Wander Into –

A Collection of Journeys

What Living Without a Door in Oakland Taught Me November 21, 2013

It’s coming up on the fourth month of my unemployment, and sometimes I feel like the last 2 years of volunteering never happened. To keep this from happening, to remind myself of the important things I learned about the world and my place in it, I drift into memories that have stuck with me, even over the miles and minutes.

The last round of my AmeriCorps NCCC experience had my little band of misfits living in Alameda, California – an island suburb of Oakland in the Bay Area. We were serving Reading Partners, helping them stuff over 1,000 new curriculum packets to be sent all over the country for their tutoring program (It’s really an amazing organization that takes full advantage of all AmeriCorps factions, and utilizes volunteers to connect the community. Check them out!).

Obviously working hard at Reading Partners

Obviously working hard at Reading Partners

Since the organization an NCCC team serves is compelled to provide housing for its poor volunteers, my team had stayed in everything from tents and yurts to fully furnished lodges and dorm rooms. Much like transportation and food, our living spaces were usually communal, where bunk beds were commonplace. This is why, when the contact person at our sponsor organization told us that they had rented us a house, we high-fived in excitement. A house meant separate bedrooms. It meant personal space and alone time. It meant dancing in your room naked if you really wanted to.

“I must warn you, it’s not furnished. Don’t expect the Ritz Carlton,” our contact cautioned.

Didn’t care. We had our own rooms.

When we arrived at the house – a Victorian style fixer- upper – we rushed up the stoop and into the house. The hallways were adorned with dust and pale, yellowing paint. The rooms were crusted in memories – you could feel it. Several trinkets had been left by the previous owners – a small note of emergency numbers, hash marks on the wall to mark growth, bent and dirtied spoons still sitting in the drawer.

Morning coffee on the porch before work.

Morning coffee on the porch before work.

Though these spaces we would inhabit were on loan to us, they became our homes, even to us nomads. The only thing our rooms were adorned with this time around were the shelter cots we had brought with us, and our issued red duffle bags. To an outsider, our rooms seemed barren, but to us, a group who had already traveled thousands of weary miles with only these few possessions, we found that we had the fullest living space in the world.

In order to pick rooms fairly, we drew numbers. Unfortunately, I picked the second highest number, leaving me with the choice to live on the ground floor/basement level, or a room on the main floor that was probably the front sitting room at one point. The front room was the first one after entering the house and had no door. I had big objections to living on the ground floor, which smelled of cat urine and housed our inevitably noisy communal kitchen. I chose the room without a door. It put a new meaning to an open door policy.

2013-06-13_11-48-10_336By this point in time, I had spent the better part of 8 months with these 6 other people – through disaster relief in New Jersey, to climbing mountains to maintain trail in Washington. Our lives had become patterned in live work sleep live work pick up and go. Beyond anything I ever imagined, we were a functional and entirely dysfunctional unit.

At the beginning of NCCC, I wanted nothing to do with being a leader. Though one of the oldest ones on my team of 18 to 24 year-olds, I purely wanted the experience and excitement with none of the responsibility. About half way through, when our team was falling apart due to internal struggle, I realized I was so disappointed in my participation and had a decision to make: quit or invest. There was no admiration in being a stagnant body in the experience. I tried to step up, trying to become a sounding board or a better person along the way. I’m not saying I got it right all of the time, but I hope my intentions became more transparent. I believe I gained so much more out of those last 4 months than I thought possible.

So when it came to living without a door, I at first reverted to the me, me, me mindset. This seemed different than all the other times I had to live in the same room other people. It felt like everyone else had the privilege of privacy, and I still did not. Eventually, I bought a 3 dollar, salmon colored sheet from a thrift store and used push pins to hang it up. I could still hear all the comings and goings. People would come into my room without a thought. The front porch and stoop was right next to my front window, revealing both early morning coffee drinkers and my late morning bed hair.

