QC Family Tree has cultivated important relationships with neighbors, but also has influenced that lives of many young people who have served the community as interns. Here are some reflections from interns about the importance of their time here, in their own words.
Kristina Massoleet Echols
The summer of 2017, I was an intern with QC Family Tree. I fell in love with QC Family Tree and the Enderly Park community almost immediately. I found myself kind of at home being that Charlotte closely resembles both my hometown of Chicago, IL and where I currently was attending Spelman College (and now live) in Atlanta, GA. I enjoyed it so much that I even visited twice since my internship ended (and planning to again). It felt so great to really get personal with the children and adults in the community which brought them closer to the organization. I think the work QC Family Tree does is important and powerful. I will forever call them family and keep them in my heart/prayers.
After graduating Spelman in 2019, I went to Malaysia as a J. William Fulbright Scholar; however, my scholarship was cut short (from 9 months to 3 months) due to COVID-19. I will be working soon. In addition, I am a professional dancer for the WNBA and also have appeared in some shows, showcases, and commercials. I continue to actively volunteer and dedicate my time to youth and support causes I believe in.
Lesley-Ann Hix Tommey
Thursdays were my most favorite day at the Family Tree. I always learned about abundance on Thursdays. That was the day I volunteered at Ashley Park, and I think it was a day Kelia and I went to work out at Betty Rae. I’m pretty sure it was also the day the food donation typically showed up, and I loved sorting through the donated food to fill our pantry and set it out in the shopping cart on the road for neighbors. And after dinner we always piled up on the couch and watched Scandal. But I mostly loved Thursdays because that was the night the single ladies cooked dinner in the Tuck house. Tiffany, Kelia and I would all be in that kitchen fixing dinner for everyone. We would start early, and at some point someone, usually Tiffany, would go around the house cleaning up, getting ready for guests. We would work to prepare something vegetarian and gluten-free. I feel like we got really good at making soups that year. We would sort through the refrigerators of both houses and pull out whatever we could find. We used lots of leftovers and created mix-matched meals, but it was always delicious and there was always enough and something for everyone. I learned so much about the miracle of the loaves and fishes that year, and I still carry with me all my Enderly Park lessons, including that there really is enough food, space, grace, stuff, love, hope for everyone on earth.
One day every week, after morning prayers, my day began by driving over to Ashley Park and reading with first graders. I sat on the floor outside the classroom and read through lots of books with students. The guidance office was right across the hall from us, so I listened to counselors work with students, read their body language, de-escalate, and listen to them. I learned from watching them, all while the child next to me seemed unphased by whatever commotion was going on and kept right on reading.
Early on in my time with the Family Tree, I had a rough devos night. Joe, the other intern, and I were leading the younger students, and everything became chaotic. I got really mad with a couple of kids who were distracting everyone, and I let my anger show wildly. I immediately felt ashamed, but I learned that kids have to be allowed to be kids. They work all day long to follow rules, please adults, and many handle situations no child should ever have to handle. So when they come to a safe place like the Family Tree, they should feel relief and belonging. They should be allowed to play and run around and let go. They should be allowed to be kids.
Having learned this, I was regularly getting in trouble at Ashley Park. I'd be talking with students or helping with work on one side of the classroom, and the teacher, from the other side of the classroom, would call my corner down. We were being too loud and disrupting.
Still, with our volunteer teams in NYC every summer, I make a point of explaining to them that kids need to be kids and camp is not school. I see the same struggle I had that night during devos in our volunteer teams here in NYC—the struggle to manage “chaos” and maintain order. I try to explain that “chaos” is the beautiful imagination, energy and passion of a child, and that our responsibility is to kindle it, not call it bad. But I learned even more from that experience at devos. In the wake of my exploding anger, while my shame burned me, Zeb jumped on my back and gave me a long hug as we finished up in the garden that night, and the other kids circled around and listened with so much joy. As part of a community we are made better by those we are bound to. As part of a community, we are encouraged to be vulnerable, to show our worst bits, and to ask for forgiveness. The grace, love and trust that is strong in community, washes over us and reminds us that we belong just as we are.
QC Family tree has a special place in my heart. As a kid, not old enough to intern, but just about the same age as the kids going to the pool and having community meals, devos, and deep discussions, I hung around with my sister, Anna who was one of the first interns. I was lucky enough to tag along to outings and form friendships with community members at a young age; making friends with people who were different than me. As a result if this, I am who I am today.
Throughout the years, QC family tree has touched my heart, not only through my sister but through the experience of being one of the interns in the summer of 2016. Despite my mental health crisis and personal struggles, QC family tree's community never stopped loving me. When I would be absent for a week they strategized ways for me to be involved.
