Friday, March 28, 2008

In the "A"

Here is another picture of me and some of my we are showing off our "A"

From left to right:

Kate, 18, Maryland
Deirdre (Dee), 22, New York
Me! (22, New Jersey, in case you were wondering!)
Jodie, 23, Illinois
Erica, 23, Tennessee
Cassie, 19, Michigan


Here is a picture of me and some of my teammates! From left to right:

Kate,18, Maryland
Jodie, 23, Illinois
Deirdre, 22, New York

This picture was taken while we were volunteering at the NBA All-Star weekend down in New Orleans. We spent the day down in the Holy Cross district in the Lower Ninth Ward...perhaps the hardest hit area in the city. We helped paint houses and also helped assist in running the event and manage all the volunteers. We even got to work with Lebron James and Jason Kidd! I am not a basketball fan but I have been told that are a pretty big deal...haha.

I must say though, the NBA volunteer event, which was a city wide ordeal, actually left a bad taste in my mouth. It was nothing but a huge publicity stunt and very little work actually got done. The hot shot basketball players showed up for all of 30 minutes and didn't even put a dent in the work that needed to be done. Lebron James took 30 minutes to scrape paint off of a window that I could have done in 5 minutes. They spent most of their time on camera talking about how much the NBA cares about New Orleans and how glad they are that they can be here helping. It left me feeling angry and frustrated by the whole event. It also left me with little hope for the city of New Orleans. I fear that the rebuilding of the city has become too much of a pop-culture cause and in effect, little work actually gets done as people are too busy patting themselves on the back for menial contributions. Okay, I know I am being cynical but it just felt frustrating to see such a huge and powerful organization such as the NBA but on such a front for their efforts. It felt like the NBA was there more for good press than to actually help the people of New Orleans.

New assignment!

Just got my new assignment for Phase 3 of NCCC! Fort Pierce, FL here we come! We will be arriving in FL on April 17th to install hurricane shutters for low income families. I am lukewarm on the project, but I am keeping an open mind and trying not to make any judgments before getting there. I think my feelings stem more from the fact that I am sad to leave the Gulf Coast as I have really begun to fall in love with the culture down here. Alas, this is the nature of NCCC and it is time to move on!

I can't believe I am already moving onto my third project!!! It feels like just yesterday I was arriving at Fort McClellan, being issued my AmeriCorps uniform and steel toed boots, anxiously awaiting and anticipating all that was ahead...and now, now I am in the thick of it, wishing it would all slow down while trying to experience everything at the same time.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Back in the Bay

I can hardly keep track of my own life right now, so I can hardly expect those reading this to place me on the map. I am now back in Bay St. Louis, MS...the original project that I left to go help out with disaster relief in Tennessee. I am happy to be back, but still in a period of readjusting.

My experience in Tennesse taught me much more than I had expected. I went in there hoping to learn more about being a first responder and disaster relief overall, but ended up learning a lot about a part of America and a sector of American life that I had previously known little about.

If you think that you have been in the 'middle of nowhere' I challenge you to 30 days in Macon County, Tennessee. I have never felt so far out of my comfort zone nor so far away from my beliefs. The religious prescence was overwhelming at times and certainly the definitive characteristic of the region. I am happy to elaborate if anyone is curious, but I will leave it by saying that I worry more about the wealthy, white, homeschooled, isolated children I met in Tennessee than I do about my poor, Mexican-American, urban children I taught in California.

In terms of the overall disaster relief, the work was not as back breaking as I thought, but shocking nonetheless. The region has a long ways to go and I have little confidence that it will moving along at any rapid pace. The area hit was so poor they simply do not have the resources for relief. Additionally, the people in the area are such self-sufficient, rural farmers that they do not welcome help nor want to accept the fact that they need the help.

It was weird to be in the middle of a disaster area yet whenever I talked to my family or friends they had no idea that anything was still going on there. It goes to show you how much goes on outside our lives that we have no idea about. Once a story falls off the national media radar, it might as well not exist anymore. It made me wonder about every other small town in America and all over the world that was suffering and no one even knows about it.

All in all, I am very happy with my decision to leave my team and work in Tennessee for the month. It is easy to get caught up in NCCC and forget the true reason why you committed to the program in the first place. You are constantly moving around, meeting all sorts of interesting people, seeing all sorts of fun and exciting is easy to get caught up in the moment. However, I joined AmeriCorps*NCCC to serve, to give myself to something bigger, to help those in need, to drop anything and move towards the need...and by leaving my team, packing one bag on a day's notice and hopping into a van with total strangers, I did just that. I feel a lot more self-aware and independent after my Tennessee experience and at this point I feel comfortable taking on just about anything.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


About two weeks ago a set of tornadoes tore through the state of Tennessee leaving over 50 people dead and over 120 homes destroyed. Given the state of this disaster, AmeriCorps*NCCC was approached by several relief efforts asking for a team of 10 individuals to come up and help with disaster relief for 30 days. I volunteered to be one of these ten.

I am no longer with in Bay St. Louis, MS with my beloved Blue 7. Instead, I am a part of a 10-person composite team that drove up from the Gulf Coast this past Monday to help with disaster relief.

