Flames of Hope

26 Mar

I returned home tonight, inspired and moved by the annual Hunger Banquet presented by UNH OXFAM.  This wonderful student organization, with which we work closely and with whom we share a number of wonderful students and student leaders, once again did a fine job of raising important issues of economic justice.  I was reminded, as I am every day, that these young people that we are called to nurture, support and affirm, are working to make this world a better place every single day.

I looked across the room at the UNH OXFAM members who had organized the event.  Among them was our wonderful Social Work Intern, Stacey.  For the past two years, Stacey has been our primary intern, transforming our ministry and enhancing the programs and people that find a home at the Waysmeet Center.   Attempting to measure the impact of Stacey’s presence and work on our Ministry, not to mention our entire campus community,  is futile.  However, it can be seen every day in the lives she has made better with her humble and gracious compassion and kindness for others.

Stacey came to UNH as a quiet student raised by a hard working single mother.   She learned the value of hard work and of not using social identity or economic or social circumstances as barriers to achievement or accomplishment.  I met her as a first year student when she elected to take part in the Martin Luther King leadership summit, a weekend retreat of thirty students that focuses on social justice, social identity and privilege.   She was the quiet student who listened intently, smiled brightly and absorbed every intense moment of the experience.

Since that time, Stacey has become one of the most outstanding student leaders at UNH.  She became one of the key leaders of UNH/OXFAM and UNH Relay for Life.  She became a mentor for the first year orientation program that gives incoming students the experience of a week of community service.  She got deeply involved with our Waysmeet Center, showing up at virtually every event we hosted, sponsored or organized.  When she asked in the summer after her sophomore year about being an intern at the Waysmeet Center, I quickly said yes!

These past two years, Stacey has done it all!  She has coordinated our  Cornucopia food pantry, a student run program  that feeds over 6,000 people annually.  She coordinated our food basket programs, delivering 525 food baskets that feed over 2,000 people.  She became our volunteer coordinator, providing order to chaos and managing over 350 volunteers.  Through our Flames of Hope direct service program, she worked with community members to improve lives and build relationships with community members.  Most of all, her kind, humble, gracious and smiling presence at Waysmeet embodied and enhanced our ministry of welcome and inclusion, hospitality and sanctuary.  Every single person who has come into Waysmeet has felt Stacey’s love, compassion, kindness and  joy enrich their lives and give them hope for a brighter day.

Along the way, Stacey has received numerous awards, a difficult challenge for someone of deep humility and who does the work simply because she cares.  These awards include the top award for volunteers in New Hampshire, the MLK Social Justice award, and the University Women’s award.  The best part of watching her be celebrated is having her say “thank you,” put down the award plaques and get right back to work,.  After all, there are people to serve and lives to change.

Stacey does not identify with any particular religious identity or tradition.  She does embody a spiritual presence and depth as great as anyone that I have known.  Her life is a shining example of the teachings of Jesus, and of Buddha, Ghandi, Martin Luther King and many others, for that matter.  She is a spark of light in a world of shadows.  She is a flame of hope burning briightly across the shadow sky of despair, oppression, injustice and fear.  She truly is a “folded hand of grace against these times.” (Nanci Griffith).

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Reverend Larry Brickner-Wood is the Chaplain and Executive Director of the United Campus MInistry to the University of New Hampshire.  The UCM, aka the Waysmeet Center, is an ecumenical and inter-faith ministry that has existed at UNH for over 60 years.  Larry is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC) and is in his 13th year at UCM.  He served previously as the Assistant Pastor at First Church Congregational, UCC, in Rochester, NH, and spent twenty years in another calling in local government, serving as a municipal manager for most of that time.  He has a Bachelors degree in Public Administration from James Madison University in Virginia, a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Vermont, and a Master in Divinity from Andover Newton Theolgical School.  He is married and has two sons, who are in college in West Virginia and Arizona.  He loves his work!

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