I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. El Paso, the city furthest west on the tip of the arm of Texas, is a border city that is also home to Fort Bliss Army Base. Geographically- and politically-speaking, this makes for an interesting mesh of Mexican folks and Army families. That environment also makes for an even more interesting school life as a youngster. I grew up alongside so many different types of kids. I can recall the excitement and eagerness many of us had to meet the new boy from Mexico whose family had just moved across the border, or young girl from Kuwait whose father had just been stationed at Ft. Bliss. The looks were often the same. Them, scared and quiet. Us, excited and curious.

These new kids always came with fun accents, sometimes looked different than I did and often had interesting stories from where they had come from. And, clumsy language barriers aside, by the end of the first week, we all ended up climbing trees and competing for the highest jump off the swings like we’d been friends forever. There is something very valuable to me about the way I grew up, something that I’ve only begun to understand and appreciate as an adult. I had the involuntary opportunity to grow up in a city where a major component of my school life was being introduced to new families, cultures and customs yearly.

Moving to Indianapolis when I was 24 put me on the other side of that equation. For the first time, I was scared and quiet. New job, new city, surrounded by new people, it was my turn to be the new kid. Fortunately for me, Indianapolis did a great job of taking me in, and in no time, I was climbing trees and seeing how high I could jump off these new swings with my new friends.

When I was approached by the Open for Service team to donate my time and talents to developing the identity for the 241 Cities initiative, I saw it as an opportunity to serve the city that had done such an incredible job of serving me. As an Indianapolis resident, I had the bittersweet opportunity to see my neighbors one moment, divided and unnerved by 2015’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the next, united and impassioned under movements like Open for Service–movements that declared that we were not, in fact, going to succumb to the fears and divisiveness being imposed on us by our politicians.

Never considering myself much of the political type, this new era has pulled a certain sense of responsibility out of me. I have found myself at neighborhood meetings, signing petitions (and encouraging my friends and family to do the same), at demonstrations alongside my friends and hundreds of neighbors, and most importantly, actively listening to people who think differently than me. Working with Open for Service and 241 Cities is a proud next step in that journey.

The call for 241 cities to join the Open for Service movement is a noble one, and one that I’m proud to be a part of. If I could see 241 cities–and then 241 more–take the pledge to serve their people, uninhibitedly and without judgement, I would see a country that is genuinely working towards being united.

I would love to know that when my partner and I choose to introduce a child into our family, that child would grow up valuing the beauty behind every new and unique person they meet. I would love to know that they had the involuntary opportunity to grow up in a country where differences were valued and embraced, not feared and vilified.

Open for Service is a movement that I feel I have been a part of my whole life. New people, new ideas and new cultures are enriching–I believe new stories and shared experiences are what feed and nourish that intrinsic longing for community within each of us. I’ve been fortunate to grow up valuing those things, and I believe that has been significantly fostered by the friends, family and environments that value those things, too.

Open for Service asks us to look within ourselves and remember why we do what we do. 241 Cities asks us to take it one step further and amplify that spirit nationally. I am proud to be a part of it, and I’m hoping, whatever city you are in, whatever your incredible story is, that you will too.

Learn more about the exciting 241 Cities initiative.

1 comment

  1. Heather Givans

    Love love love Joey Ponce. Love love love Open for Service.

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