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.
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.
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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