Looking back to the last 12 months, I should say it was a very enriching year. And here I would like to take a moment and speak of my host organization – Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, aka LSS. Coming into the organization that had no previous experience of hosting an international “visitor” and is mainly focused on “domestic” operations – this could have been very challenging experience. Yet it proved to be extremely rewarding – all due to the uniqueness of my host organization.

LSS has a solid tradition and history of community service; in only two years LSS will be celebrating its 150th anniversary. And yet this organization has a passionate spirit of young inventor and reformer. Throughout its history, LSS has always been on the forefront of providing social services to those in need and constantly challenging its own approach to achieve better quality of services. It has been inspiring to work with an organization that embraces the importance of a holistic approach to solving social issues and, as per its mission, “…expressing the love of Christ for all people through service that inspires hope, changes lives and builds community”.

Hope, life and community – these universal keystones highlight my host organization’s way of carrying out its work. And it has never been just a business as usual; it is always finding a new way and encouraging “out-of-the-box” thinking. As a foreigner, I have been fascinated to see how efficiently my host organization can balance and apply the best of two very different approaches – individual self-determination and community building. In its initiative My Life, My Choices LSS strives to build services around individuals with disabilities and fully embrace an individual’s right to shape and manage one’s own life. At the same time, another initiative of LSS, Abundant Aging: Neighbor to Neighbor, embarks on redesigning the whole concept of aging and embracing resources of a community to address challenges of rapidly changing world.

This unique and open approach is a perfect reflection of people working at LSS. And I honestly owe them a great deal of my lessons learned and experiences absorbed. The people of LSS are its best champions of change and ambassadors of hope, with each and every one of them having own story of compassion, caring and devotion. Their warm welcome would make even the strongest ice of the North Pole to melt away; their ongoing support has been invaluable. It has been an honor and pleasure to work side by side with them, to learn and share. Connections and friendships born in this year will accompany me forever.