Wander Into –

A Collection of Journeys

Who we are and Who we were (Finding Home) January 6, 2013

Filed under: Volunteering — Wanderhere @ 4:54 pm
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AmeriCorps NCCC gave us a two week break over the holidays. It is the only long break we have, so many of us took advantage of the time to go home. In that time, it was a race to see how many memories we could relive. It reminded us of who we were before we put on the A. For some of us, it was a wonderful relief to be embraced by familiar arms, for others, it was a reminder of what they were trying to grow out of. Among my comings and goings, I have learned that the transition between who you are and who you were is one of the hardest things.

I love these wonderful ladies!

I love these wonderful ladies!

I came home to the open arms of family, and the loving embraces of friends. It has come to the point in my life where I am only seeing these dear people once or twice a year. I have come to terms with this, seeing them grow and become beautiful people makes it seem worth the wait. Upon seeing them I have found that over the years, we hold on to what is most true in ourselves, and often work toward what is most good.

Over break, I had the chance to visit my college town to meet up with some very good friends to ring in 2013. It was so nice to be back in Oxford. It was the first time since graduation that I had visited, and more than the great memories of school, it reminded me of something I didn’t realize upon being a fresh graduate– that I successfully committed to something. I put 4 years in the same place and I didn’t get stuck, but rather, the exact opposite. I had flown away from there.

Friends from Miami.

Friends from Miami.

One of my biggest fears for my own future is that I’ll end up complacent. This is part of the reason why I haven’t actively been looking for a career, instead choosing to travel and work in spurts of year long commitments. If I travel in work in somewhere new each year, I feel like I’ll eventually satisfy that need to seek and explore.

But, the realization I had while walking around Miami University’s campus, helped me actually believe I’ll end up somewhere – settled and comfortable. I’m not saying that wandering is all of a sudden not a priority in my life at 23, but the prospect of being somewhere for longer than a year isn’t so unrealistic or scary. I have renewed faith in myself to commit to a place, a person, or a job, as long as I am finding worth in it. I know that someday I’ll find that place I can call home again, and build my life around. For now, this feeling has also given me a renewed excitement for this current opportunity to find home in myself, and a contentment in what I am doing. I wrote this last year when I was wrapping up my VISTA year around others in the VISTA program:

As I sat thinking about the people surrounding me this weekend, it struck me that at the core of this journey, AmeriCorps becomes about being content in service to others. It becomes about finding the common ground between you and this big, big world. Sometimes it takes standing still for a bit to realize it.  

Between all of us, the definition of the word ‘home’ as we have now come to understand it is, indeed, a fluid one. We have become our own homes, holding our hearth inside our chests, giving warmth to those around us as we travel into and out of these tunnels and throughways. The entirety of the coastline our bedroom and comforter, the highway our lullaby, as the miles pass and woo us into sleep. Even those who serve their own state or city become wrapped in another shell, now dressing themselves in a role where home is different somehow – both new and old as perspectives shift with the passing of days. These programs ask us to be content in this, our service here, wherever ‘here’ is, to sustain all other things.

Miami University

Miami University

As our home is created around us through our own values and lessons learned, it’s the relationships we’re forming that will be the most important when we look back; they are part of the sustaining life-force to drive this contentment. Though we have come for our own reasons, with so many stories already written on our faces and hands, we look forward to being written on by others, intrigued by their wrinkles and scars. It’s people that make the difference, and therefore it’s people that we invest in. We gladly hand them a pen and tell them to record what they have seen on our awaiting pages – our hearts. Some of these relationships we bury. We try to whiteout the paragraphs of the parts we find unimportant, only to realize, with the passing of time, an important note written in the margins. In this journey, we come to see that we need to keep our eyes wider, our hands ready, and our hearts open to all of these people and experiences.

Home.

Home.

As for now, these people are my home. These young people willing, yearning for a change in themselves, in their country, in mankind. I know sometimes we don’t realize the impact when day after day small steps seem to add to nothing. We check our math, reassuring ourselves that the footprints are leading somewhere, that the addition of our work will eventually give way to a collaborative effort much greater than ourselves. These hard days come, but that is precisely when we need to look back and firmly resolve that the decision and want for improvement is in itself a positive impact on our society.

