Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Making a Difference in the South!

During our Make a Difference Weekend, of October 23, 2009, Team North Carolina started off the weekend with a lovely day at a park in Durham, NC partnered with the Vista AmeriCorps Literacy Program members. We helped to dig, fill and repair a disc golf course with park rangers from Durham Nature and Park Preservation. This disc golf course is used to help teach local youth a new game, build self esteem and have a great time while enjoying Mother Nature!

There were many dead and diseased trees which were removed from the park's forest system to keep the other trees healthy. The park rangers turned the deceased trees into mulch, which was then used by the AmeriCorps power team to move up the hill both ways to fill in the tees of the course. We made trips up and down, up and down the hill, shoveling and spreading mulch to help keep the erosion of the tees to a minimum. Since the course is built into the slope of a hill, during the rains the soil gets washed out not only ruining some of the holes, but complicating the wildlife's survival. The course needs to be ready for the ultimate disc golf tournament happening in mid-November.

While Kim and Erik were not able to be with us this day, they were with us in spirit, muscle, and sweat! We were able to get through 2 of the 18 holes before rain started to sprinkle down, and the next shift of Literacy AmeriCorps Members reported for duty! Our blood from blisters, sweat and tears of joy were left within that park, making our mark for the day!

Staci, Krupa and I spread the good word for AmeriCorps by rocking our amazing tees at the North Carolina State Fair! We were asked by several people about our exemplary work, and how to become a part of the team! Staci and Krupa indulged in true fair food by trying Fried Pickles. Other options included fried pie, fried chocolate bacon, fried cookies, oreos, fried ice cream, fried EVERYTHING! We watched the death defying carnival rides from a safe distance, sampled ice cream, and watched as kids with Superman balloons terrorized their siblings! All in good fair fun!

Saturday, October 24, 2009 Team North Carolina headed to Durant Nature Park to help with crafts during their annual fall festival. Batty Bats, and Friendly Bugs were crafted by children in costume. Princesses, Superman, Power Rangers, Witches, Storm Troopers, Yoda, Darth Vadar, Dinosaurs, Flowers, Kittens, and other characters crafted with the AmeriCorp team, as well as the Jesuit Volunteers from the Raleigh Area. The Jesuit Volunteers are a group of 6 gals who do similar work to AmeriCorp but their program also has a faith componenet to it. They all live simply and together in a house in Raleigh. Each one of them is vibrant and has a unique story. Earlier this year we had a mixer barbecue with them, and they will be joining us on other events throughout the year! The locals in search of fun and festivities entered the park starting around dusk, and were carried to the pumpkin patch where crafts took place by hay ride. Young and old enjoyed the fun!

After enjoying crafts and games, the next part of the fun was a nature trail. The trail was lite by carved friendly pumpkins and candles creating a scenic atmosphere. To the left of the trail was a man made lake surrounded by the yellow, orange and red leaves of fall. Throughout the trail were stations about local animals, a spider, a butterfly, a wolf. Very appropriate for the Halloween weekend looming just ahead in the future. At the end of the trail was a magician and CANDY!!! A rewarding part of this event was watching how the kids really enjoyed themselves, and were very respectful and eager to learn about nature.

Our Make a Difference Weekend was full of joint efforts with other volunteer groups from the Raleigh, and greater Triangle area. New friends were made. Laughs were had, as well as candy, fried food, and good times. It was really great to work specifically with issues that affect youth within the triangle area. While this event wasn't about health specifically, it had a focus on environmental health and how the world really belongs to all of us, especially our future leaders, our youth. It was a break from the health field, and from the norm. Working with youth is a fantastically rewarding experience. The comments that come out of their mouths are so silly and random that you just can't help but smile, and SMILE we did!!

More pictures and fun from Team NC to come! - Alexandra C.

A World of Difference: Team Detroit MADD Reporting

Picking up trash is a relaxing activity...

Okay, maybe not, but it does give you time to think. Below are some of the thoughts that passed through my head on Make A Difference Day.

Setting: It was 9am on a rainy Saturday and Team Detroit had made its way to a local park ready to make a difference by cleaning up the area.

…Make a difference, huh, what does that really mean? -Difference

…Out of the mandatory service days this one has the broadest title-"Make a Difference".

…Is it suppose to be a positive change?, and if so why isn't it called Make a Positive Impact Day, aside from the fact that MAPID is not as good of an abbreviation as MADD.

…Difference? I mean a lot of people have made a difference in our world, but not all of it good.

…Today on the 38th parallel where North and South Korea are divided, the 2 mile-wide Demilitarized Zone is one of Asia's premiere preserves for rare birds and other species. Does that mean that Kim Jong Il has made a difference for his role in creating a habitat for endangered animals? Never mind the millions of starving North Koreans, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, or the wanton human rights violations" I'm sure that's not what NAF had in mind for AmeriCorps’ Make a Difference Day.

Aside from the wide array of thoughts that come to mind while picking up trash, often you make observations about your surroundings. In a way you become a forensic detective combing the grass, the play structures, and the basketball court for the next clue; like piecing together a puzzle..."why is there a lighter next to this New England Patriots football bib?...I must continue to investigate".

