Volunteer Service Mission Story-Part 5

Continued work in the neighborhood
I continued to work at the hospital and work with the neighborhood kids. I had the equipment to develop film and photo prints in a makeshift darkroom I set up in the bathroom of the VSM house. One of my projects was taking kids around the city to take photos, then showing them how to develop the film and prints.

VSM DennisPhoto

Neighborhood boy on VSM photo trip

Some more passages from my journal give an idea of what was going on.

2/3/1972 Wednesday Developed a lot of pictures, some I had taken at the town meeting, some taken downtown, etc.

2/22/1972 Friday Dennis was here. We took pictures at a wedding. After dinner we went to the Health Center. Had to leave soon after we got there to take Paul to the airport. He was flying to Washington, D.C. for FCNL Annual Meeting.

4/12/1972 We’ve received several notices from the Internal Revenue Service recently about the telephone (war) tax that VSM has been refusing to pay. Paul, Connie and I have begun having meals together followed by worship First day evenings. This has proven to be a very valuable practice. We are beginning to know one another and talk about how we feel and what we’re doing.

5/5/1972 Today an elderly patient I was giving therapy to died. What can I say? There was nothing I could have done, yet I feel badly about it.

Second Year
Connie and I were both wondering what sort of project we might develop in the neighborhood, especially when we were no longer tied down to jobs. We were both drawn to the kids, and summer vacation from school was rapidly approaching. Nick Block had given us permission to use the parsonage garage and churchyard for youth activities.

It is very difficult to be presented with almost unlimited alternatives, to try to select which you will pursue. What criteria does one use to make such decisions? Three questions I considered were:
1. What are the needs of the neighborhood?
2. What are my needs?
3. What resources do I have to work with? (abilities, experiences, material resources)

The problems seemed endless. And there were almost as many organizations as problems. What were the important problems? How effective were the organizations? What is the Quaker approach to social problems? What is simplicity? How does it relate to this multiplicity of problems?

I would eventually answer this questions as a result of my VSM experiences. These answers are a very valuable result of my VSM experience. At this point, though, I didn’t have the answers. I wasn’t at all impressed with social service agencies.

I had some ill formed, uncoordinated thoughts. That of God in everyone, the worth of the individual. Simplicity. Love. Sincerity. Honesty. Spiritual basis of life.

At the time I think I would have put it together something like this: Yes, there are a lot of problems, but they all result from one thing; an unhealthy relationship with self, others and God. Solution to problems: straighten out these basic relationships. But how?

My needs? I guess I needed to feel I was worth something and needed by others. I needed to be with people who were open, searching, trying to live. That’s why I was drawn to the kids. They weren’t yet hung up on life’s problems; materialism, pride, keeping up with the Jones’, etc.

Resources? I think my needs proved to be resources; my need of others. My Quaker background was definitely a resource. We had the parsonage garage and churchyard to work with, and the kids.

So, we sort of spontaneously decided to see what we could do with the garage, churchyard and the kids.

“Connie’s brother and sister (Steve and Nancy), and Mary and Denise have been here this weekend working on the garage. We had a hot dog roast Thursday evening with 34 neighborhood kids; everybody was there. They put in a sand pile, fixed the volleyball poles, cleaned and worked on the garage; putting up paneling, painting hop scotch and 4-square on the floor, and making a blackboard.” Journal 5/6/1972

“I’m about to embark upon the second phase of my work here. I had hoped to work part time at the hospital this summer and spend the rest working in the neighborhood. I enjoy my hospital work and it would be a source of some income. But that didn’t work out, so I had to decide whether to work full time at the hospital, or not at all. At first it seemed a difficult decision. At the time I was reading The Peaceable Kingdom by Jan de Hartog and was impressed and reminded of the early Friends’ struggle to live according to the leading of the inner light. I felt heavily burdened by the claims the hospital had on my time. At this time Ron Ellyson wrote that we were too young to be tied down to jobs, marriage, etc.; looking for security.

At the time, I was also excited about the 4-H Club we were just getting started. I was planning to use this as a way to approach the kids with photography; which I have become much more interested in. I was also waiting for a leading; and felt move to resign my position at the hospital, which I promptly did.

