What I’ve Learned About Tucson

When I googled Tucson last winter/spring after applying to the Tucson Borderlands YAV site, I learned that it is a pretty large city, there is a beautiful National park, and there are some pretty cool festivals in Tucson. When I arrived in Tucson, I was so shocked to see a saguaro cactus right outside of the airport. During the week of YAV orientation in Tucson, Alison took us all outside of the YAV house to our back yard and showed us the four mountain ranges that serve as a compass for the city.

The Catalina Mountains are north and they are right behind the house. In Asheville, locals are always complaining about the tourists that are in town all the time it seems. Tucson has snowbirds who come to live in Tucson for the winter months. At The Inn, we have several volunteers who are snowbirds but will volunteer a couple of times a week for the few months they are in Tucson! I think I prefer Tucson’s snowbirds to Asheville’s tourists just because at least the snowbirds I have met get involved with the Tucson community usually through volunteer work.

Tucson is a very warm city. It is very welcoming, sort of like if a city could give you a hug. The weather is also very warm. At least there isn’t a lot of humidity, but it is still very hot. It does still get cool. I only packed one pair of jeans and was very unprepared for the night time coolness and winter weather. One of my favorite things to experience was being out later one night in the early fall and feeling how quickly the temperature dropped without the sun!

Tucson is very bike-friendly. I was incredibly nervous about biking, but after seeing nice big bike lanes, bike crosswalks, and bike boulevards, I felt better. I still prefer not to bike on busy or main roads, but it is usually easy to avoid that because I can find a less busy street that will get me to the same place. During orientation, I took a bike safety class. That also helped to calm my nerves about biking.

I think my favorite part about Tucson is the sun. It just seems to spread everywhere. Even in the winter. I have never seen or felt sun like that. The sunsets are also spectacular. There are so many colors and you can just see the sun’s rays extend as the sun disappears behind the mountains. I have learned many things from Tucson, and can’t wait to learn and experience more.

Adventures in the Pope-mobile–Flash Blog #2.

On January 23rd, the TBYAVs went to Agua Prieta with the co-moderator of the PCUSA church and a couple of pastors from Tucson.

When we got to Douglass/Agua Prieta, we immediately went to the U.S. side of the border wall where we had a bible study and time for prayer. On the Mexico side of the border wall, there were friends gathered. With the border wall between us, we formed a circle with our neighbors.  We read Ephesians 2:11-22 in Spanish, then in English, and were given the opportunity to share thoughts about what we had just read/heard. At the end of our time at the wall, we all held hands to pray together. This image stuck with me all day. The people at the ends of our semi-circles crouched down to hold hands through the wall. There were huge rolls of concertino wire above their heads. The bible verse we read says:

 For he is our peace; in his flesh, he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.” 

Christ has broken down the wall. Christ has crossed the borders. How can I do the same? We are all united in God’s love and peace for all people.  Yet we still uphold this border between our neighbors. 


This summer, one of the things I found myself doing with my younger brother was going to this local pizza place in Swannanoa where they had a foosball table and good pizza/subs/wings. Miles and I would sit down, decide what we wanted to eat which was usually sharing a Cuban sandwich, order, and then immediately go play foosball. We would play many games before our food came and after before heading back to our normal summer lives. I didn’t realize how important that time was with my brother until I was leaving NC and started missing him when I got to Arizona. It was a chance for us to just play, have a little friendly sibling competition. It was a time for me to just spend time with a great not-so-little brother and catch up with him. 

Miles and I in June 2019 after his 8th grade graduation.

When I arrived at The Inn for the first time, one of the first things I noticed was a foosball table. There were kids playing at the table. When families arrive here, often the first things the kids notice is the table/people playing foosball. Their eyes light up and they run over to the table immediately to join a game/start playing. The other day I watched a dad who arrived at The Inn half an hour earlier walk around while singing a lullaby to his infant who was falling asleep on his shoulder. As soon as the baby fell asleep and was placed on a bed, the dad ran over to the foosball table and joined a game with some older kids and another dad. A few minutes later, his wife came up and reminded him that he should go shower while the baby was sleeping. The dad reluctantly went to go shower. 

 Over the past few months here, I have seen how this table is a source of joy for so many people of all ages. Every day there are kids playing constantly for most of the day. Occasionally parents in the evenings will kick the kids “out” (away from the table) so that they can have an adult-only game. Usually, moms vs. dads is how that works out with the kids cheering around their parents. On the day I wrote this, December, 16th,  two moms, a dad, and three kids were playing a game. Hearing the laughter, seeing the smiles, feeling the excitement in the room from other kids watching, was something very life-giving for my Monday. 

