selfless and that I’m a role model. Shaking hands, kissing babies, doing life intentionally or whatever. Looking back now, it’s humbling – excruciatingly humbling – to know how incorrect and selfish my motives were about my upcoming adventure in Highland.

The first few months were hard. Everyone was fumbling around trying to figure out why we were there. No one did the dishes, I left my shoes in the living room, and I wanted to be the favorite. Sam, Stephanie, Alex, and I were all in this thing together. Half in the light, half hiding. I try not to speak for everyone, but I know that none of us knew how much Britney and Sarah expected of us. They thought highly of us and they demanded the best that we could give: 100% presence, 100% honesty, 100% willingness. If I haven’t said if yet, I’ll say it now: I would have given up on me and my pride within the first few months. But our fearless leaders were strong, resilient, honest, and brave. I don’t care how old you are, it takes a brave human to take on young adults. We love our privacy and we love to choose what others get to see. To be in charge of little heathens like us takes warriors, – and warriors Sarah and Britney have been for me.

We got into a groove. A rotation of house meetings, neighbor visits, book discussions, and cultivating lessons took up the first half of internship each day. The last 2 hours were for for Youth Club (6th-12th graders in Highland). It took me months to remember their names, and even longer to feel comfortable with talking personally with them. I was so awkward and scared. They – the kids, the interns, the intern directors – never made me feel awkward, it was just that second nature of worrying if I belonged here. I was a walking threat of abandonment. I was constantly formulating an escape route. I needed an exit plan to leave before I was left. Sarah and Britney caught on to that one gloomy day in February of last year. They brought me to the third floor of the house where they yelled and cried and fought for me. I hope everyone gets to have a conversation like that one day – one where respectable people yell, cry, and fight for you, where they tell you to stay because you are XY and Z to them. I haven’t threatened to leave Highland since that day. In fact, I haven’t been able to find a reason to leave since that day. That’s also the day that I decided for sure to stay in the Yellow House one more year.

It’s been two years since I found out that I wanted Highland and one year since I found out that Highland wanted me. I remember at some point in the first half of my first year, I was crying (what? you? stop no way) about the day that the novelty of the YH would wear off. What if one day I didn’t want to blast upbeat 2011 Gungor songs while pulling into the driveway? What if I didn’t feel like posting pictures of these primarily different colored kids that I hung out with? What if I ran out of superlatives to explain how “this was the best thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life?” Britney told me that the coolest part of the experience is when the novelty wears off because that’s when the reality begins. Those words didn’t mean much to me then, but today – with the novelty completely worn off – it makes so much sense.

I’m two years into this and I’m still not that good at it. I still don’t do the dishes and I guarantee I have at least 2 pairs of shoes lying around here at this very moment. My room is never only 5 minutes away from being clean enough for visitors like Sarah taught us. By Friday, I’m peopled out and not always nice. This work is hard and it’s exhausting, but I was made for it – because I was not made to be alone.  And just like 2 years ago when my imagination simply could not conceive an idea for my future, I can not imagine the kind of Jessie I would be without this experience. Internship did not mold a perfect person, but it grew me into a person that sees the importance of this work – and it taught me how to take the romance out and do this community thing when I move out in a couple weeks.

On our last day of internship last year, I was a crying mess. For sentimental reasons, the novelty had just not completely worn off yet. I stayed another year because I personally did not feel equipped to be a part of Highland without the title of Intern. But this year, I feel excited and thankful – I’m ready to take the tools that Britney and Sarah so freely gave to each of us on a daily basis and use them when I move 2 blocks away. Tools like building friendships with our neighbors, constant self-awareness, striving to find balance of the good with the bad, that there are rules to friendships, and a covenanted commitment to your community means that you will be there on the other side of their mistakes (and vice versa, praise God). I’m excited to be a neighbor to next year’s interns and our Club kids that I eventually grew to know and cherish. I’m not scared like I was 2 years ago or even a year ago because I have been able to build a life here in this neighborhood that won’t end when I move down the street. I have made friends for a lifetime, and mentors that I have and will trust with the deepest parts of me. This awesome, weird, difficult life is real and authentic life. And I wouldn’t change anything about the two years of internship that led me here.  My story in this house is my own and future interns will experience totally different, but hopefully equally important years. This is my testimony of how I didn’t deserve a lot of things like grace and longevity in the past 2 years, but God so loved me and the world that He gave a group of young adults an idea and a way to buy a Yellow House.

Then they let me move into it.

 

 (This story was originally posted at  jessielsmith.com.)