We are content in our service to others as the mainstay of our lives for now, and I hope this purpose finds a way to stay within us. Filling, pouring into, creating, restoring. But what it comes down to, what it really comes down to, is that contentment in service, that common bond among us carrying with it, the potential to change our world.

I hope for this new year I can appreciate and learn from who I was in all the places I’ve been, and take it with me for the remainder of this fantastic journey. But, for now, I’ll find my home in the people I am surrounded by, and I am content in that.

Tomorrow I will be flying in to Baltimore, MD to start this next project. A big THANK YOU to Southwest Airlines for donating tickets to AmeriCorps NCCC so we can help with the disaster relief in New York and New Jersey.

 

Journey through Sly Park: Part 3

It always impresses me how much energy and spirit 12 year-olds have. It took a little while for me to remember my three years worth of camp counseling skills and strategies.

*Never try to speak over children, they’ll just get louder.

*Be real with them – they can see right through a façade. Plus, it’s more exhausting to be someone you’re not.

*Take breaks.

*It’s ok to make mistakes. Children are much more willing to love you anyway.

Teaching down at Park Creek.

Teaching down at Park Creek.

We arrived at Sly Park on November 10, and saw over 600 children pass through the yellow gates, under the Incense Cedars and Douglas Firs. I don’t remember my specific trials of being an eleven year old. I think I knew that things were changing, and fast, but my not yet mature mind had no concept of how much growing up I yet had to do. I would have been so scared of it if I knew what was coming. Maybe that’s why each of us worked so hard to be present with the kids that came there. We know what’s up next for them, even if we don’t know the specifics. Some kids are already there – have already seen far too much for their age. For them, it’s about letting them be kids again, giving them a break from what they know.

So, we spent 5 weeks leading them to new places, helping them learn about the rocks and trees and sky, making sure they were tucked in at night.

There are things that I realized during my time at SlyPark that I don’t think I ever slowed down before to see, at least not with the clarity that I had during my time there.

Picture 564There is a beauty there I doubt I took full advantage of. It is found in the stillness between the trees and their shadows, the way the sun peaks through the evergreens, and the beaten trails that tell of each soul that has passed over it. There is comfort in these things. But overall I have determined that every new place I see is not new at all. It’s different, but the process is always the same. There is always an acclimatization period – that time when you’re stomach is in knots, the place where you are seems too big to ever get to know, and the people around you are covered in waves of mystery and reluctance. It’s when you look at what’s around you and measure up the people, the program, the place you are in and the places you are going. What’s known? What’s unknown? Trust is built by time and presence, and it doesn’t hit you that you have found comfort there until everything seems just so. It’s when you figure out if any of those things matter anymore. It’s when you realize that this program is you, in the present, in a place, and that’s all life is really ever going to be: You, in the present, in a place.

We became children ourselves, letting loose our need for play and laughter and chocolate chip cookies. We became what those students needed us to be, and through that, melded ourselves into independent, compassionate leaders. I know this will serve us well with the rest of our time in AmeriCorps NCCC.

Our first project helped us grow and change. We opened our hearts for others to lay hands on them. We found an exhaustion, and in it, comfort from these people – this random group of people that perchance will be our family, that must be our family. And so, upon leaving, were we still at a loss of what we were going to learn from Sly Park? Was it that our hearts will break every time we say goodbye? That eventually, when these 10 months are through, our time spent with each other will be the valuable thing?

We ended up back in Sacramento on December 7, where we will start and end all of these journeys. It makes me a little bitter to have to come back to campus to be reminded of who we were before this whole mess. I just hope we can hold on to whatever it was we found during our time away.

To the Sly Park teachers: Thank you for teaching us not only about the rocks, trees, and stars, but what it truly means to serve others, to be a mentor, and to put your whole heart into a job. Picture 591

Up next for Green 6 is serving from January 8 – February 2 in New Jersey, assisting with disaster relief from Superstorm Sandy.