That first week was rough on me. Depending on moods, doors to others’ bedrooms were opened or closed. Depending on whether my push pins would stay in the wall was what determined my space. My teammates would make remarks on how messy my room was if my sheet was down. Even when I put the sheet up, I’m pretty sure I broke the record for fastest change of clothes, knowing the sheet was semi-transparent, and not knowing how soon someone would walk through the door or down the hallway.

Beach time in Alameda

Beach time in Alameda

I put up that sheet as a boundary line. This flimsy, pinkish colored piece of cloth was supposed to keep people out. Little did I know, it served much better to let people in.

The second week, I tried something new – patience…oh, and ear plugs. There was nothing I could do (besides move to the basement) about living without a door. As time went on, the sheet seemed silly – my boundary was entirely penetrable. But you know what else I discovered? So was everyone else’s.

I realized how false our space was. In these close quarters, the illusion of personal space gave us all comfort, but these single rooms were no match for the already intertwined support beams we had become. Even without rooms, we had earned the respect and understanding to meet each individual’s needs.

It was in those final weeks that I think my teammates understood my privacy needs best, and for that, I let more people come in and out of my room. I put up the sheet as a boundary, but it seems that all those lines had been crossed months ago. Sure, there was varied frustration when people would enter my room, my space, without asking, but there was also a sense of kinship as we began to reflect on who we had become.

My door was the blanket we laid out at the beach. It was the tablecloth to picnics and barbeques. Though I would never admit it at the time, I could keep tabs on who was out, and who was making breakfast. Because I had no door, my room was the place we gathered when we found out one of our teammates was in crisis, and formulated how to help him. “Can I borrow your door?” became a rallying cry of togetherness as it was utilized for group activity.

I ended up in the room without a door because of luck of the draw. That salmon colored sheet, stained with sea water and foot prints, proved how my boundaries were broken down time and time again. It proved how trust and respect was maintained, even in such a close space. It proved how letting people in was so much better than keeping them out. I couldn’t escape those people, and now, months later, I’m sorry that I ever wanted to.

 

Unless. September 26, 2013

There was a glimmer of hope this week as I finally got my first interview since I started applying to jobs 2 months ago. I was excited that it was with a well-respected youth outdoor excursion organization, and was in Portland, Oregon to boot! The position was for an assistant instructor for their outdoor education program.

“How familiar are you with Portland?”

I should have known when that was the first interview question…

Still, this didn’t stop me from fantasizing about road bikes, flannel, and all around hipster atmosphere a job in the Pacific Northwest would allow. I dreamed of taking a chance and driving my car out, having to live out of a duffle bag, and be sustained on the passion of my dreams and the outdoors for the first few weeks. It was going to be something that scared me into being a better, more complete person. It was going to be one of those stories I told with pride as listeners said, “You really did that?” My next great adventure was within sight.

And then yesterday happened.

It was one of those days I just felt like I couldn’t get it right. After scouring the internet for non-profit jobs, and realizing my qualifications didn’t match, what felt like, anything, I gave up. I started questioning my experiences, feeling as though they were worthless in the eyes of any employer.

Earning the Presidential Service Award, Congressional Service Medal, Hurricane Sandy Disaster responder pin, and AmeriCorps VISTA completion pin mean something, right?

Earning the Presidential Service Award, Congressional Service Medal, Hurricane Sandy Disaster responder pin, and AmeriCorps VISTA completion pin all mean something, right?

I didn’t do anything on my to do list. I spent a majority of the day watching the second season of New Girl and relating to the character Jess’s unemployment woahs. When I wasn’t zombie-ing in front of the television, I was lying on the floor, contemplating how useless I was.

And then the email came. The, we appreciated you applying email, the you weren’t the right fit email, the better luck somewhere else email.

No Portland. No west coast. No usefulness or worth.

And then my car broke.

I was waiting in line for to go food as my brother parked the car, and, after a few minutes, he came inside, fiddling with the keys in his right hand. “Your power steering went out.” I just kept staring straight ahead. It took most of my concentration not to let my tears break the surface.

Unemployed, no car, broke.

I felt completely defined by these things last night.

But then this morning happened.

