How do today’s Millennials prepare for a resilient life? David Brooks wrote a marvelous column recently on the value of “thick” organizations. In “How to Leave a Mark on People,” he described an institution that “becomes part of a person’s identity and engages the whole person: head, hands, heart and soul.” Thick organizations, he wrote, “take advantage of people’s desire to do good and arouse their higher longings.” Brooks offered examples of organizations that leave a mark on people when they’re just coming to maturity, like a special summer camp, a sports team that performs at a high level, or an organization like the Marines, which have shared traditions, a common ideal (“Semper Fi”), and a no-frills environment where people get to know each other at close quarters.
Circle of the Beloved is a new organization which aspires to be “thick.” Their motto is “exploring and deepening kinship across many lines of difference.” This year, four young adults worked as Americorps service members and lived together as an intentional community dedicated to exploring racial justice. The residents worked as teaching assistants or in volunteer management roles in social service agencies. They were part of a cohort of over 2,000 Minnesota Americorps members managing or mobilizing over 21,000 community volunteers; our state annually fields more Americorps service members than any other except for California.
Circle of the Beloved hosted weekly pasta suppers where they welcomed residents of North Minneapolis and church community members into Liberty House, the former rectory of St. Andrews Episcopal Church. As they completed their year of service, the residents wished to learn about how to manage their personal finances, and how to move from their year of service into the world of work in areas like hospitality, customer service, education, and community organizing. Working with Circle of the Beloved’s program director, Craig Lemming, and one of the board directors, the residents designed “Transitions Day” for themselves and other Americorps service members in the Twin Cities. In the morning, Kay Kramer, the founder of Birchwood Financial, offered tips on budgeting, saving, credit, and investing. In the afternoon, a panel of slightly older Millennials described the early steps of their careers, and offered tips on networking and early job success. One mentioned that he had started as an Americorps member himself.
One of the best things about Transitions Day was how the participants learned about finance and careers from each other. One had learned the hard way why renter’s insurance was important. Several were interested in starting a small business. Along with one of the career panelists, the aunt of one service member who had come for the day shared her experiences in a service industry. These two young women shared how they worked through their fears and survived the inevitable mistakes of starting a new venture. Together, they reinvented the old wisdom that Shakespeare offered in “Measure for Measure,” when he wrote “Our doubts are our traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
Circle of the Beloved isn’t a perfect community. The residents had to work through the everyday frictions that we all experience when we’re living and working with others. When they move out of Liberty House this summer, two of the residents will enter graduation school at the University of Minnesota to become teachers. One hopes to get a job in the building trades, and another will begin another year of Americorps service while continuing part-time college education. It’s too soon to know whether Circle of the Beloved will achieve the “thickness” of the organizations that David Brooks described in his column. But it won’t be through lack of trying. As I looked at the service members who came for Transitions Day, I was optimistic about a future where young adults from dramatically different backgrounds could give each other a leg up on the ladder to a resilient life.