Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Goodbye, Mississippi!

ISP at the animal shelter

What can I say? Are there even sufficient words in the English language to express how I feel at this, the end of my 10-month AmeriCorps journey?

When I set out for Mississippi last August, I had no idea what the year ahead would hold. What I found were amazing friends, a new view point of our country, and a realization of who I really am and what I want out of life. How can I put those things into words? I suppose I can do naught but try.

As for the friends I’ve made, I speak mainly of my teammates, who have seen me at my best and my most ornery, and who never failed to encourage and love me during our time together. Never before have I felt so much a part of a group--accepted as myself--than I did with these wonderful folks, who I now call family. Is it possible that this time last year I hadn’t met any of them? They feel like my oldest friends in the world, and I’m devastated by the idea that after this week, I’ll never live near them ever again. I’ll miss you so much, River 7!

When I say I’ve developed a new viewpoint of these United States, I guess what I mean is, I now know how much I don’t know. Working so closely with non-profit organizations in multiple states has given me a glimpse into the reality of the selflessness and hope that exists in people. There are so many who do so much, and I’m privileged to have met a few of them during my term of service. If you ever feel yourself getting cynical when it comes to our world, look up some non-profits, talk to the people who run it and volunteer with it, spend some time getting to know them and their mission, and you’ll start to see what I’m talking about.

Don’t just nod your head in agreement when you read this, or chuckle and say, “oh young people and their soon-to-be-crushed-by-the-business-of-living optimism”. Rather, do a Google search on volunteer opportunities in your area, or start conversations with strangers and see what they know. You’ll be surprised by the opportunities you’ll run into, and the awesome people you’ll meet. Even you folks who support organizations financially, that’s awesome, and without your support, non-profits couldn’t exist, but also, spend some of your time volunteering as well. I think to really feel and understand what strength and goodness exist in mankind, you need to be there.

That being said, I really cannot express the change I feel within myself that has occurred over the course of this 10-months. Not only do I want to be better, I have the confidence to actually go out and follow the example that has been set for me by so many outstanding individuals. I’ve heard it said that every experience you have, and every person you meet shapes you in some way, and you’re different because of it. I’m so honored to have had the opportunity to spend so much time being shaped by people who have changed me for the better. I can’t wait to get home and begin the next phase in my life!

For those of you who don’t know, I plan to start a small business doing finish carpentry within the Central KY area. This year I discovered how much I love construction, and I want to use the skills I have learned to tangibly make peoples’ living situations a little brighter. I am so excited to begin this project, and I want to thank you all for the support you’ve given me, not only during this program, but also way before. My family and friends’ belief in my abilities caused me to extend my reach, and I can’t wait to see what life has in store for me just around the corner…

Love you guys,

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Disaster - Day 12

As of today, all casework for this assignment has been officially completed! That means we visited all destroyed and majorly damaged houses over 10 counties. Hurray! My whole team has the day off tomorrow, and then we'll be working in the Chattanooga Red Cross chapter warehouse on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday we head back to campus for 1 week, and then home!

I was teamed up with Jacquie today out in the field, so that was a great way to end this disaster project. We visited over 30 houses and some sites that no longer held anything other than former house debris. Part of the area we covered was out in the country, and let me tell you, this area of TN is absolutely beautiful. At one point, we drove past a vineyard, and we decided to stop for a few minutes, because it was too beautiful to just speed by and not properly observe and soak it up. Isn't it funny how those odd moments of beauty can undo all your previous stress and worry? I didn't realize how much I needed to let it all go until I stared across those grape vines and studied the green mountains beyond. The sun was shining and bright, but there were billoughous gray clouds in the sky as well, threatening rain. The combination of light and dark was so wonderous, I knew it was a moment that was temporal. One of those times where you wish you could hold onto the moment so you could describe it later (as I'm attempting here, though failing miserably), but you know it's too much to process, so you just soak up the feeling as best you can so that you can at least hold onto that.