For Christians, “the table” is a very important concept. We are referring to the communion table. For almost as long as I can remember, I have been taught that the table is open for everyone. The table extends past all boundaries and is a place for conversation, peace, fulfillment, and the joy of the love of God. At The Inn, I get to witness this table, a foosball table, welcoming people of all ages. When a six-year-old invites a four-year-old to play by pulling up a little chair for the smaller human to stand on so they can reach the handles, I see the table in a different context and setting. 

The Communion Table from Montreat Youth Conference 2019 in Montreat, NC.

Playing with Miles this Summer was an easy way to pause, breathe, reconnect with my brother, and just play. It provided me time to not think about my work schedule, moving across the country at the end of the summer, drama, or other stressors in my life. I could just be. Watching people of all ages play, laugh, cheer, and be together over this table at the Inn  is truly special to see. It is always fascinating to see other forms of God’s table being extended. At the table, we receive nourishment in the form of bread and wine (or grape juice). At the foosball table, folks are nourished by finding joy in a hard place on their journies.


“¿Estará mi hermana allí?” I was in the car driving a mom and her daughter from another shelter to The Inn. “¡Sí! Tu hermana, y hermano, tu otra hermana y todos sus hijos” I responded looking back to see the mother propping up her sleeping toddler’s head. For the past three days, we had been trying to piece together this family of four siblings traveling with their children. This sister and her child was the last piece to the familial puzzle. We knew that the mother was set to be processed by and released from I.C.E. today, and even though the director of The Inn texted an I.C.E. agent and asked for her to be sent to us instead of the other shelter that did not have the rest of her family, that didn’t happen. 

As we pulled up, the brother and a sister along with a three-year-old nephew were waiting at the top of the steps for their sister and niece. The mom’s eyes lit up as she saw familiar faces. She gently started moving as to not wake her daughter as she prepared to get out of the car. I got out of the car and opened the back seat door so the uncle and aunt could get their niece out before proceeding to open the trunk to help with bags. The little girl was still asleep as her aunt picked her up and placed her on her shoulder, but then her eyes bolted open and she noticed who was holding her and she started to give her aunt a big hug. The mom walked around the car and immediately started crying with her brother as they wrapped themselves in a hug. 

We all started going downstairs where the other sister, the sister-in-law, and all the nieces and nephews in this family came up to greet their family. After many days, this family was finally all together and they could be on their way to their family further in the U.S. This had been a long journey with a lot of miscommunication and disappointment. It was wonderful and so beautiful to watch this family be reunited but this usually doesn’t happen. 

Something that has been difficult for me to grasp during my time at The Inn has been how we, The United States, defines family especially when it comes to migrant families seeking asylum in the U.S. Large, extended families like this one are often separated. From what I have seen at The Inn, family units with a mom, dad, and child(ren) are often released to Non-Governmental Organizations like The Inn, but when a pregnant woman and her husband are processed, they don’t count as a family. The father/husband is sent to detention and we will only receive the pregnant woman. Extended families usually aren’t released together even if they are going to the same sponsor in the U.S. That is why it took so many days to gather together this one family, and luckily none of the families were sent to a family detention center. 

It was so heartwarming to get to see these siblings and cousins reunite with each other, but I recognize that they shouldn’t have been separated from each other in the first place. With Thanksgiving coming up next week, I can’t help but think about and mourn for all the families who won’t be together, specifically migrants and migrant families who are being separated from siblings, children, parents, etc. by the U.S. government while a lot of Americans will be celebrating with and giving thanks for family. This is upsetting to think about and I am challenging myself to sit in the anger and frustration over the separation of families, while also actively voicing how this is wrong. If I don’t say anything, I am continuing the cycle of normalizing something wrong and harmful.

Flash Blog #1

Part of the TBYAVs vocational discernment meeting time this morning was spent writing a “flash blog”. We were all given 10 minutes to write about this prompt that Alison gave us: “According to the Presbyterian Church, you are in mission service. What does that mean to you?” This is my flash blog.

I am not a missionary. When I think of missionaries, I think of someone shoving a bible into someone’s face, probably someone who they do not know and will not try to get to know. I know that YAVs work under the Presbyterian Mission Agency part of the PCUSA. And in the YAV program, we all are working at different work sites that are serving many different communities. At The Inn, we offer shelter, showers, food, games, clothes, smiles, warm welcomes, and a safe space from immigration officers. This is just fulfilling basic human needs for families fleeing their homes in search of safety in the states. I am just there to help fulfill the needs of these families at this point in their journey.