As I walked back downtown from the mechanic’s, I glanced at my phone to see what time it was. For some reason, the background stuck out. It was nothing new – a collage of postcards and remnants from my 2 years of volunteer work that I had taken a picture of back in July. There is a white bumper sticker in the picture with the phrase, “Your world. Your chance to make it better.”

YOUR CHANCE TO MAKE IT BETTER.

YOUR CHANCE TO MAKE IT BETTER.

Plain and simple, the message was clear.

There are moments that are meant to act as clear indicators in your life. A Wednesday evening dinner at a camp in Southern California was one of them. At that point in time, I was seriously considering quitting AmeriCorps NCCC. Team dynamics seemed to be all sorts of complicated, and I felt as though I could be doing volunteer work much more happily somewhere else. I was on track to make a decision by the end of the week about whether or not to stay.

Before each meal at the camp, we said a prayer or were read a quote. That evening, the camp director picked a quote at random. It was the ‘Unless’ quote from Dr. Suess’s, The Lorax

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.”

If I was looking for a sign, that was it. Obviously, I decided to stick with NCCC, and completed one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of my life.

Finding a job in something I’m passionate about is my chance to make “it” better, whether that be someone else’s life, or an organization, or the world with a capital w. If I don’t commit myself to doing this, who will?

I’ve thought about giving up on this whole job thing recently. It would be so much easier to find something I could stand day to day instead of a job I am seriously passionate about. In the long term though, how easy would it be to live with myself?

I am thankful for the small things - a beautiful fall day.

I am thankful for the small things – a beautiful fall day in Cleveland.

I am going to keep caring about this job search. I am going to keep looking for something that has me helping people in a way that is meaningful to me, whether it’s in Portland, Oregon or Bow, New Hampshire or any town, city or wilderness in between. I could make ends meet working at a Subway or substitute teaching or staying as a cook at the camp I’m currently making money with. But I can’t. I won’t. I’m going to keep at it.

Unless. Unless. Unless.

I had my self pity day, and even though I have felt like I have been on the verge of tears for most of the past 36 hours, I find myself trying as hard as I can to not define myself by my unemployment or monetary worth.

For now, it’s all I can keep believing in.

Special note: Thank you, thank you, thank you to all my friends and family over the past few months. I could not do this without your encouragement and love via phone calls, texts, letters, posts, and hugs. You are the reason I bounce back. You are the reason I believe I can take on the world. I can only hope to repay you somehow in the future. Sending you all much love.

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I Will Hold on Hope – Local Journeys and the Job Search September 10, 2013

Coming into these past few weeks, I felt a gray cloud of apathy starting to creep in. I am so anxious for my next step that I have been afraid to take any while I am still at home. I keep willing the phone to ring, praying for my email inbox to show a sign that I would be moving on soon. It hasn’t yet, and I am left sitting, alone, waiting, stagnant and holding my breath. The minutes pass with so much effort that by 8pm each night, I am ready to let the rest of my waking hours escape me as hope for new things fade with the sunlight.

Last week would have been the first day of school for my graduate program in Boston. I know it wasn’t a mistake that I didn’t go, but even so, the sting of what could have been a new adventure is still fresh. Even though I could see my mind slipping into feeling sorry for myself, I didn’t quite know what to do. Luckily, I had several trips scheduled for Labor Day weekend that made me feel like my world was still moving. They made me acknowledge something past this computer screen and my constant refreshing of Idealist. 2013-08-31_11-35-47_364

My first stop was to Troy, Ohio, a small town on the Southwest side of the state, famous for corn fields and aviation. The town was part of the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover Tour – a weekend music festival that included bands like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Old Crow Medicine Show, and the headliner, Mumford & Sons.

Camp city at the Gentlemen of the Road festival in Troy, Ohio.

Camp city at the Gentlemen of the Road festival in Troy, Ohio.

To say songs like Home, The Cave, and Wagon Wheel got me through marathons, long nights of studying, and roads that stretched the California coast, would be an understatement. Countless hours were spent with friends humming the lyrics, or on runs pushing myself to the rhythm of folksy banjo playing. Not only was I excited to see some of my favorite bands perform, but I was also able to meet up with friends I had not seen since last December. Celebrating the music with them, and finally forgetting my shortcomings of not finding a job was all I could have asked for.