Today was my first day on-site and I could not believe my eyes. I have never seen anything like this before. Driving through Macon County (one of the poorest and hardest hit counties in Tenneseee) you could just see the merciless path the tornado took, tearing up homes, businesses, any tree or structure in its way. Coming from the Gulf Coast, it is amazing to see the difference between hurricane and tornado damage. Areas hit by hurricanes look like they have been beaten around in a washing machine--rotting, crumbling damage. Tornado damage is a much cleaner cut, yet devastating nonetheless. Tornadoes pick things up clear in their path, sweep them cleanly off the ground and smash them down in another location.

Our first job today was at an elderly man's home where his shed had been swept cleanly off its foundation and thrown 20 feet into his backyard, smashing to the ground, caving in on its belongings. Working with an AmeriCorps Emergency Response Team, we worked on breaking down the shed, salvaging the items inside, and then clearing it out of his yard, piece by piece.

Thankfully all the man had lost was this shed, but it still effected me nonetheless. Pulling out all of his old tools and lawn furniture and reducing them to debris felt sad--watching one's belongings turn into garbage by no fault of their own. However, as I have started to learn from those effected by Katrina--stuff is just stuff, and you had better come to terms with that because you just never know when it could be lost forever. I visited my godmother in New Orleans before heading up to Tennessee and she gave me a good piece of advice, having lost her home herself in Katrina. She told me, "I think everyone should take a walk through their house and identify about 10 things that would absolutely kill them to lose. Identify those 10 things and come to terms with the impermanence of everything else. Let your stuff be just that...stuff." In remembering her words, I let go of my sadness as I diposed of his ancient newspaper collection.


I am writing this post from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi within the walls of Lagniappe Presbyterian Church where I am working in my second phase of AmeriCorps*NCCC. Before I delve into the Katrina restoration in this beautiful community on the coast, I need to take you back to my first project at Maple Elementary School in Sacramento, California. To understand where I am now, you must understand the effect my first project had on me and the pace it set for me before arriving in Mississippi. Let me take you back a few months to my first project as an AmeriCorps*NCCC member...

AmeriCorps*NCCC is arranged as a four-phase program in which you will complete four service projects during your 10-month commitment. A team-based program, you work with a 10-12 person team the entire time, completing projects in each of AmeriCorps' target areas: environment, education, disaster relief, and unmet human needs.

My team--the lively and diverse Blue 7--was first assigned to an education project at Maple Elementary School in South Sacramento. This initial assignment was met with mixed emotions--excitement to spend time working with children, disappointment to spend the next few months living on the same base where we had just spent the last month training.

(The first month in NCCC is called "Corps Training Institute" where all members are not only certified in CPR, First Aid, and Disaster Relief but also trained and groomed as leaders within the Corps...AKA most everyone is very excited for the month to end and project assignments --implying relocation--to be delivered.)

Mixed emotions aside, it was now our job to embrace the assignment and learn about the community in which we were to serve. In doing our research, the need became evident and initial feelings of disappointment began to fade as we learned that we would be working at a school that had been sanctioned so many times due to low test scores that teacher's salaries were now in jeopardy. We learned that with a school population of 70% Hispanic and 30% Asian, English was a second language for the vast majority of the school. We learned that crimes rates were high, incomes were low, and nearly every single student was on free government lunch due to welfare.

As the first AmeriCorps team to ever step foot within this low-scoring high-risk school, our responsibilities were to act as tutors and mentors to the children, each of us working in our own classroom. Our quantifiable goals were to help raise their reading & math test scores by 10-20% through 1 on 1 tutoring. Our intangible goals--the ones that ended up far surpassing the importance of the tangible test scores--were to act as role models for children who needed people to look up to.

Next post, day one at Maple Elementary and the many incredible days that followed :)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

An Introduction

Let me begin by saying thank you to whoever is reading this right now. I thank you because if you are reading this it means that you are taking an interest in service and taking an interest in possibilities and opportunities for you beyond Elon.

Let me continue by saying, don't stop. Don't stop taking an interest, don't stop exploring options, don't stop wondering when and where you can move forward, grow more, give more, be more.

A year ago, I was beginning my last semester at Elon. I was living at the top of Oak Hill, my hardest classes behind me, trying to make the most of my last few months at Elon, trying not to spend too much time dwelling on where life would take me after I walked the stage and took my diploma in May. Yet, no matter how much I tried not to get caught up, I couldn't help but wonder what life post-Elon had in store.

As a Corporate Communications major, with PR and marketing internships under my belt, I still couldn't decide what I wanted and what would be the best way to use my energy and enthusiasm fresh out of college. As I scrolled through pages and pages of Craig's List ads and scanned lists of "The Top 50 (insert cool industry here) Companies to Work For" I couldn't help but feel deflated by it all--I couldn't fight the feeling of wanting something more, something bigger than the entry level positions I robotically sent my resume to.

It wasn't until hearing about AmeriCorps*National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) that I took a chance on something that didn't deflate me--in fact, it inspired me to the point of scaring me. AmeriCorps*NCCC, a 10-month national service program, gave me the feeling that I could be a part of that "something more". In applying to NCCC, I didn't even know that much about it. I knew that I had the chance to move to Sacramento, California and that I had the chance to move around the country working on various service projects. I knew that I didn't know that much. I knew that I would be taking a chance. I knew that I would be giving myself to something bigger than myself. I knew that if I didn't do it now, I never would. That was a year ago.