I think the “mission” that I fulfill is doing the work offering/upholding a space for people to hopefully feel a little bit safer, ensuring that all their needs are fulfilled, and acknowledging that I have the privilege and power as a U.S. Citizen to offer help to folks trying to find safety in the Unites States.

A Typical Week

I’ve been in Tucson for about six weeks now and have settled into a nice routine. I work 8:30am-5-ish pm Monday through Thursday. I love my job placement. The Inn Project is a hospitality ministry that welcomes and provides shelter for migrant families seeking asylum in the United States.

All of these flags represent countries that The Inn has received families from. Guests draw/color the flags. Since this picture was taken, flags for India and Kyrgyzstan have been added.

A typical day for me involves making breakfast for the people staying at The Inn, preparing beds for the new families arriving, playing with children, stocking and cleaning bathrooms, making LOTS of PB&J sandwiches, packing food travel bags, answering phone calls–usually dealing with ticket confirmations for the families, occasionally going on a Sam’s Club run or taking families to the bus station, but overall my job is ensuring that guests feel safe and have everything they need.

Me on a recent Sam’s Club trip for The Inn.

On Thursday evenings, I attend a handbell and choir practice at a church near my work and the YAV house. It feels so nice to be back in both a handbell group and singing in a choir again! On Fridays, the YAVs have a community day. Some weeks we will have a vocational discernment meeting in the morning then do something as a community. Yesterday, we volunteered at a festival called Tucson Meet Yourself, walked around the festival, and later played dominoes at home. Saturday and Sunday usually involve a mixture of laundry, cleaning, going to Church, reading, introvert time, exploring Tucson, movie nights, or just a whole lot of nothing!

Last weekend, we drove to Agua Prieta, Mexico and got to visit with Hannah.

Overall, I have really enjoyed my time Tucson so far. The weather is finally cooling off a bit. “Cooling off” seems to mean that the temperature here is below 100 degrees. This week we got below 90 degrees on some days and I saw people in sweaters and coats! After I proofread this post, I am off to go fix my bike and then maybe go on a bike ride!

Who Am I?

Hello, wonderful people! Thank you for joining me on this blog! This post is just a little bit about who I am and what I am looking for in my YAV year.

Some basic facts about me include that I am a recent high school graduate of Chatham Hall, a boarding school about four hours away from my family and home city of Asheville, NC. For the past couple years, I have found myself extremely passionate about the work of ensuring that LGBTQ+ people feel welcome AND affirmed in the church, and as a child of God. I am a techie, a leader, and a singer. At this moment in life, I would love to attend seminary and get ordained to become a pastor. However, I still have a while before I really need to think about that step in my life.

In my free time I love to read, play board games, take walks, babysit, wash dishes, and listen to music. As a YAV, I am most excited to learn how to act out my faith by living and working alongside wonderful partners in Tucson. I am looking forward to seeing how God pushes and challenges me this year, encouraging me to grow in new ways.

I would love to welcome you to be a part of my journey this year by praying for me, encouraging me, and helping me to meet my $4000 fundraising goal. If you would like to contribute financially, you can donate online by going to: https://donorbox.org/emma-m. Or, checks can be made out to Tucson Borderlands YAV and be sent to

Tucson Borderlands YAV

400 E University

Tucson, AZ 85705

I am looking forward to being in new communities in Tucson and being challenged in many different ways. Thank you for walking with me this year!

One Day ‘Til Graduation

Four years have come and gone so quickly. I have had the privledge of attending a boarding school for my high school years. My classes were never larger than 18 girls, and that was only one year. Every year I had an advisory that became as close as family, along with our phenomenal advisor.

I am graduating with 47 other wonderful girls. They are amazing. Everyone is so independent and isn’t afraid to let their opinion be known. All 48 of us are off to do different things and become who we think we want to be. 

I recently got my flight confirmation for my flight to Newark, NJ for orientation of the YAV program, as well as my flight from Newark to Phoenix, AZ, followed by a flight to Tucson to begin my year of service! That was very exciting to see. It was a reminder that I’m actually doing this.

I am sitting here the day before I graduate looking at my nearly empty dorm room. The Chatham Hall door is closing, while I’m beginning a new adventure in Tucson. Chatham Hall has been a wonderful place and community to call home for the past four years and I am so grateful that I had a place here. But, I am ready to move on and go see what else is out in the world and what else I can do to make a difference.