I recall making tomato sauce, working in the garden, and creating interactive yard art. The front porch of QC family tree held my tears and touched many of my smiles throughout the years. I am so so grateful for the Jarrell family and the Enderly park neighborhood. They played a huge role in my growth and courage to carry on when times are hard. Thanks to QC Family Tree and their part in my journey, I am currently studying Clinical Mental Health Counseling in graduate school.
It was 10 years ago this summer I was an intern in Elderly Park, which feels like a lifetime ago. Me ending up as an intern with QC Family Tree, known then as Hyaets, was a happy accident. I was finishing up my sophomore year in college at the time and needed something to do. I ended up applying for the NC Baptist summer missions, which is funny because I’m not Baptist. I was way out of my speed, but by grace was assigned to go to Enderly Park. That summer was an awakening of sorts. A few years later, in 2013, I would write about my experience that summer in an autobiographical essay.
I arrived at Hyaets in June 2010, where I would stay for ten weeks. What I found was an intentional Christian community in the Enderly Park neighborhood of Charlotte (a neighborhood deemed by the city as “challenged”). Greg and Helms Jarrell ran youth ministries out of their homes and opened their doors to the many children of the largely African American neighborhood. I have many fond memories of that summer. I think it was the happiest time of my life. The community would gather for prayer in the mornings. Then me and two other interns would hang out with the neighborhood kids during the day. At night, the community would have a dinner. Once a week we would have the kids over for “dinner and devos,” where we would cook food and have some sort of Gospel based activity planned. The community practiced Sabbath-keeping, taking a weekly day of rest. Life at Hyaets was simple and moved along slowly. It was idyllic. But not in the way that separates it from the realities of the world. Hyaets introduced me to the joys of serving one’s neighbor, and gave me an up close glimpse into the social inequalities in our cities.
Today, I see my experience at Hyaets as changing my faith from an abstract set of beliefs to a faith that is incarnational. I began to sense that God was dwelling in myself and in my neighbor. God can be contemplated (and I did contemplate that summer), but is more than an object of contemplation. I do not think I believed that at the time, but I do think I felt it. To borrow words from an intellectual hero of mine, “I saw or perhaps felt with great clarity and persuasion and conviction that the Lord was really there and was all I had thought.” Except in my case, the suddenness wasn’t there and God became and was more than I had thought. God is Emanuel, God with us. Looking back on that summer, there were many moments of holiness where I feel God was revealed through my community mates and neighbors. The whole summer was a religious experience. It changed my life.
Looking back, I stand by everything I wrote. The summer at QC Family Tree did change my life and I can trace back many of my major life choices to those days. To Helms and Greg and everyone else, congratulations on 15 years and Godspeed!
Dear QC Family Tree,
I was looking through my files and found the letter I wrote to future QCFT interns. I will share some of the things I wrote in that letter.
You will laugh at the funny things that happen here, like when you take brother out to the backyard and he slips off his leash and you have to chase him. Some of my favorite traditions from this place are gathering together for midday prayer and eating meals together. My job this summer was working on the Community Listening Project with the West Side Community Land Trust and you can see the project at placestories.com/folks/QCFT
Through the summer I worked with four other interns, Kristina, Hansol, Monika and Jemima. We are lucky to be the first group living in the Tuck house this summer. This year Helms is 39, Greg is 37, JT is 9 and Zeb is 7. What I enjoyed about working here is the neighbors and the youth. I am a Chinese American who was adopted into a white family, raised in white culture. My time spent with QCFT was so meaningful because Enderly Park was the first time I have been in Black American culture. Through my position creating the Listening Project, I was able to hear the stories of the neighbors which gave me insight on how this neighborhood and community came to be. I learned so much about myself and how I fit into this community as a whitewashed Asian American.
Another amazing part of my QCFT experience was my involvement with The Fellowship Place, the church next door to us. I decided to join the praise team to sing on Sundays. Through that, I was able to make friends in the group and we shared in a common love for music and God. Another love I have for this community is QCFT’s partnership with Freedom School. I would go to Harambee frequently and always found joy singing and dancing with the youth.
Now as I reflect on my time at QCFT 3 years later, I understand how much of a caring community it is. It was not always an easy time and sometimes there were fights; but through God and the leadership from Helms and Greg, issues are resolved, lessons are learner, and a greater bond of Christian love is made.
My time here has changed me for the better and I hold the ministry of this place very dearly. Now a days I am in Seminary getting my Master of Divinity degree at Chicago Theological Seminary. My plan is to be a Racial Justice Minister in the United Church of Christ.