This evening, I decided to try an MRE for dinner out of curiosity. My particular "Meal, Ready-To-Eat" was a BBQ veggie burger entrĂ©e with fruit punch, dried cranberries, wheat snack bread, iced tea mix, and a chocolate banana nut muffin. The wheat snack bread was disgusting, but everything else wasn't too bad, and it was fun to chemically heat up my food. Also, the meal came complete with laxative gum, mini Tabasco sauce, wet wipe, salt packet, matches, and toilet paper. The veggie burger kind of tasted like beef jerky, so that was weird. I didn't try the gum or use the toilet paper, so I'm not sure I quite got the full experience, but close enough. I definitely wouldn't want to eat one of these every night, but I can see how it would be a nice thing to have if you didn't have electricity and wanted a hot meal.

Well, I don't think I'll be writing daily any more, since my job is normalizing again, but I'll definitely have another post up next weekend when I'm back in Vicksburg.

I hope you're all well, and I can't wait to see everyone in just a few short weeks.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Disaster - Day 10 & 11

Yesterday blogger was down, and today I got home too late to spend much time on an update. I'm still doing great, and yesterday I got lot of work  accomplished. Today was my first day off since leaving Memphis, and I pretty much just lazed around the hotel room with Ashlyn all day. Then our whole team went over to Shelly's house for dinner (she's the homeschool mom who's volunteering with the Red Cross that I mentioned in a previous post), and we had a grand time of eating home cooked food and enjoying an evening with a really nice family at their really nice farm. Shelly and her husband have 4 kids and they homeschool them all. It was really neat, because I found out that they use Sonlight Curriculum, which is what Scotty and I used, and what Mom still represents and is a consultant for.

Mom: I asked one of the girls if she'd read 'Mara, Daughter of the Nile' and 'The Great and Terrible Quest.' She said they had and that she loves them both. 'Mara' is one of her and her sisters' favorite books that they've read 10 or so times. I told her how Kelly read it to me when I had my wisdom teeth out because it was our favorite too. Such a small world...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Disaster - Day 9

Can it be day 9 already?? These packed days are flying by, and though my mind has trouble believing I've been working 10 -12 hour stressful days for over a week, my body refuses to let me forget it. I'm sore and sleepy this evening, but it's all for a good cause, and also a means to an end. I'm sure I'll miss it when it's over.

I did a lot of driving today, because my team was assigned to finish the last few houses that hadn't been visited in 2 adjacent counties. We drove back and forth over a mountain several times, and let me tell you, I have seen enough beauty here in TN to last me for a while: so picturesque. I went out with Ashlyn, and an 84-year-old lady named Pauline, who is spunky and hilarious. She volunteers as a mental health worker for the Red Cross, and she is sweet, sassy, and quite a flirt with all the old fellows we ran into.

We went to a Baptist church on the mountain for lunch, and we got to see a lot of neat things that are being done in the community there. The church has tables filled with clothes and food donations that anyone can come by and take if they need it. They also serve 3 hot meals a day for victims of the disaster, as well as volunteers who are working in the area. One of the ERVs from my Red Cross disaster chapter brought the food for lunch today, but often a group of indefatigable church ladies prepare and serve the meals. Patsy, the lady who is running the whole operation, has been working every day all day since the storm occurred two weeks ago, and when I spoke with her, she had a smile on her face and asked me what she could do to help me in the mission I was on.

While we were at the church, a large group of Mennonite men and boys came to eat lunch. As it turns out, they live in the area, and they are going around the mountain with chainsaws, cutting up downed trees in peoples yards and cleaning up the debris. Talk about tireless, these guys have also been working in their button down shirts and suspenders since the storm, starting early, ending late, and taking half an hour for lunch.

I keep meeting remarkable people!!!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Disaster - Day 8

Today was great! Sarah and I visited a lot of houses (and a lot of places where houses used to be) and talked to a lot people, asking them how we could help and listening to their stories. We even got to see some of our AmeriCorps friends who are also working in the area, so that was awesome.

At lunch, a guy walked up to our table when were finished eating and took our bill, saying he wanted to buy our lunch. He said the Red Cross has done a lot for him and for his community, and he insisted on buying our meal.

I am constantly overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness I have seen daily while working in these disaster torn communities: neighbors helping neighbors in any way they can. One guy we talked to was using his farm equipment (bulldozer, tractor, etc.) to help clear away debris at his friend's house, and when he finished on that lot, he continued on to the houses next door, clearing up their debris for free. It got up over 90 degrees today, and I can't tell you how many people were out working and volunteering their time and energy in order to help their friends, family, and neighbors. It was a good thing we had bottled water to hand out!