The real prizes of course are the condoms. Picking up discarded condoms also drew me back into thought. The overarching moral quandary I had regarding these condoms was this; should I be mad that someone didn't properly dispose of their condom (see HIV 101 training ala Santa Fe), or should I be happy that they were at least practicing safer sex? After thinking about this issue some more I realized that the same type of question could be applied to our entire clean up effort: should I be mad at people for disposing of trash and lude items so cavalierly, or should I appreciate that someone had been here utilizing this space?

The second part of our day gave me another perspective on my internal struggle. Team Detroit dedicated the afternoon to working at Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Most of the items from chairs to brick pavers were items that had been discarded by their previous owners, but here these supplies would be reused to hopefully improve someone else's credence to the adage "one man’s trash, is someone else's treasure".

If picking trash up gives you time to reflect, then lifting pallets of bricks and pieces of lumber instills the value of teamwork. Throughout the day shouts of "come on guys, make a difference" could be heard from team members buoying the spirits of the group as we lifted, shifted, and hauled everything from soggy drywall to a swing set. One unintended benefit to all this human debris was the opportunity for seven people to come together as a team to improve their community. Actually, this is an important pivot on which service rests; working together for the purpose of renewing the "commons".

This idea of the "commons" got back to my original question about those condoms and the bigger question of how we view our society; and here are some more thoughts (sorry):

Too often has the theory that individuals act in their own self interest when utilizing shared resources, been used to justify the individualization of previously held common resources -Thanks Garrett Hardin! Doing service, however, we must recognize that this concept of poisoning the well is not an explanation of how we interact with society, but merely a negative view of reality. I deny that we ever saw the tragedy of the commons play out to its maximum, but that the conception of what should be held "common" has shifted with time and place; from land in the middle ages, to a commons of consciousness, seen in the democratization of countries, to today and the new push for greater social responsibility.

This burgeoning idea of increasing our responsibility to one another will be tested on issues such as the impending health care legislation. When a public health option is presented to us we have to ask ourselves the same question I faced while staring at that mangled piece of latex. Are we as a society going to be angry that other people get sick, or will we be proud that it is because of the collective that everyone has access to affordable treatment?

It is how we answer this question that truly makes a difference. To be sure, Team Detroit made its difference by beatifying a park, but the measurement of Difference is whether or not we captured the spirit of giving back to our "commons". I’m not advocating that we tolerate people dumping garbage into our parks, but what I’m insisting is that we look for the good in the things that connect our society. And when its time to put in the work necessary to maintain or improve what we hold collectively that we do so, not with contempt for others, but with an enthusiasm that captures the positive essence of community service.

Monday, November 2, 2009

It was October. This is Chicago.

Dear Friends,
This is Team Chicago's first post! Very exciting. In fact, almost as exciting as the hugely fun and helpful events we have planned and been a part of.

First off though, let me start with my agency and tell you how much better we are than your agency. Test Positive Aware Network, or TPAN, is based on the northside of Chicago. Our staff and volunteers form the most diverse team I have ever been a part of. Most are HIV positive and identify as sexual or ethnic minorities. Though this is unsurprising, the amount of effort and genuine passion each and every member of the team have for our client base is inspiring. Every day I come into work is another day I discover new lengths that they will go for our clients, new problems that they will overcome, and new venues that we can use. Not to mention that hilarity ensues everyday from coworkers who enjoy working together. TPAN is like Voltron. Together, we make a huge difference. If you have never watched Voltron, reassess your priorities.

On to Team Chicago's October.

1. Team Chicago got a new city supervisor in addition to Cynthia! Melissa has come into her job and become a part of our team in no time at all. She is our go to lady and we all appreciate her very much.

2. Our October started with AIDS Walk Chicago on the 3rd.
The race is a 5k held every year by the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and is a major fundraiser for the city. Our team woke up bright and early to help out with the race which has raised over $2 million since 2001.

3. For Make a Difference Day, Team Chicago headed over to Regina's host agency, the Southside Help Center, where we spent the day making thousands of safe sex kits, which the Help Center uses for outreach and prevention. The Help Center was very grateful and we were happy because nothing builds strong teams like stuffing condoms into plastic baggies as demonstrated by the pictures below.

4. Proving that we are indeed the best Team, Maggie paid us a visit this past weekend, and our fifth day was spent with her. We spent time talking about our Team and what the NAF can do to support all of their AmeriCorps members. As always, she was helpful and we had an awesome time. She got to have a site visit and meet with our city supervisors. Moreover, she guided us with early planning of our long term project. Melissa, our new city supervisor, is also in the picture below. And Maggie's hot new hair.

Overall, our October went very well. As a team we have definitely gotten closer and more effective. Our Fifth Days are becoming more helpful as well. This Friday will consist of street outreach and education. I think I can speak for my team when I say that so far, my AmeriCorps experience has consisted of physically exhausting hours and emotionally taxing situations, and I don't care because it is awesome.

Update soon.