As Mumford closed, I couldn’t help but believe in what the band was crooning to me – I will hold on hope. Thousands of people were raising their hands in belief, knowing something they must hold on for or to or with. We were all holding on for something, and knowing that our humanity held us so close cradled my thoughts as I traveled away from Troy the next day.

2013-08-31_19-27-08_893After an exhausting 2 days filled with music, humidity and plenty of hippies, I drove to the other corner of Ohio to Cleveland where I met up with former AmeriCorps NCCC teammate and irreplaceable friend, Rachel. She and her mother had driven in from Baltimore for the long weekend to see the Orioles take on the Indians.

The last time I had seen Rachel, we were embracing after graduation from NCCC in Sacramento, California. It was one of those formidable moments of friendship, knowing that past that moment, nothing would be the same. She had been with me for 10 months as my roommate, confidant, and super hug giver, and I had missed her dearly over the past month we had been away.

Like the cliché, it was as if no time or distance had passed at all. We talked about our team boys, reminisced about the best and worst AmeriCorps had brought out of us, and what life had been giving us lately.

Our team carried lumber to build a bridge along a Washington trail. 12 miles in the rain!

Our team carried lumber to build a bridge along a Washington trail. 12 miles in the rain!

For the first time in a month, I felt normal again. I felt at home. Here was someone who knew what I meant when I spoke about carrying lumber 12 miles in the rain, who knew what it felt like to live with 7 other people and love it and hate at the same time, who could describe the bitter cold of a New Jersey winter and the extreme heat of a Sacramento summer in the same breath, and who had gone through something that others simply wouldn’t understand. It shaped us. Applying for jobs had felt so hopeless because it was impossible to convey what I had learned through volunteer work and travel in 3 lines of my resume, but being around Rachel, words could finally form about the experience. For the first time since coming back from California, standing still felt ok because I finally was no longer alone.

Maybe my experiences over Labor Day are to say, I need my people, or new people, or more people. I need others there to make this feel worth it, to make it feel like I can hold on hope because they’re holding on just as hard and as long. I suppose it’s something I can take with me on my job search as well – I need people. Whether it’s making them feel loved, or strong, or they’re reminding me over the distance of cornfields and storm clouds that I’m home just hearing them –  I need them.

Rachel and I at the Indian's game.

Rachel and I at the Indian’s game.

Throughout the time I spent with Rachel in Cleveland, Edward Sharpe was echoing through my head, “Home is whenever I’m with you.” I have written before of the homes I have built in people, remodeling my homes when I start something new, but always keeping treasured pieces of my past displayed on the mantle of my heart.

Home is whenever I’m with you.

And even when I can’t see these people, when they’re not in close proximity, I know they are part of the foundation of who I am and who I once was. Even though they’re miles from me, and even now when I feel our lives diverging, their love surrounds me. Even in the people I have never met, I share a common humanity with that allows us to love one another, and feel empathy for their hard days too.

We will hold on hope because we can build homes in each other. My heart sometimes breaks for the unemployed of my generation because this job search feels like broken promises. I honestly hope young people don’t give up on pursuing what they love or feel they are called to do. It’d be a shame to stop believing we can reach our potential simply because no one is there to tell us that we still CAN, after every rejection letter.

So let’s join hands like those hippies I saw in Troy (maybe minus the tambourine and washboard). Let’s feel like it does to hug a friend you simply can’t live without. Let’s believe in what we’re doing and who we’re becoming, even if it feels improbable that we’ll ever make it out of here sometimes. Let’s know there is a world out there waiting to embrace us, even when all we want to do is scream at the skies we’re under.

My last words to you come from Rachel, and I hope you believe them too. “Don’t you know? You’re going to be ok.”

Hold on hope!

Billy Joel speaking truth at the Roack and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Billy Joel speaking truth at the Roack and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

 

She was not where she was going, but she was not where she had been August 9, 2013

As my friend and fellow AmeriCorps Alum put it, “What a wonderful chance we have to be knee deep in our emotions.”

