Above and Beyond: How ESC Fellows Are Making a Difference in the Bronx

by Christopher Goodlof

The difficult task of getting six total strangers to not only live together for a year but also devote a majority their time helping their community is no easy task – but it’s one at which Episcopal Service Corps (ESC) members excel.

ESC, founded in the 1980’s, recruits young adults from across the country for an 11-month intensive that includes full-time service and skill-building in a local nonprofit, spiritual formation, vocational discernment, leadership development, and commitment to a Rule of Life and “intentional community.” 

Based in the Bronx, New York Service and Justice Collaborative (NYSJC) is one of 17 ESC programs.

“Our Corps members are intentionally put together as a community based on their application and interview,” said Executive Director of New York Service and Justice Collaborative, Judith Douglas. “They were selected for NYSJC because of their similarities and because of their differences, we value diversity.” 

“When you’re engaged in community building, you’re not only learning and sharing, but also exploring and teaching,” said Douglas. 

NYSJC Corps members, also called fellows, already devote 32 to 35-hours a week to service, but that hasn’t stopped them from going above and beyond. NYSJC fellows have been volunteering their Saturdays at the Giving Tree Thrift Shop at Trinity Church, Morrisania.

Started three years ago, the Giving Tree Thrift Shop is set up in the street in front of the church so as to welcome community members in need. They offer gently worn clothing and household goods donated by parishioners, neighbors, and friends free of charge, with donations welcome.

“As things have changed within the church,” said Paula Roberts, Trinity Church Senior Warden and Giving Tree Coordinator, “as people have gotten older at Trinity and they’re not able to come out, we have a smaller and smaller congregation. And so, you really have to really start thinking about how we do church differently, how we look at ministry, and how are we going to administer and carry out Christ’s work. This is certainly one way of doing it.” 

The Giving Tree is open twice a month, and while the thrift store’s operation doesn’t call for it and NYSJC doesn’t require it, all 6 fellows have been volunteering their time together on the weekends to help the thrift shop reach and help as many people as possible.

In addition to volunteering at the thrift shop, fellows also volunteered as election poll workers, are working on their NYSJC’s website and a monthly newsletter, and are volunteering to help serve soup and other meals to those in need.

“It’s helping them to make a connection and build a connection between them, the church, the community, and the neighborhood,” said Roberts, “and to help people to feel valued and a sense of belonging.” 

Episcopal Service Corps is now recruiting for 2021-2022. Every Episcopal Service Corps program is unique. Like NYSJC, some are in urban areas, while others very rural. Some are larger, with up to 12 Corps members, while others are 4 or 5.

What is true for every program, is that each offers community and service opportunities that are contextualized to the particular setting of that program.

Discerning a Service Year? Take our Discernment Quiz. Click here for the ESC Application.