Marie Fata is a new Charlotte Fellow alumnus, finishing the program just last month. Enjoy her reflections on the year from the speech she gave at the graduation ceremony.
Of all the words I could use to describe the Fellows Program, “easy” is not one of them. Some of us ran across the finish line, while the rest of us army crawled our way to the end. Nevertheless, the 2017-2018 Charlotte Fellows graduated. While we are at the crossroads of planting roots and venturing into adulthood, we cannot overlook those who made a way for us this year, and more importantly, who showed us how to start well.
To our parents: thank you for supporting us through this year. Especially thank you for accepting our tears and frustrations as a currency of our communication on some days. When that happens, what we really mean is “thank you and I love you.”
To our host parents: you exposed to us a level of hospitality that we never knew existed. You volunteered a year of your life to take in a complete stranger and adopt them into your family. You provided a place where we could come and rest our hearts and minds at the end of a long day and offered a listening ear and practical life advice when we need it. You invited us into your daily lives, allowing us to see the mess and the beauty of family. Thank you.
To our workplace internships: I had the pleasure of being an intern at Brookstone Schools this year, the place where we all volunteered every Monday morning. Speaking for all of us, we were greatly impacted by our places of work. You not only poured into us professionally, but took to get to know our personal lives as well. Many of us were lucky enough not only to advance new skills, but also to be led by instrumental people. Thank you for your time and effort in helping us grow as we set out for the next place the Lord calls us.
To our mentors: thank you for greeting us with so much love and compassion on a weekly basis. I would argue that we all need a rock to lean on in a new world. I think we should consider ourselves lucky if we can identify at least one person who helps balance our world. Post-graduate life is a noticeably friendlier adventure when someone surrounds you in prayer and voluntarily steps into the trenches of life with you. My mentor, Erin McClain, was that rock in a new world for me. She showed me how to see the best of myself in the midst of this marred life and celebrate it. How incredible is it that we were given people this year who don’t shy away from our pain or shrink from our emotions? Instead, they pull up a chair and offer hope for us when we are unsure about the future.
To our Director, Connice: I am not sure we could say thank you enough to make up for all you did for us this year. From driving us up and down the southeast side of the country for many hours in a tight space, to handling our multiple personalities and dance parties on a daily basis, we are forever grateful. Being an all-girls group this year, there is no way we were easy. And though I write that to be funny, it’s true. We are a weird group of girls, but you always cared for us with grace, patience, and love. Thank you for opening up your household to us weekly, allowing us to feel like we are at home when we are there. This was a transitional year for all of us, but you and Bob made it easier. You acted as a second mother to all of us and took us in like your own. You put in an immense effort into helping us start well by taking time out of every week to prepare and organize for our success when we leave the program. Your insight and guidance throughout the year was nothing short of helpful, leaving us with truth that will carry on long after this time.
Finally, the Fellows: I’m better for knowing each of you, and I will tell you why. At the beginning of our Fellows program, a man named Richard came to speak to us at roundtable. He talked about the miracles that Jesus performed in his life and the ways that the Lord provided for him. One of his stories recalled an instance where he prayed for financial help in a troubling time for him and his family. The next morning, he was greeted with money on his doorstep – the exact amount of money that was needed to lift him and his family of their financial burden. To be honest, I had a difficult time accepting Rich’s story because I never saw God execute His miracles that way for me. It reminded me of a book I read this past summer.
The book was about what it looked like to “meet Jesus”. I remember finding the book captivating because I loved hearing other people’s testimony of their beautiful encounters with our Heavenly Father. Yet, through reading that book, I developed a fear that God was holding out on me. I doubted if He was even present in my wandering heart.
But then I came to Charlotte. And I quickly realized that if I wanted to “meet Jesus,” then I had to get closer to the people He created. I am pretty sure His plan for us all along is to meet His people and feel like we met Him. In this regard, I met God almost every day. Charlotte Fellows, you are the answered prayer that showed up on my doorstep.
This year unveiled a lot of things. We climbed to the mountaintops and walked through the valleys; we commended each other; we embraced this season together. As difficult as times were throughout the year, we have received much more in return.
The days were long, but the year felt short. Now we’re here. We reached the end. With the love, support, and encouragement given to us through the Charlotte Fellows program, we did it. Before entering the program, I wondered if I made a mistake choosing to pack up my bags and move 11 hours away from my quaint Michigan home, all of which felt safe, familiar, and comfortable. But here on the other side, I realize that accidents don’t happen as beautiful as this.