Volunteer Service Mission Story-Part 2

Friends Volunteer Service Mission (VSM) seemed the ideal opportunity to test my ideas, beliefs—myself. The necessary Quaker emphasis was there, and no authority to answer to directly, save God. I could apply my own ideas, try my way.

I was also thinking of the Quaker emphasis on social service. I didn’t have much of a concept of social work, but I didn’t like most of the social organizations I was familiar with, which seemed to spend most of their time, effort, and resources on administration and fund raising, and very little time with the people they are intended to serve.

VSM seems to avoid these problems; being financially self sufficient with almost no administration. I talked to Al Inglis several times during my year at Earlham. I applied to VSM in early spring and went to Indianapolis with him to visit Neighborhood Friends, Inc (NFI), the VSM unit in the inner northeast section of Indianapolis, a black area, and Second Friends VSM in the inner southwest section of the city, basically a transient white population with a lot of industry.

At the time I was impressed with NFI. There was then much interest in race relations, and I was interested. But I was encouraged to go to Second Friends, instead, and I decided to do that.

Second Friends Unit

Paul Cluxton

Paul Cluxton, a graduate of Wilmington College and student at Earlham School of Religion (ESR) was the first person to join VSM, coming to Indianapolis in August 1970. He moved into the north side of the double at 1248 S. Lee Street, which is owned by and adjacent to Second Friends Church. Paul would soon finish his first year’s work at Indiana University Medical Center as a pharmacy technician. Attending meetings of various social and health organizations in the neighborhood occupied most of Paul’s free time. When on his own the second year, Paul would continue working with these organizations.

Connie Collett

In November 1971, Connie Collett, from the Wilmington, Ohio, a member of Wilmington Yearly Meeting, joined Second Friends VSM. She found an apartment three blocks from the VSM house on Lee Street. She got a job as cashier at the local grocery store right away and found that a good way to get acquainted with many of the people in the neighborhood.

Connie was quite a reinforcement for me. While Paul’s activities dealt mainly with social and political organizations, I was more interested in staying in the neighborhood and being with individuals there. This difference in emphasis was to produce a tension between us. I felt Paul wanted me to be active in organizations and help him in the work he was doing with them. I think he felt I wasn’t doing much by staying in the neighborhood. I think Paul’s work is important and has its place. I just didn’t want to do it that way myself. Connie felt as I did on this matter.

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Jeff, Paul and Connie at Second Friends VSM

We weren’t moving very fast in establishing relationships, but there were a number of reasons for this. I am rather shy myself. Another reason is that many of the neighborhood people shy away from developing new relationships. Like most inner city neighborhoods, this was once a middle-class area with nice houses and businesses. With the development of industry in the immediate area, the trend to move to suburbia began, leaving the neighborhoods for those who worked in the nearby factories, or who couldn’t afford to leave, or those who choose to stay where they were raised. Overall our neighborhood underwent great changes. Heavy industry surrounded the area, bringing pollution and a more transient neighborhood. People would move from place to place, often coming from Appalachian states, in inner city Indianapolis until they could find a job. Once they did, they would move out to a better neighborhood. Thus, our neighborhood is characterized by a highly transient, Appalachian white, lower income population. All of these factors contribute to social withdrawal. After moving again and again one is frustrated at trying to develop relationships which will be disrupted in a short time.

With greater industrialization and declining income levels, public and community services become less reliable. Streets are not kept up well and public transportation is limited, while expansive freeways cut through the neighborhoods to carry commuters between the suburbs and downtown business centers.  At the time I was at VSM, Interstate 70 was being built, separating people who had been neighbors for years.

Food prices go up, service and quality go down. The doctors and clinics are either in the suburbs or downtown. And where is there room for kids to play, for people to enjoy outdoors? What do the people do for recreation? The grocery stores, shopping malls, country clubs, health centers, theaters, etc. are in suburbia. About all we have are the streets.

Yet the neighborhood is not the “jungle” I had preconceived it to be. I really like the people I have gotten to know. There is less juvenile delinquency here than in “better” neighborhoods. The suburbs are also transient and people tend to be isolated there, too.