 

Journey through Sly Park: Part 2 (A lesson in trust) January 2, 2013

Filed under: Volunteering — Wanderhere @ 9:43 pm
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This project left us two down and exhausted. A typical day is 15 hours in uniform, plus acting as a cabin leader for approximately 20 eleven year-olds overnight. It is hard to remain present with people when you are working such hours. Going through the motions is a much easier option than investing in those around you, especially children. Though less exhausting, it is also less rewarding. This is one of the biggest lessons I learned from the Sly Park teachers, and so our second to last week there, I made the goal to try to stay as present as possible and invest in the students as much as I could by listening intently, playing with them, and getting to know their story.

In the middle of the week, however, I got a phone call from my Dad that changed everything.

Whenever something bad has happened, my Dad will send a text that says, “Call as soon as you can.” This is his way of sounding calm in the midst of chaos. So, when I received that message, my stomach dropped. For the respect of my family member, I am not going to write the specifics of what was going on at home, but I will say that it was very hard news to swallow.

I didn’t know that I could feel so alone, but after hanging up the phone, the thousands of miles that separated me from my family and friends that loved me so dearly seemed all but an entire universe. I needed to be strong for my family, and so I decided that I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone else.

It was carnival night, so all the students were in the gymnasium playing games when I got off the phone. I held it together long enough to head into the gym to ask my Team Leader if I could have the rest of the night off. There was no way I could handle being around anyone, let alone children that night. I had no intention of crying right then. I wanted to bottle it up. I wanted to seem stoic and brave in front of my team. In all reality, I had only known them for less than 2 months and had no idea how they would react to such a need for love and support. I didn’t want to put them in that position. I wanted to act strong.

But I didn’t hold it together. I ended up hyperventilating in a closet next to my Team Leader and another Corps Member. I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t breathe and all I wanted to do was shrink my world so I could manage it again. I remember feeling the cold concrete below my balled body, and knowing it was so good to feel something stable below me. With clenched fists I held my breath and put my knees to my chest, and thought, it wouldn’t be so bad to just fade away right now.

I see people in my life who can hold it all in. Friends who I am close with who on very rare occasion break down and let people in. Sometimes I really wish for that. I never quite feel strong enough for them. However, there is a part of me that truly knows that as humans we are meant for community, and so are meant to be loved by one another. Being vulnerable in front of someone is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of courage, and hopefully, a sign of trust in that relationship.

I calmed down enough to be walked outside by two of my teammates. I have to give them a lot of credit for dealing with me that night –eyes full of tears, scared, and unsure. Unfortunately in the moment it’s really hard to say, “I need to be loved in this way,” but they did the best they could. It’s so simple to say now, but all I really needed was someone to be present with me, for them to shrink my world so it was just them and I with their hands on my back, telling me that it was going to be ok, even if they didn’t know for sure. I can’t remember most of the words the three of us exchanged, but I’m sure they were the right ones. It was more a gesture of normalcy than a need for me. They would have been just fine sitting there, letting me cry, holding my hands until I was ready to acknowledge the rest of the world. It’s ok that we’re all still learning on our team how people need to be loved – it’s a learning process.

Reflecting on that night and the subsequent days still makes me tear up a little. Half the time I spent in a haze, trying to keep myself busy enough to forget what was happening at home, feeling guilty for ever stepping foot out my door, or being overcome by a tiredness that would not go away. I was still hesitant to let people in, doubting that I had known them long enough to handle such a thing, uncomfortable with being honest in saying, this is the way I need you to be here for me right now.

And then I reflect and think, I’m glad it happened to me. Not the exact situation in my family, but the fact that I was the one on the team that broke down first and in such a big way. I’m glad it happened because maybe, just maybe, it helped others trust just a little bit more in the people around them. Maybe me being ripped wide open would help them see that their teammates would be there to pick up the pieces. Maybe it will give them the courage to help us know how to love them.

But maybe that’s just the optimist in me.

