Leah Varsano interned for Faith House from June through August 2009. Last week, Leah was featured in the newsletter of Avodah: The Jewish Services Corps! She just completed a year-long commitment with Avodah following her graduation from Vassar College; the program is a year-long service corps the integrates working for social change, Jewish life, and community building.
Fun fact: Faigy Abdelhak, our current Community Development Administrator, did the program as well!
The newsletter snippet led to a longer interview, and we are thrilled to be sharing her wonderful progress with you here!
Leah Varsano is from Northampton, MA and attended Vassar College. As a New Orleans Corps member, she served as the Assistant Neighborhood Coordinator at Jericho Road Episcopal Housing Initiative.
What are your plans for next year?
Next year I will be working as the Resource Center Coordinator at the Freret Neighborhood Center in New Orleans, an AmeriCorps VISTA position. Freret is a neighborhood in New Orleans adjacent to the AVODAHbayit (house) that is experiencing revitalization at a very fast rate. It's an exciting neighborhood to be working in with a lot of very committed, engaged residents. Check out The New Freret to see what I'm talking about.
How has AVODAH influenced your plans?
My placement through AVODAH introduced me to the world of neighborhood revitalization - a topic that is especially potent in New Orleans as the city continues to rebuild. I seem to have become obsessed with this idea of "neighborhood." (As an example of my obsession, here is my AVODAH blog post on neighborhoods.) I'm endlessly thankful that I had such a wonderful opportunity through AVODAH to work as a community organizer. Although I expect that I will continue working as an organizer for the next few years, ultimately I think I'd like to work more on the big picture. I'm considering graduate programs in urban planning that place an emphasis on neighborhood and community development. I can't imagine having landed on this path that I am now so passionate about had it not been for AVODAH and New Orleans.
What is one thing that you learned this past year in AVODAH?
This year, I've been reminded that although I am no longer a full-time student, learning is a never-ending process. In our house this year, we have never lost the opportunity to question, discuss, or debate an issue. For weeks, our house endlessly contemplated food. We are something of foodies, it's true, and there was a period of time in October and November when every house meeting turned toward food. How much food? How much money? Organic vs. cheap? Organic vs. local? Vegetarian vs. vegan vs. pescatarian vs. kosher? It was exhausting, but we all educated each other, and we all learned a lot - about food and our values.
I remember my excitement when, walking across the grocery store parking lot pushing shopping carts laden with (reusable) bags of food, my housemate remarked, "You know, I never really realized how much stuff high fructose corn syrup is in. But wow. It is in a LOT. I'm definitely going to be reading those labels from now on." I felt proud because I remembered doing the research to present to the group about the ethics of corn consumption in the United States, but mostly I felt impressed and humbled by my housemate for being open minded enough to really think about it and come to his own conclusion.
Even though we are approaching the end of AVODAH, we continue to push each other to learn, grow, and think. Whenever I feel like giving up, I'm brought back from complacency by my fellow AVODAHniks' enthusiasm and humility. In the end, the measure of a successful AVODAH year isn't how many of its participants switch to corn-free products. It's how many of us learned something new, thought about social justice, and adjusted our lives or our intentions because of it.