A Year of Service: Starting Out

So, this year I’m participating in a service program in Harrisburg, Pa. as part of the Episcopal Service Corps. Six other recent graduates and I are living together, building a community and working four days a week at a nonprofit. I hope to write a lot about this experience, since writing is how I process things, and I hope to post most of it here, since I don’t get to go home very often. Stay tuned!



After about three hours of driving through the beautiful and varied Pennsylvania landscape last weekend, I made it to Harrisburg, and settled into my new home.

We are living in Governor Bigley’s old home on the banks of the Susquehanna in downtown Harrisburg, next to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The house is enormous and rambly, and I’ve got a first-floor bedroom that’s just enormous—my NYC bedroom would probably fit in the closet (a walk-in closet! I’ve got a walk-in closet for the first time in my life!).

Everyone has been incredibly friendly and supportive so far: the six other girls, the various administrators we’ll be working with, parishioners, even the lady at the visitor’s center, who let us stock up on brochures.

I am in an in-between place right now, in my life and also in this journey. I’ve moved in, but I’m not fully a part of the community in any way, yet; I love what I’ve seen and learned and done in the program in the past few days, but a part of me longs for the easiness that could be life in East Aurora with Rick and a pug puppy.

Our program director talked today about being “bridge-builders” this year, in several senses, including in our role as liaisons between the parish and the community, the church and the community, Harrisburg and our homes, and our generation and others. I love that image, in part because I’ve always liked that “pontifex,” the Latin title for the pope (also his Twitter handle), means “bridge-builder.” It seems apparent that this is an ancient, significant ecclesial theme, and I want to explore it further!

As part of Sycamore House, we each serve in three ways: to the house (biweekly dinners, hosting an open community dinner each Sunday, cleaning, etc), to the church (altar guild, choir, and so on) and to the city (our 4-days-a-week internship, plus volunteering elsewhere as needed). I am one of three girls who will be spearheading community relations for the house. We have a choice of a lot of cathedral activities, and my top two right now are book club and theology on tap, so we’ll see what I end up doing.

My placement is at Feeding Pennsylvania, and I am excited for it, but also nervous because I haven’t really done this type of work before.

More to come. In the meantime, feel free to read more about the Episcopal Service Corps on their website!

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Life Lately & Long Form

This summer has absolutely flown by! I know we still have about a month left, but I am leaving my summer job in just a week, followed by two weeks of vacation in the Poconos (AKA using my parents’ laundry, AC, and fridge) and then on the 23rd I’m off to Harrisburg.

In the last four years I’ve bounced between rural Pennsylvania, Queens, Rome and Western New York, and now I’ll be getting to know urban PA in the state capital.


The hood ornament on a vintage Pierce Arrow, a car manufactured in Buffalo.

I love new places, but I detest moving and that’s probably what I’ll spend this weekend doing.

Last weekend a friend of Rick’s from school visited and we had a nice time doing all the touristy things in Niagara Falls and around East Aurora, as well as Canalside and of course the Made in America Store.

I’ve been reading a lot of long-form/longer journalism lately (is that what’s in, or is it me?) and here are a few of the best pieces I’ve found:

To those who are hungry for real, well-researched news–which it seems like many are, based on what I see and hear–it’s out there. And it’s worth finding it.

I’ve also been really into email newsletters (I know, so 2009) so I may share my favorites soon!

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Olivia’s Top Three: Celebrate Food

Hi everyone!

Last week, I didn’t get around to doing a “top three” because of the holiday.

We had a three-day weekend and wanted to go home for Independence Day, but our ancient, dilapidated Buick was old and grumpy and reluctant to start, and definitely would not have weathered the trip.

So on Thursday afternoon, after working from 6-3 so we got a full day in, we went and successfully navigated buying a grown-up car that has air conditioning, brake lights, all four windows, etc, and then we bought 40 chicken nuggets to celebrate and drove the five hours home.

It was worth it to get to see the whole family, however briefly (I think that the five of us+Rick+Ben’s girlfriend were all under one roof for less than 12 hours), and we got a few crucial things like marriage counseling and fingerprinting for work checked off the to-do list.

Anyway, this weekend looks to be a nice one, with good weather all around, which is a welcome change.

My first pick is the Taste of Buffalo food festival, a huge celebration that’s one of the largest in the United States. We went to this last year, and to my surprise Rick was insistent that we go again.

After that, I want to check out a Buffalo classic, Shakespeare in the Park. It’s the last weekend for Romeo and Juliet, and I’m really disappointed we haven’t made it yet.

Finally, in Delaware Park on Sunday, Buffalo is hosting something called Buffalo’s Largest Picnic. I LOVE picnics and I love that this is just a little bit out there. Plus, any meal made up of cheese, wine and fruit can’t be bad, right??

I also haven’t gotten a chance to explore Delaware Park, which was famously designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, and I’m excited to see more of that.

Here’s to a relaxing weekend full of nice weather and good food!

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Olivia’s Top Three: Art, Ghosts and God

art festival

Hello again!

This weekend is a busy one here in East Aurora. Saturday and Sunday is the Roycroft Art Festival, which features a huge number of juried artisans who are affiliated with the Roycroft Revival. I am not really in the market for nice art just yet, but it’s fun to look.

More importantly, several other events are held in conjunction with the festival. My two favorite are the book sale at the Presbyterian church and the jumble sale at the UMC, which includes strawberry shortcake with homemade whipped cream. 

So this weekend’s top three are: 


I hope the weather holds so we can bike around, but if not I still want to make sure to buy some books and eat some shortcake. There are also several workshops in conjunction with the art part of the festival, which would be fun.


I’m going on a Haunted History Ghost Walk tonight! I don’t believe in ghosts (yet) (just kidding) but it’ll be a fun perspective on the history of East Aurora. I hope to be scared!


Ever heard of a Mass Mob

Someone came up with the brilliant idea of holding events every month or so where a whole bunch of people agree to attend the same church on the same Sunday. The idea is that struggling/older parishes get some publicity and attendance, while people get to experience something new and see art and architecture that they wouldn’t have otherwise. 

I love churches (up there with libraries and museums) and although we haven’t been getting up early, I’m going to try extra-hard this week because it’s the only one in Buffalo this summer, and in Harrisburg I’m committed to St. Stephen’s. 


I’m hoping that after the Mass in Buffalo we’ll have the motivation to get on our bikes and check out the Outer Harbor. It was pouring last week at Canalside, and we didn’t bother to put on the bike rack. 


So far this has definitely been helping to get me off the couch on the weekends, and it’s also encouraging me to try new things. It’s strange because we have all of our favorites from last summer that I love, but at the same time we only have a few months here so we better explore. 


-Last year’s art festival

Something Saturdays, a blog I recently discovered that’s all about weekend adventuring!

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Biking East Aurora


I am extraordinarily sedentary. It’s not necessarily that I don’t like to move, I’m just content not to do so.

East Aurora, on the other hand, is a town of walkers and bikers and skateboarders and people who generally enjoy moving, and we only own one car, so I am learning to embrace physical activity.

Rick chickened out of the Naked Bike Ride, due to the legal implications, and instead we went on a long ride around the town, finally getting around to checking out Majors Park and Cazenovia Creek.

Besides the necessary commute, I’ve been more interested in biking lately thanks to this bad boy:

cruiser bike

A bright pink cruiser that’s just fun to ride. With my notebook in the basket, every day is an adventure in the life of Olivia Cunningham, Girl Reporter.

bike basket pathAlthough I don’t think I’ll ever be called athletic, I’m enjoying being active more than I thought I would, and this summer’s mix of low stress, accountability, necessary movement and adventure have been good.


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