Sunset in Oakland

Sunset in Oakland

There is so much to still say about everything I went through for the past 10 months. So many deep feelings about departures and starting overs and homecomings. So many things about good-byes and lost loves and never-did-I-get-to-do or will-do-agains. I am feeling such a loss of culture and who I was defined through it.

I have done this before, but it always seems hard to reconcile when it actually happens. I come back this changed and passionate person, completely defined by the experience I just went through, a trumpeter for all things AmeriCorps or camp or college. As new experiences and life phases happen, the passion of this moment fades. Pictures or memories that once made me cry are now tucked into a place that a simple, “that’s nice,” contains all of the emotion I can muster. The mind acts as a grate, and much of what I am feeling now will be washed over in one month? Two?

My Mom and Dad picked me up from Sacramento after my graduation, and we spent a week driving to Yosemite and Phoenix. I was able to see more amazing and breathtaking things in that week, and was given the opportunity to re-connect with my parents after not seeing them for the better part of a year. While in Arizona, peering out over the red rock in Sedona, my dad gave me the chance to decompress from what was going on in my head. As I fought back tears describing my experiences and sense of loss, he sat and listened, and watching the clouds roll over the desert said, “How many lives we get to lead in this one lifetime. How many things we get to experience and feel and be and do.” I know he is right – this is just the next life I get to lead.P1020447P1020456

There are always little chapters we must put away after finishing. There will always be transition and yearning for how things were, lest we forget that how things were were not perfect in the least…but I guess that’s what made them so special. Our experience is defined by those imperfections and moments of absolute beauty because of them – triumphing over the trials that we faced everyday. It’s just that, in NCCC, those trials faced everyday, were never faced alone. Not one moment of those 10 months was at a loss for people. And when those people are no longer there to help hold you up during those trials or sometimes cause them in the first place, there is an overwhelming sense of loneliness. It feels like this point in time hurts deeper than most pauses between endings and beginnings. Where are my people? And who have I become because of them?

Casey, me, Rachel

Casey, me, Rachel

I find the worst part to be the waiting game with friends, and the worry that the only thing in common in the first place were the gray uniforms. This transition of friendship takes the longest. It’s figuring out what role these people will play in my future, only knowing their constant presence as such an integral part of my past.

Not everything fades though. The important stuff, the stuff that really did change your life, made you more empathetic or hard or vegetarian, remains. It does not get swept away. I take heart in this.

I suppose stay power or not, it is important to remember that – they, it, was everything I had for that period in my life. It did happen, just like camp happened, just like college happened, and just like life will keep happening. I have these stunning moments I am able to latch on to – those memories that just won’t leave me. Or maybe it’s the memories that do, and all I am left with is a warm afterglow to sustain this powerful thing that just happened, knowing that not actually recalling the very words or actions is not as important as knowing that it made me feel deep inside my being.

Yes, I am hurting. I am reconciling with being home and lost and not where everyone else used to be. I am yearning for things to be how they were and knowing they can’t be. I only take faith in the fact that I’ve done this before, and those friends who were meant to stick with me, did.

I watched part of Eat. Pray. Love. yesterday, and stumbled across the part where Julia Robert’s character exclaims, “But I miss him!” The other character she is talking to responds, “Then miss him! Send him light and love over the universe and move on.”

Today, I am sending light and love to my fellow Corps Members, our beautiful memories, our trying times, and every single breath in between. I am especially sending love to my team, who became my family. I hope you feel my love surrounding you today and every time you think well over our experiences. I miss you all dearly. P1020397

 

We are Whole People October 21, 2012

California sunset.

During college, a fellow student once told me a story about one of his first days of class. His professor walked in that morning, and his first words to the students were, “You are all ugly.” There were a few gasps, and a lot of confused faces. He continued on to say, “You are all ugly because I don’t know you yet. It happens each semester. By showing me who you are throughout this class, in your uniqueness and diversity, I might change my opinion by the end.” Sure enough, the professor walked into the classroom on the last day of class and scanned the room. He smiled a little and said, “What a lovely looking bunch of people.”