These are the people I will depend on for another 7 months. I will be thousands of miles from home, whatever home means anymore. I need them in my life to help support me when I am not so strong, whether they appreciate this position or not. We are building and re-building. I, just like the rest of the people on my team, and maybe even all those other 18-24 year olds, am just trying to find the right combination, trying to see what and who helps me feel fulfilled. Sometimes it takes dismantling some of those familiar things to see it.

But, at least I know now that I choose trust. I hope they’ll do the same.154644_383543488400689_444516017_n

 

Journey through Sly Park: Part 1

There were so many things I wanted to reflect on during our first project at Sly Park Environmental Education Center in Pollock Pines, CA. However, often as it is working with children, our schedule did not always allow me to have a break in which I could reflect. Instead, over the course of the next week, I will be posting my thoughts on my time there from Nov. 8 – Dec. 7.

Picture 593Here is our story, from the beginning, of Green 6’s first project – our triumphs, trials, and every moment in between. Picture 589

Each new situation is an opportunity for growth. We arrived at Sly Park only after an hour of travel away from Sacramento. How could a place so close to our now familiar home-base bring about any kind of change, when other teams were traveling hundreds of miles to projects in completely new places? We didn’t realize how different it would be.

Though we had spent a month living and working near each other during CTI, I doubt we all knew how much more we would be depending on each other while on project. We went from 300 other people on campus in Sacramento to only 11 at a secluded children’s camp. When we first arrived, it seemed the only thing keeping us together was a common uniform. With motivation drained, and hesitant steps into the unknown, our goals of trust and growth seemed closer to a far-fetched happy ending.

When the project was first described to us, it sounded more like we would be babysitting 5th and 6th graders all day. Many of us couldn’t grasp how this sort of work was truly helping the world; I think our big picture view was too big for us those first few weeks. It’s so much easier to see in retrospect that the world we were helping was as small as an eleven year-old’s hands.

Even if we couldn’t figure out what “greater good” we were serving, the basic fact that we were still working was apparent. Week one at Sly Park gave us our first taste of acting as role models for 6th graders, interacting with parent chaperons  and Sly Park Education Center Staff. We were each assigned a cabin and a teaching group. When the students were not in cabins, they were in teaching groups, making our duties round the clock. Though our drive was sometimes lacking in those first few weeks, I learned that one of the most amazing things about my team is their work ethic. I know for certain that each person on Green 6 knows what quality work is, and feels direct responsibility to do as good a job as possible.  The things we are asked to do in Americorps are not always easy – at least 3 of my teammates were uncomfortable working with kids—but I have seen us each hour and each day as we power through and try to give everything that was asked of us even when no one is watching…and for that, I am so proud of my team.

Our last full team picture. Green 6 completed a Spartan Race in Sacramento as a team.

Our last full team picture. Green 6 completed a Spartan Race in Sacramento as a team.

For some of us, I suppose, something was still missing from their experience in Americorps. 2 of my teammates decided to resign from the program the Monday before Thanksgiving. After a month and a half of working, living, and knowing them, they departed from Green 6 and California.

To put it bluntly, the days after they left were hard. As I looked around the room that week at team meeting, I couldn’t help but initially think, “Where is everybody?”, until I realized that the 2 team members we were missing created an unmistakable void in the room. We were down to 9.

As we did at every weekly team meeting, we came together to discuss team roles and how the week went. When it came to my turn to speak, I broke down. Though we had only known each other for a month and a half at that point, there was an unspoken expectation that we would become each other’s family – it’s inevitable while working and living with people that closely. To me, it felt as though a trust had been broken, and I couldn’t figure out if it was my fault or theirs. Had we been good enough family members to sustain them? Was their heart ever in this? Did they leave this experience too soon?

What we ended up discussing in that 2 hour team meeting was what had been blown wide open by the void of my teammates. It was an honest conversation about trust, how we could be better people, and how our team could be better at loving one another, regardless of project, place, or time. All of our problems weren’t solved, we weren’t completely healed, nor did we figure everything out,  but, I saw an honesty in people that day that I can greatly appreciate. I think it’s a good sign. I think it was a step toward healing, and trusting one another.

Lord knows the next 3 weeks at Sly Park I greatly needed it.

 

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