Now, a week later, I can say I am happy with the decision. The 4-H Club is doing quite well, I think, and will probably take a lot of time and effort. As will the garage project. I will also be fairly free to spend some time in Iowa. Journal 5/26/1972

Connie and I both quit our jobs. This was quite a potential financial risk for VSM, but I thought the summer would be important and we should put what we had into it.


I was inclined toward having a plan—a program. The 4-H Club was a result of that. Besides photography, Connie did cooking and some sewing with the kids, and Paul dealt with bicycles and bike trips.

I think the 4-H Club was a good thing. The kids liked the idea of belonging to a club, having officers, meetings, etc. 4-H provided good printed material on our subjects. We felt the parents would allow us to work with the kids in an “official” organization, whereas they might be reluctant for us to just start doing things with their kids without a plan.

In short, the 4-H Club provided a base to build on, a way to get to know the kids and their parents. We actually spent little time doing purely 4—H activities. Rather we expanded upon the projects and went into other areas, especially recreation.

“Today Jon (my brother who had come to Indy with me) and I went downtown—tour and bought photo supplies. Spent afternoon in garage. Played 4-square, Old Maid with Mike, hopscotch with Jamie, keep away and kickball, etc.

Had first photography meeting tonight. Developed roll of film Tony Sergent took.
More storm. Tree down in back yard. Just missed house. Power and phone out for a while. Worked with Tony Sergent in darkroom printing the negatives we developed last night. Randy Porter and Donnie L. were also there for a while. Spent most of afternoon with Paul and Gilbert Porter cleaning up tree. Jon took kids for rides on the scooter today. Wrote to Western YM Social Concerns Committee asking for $125 for darkroom and garage.” Journal 6/15/1972

“Got a sunburn playing baseball at Rhodius Park yesterday morning with Timmy, Tony, Mike, Gibby and Jon. Spent afternoon in garage. Things are going pretty well at the garage. Am doing something I think is significant and worthwhile. I feel frustrated and useless when dealing with organizations, bureaucracies, orders from above and dealing with people as anything other than unique human beings. Here that as what we’re trying to do-take the time and patience and love to care about people as unique, special human beings.

This from the Tutor Manual helps explain what wo are trying to do, I think:
He’s got to feel good about himself—to respect and accept himself and see that others also respect and accept him. This is what you tutors should be doing, 2 + 2 can come later. This comes first.” Journal 6/17/1972

“Mike and I joined Jon at Carnine ball park to watch Gibby’s ball game. More from the Tutor Manual:
“The child in the lower working class families is less stimulated by his culture to be fearful and guilty. He also grows up faster in the sense of achieving personal maturity. He is not protected from the crises of life.  These children need, most of all teachers who will encourage them to try, to hope, to believe in their futures, and to believe in their abilities. They are hungry for encouragement, for some reason to have confidence in themselves against the dead weight of the social and economic pressures which drive them down to self—depreciation and sullen resentment.” Journal 6/18/1972

That is a pretty good summary of our goal, to show the kids we are genuinely interested in them and wanted to be with them.

The garage was an initial focus of activity as soon as school was out. We used the garage for meetings before school was out. We planned to use the garage and the churchyard for our recreational activities this summer. But what exactly would we do? I was inclined to have a structure, some plans in mind. That’s why I worked on the 4-H Club. But Connie thought the garage should be unstructured, a ‘wait and see what happens’ approach.

At first I wasn’t too excited about that. I wasn’t sure it would work. First, how would kids know to come there? And if they did, then what?

It DID work! And whatever success VSM had from then on (and I feel it was very successful) resulted from this approach.

So, we opened the garage door, went in and sat down. After a while a few of the younger kids came. We played Old Maid, hopscotch, and four-square. In the afternoon we played in the churchyard. At first business was slow—mainly young girls coming to play with Connie. Playing in the churchyard attracted the older kids. We played dodgeball and whiffle ball.

Within a few days almost all of the boys and girls in the neighborhood (ages 4—15) were playing in the churchyard. At times there were 30 kids playing dodgeball.