Our lovely uniforms.

Ok, so our uniforms really are ugly. They were issued this week, complete with gray shirts with the Americorps emblem, and khaki cargo pants that are higher waisted than your grandmother’s. I must say, they are very attractive, making even the curviest woman look androgynous. While the uniforms made us all look the same, it was this week that we started to differ. The surface level knowledge of my team members’ story cracked, exposing both the beautiful and the harsh of our personalities, backgrounds, and aspirations. This week, we became whole people.

It takes time for preconceptions to melt, for us to let our guard down, and to let others see the person beyond the face in front of them. In our first weeks here, we have been challenged to peer deeper. We did a training this week called Hands of Peace, focused on active listening and communication.  It was one of those trainings that exemplifies the saying, “You only get out of it what you put in.” We had the chance to pour out our own stories if we trusted in the fact that someone would listen and take them seriously.

 

Part of knowing each other is having fun. Tool training. Looking good, Green 6!

We did a series of activities where we would have 2 minutes of uninterrupted time to talk to a partner. The other person was not allowed to say anything during this time, and it was only through non-verbal cues that they could respond. There was one span of 2 minutes that we could only fill with positive things about ourselves. There couldn’t be any qualifiers – no buts. For example, I couldn’t say, “I think I’m a good runner, but I’m not as fast as a lot of people.” I found that there was more trust in this activity than in any of the other trainings we’ve done. I hold humility close to my heart, finding it to be one of the most important traits a person can hold. I had to trust my partner not to judge me for the things I held as important, that I wasn’t bragging, and that I could trust enough to let my guard down; all the while, he had to trust that I was being honest. It is in situations such as these you can read people the best – they must consciously decide to be vulnerable. Walls came down, and I came out of it knowing much more about the people around me, finding out deeper things besides their favorite color or number of pets. We are becoming whole people.

Upon first meeting new people, I believe we are all caricatures of ourselves. Seeing things like compassion or loyalty in an individual takes time to expose. A shallow understanding is the first definition of these people. For example, I know his name is John and he is from Virgina. There is no fault in this, as I said, discovering truths takes time. Sharing a majority of my time with Green 6 in trainings and leisure time has sped up the process. I am beginning to see tics, the way a teammate kneads hands while talking, or seconds taken to gather thoughts before speaking. It’s in the way they ask those questions that aren’t prompted, or their reaction when I do, that I am seeing their truths. With their permission or not, I am finding out about my team through their sincere gestures – positive or otherwise.

It’s also the point in time where we begin to see each others’ faults and flaws. Perfection is no longer an option in opinion. This is a good thing. The longer someone believes you are perfect, the more they will be let down to know that you are not. Seeing someone as a whole person, mistakes and all, helps us to understand them, to be empathetic to their situation, and to interact in a more genuine and effective way. If there is anything I have learned thus far in my life, it is that we may not be perfect, but that does not make us less of a person. We are all beautifully and wonderfully made.

But, it’s not just in the unconscious ways of communication we define each other. Most thoroughly it is through genuine responses and honest conversation – those questions that go beyond where you’re from and what your major was. We are becoming more and more unafraid to seek those answers because we are beginning to truly care for one another. It’s a beautiful thing to watch progress, but sometimes it’s frightening as well. It’s scary to delve into others’ lives, knowing that I now hold the trust of that person, knowing that they too have to hold up their end of the bargain. Friendship is forming that delicate bond – carefully stepping, and sometimes mis-stepping.

Each team was asked to make a charter that would serve as their guidelines for their months of service. Like any friends should, we will be holding each other accountable to these things. Like any person, there will be times we will fail. Like any family, we will pick each other up when we do.

1. Respect

2. Clean Communication

3. Be Flexible

4. Accountability

5. No Judgement

6. Work as aTeam

7. Include Everyone

8. Ask for Help

9. Try

10. Have Fun

We are full of joy and love and faults and insecurities and life. We are whole people.

 

Strength in Difference October 14, 2012

Welcome to California.

Welcome to Sacramento.

