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Jun 09, 2014 | Luke Blount

Understanding Poverty from the Inside Out


[Diolog MagazineCassy Swain, a soon-to-graduate Fellow of Bayou City Service Corps, summed up her experience in three simple words, “Poverty is hard.” 


Bayou City Service Corps is a year-long fellowship sponsored by the Diocese of Texas that aims to “provide young adults the time and space needed to search for truth, work for social and economic justice, live in community and be challenged into a more deliberate way of life,” according to their mission statement. 


“I wanted my life to be more than just my life, so I was trying to figure out how to do it,” Swain said of her decision to join Bayou City Service Corps in August 2013. “I came across this program and prayed a lot about it and felt the urgency and need to do it.”


She is joined by two other Fellows, Max Farrar and Tyler Losen. The 2013-14 program was a pilot year, with just three fellows, but director Matt Blank hopes to acquire six Fellows for the next program year. 


“In the first couple years there is really the opportunity to shape this program, so it is really exciting to be involved now,” Blank said. “With six Fellows we will have a larger impact on Houston, and we will also have more involvement from local churches.”


The Fellows are provided with housing, food, healthcare and transportation in exchange for their work at a Houston nonprofit. They also receive a small monthly stipend of $100 and a $2,000 end-of-service award. The program seeks to help the Fellows experience some poverty while helping others out of it. The young adults live together and each Fellow meets weekly with a mentor from a local Episcopal church. The Rev. Patrick Hall serves as house chaplain.


Losen is the youngest member of the program, turning 19 shortly after the program started. Working at The Beacon, a homeless day center, Losen has grown spiritually and emotionally. 


A native Iowan, Losen wanted to try something completely different before going to college.  “I was talking to my buddy the other day and he said, ‘Why are you in Texas?’ And I told him I enjoy helping people,” Losen explained. “I got a big hug recently from this guy that I helped get a job. That makes me feel really good.”


“All three Fellows have grown and changed in some way from the first day they moved in,” Blank said. “Max often uses the word ‘agitated’ to describe his experience in a good way. I think it has shaken him up and opened his eyes a little bit.”


After graduating from DePaul University, Max Farrar sought out Bayou City Service Corps as a way to gain valuable work and service experience while taking some time to think about his future. He has worked with Avenue CDC, a community development organization focused on affordable housing. 


“I think culturally we lack a sense of service,” Farrar said when he joined the program. “I think that it is really important for people like us to make that a value in our lives and our work. And I think that’s what drew me to the service aspect of this.” 


Swain also takes pride in her work serving clients at Lord of the Streets, a ministry serving as a spiritual home for many of Houston’s homeless population. But she admits that the program has often been tough. Living in purposeful community and encountering serious societal problems every day can take its toll. In the end, Swain knows the work is important for the community and for herself. 


“I’ve started to look at my spirituality differently,” she said. “It is more than going to church. It is part of me and gives me the strength to go to work.”


As a child, Swain, her sister and mother spent three short stints in a women’s shelter during some tough times. Those experiences have given her a unique perspective towards her work. The generosity of a caring stranger or organization can make an immense impact.


“People being there for us when we needed it the most was definitely beneficial,” Swain said. “It has affected me and my sister a lot. My sister is now going to school to become a social worker. There’s got to be those good people in the world that help out.”


Bayou City Service Corps is a member organization of the national Episcopal Service Corps and accepts young adults ages 18-32. Fellows do not have to be Episcopalian. To learn more about Bayou City Service Corps or to apply, visit