Jon and I did laundry today with Gibby, Played croquet, team dodgeball and soccer today. Barefoot. Talked to Karen Thomas on the phone. Helped Tony take another roll of film–of Jon and Gibby playing tennis at the park. Finished up another letter to mimeograph and send to friends:

“I hoped I would be able to be more sensitive to ‘leadings’ and able to follow them, Things haven’t worked out quite as I thought they might, but I have been more successful along these lines. I was thinking more in terms of leadings coming from silent worship. But my work now has been with people as people, and I think leadings come in the guise of demands for love and concern while engaging people; little things like a smile, or hug, going watch someone’s baseball game, etc.
I have said that Quakers believe there is that of God in everyone, that each of us has the ability to communicate with that of Cod in us, and the responsibility to respond to that of God in our fellow man. I think this is our goal—-for us to respond to that of God in the people of this neighborhood, and to help them see that of God in themselves and in others. We want to help each other love ourselves and love others,
and I have certainly learned a great deal about love and God from these supposedly deprived people.”   Journal 6/19/1972

Rearranged the garage so we have a separate area surrounded by bookshelves, with a rug—a kind of quiet room. Developed a roll of Bonna’s film and one of mine. Ron Anderson came by, He has a new (used) car. We are going to the fairgrounds together fifth day evening. Tony and I went to Rhodius Park to take some pictures—I showed him how to use an adjustable 35 mm. camera. After 4-H meeting Connie, Tony, Donnie, Bonna, Beth, Carol and I went to Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center to hear a policeman talk about drugs.   Journal 6/20/1972

First Day. Nick left right after meeting for Washington, D.C. to work with FCNL. During worship I gave him some photographs I, Tony and Ronnie M. had developed (Paul and Connie had taken some). There were pictures of the church, WINC Town Meeting, Southwest Health Center, West Indianapolis, Church picnics, etc.
This afternoon I went to the new swimming pool with Tony, Ronnie, Donnie, Chuck, Kim, Mary, Carol, Timmy and Boo. We just finished meeting for worship at Steve and Kathy Dickeys s home. Also there were Tony, Connie, Paul, John Lamb, Steve Schweitzer, Karen Thomas and Becky. I tried to explain Quaker meeting to Tony. He got a taste of it when he went to Second Friends with me this morning. He fell asleep after about 40 min., but said it was alright. Journal 6/25/1972

Beautiful day. Morning in garage. Lunch with Tony, Connie, Gibby, Mike. Developed film with Chuck, then printed some pictures with Beth. Tony and I went on an hour-long bike trip. Then went to watch Tony at diving practice. Journal 6/26/1972

Last night camped out in back yard with Gibby (and Robbie) . Last night had meeting, Had trouble making plans—kids rowdy. We are planning on going to Eagle Creek Park Thursday. Yesterday morning I was in garage with Tony, Gibby, Mike, Barbara, Beth, Bonna and Rhonda. Journal 6/28/1972

We became more and more involved with the kids. At first we limited our contact with them to the garage and churchyard. Then we would go to Rhodius at times to play baseball or to swim together. Then we would have kids over for meals and to spend the night. We spent a good deal of time in the make-shift darkroom in the bathroom of the house.

This all evolved from Connie’s approach to the garage and the kids—wait and see who comes and what they need and want. As I thought more about this approach, and saw how it worked in practice, I realized how it embodied the basics of Quakerism and its approach to life, people and ‘social work’. To deal with people as whole, unique individuals who have much to offer you, and to gain from you.

This is the essence of simplicity, of being present where you are and relating to that of God in every man. No budgets, schedules, just time to spend with, and honest interest in others. When Tony wanted to take pictures, I had the time to spend with him and enjoyed it. When Gibby wanted to take a trip downtown I had fun going with him.

At last I had found answers to a lot of questions I had been asking. I imagine these two years at VSM will be among the most productive and meaningful of my life.

Of course, there were problems. I wasn’t a very good disciplinarian, there was some jealousy amongst the kids for attention, and I gave special attention to some kids, which had good and bad aspects. There were times when Connie and I felt we were seeing too much of the kids. At times they got on our nerves, But overall, it was a great summer.

