Thursday, February 11, 2010

January and MLK

First off, I apologize for the lateness of this post.  I realize January is almost two weeks ago now, but here is what we did and I promise to not post February in the middle of May.

Our Fifth day for MLK day actually consisted of two days of service.  The first was called Chicago Cares Celebration of Service.  The day started with check-in and an opening ceremony at 7:45am in Union Station's Great Hall. The opening ceremony consisted mostly of some songs sung by a choir and several short speeches, from Governor Quinn, Mayor Daley, and Ed Gordon (Emmy award-wining journalist and former BET news anchor). At 9:30, all of the volunteers were dismissed to board their respective school buses and head to their project locations. Our site was Suder Montessori Magnet Elementary School (a school next to former housing projects that were at the center of Alex Kotlowitz's book "There Are No Children Here"). Our assignment for the day was to paint pictures on large canvases to decorate the hallways of the second floor of the building. All of the projects at Suder were art-related and included repainting the cafeteria and making wall mosaics in other hallways.

Our second day of service we went to an elementary school on the southside of the city and worked to better the school conditions.  We mainly repainted the hallways that needed a new coat of paint badly.  While there, we volunteered with a hugely diverse group of people.  There were middle schoolers there, other AmeriCorps groups, college kids, and even some families.

MLK day is a day of service that makes one think about your year with a wider lens.  I think that one thing about being a part of an AmeriCorps program, particularly a relatively small one like NAF's, is that it can be easy to feel a certain amount of isolation in your service. From week to week at your host agency, you get used to the feeling of being the sole AmeriCorps member in a given environment. This isn't to say that you don't have a good relationship with your coworkers or feel a sense of community with your clients during your regular work week... I know I do, but I'm also aware of the fact that I have a very different role there from that of paid staff members. What's nice about Fifth Days in general is the feeling of being part of a team of individuals with the same or similar goals and experiences as you; what's even better about national service days like MLK Day is that you're able to feel connected to people in your host city and other communities across the country, people who are all like AmeriCorps members for a day. Also, at the Chicago Cares event, a large amount of the people who were volunteering were adolescents from Chicago public schools, some of whom asked us about ourselves (where we went to college, etc.) and our AmeriCorps service, so hopefully we encourage the growing interest in programs like our own and other AmeriCorps programs.
It sounds really cheesy, but there was something about being in the Great Hall of Union Station with 3,000 other people from across the state, people of all different backgrounds but with the same motivations.  It was comforting and inspirational. It made me proud that volunteering to help the people of Chicago and honoring the lives of people like Martin Luther King, Jr. is something that our team does every day, not just when a holiday calls for it.

Our next fifth day was spent at Mallory's agency, The Night Ministry.  We met in the afternoon before to make the meal that we would be serving on one of The Night Ministry's southside stops.  Together, we made about 6 gallons of chicken chili and about 10 sheets of amazing corn bread (Kevin's own recipe, ask him about's from his grandma).  We served about 65 people that night.  Personally, it was one of my favorite days.  Everybody at the stop was super nice and there was just a community buzz around.  For the situation, it was amazing to see so many smiles.  And the food was amazing.

PS- Mallory accidentally cut herself while cooking.  This just proves my theory that people should never cook.  Just go out for dinner.  Duh.

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