Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sewing Week: Bits and Pieces

So this week, three women from Women in Service to Appalachia came to the Farm for their sewing week. They were looking to make 200+ pillowcases, wheelchair caddies and other assorted items for the Nursing Home.

Jamie, Colleen and I didn't really know what to expect. Boss-Man Joe told us to treat it like an off week so we were pretty much thinking that we would all go our separate ways this week and if they needed anything they could just tell us at the staffhouse. Well, as these things often go, the week completely surprised us. The ladies were all awesome and hilarious. Despite the large age gap it was so much fun to talk to them. I really began looking forward to our conversations over dinner every night.

Current Picture of the Farm Staffhouse...Jamie and Colleen are really getting out of control

Mary Ann had so many experiences with service. She served in Alaska in the early days of Jesuit Volunteer Corps and had actually been considering becoming a Glenmary sister at one point and time. Dorothy was hilarious in that she was always trying to get out of sewing. Meanwhile she has such a passion for... well, for lack of a better term... people having a passion. She was concerned that a lot of people coming out of college end up getting jobs in the business sector and end up hating it. She felt that more and more young people were getting plugged into a system dictated by money and were losing the human connection. While her view isn't entirely accurate and the business sector isn't devoid of all love etc, I think seeing us go about our job really gave her a sense that the younger generation does actually care about helping people. Cindy was the ringleader and a very impressive individual. Her passion for what she does and the effort she puts into WSA was really admirable.

I think this week, more than last, really taught me about the rhythym of the Farm. Last week, I was so concerned about all the kids and the sites and everything was so new that it was hard to really appreciate everything. But this week has been so laid back that I've really had the time to appreciate the connections we've made during their time here. But, as the Farm goes, as soon as those connections are formed the people leave. It's like constantly making friends and then having them constantly leave. I realize that it is a such a short time and that some people might not understand the connections that are forged here on the Farm. But there's something about this place and its simplicity that allows meaningful relationsips to form in such a short amount of time. Without the distractions of a lot of technology, people actually make an effort to talk to each other. The reading Dorothy had this morning really summed it up well and also serves as the byline for my entry (Bits and Pieces). "People. People important to you. People unimportant to you....cross your life; touch it with love and carelessness and move on... You will find that you are made up of bits and pieces of all who have ever touched you along the path of your life. And you are more because of it, and you would be less if they had not touched you."

So thank you. Thank you to those who have come to the Farm already and thank you to those who have not yet passed this way but will in the future. You have done and will do great service for the people of Lewis County but you will also do a service to me and those who live here at the Farm. Even though you aren't here for long, you presence is felt and appreciated.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

McNicholas High School: The Week I Became a Ninja

This past week a group came down to the Farm from McNicholas High School in Cincinnati. I was excited to have more people down here (not that Colleen and Jamie aren't great but it's great to see new faces) but also a little nervous since it was my first group. I shouldn't have worried so much, this group was fantastic. All the kids were so willing to help the people of Lewis County and really threw themselves wholeheartedly into service. There was a really good mix of people including a part time dragon slayer. Jeff and Sarah, the chaperones, had been here many times before and they really understood the charisms of the Farm and what it stands for. As a new Farm Manager it was nice to have them there.

The group worked hard over the week. It was Pantry Week here so a few of the small groups were at Lend a Helping Hand Pantry in Tollesboro. On Monday they packed 240 food boxes for the families that come through the pantry. I was super impressed by their hard work and lack of complaining even though the Pantry was about 16748249 degrees. I didn't realize what a feat it was since I don't have the perspective of having done this a lot but Jamie went all bug eyed when she heard we had packed all the boxes. I was also excited to finally meet George and Sue, who run the Pantry. George was happy to hear I was the new Farm Manager since, as he put it, "Them girls can't boss us around on more". The groups also helped to clean up the clothing store, which looked like a disaster area when we arrived.

Groups also did construction work with People's Self Help in town. They helped put up the walls of a house and then cut up some firewood for the Farm. There was also the requisite visit to Wildwoman with some Hillbilly Kisses given out. The kids were traumatized by an attempted cow mating accompanied by hilariously innappropriate side comments by Dub-Dub.

There was also a group that helped to mow the Mansfields' lawn downtown. Rick and Sherri were in danger of being fined by the city for their lawn and they wouldn't have been able to afford it so the help by the kids was much needed. I thought it was interesting how a Ministry of Service site sort of morphed into a Ministry of Presence. After running to the Clothing Pantry to put together a box for them, we came back and talked to Sherri. She has diabetes and has limited mobility and I think it was nice for her to have visitors to talk to. She spoke of her fear of going blind and . It broke my heart to see this woman who literally has nothing (we had to bring them toilet paper so they didn't have to continue using newspaper) apologize for not having soda for us to drink and insist that we take back a basket of chestnuts. It's true compassion and generosity to offer something to someone when you don't have anything for yourself.