Last night Tony and Gibby spent the night. Had quite a 4-H photography meeting in the garage. Tried to line up cameras and film for everyone for the trip to Eagle Creek Park. Twelve people at the meeting. Today went to Park with the 4-H Club. Connie, me, Mrs L., Mrs. M., Don L., Jimi, Sheila, Darlene, Darlene MC, Donnie, Ronnie, Tony, Timmy, Randy, Gibby, Mike, Ricky, Brian, Benny, Beth, Bonna, and Barbara, Used two cars. All in all, turned out well. Swam, went to nature center, had lunch, hiked, swam again. Then it rained. Home now-tired.   Journal 6/29/1972

Last night when we got home from the park, several of the kids stayed at the house as it was stormy out. Sang songs and Tony & Gibby bought pizza mix which we fixed. Good time. Tony and Gibby spent the night. Next morning Timmy came over—really got a kick out of the picture I took of him doing a back dive,
The day before we went to the park I spent almost our last dollar trying to get enough film and cameras for all of the 4-H kids to take to Eagle Creek Park. The kids seemed to enjoy taking pictures. Hope they turn out well. Donnie MC. said, it sure ig nice someone would trust us with this stuff (cameras). While developing film this morning, Beth tried to keep me upstairs. Tony and Gibby had said they would fix my lunch, so I figured that was what was going on. I got downstairs (finally) to find Tony and Gibby had fixed me (us) a brothers day dinner and cake. We had biscuits they had baked with tuna salad they made. Also lettuce they picked from the garden and washed, some corn, iced tea, and gingerbread. It was really, really great.   Journal 6/30/1972

I guess this marks the end of an era. The Western Yearly Meeting Young Friends will be here today and tomorrow for a work camp. We will be digging out an area for a redi-mix concrete company to fill tomorrow so we will have a neighborhood basketball court. Right after the kids leave here Seventh day, I’ll head for Iowa on the bus for Yearly Meeting and visitation, and searching for what the future may hold in store.
Paul will be leaving VSM, Ron will be going into the armed forces, Dennis and Tony have moved, Ron Anderson will be going to Bible College, the kids will be in school, my brother Randy will be a Senior at Scattergood, so many changes.

Well, it’s finished. We dug out the foundation yesterday-it only took about two hours with 20 kids at work. We also picked up the 6” X 18” creosote goal posts and the swing set. Some of the kids worked on the health center survey. A pretty good bunch of kids really. After dinner we went to the Senior citizen’s ice cream social. Then we saw some films and had some discussion. We had silence, then Dave read and talked about Bible verses and talked about opening up, loving others, following the spirit.
Thig morning, despite heavy rain, we poured concrete. It turned out really well. We also cleaned up the churchyard and u the churchyard and put in the swing set.   Journal 8/11-12 /1972

In a sense It was the end of an era. I would rather see it as a great experience in a lifelong effort. When I returned to Indianapolis from my visit to Iowa, I continued to spend my time with the kids when they weren’t in school.

In September I went to Media Pennsylvania for a meeting of Fiends for Human Justice (formerly Friends Committee on Race Relations). I had been asked to be one of our Yearly Meeting’s representatives to FHJ. I had a ride to Pennsylvania from Richmond, Indiana. I decided to ride my bicycle to Richmond from Indianapolis, about 75 miles.

“Wow. At 6:30 this morning I left the house on my bicycle with my sleeping back and a pack with one changes of clothes, a jacket, book, cheese, and some bread and granola I baked yesterday. I was out of Indianapolis at 7 and outside Greenfield now at 8:45. I think I started out too fast; am tired now. I had to take a second look at Cumberland where a sign said no peddling or soliciting. Outside Philadelphia, Indiana, a high school kid gave me a friendly grin and good morning, which helped a lot. Real nice, cool day, so far. Wind from S.E. (oh no). 10 a.m. outside Knightstown. 30 miles to Richmond! Friendly guy at gas station in Charlottesville. I guess I had expected negative reactions from people, so these friendly encounters mean a lot. 2:30 Richmond!! Now collapsed under trees at FUM. It was certainly a worthwhile trip—but painful.” Journal 9/20/1972

When I returned, Connie and I spent a lot of time considering how we would proceed, with the kids in school and neither of us working. We spent a lot of time looking at ourselves, our spiritual condition. We wondered what sort of lifestyle we might develop, especially when we left VSM. We usually looked forward to seeing the kids after school and during the weekend.

In late October, Connie decided to return to her home in Ohio. Several weeks before this Paul had moved to the outskirts of Indianapolis, but continued to work in West Indianapolis as a neighborhood health worker.


Volunteer Service Mission, Second Friends


Jeff, Paul and Connie at Second Friends VSM

VSM JeffDen

Jeff working as respiratory therapist during VSM

20171107_081609 (2)

Jeff Kisling


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