I'm also learning which insurance companies are worth paying into and which aren't, based on their response time and willingness to foot the whole bill. State Farm and All State are two that I continue to hear praised by homeowners.

Sarah and I had a conversation in the car about how this type of situation really shows you the goodness of mankind. What I witnessed today is my proof that people are inherently good, and anytime I may doubt that in the future, I hope I can remember what I saw and heard here in Cleveland, TN.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Disaster - Day 7

Today, I became a National Red Cross Client Services Supervisor. What did you do? Okay, so maybe it's not as impressive as it sounds since everyone on my team was promoted so that we can be in charge of volunteers, but still, it's quite a title, don't you think?

Jacquie and I went out together to do casework today in Bradley County, which was hit pretty hard in many places. Our job is to go to houses that are destroyed or have major damage (as assessed by the Red Cross) and see if there is anything we can do to help the residents. If the people aren't there, we're supposed to leave a note with Red Cross information, saying that they can call us if they need help with anything. We try to leave this note in a place where they'll see it if they come by, so we tape it to the door if we can, or to a mail box if the house is too dangerous looking to approach. I can't tell you how many lots we bypassed completely because there wasn't enough of a house left to tape anything to. I have never seen such complete and utter destruction. It was really sad.

We talked to a few people that had major damage done to their houses, and they all kept stating how lucky they are, and how it could be worse. I am constantly struck by how upbeat the majority of these folks are who have lost so much. One couple's response when Jacquie and I asked if there was anything we could do for them was to tell us how grateful they are for the work we do, and then they asked us if we'd like some cold water to drink. Their house is so majorly damaged, they were just stopping by to get some things they'll need while staying in a motel, but they asked us how we were doing and tried to help us.

Another thing I want to talk about are the volunteers I've had the pleasure of working with this past week. Shelly, a local homeschool mom, comes in every day to help us with case work, and she is one of the nicest people I've ever met. Mike is a local guy who has showed us the ropes, and is always ready to go out on a new case. Debby is a volunteer from the Knoxville chapter of the Red Cross, who is practical and compassionate, and has acted as a caring mother to our team. Rob and Steve are brothers who both attend a college in Michigan and started driving South after finals when they heard about all of the disaster damage. They wanted to help, but didn't know how, so they just got in the car and then started calling agencies when they approached areas that had been hit by tornadoes. They ended up in a two day training in Knoxville, then were sent to our disaster offices in Chattanooga to help in our Client Services department. Steve, Rob, and Debby all left today as they had things to get back to, and it was difficult saying goodbye. I suppose in this type of stressful, slightly traumatizing environment, you get attached to people pretty quickly. I'm so tired of saying goodbye to people. I think that's been the hardest thing this year: saying goodbye.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Disaster - Day 6

Operation bath tub laundry.
I had such an enjoyable day. Ashlyn and I did our 9 1/2 hour ISP at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, and it was stress free. Except for being tired, I'm feeling refreshed and ready to start the new week tomorrow. I'm planning on turning in early tonight ie within the next 20 minutes, so that should solve the tired problem.
Ashlyn performing one of three soapy agitation cycles.

Also, I now have clean laundry, though it's still pretty wet...and did I mention it's hanging on a makeshift clothesline all over the hotel room? Ashlyn and I decided to wash our laundry in our bathtub, using powdered detergent. We filled the tub with hot water and the detergent, then threw our clothes in and agitated it thoroughly using an ordinary windshield scraper we found in our cargo truck. We repeated this process 3 times, then rinsed it twice in bulk, then one article at a time, after which we rung each piece out and hung it up on the clothes line with clothespins. We couldn't find a laundry mat, and anyway, we saved some money doing it this way, not to mention that it's been over a week since we've done anything for entertainment, so this was a pretty hilarious way to spend the evening. It was hard work though, and I now appreciate more than ever the simplicity of modern laundry technology.

Other than that, I just have to say, Happy Mother's Day, Mom!
Our clotheslines make door access slightly trying...