Second Friends Church

Second Friends Church is in the same situation as many inner city churches. Its membership, the vast majority of which once lived in the immediate neighborhood, has largely joined the exodus to suburbia. Second Friends is a drive-in church, with very few members living in the neighborhood, so almost no contact with it.

Second Friends belongs to Western Yearly Meeting, Friends United Meeting, and has programmed worship services as opposed to the silent worship I am used to. It is very difficult for me to accept a Friends church with programmed services. It seems that programmed services are exactly what early Friends rebelled against, and I could not feel comfortable with Second Friends. I could not find the spiritual support I and VSM need there. I guess I sort of resented that and feel they resented my absence from their services.

Quaker Men of Second Friends is the supervisory body of Second Friends VSM, and are supposed to meet monthly, but do so irregularly. Whenever we had specific problems they were willing to help, but were not a group that could help us formulate our activities. They wanted to avoid specifying what we should do, which is very good. Yet we didn’t get the support needed to go ahead on our own; questions, suggestions etc.

I was apprehensive about working with Friends United Meeting, especially when I heard Conservative Friends didn’t approve of working with FUM Yearly Meetings.  So, I sent the following letter to my meeting concerning VSM.

To Bear Creek Monthly Meeting                                                                  7/10/1971

Lewis Mott, clerk

Dear Friends, I write in relation to a program sponsored by the Friends United Meeting (FUM) which I am now participating in. Known as the Volunteer Service Mission (VSM), the project is coordinated by Alan Inglis, director of Conscientious Objector Services for the Friends United Meeting. At present young Friends, especially those who wish to join the Volunteer Service Mission to fulfill their alternative service obligations, are being invited to join the project.

Following is a quote from a pamphlet describing the project: “It (VSM) seeks to open a new mission frontier, bring into creative relationship the spiritual and material needs in our social order and the energy, ideals, intelligence and sacrificial concern of youth. At a time when youth and adults alike tend to feel helpless before the magnitude and complexity of the problems facing us today, we believe that the talent and good will of youth-power can be mobilized and directed in constructive ministries to the world.”

Initially the volunteer spends time becoming familiar with the neighbors, neighborhood, and the community’s problems. He finds a job so that he will have funds to support his full time community work at a later date, usually after one year at the project. My unit is located in a poor, Appalachian white area of inner city Indianapolis. I live with another member of the Volunteer Service Mission who is working on the same project.

We are supervised and work closely with the nearby Second Friends Church. The Church’s worship service is semi-programmed, consisting of long periods of silence, speaking by members of the meeting, hymns, and a message from the pastor. I would like to have a minute from the meeting in support of this work. I understand that, in the past, minute were not granted for service in certain other Yearly Meetings. I am somewhat confused by this and anxious to hear what you have to say about it. Is the issue differences in religious practice, or the type of work these other Friends group are engaged in? I have the impression that it is the former.

Although, as Friends, we feel we should dissociate ourselves from organizations involved in social or political actions we disagree with, should the same apply to matters of religious practice and belief? Was I mistaken when I wrote the following to Senator Hughes: “I urge us all–young and old, radical, liberal and conservative–to unite our efforts to tackle the pressing problems facing us. Once we start getting our hands dirty, ideological difference will become very secondary, and solving problem will become primary.”

Or do Conservative Friends object to the type of social work some other Yearly Meetings are engaged in? Don’t we endorse the words of William Penn: “True Godliness doesn’t turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it”.

I don’t know if you, as a meeting, approve of this program and my participation in it. I am concerned to know your thinking, since Conservative Friends most closely, I believe, represent my own religious thinking. I made the decision to join the project as a result of my Conservative background, and guidance from the inner light, as well as I could discern it. However I will consider leaving the project should you, as a meeting, feel that would be the appropriate action.

Yours,

Jeff Kisling

I was relieved to receive the following reply.

“Thy letter was read with interest in our Monthly Meeting today, 8/28/1971. The Meeting wishes to encourage thee and other youths who are sincerely dedicated to an effort to solve the complex problems of the world. May you be guided in your efforts and enabled to realize the fulfillment of your concerns.”