Welcome to the next 10 months of travel and adventure found in the diversity of experience and ourselves.

I arrived in Sacramento 4 days ago in a haze of jet lag and excitement. I was surrounded by people who believed in the worth of doing the sometimes hard or monotonous work to serve others. It was one of the most inspirational things to realize. 285 of us, ages 18-24 settled into our dorms at the retired McClellan Air Force Base, ready to start the next chapter of our lives. We will be on this campus for the next month completing trainings on the heart of the mission of NCCC, and covering topics such as culture competency, potential projects for the coming year, and how to drive the dreaded 15 passenger van.

Green 6

Over the past 4 days, we were split up into teams of 10, plus a team leader. There are 4 units on this campus, identified by different colors: Gold, Blue, Silver, and Green; each with 7 teams of 10 on them. I am team Green 6, evenly split with 5 young women and 5 young men as Corps members, plus one team leader. These are the 10 people I will be working and living closely with during my time in Americorps NCCC. We come from different states and cultures, hailing from the far reaches of this country, to a couple states over; the oldest of us being 23, and the youngest just out of high school at age of 18. I am confident I will learn something from each of them; and though I feel like one of the old ladies of the group, I hope I can use the experiences I’ve already had to help others realize their worth as well.

I keep stressing that I don’t know where this journey will take me, but it seems that I won’t have the answer for months and months down the road. For now, each day here is unique, and every day I meet more and more people. Though most of our trainings so far have been about the Americorps NCCC policy, it has still given us a chance to socialize and grow together. I have never been somewhere where so many people are open to speaking with, playing with, and all around getting to genuinely know the people around them. It’s lovely. These first few days seem to be much more about self-exploration and satisfaction than service for others, but I think that’s ok. We are finding our purpose and place here, and I think that will help us to grasp more firmly to our mission when times get tough.

It’s 80 degrees here!

Last year, I struggled a lot with introversion, and overcoming my own prejudices with it. I viewed my quiet nature as a negative trait of my personality.  For the first half of my experience in New Hampshire, wished I was someone else – perhaps more confident or outspoken. It’s funny how you are shaped by the people you choose to let into your life. They can have such an impact on your view of the world, and either help you see your worth, or crush your spirits. Thankfully, I was surrounded, though not in terms of physical distance, by the former. A good friend sent me this message on a day that I was feeling of little worth in my quietness, and was highly envying a co-workers outspoken nature.  “You are such an inspiration to me just because of who you are. And who you are is not and cannot be ——. And I’m really glad because I need Chrissy Lynne in my life and not ——. ” She went on to remind me that it is only through who I am, completely unique from anyone else, that I was making an impact. By the end of last year, I came to realize how much of a gift my introversion was through the lessons I learned in moments of listening, in silence, and in reflection. It is in reading the quiet between the words that we can sometimes find the meaning behind them.This year, I am already finding that being truthful with who I am and what I need as an introvert is keeping me happier and more sane being around so many people all the time.

My duffle bag with all my possessions in it for the next 10 months.

We are always told that this isn’t going to be easy. I came into this thinking about the most obvious things that aren’t easy for people: mostly being away from home or being nervous that they wouldn’t fit in with the people around them. Being confident that I had already conquered these things in New Hampshire, I had no nervous spark coming into this experience. I was just anxious to learn. I am coming to see, however, that my reflection of “not going to be easy”, though not homesickness, will be creating new relationships while still treasuring and maintaining the ones already established. It’s going to be a delicate balance of finding trust in others’ listening ears, being present for the moments that will have the most impact on me, and creating my own future through the decisions I make. It is when I move to a new place that I know most that the support system I built before this adventure will still be behind me, no matter how far I roam. This is when I realize my life is beautifully dotted with the colors of others, and the enormous worth that comes with it. For that, I am so thankful.

I have come to California with the worth of my introversion already found, and the beauty of my support system already in place. Hopefully, others will find their worth in themselves through this experience, and be able to build up others from it. This is what it’s about – finding strengths and creating something truly amazing from it.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. ~ Leo F. Buscaglia