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Senior inspired to volunteer at Mexican border after graduation

With graduation quickly approaching, Lyon seniors are finalizing their plans for post-graduate life.

One senior, Emma Gillaspy, plans on spending the next year working with the Young Adult Volunteer Program (YAV). This program, which is run by the Presyberterian Church of the United States, provides volunteer opportunities in locations around the world. Gillaspy will be working near the U.S./Mexican border in Tucson, Ariz.

Gillaspy first became interested in working at the border after visiting Brownsville, Texas, with the Lyon College Presbyterian Student Association in October 2019. Led by Lyon’s chaplain, Rev. Maggie Alsup, Gillaspy and other members of the association visited Ozanam Center, which serves as a transitional home for Central American refugees. 

This center and others like it are designed as neutral spaces for refugees to begin adjusting to their new living situation while waiting to learn if their request for refuge will be granted. During their visit, Lyon students learned about what awaited refugees after coming to America, including the prejudice they face.

Gillaspy particularly enjoyed speaking to the people working at the center and learning about the situation from their perspectives. One trait that stuck out to her was the optimism in everyone she met. 

“Everyone was so happy and so pumped about helping people,” she said. 

Though this trip did inspire Gillaspy’s desire to work at the border, she didn’t always know how she could pursue this dream. Knowing she didn’t want to begin graduate school immediately, she decided to take a gap year. 

She learned about YAV through Lyon College Career Services’ “Year of Service” luncheon, which educates students about temporary placements in service-based programs.

“I wanted to do something within this gap year to make a difference,” she said. “Seeing that the YAV had a placement where I could do what I had seen at the border, it felt like it was a perfect match.”

Though her placement hasn’t yet been finalized, Gillaspy is looking forward to helping people in any way she can. She was particularly inspired by her experience at the Ozanam Center and hopes to play a similar role as those workers.

Her one-year appointment begins in August 2020. She doesn’t yet know if she’ll be pursuing similar work after the year ends, but she appreciates the way the temporary placement allows her to experience working in the field and building experience.

“It’s just figuring out how to put that interest into a job, and this is like a first step for me,” she said.