I was really impressed by the variety of the reflections offered by the groups each night. They were really creative and used multiple locations on the Farm. Star gazing, journals, and the Creek were all featured prominently. The Glow Worms even obliged, giving us some impromptu lighting (see left). They brought a lot too the table including a benediction from John Norman, the McNic faculty member who first brought students to the Farm some 20 years ago. I love music so oftentimes the music selection makes the reflection for me. They used some songs that I thought were really fortuitous in addition to being enjoyable. My favorites were I Must Belong Somewhere by Bright Eyes and Soul by Dan Bern. Looks like Jaime, Colleen, and I will have to step our game up in the future. Thanks to Jeff for giving us those 2 CDs of reflection songs at the end.

There was also time for some fun on the Farm. We had some delicious meals cooked by the students. The Monkey Bread was a big hit, as always, and the O' Henry bars didn't last long either.

Mmm...Monkey Bread. What part is the brain?

Grill Master Sam and I grilled out on Friday and there were burgers and dogs for everyone. The kids also took advantage of the creek. They even attempted the rope swing, though with the creek level so high it was really just a glorified plunge straight into the water. Mud Alley ended up being closed on Friday and some of students were a little disappointed. Luckily, they were able to cut quite a rug at Beechy Creek Dance Hall. Connor's dancing kept everyone entertained and props and snaps are due to Luke for filling in as a drummer with John and Trina. Much to the delight and endless amusement of the Farm Managers, the ladies of the Sewing Week trip even joined in the ridiculousness.

The McNic kids can also be proud that they left a lasting legacy on the Farm (at least while we're Farm Managers) beyond their service. They taught us the completely amazing game of Ninja. Everyone circles up and assumes a ninja pose with their hands in knife-like form. The point is to strike another person's hands, at which point they're out. Each person gets a turn in which they can reposition themselves or strike. It's a simple concept that combines the awesome elements of ninjas...and slapping people. This will definitely become a Glenmary Farm staple.

I'm hoping to teach Mao how to do this so we can hold staffhouse ninja parties

Monday, September 14, 2009

New Beginnings in a Familiar Place

Hey Guys,

You'll notice it's been a few months since I've been on here. It's not that I haven't done stuff since my visit to the Farm but I didn't feel like recording all the unecessary minutiae of my life and burdening you all (and by you all I mean like 3 people tops) with it. But just to update you a little bit: in the intervening time I graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a B.S. in Biological Sciences and Political Science, took the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test), and spent way too much time surfing the web looking for hilarious links to send via e-mail to all my friends.

But the most significant event (relative to the purposes of this blog) was me applying for and getting hired as the newest Farm Manager at Glenmary Farm! I was super stoked about it partly because I liked my last experience on the Farm so much and partly because it got my mom off my back for not having my life together. All kidding aside, I felt that the Farm was the perfect place for me to do service that really integrated the values of social justice and faith. Various people gave me funny looks when I said I was leaving Notre Dame/Orange County to do service work in Vanceburg, Kentucky. I'll readily admit that Vanceburg isn't exactly a bustling metropolis but it has qualities that make it a special place. The Farm, specifically, inspires a feeling of peace that I sorely needed after 16 straight years in school.

For those not familar with the Farm and it's relation to Vanceburg (and who are too lazy to look at my previous posts) I'll give you the scoop. Vanceburg, Kentucky is located in Lewis County
near the Ohio border. It has a population of about 14,000 with a per capita income around $9,000. Glenmary Farm is run by the Glenmary Home Missioners, which was founded by Father William Howard Bishop in 1939. It serves communities in over 40 locations ranging from Appalachia to the Southwest. It targets communities that are less than 3% Catholic and where the number of people living below the poverty line is nearly double the national average.

The Farm itself began as a way to encourage young men to enter the seminary. However, it morphed into a Catholic volunteer camp. It brings in groups of high school and college students as well as faith based groups to volunteer in Lewis county. These groups work with a local nursing home, adult day care mental health facility, a food/ clothing pantry and anyone else in the community that needs help.

So that's what I'll be doing for the next year. As a Farm Manager I'm essentially in charge of all the groups as they come through and do my own work in the community when no groups are present. I'm really excited for the opportunity to be here and be a part of the community. I'll be updating the blog when I can so follow me when you feel like it. But it's off to bed now. We have our first group tomorrow!