These impressions of the neighborhood, Second Friends Church, various people, and the purpose of VSM in relation to all this would develop gradually. When I arrived in Indianapolis the first of July 1971, I had very few impressions, but very many questions. What is an inner city neighborhood like? What are its problems and needs? How does religion relate to a complex, materialistic, secular society such as ours? What can I do?

A more immediate question was how could I support VSM financially?

The Job

Finding my first serious employment seemed a daunting task. I began by looking into hospital work, since I was still considering alternative service at this point. I had written to many of the hospitals before I arrived in Indianapolis and one responded with a possibility. St Vincent’s Hospital thought my computer programming experience might be helpful for a position they had—a maintenance person who could classify all of the shop items, so a computer inventory system could be established. At this point I was eager to accept almost anything. Fortunately, it didn’t work out.

Next, I went to Methodist Hospital. Strangely the fact that I was a conscientious objector was helpful. Methodist had hired a good number of C.O.’s over the years and found them to be good employees. The next day I was to come for an interview with the transportation supervisor, who can from a Quaker family (Stanley) in Indiana. She told me I could replace someone who would be fired after one more unexcused absence. I went home to wait.

I was getting to know Indianapolis; riding my bicycle to the hospitals, I had to go through the downtown area. These July days were hot, traffic was heaving, and fumes hung in the air. But I enjoyed the bicycle; I saw it (and still do) as a part of my Quaker witness. It represented one aspect of a concept I was especially interested in working on, that being simplicity. Just what is simplicity in a technologically complex world? With my bicycle I was beginning to learn. Later as the dangers of fossil fuels became more apparent my continued bicycling related to environmental justice.

The next day I waited to hear from Mrs. Stanley. I finally called, to find she was in a meeting. Calling later, she said she was sorry, but the fellow had come to work that day, so there was no opening. Going back to the hospital’s personnel office I got an appointment to talk with the supervisor of the respiratory therapy department. After a few questions, she said I could attend the on the job training program that would begin in two weeks.

Respiratory therapy was to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my VSM experience. I now realize how important your work is to your whole life. My enjoyment and feeling of accomplishment in respiratory therapy would help tremendously when things went badly at the house.

Respiratory therapy is the fastest growing of several paramedical fields in development today. The objective of the field is to treat cardiopulmonary disorders; acute and chronic. Most of these disorders related to insufficient amounts of oxygen reaching the cells, due to any number o reasons—heart disorders, blood disorders, excess secretions in the lungs, or damaged lung tissue. Administering oxygen is one important aspect of respiratory therapy. Dealing with pulmonary secretions is also important. Various types of mist therapy, and physical therapy are used for this. Respiratory therapy is also responsible for emergency resuscitation. The most skilled and complex work is done in intensive care units, where respiratory therapists work with mechanical ventilators, physiologic monitoring and diagnostic procedures. I really enjoyed learning about anatomy and physiology, diseases and medicine, and the function and application of mechanical ventilators.

There are two related aspects of respiratory therapy that make it especially meaningful to me. One is patient contact. At Riley Children’s Hospital, where I worked during my second year at VSM, children are often hospitalized for months at a time, or return often, so I know some of the kids quite well. The other is a respiratory therapist can see the results of their work as a patient becomes able to breathe more easily and return to normal health.

After I left VSM, I returned to Iowa for 6 months. But I missed the kids so much, I returned to Indianapolis. I earned my degree in respiratory therapy, and worked in various positions in the field the rest of my life. I was a clinical specialist in neonatal intensive care for a number of years. I really enjoyed making trips in Riley’s newborn ambulance to community hospitals around the state of Indiana, to stabilize and bring babies who are sick back to the hospital. At one time I was keeping track, and had made over 550 such trips, but lost count after that. One of the first medical articles I had published was about the role of respiratory therapists on the neonatal transport team. Then after 3 years of being the Program Director and teaching respiratory therapy at a state college, I’ve spent the past 30 years writing computer software for, and working in the Infant Pulmonary Function Laboratory at Riley Hospital for Children.  Most of the work done there is research related to infant lung development and disease. I loved being able to work with kids, from newborn up to 2 years of age.

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