Monday, October 26, 2009

Mt. St. Mary's: Awwww Naaahhhh

So it's been a while since I've written a post. To be fair, I haven't had much time since we had two groups in a row after which I attended the ND- BC game but more on all that later. For now I'll recap the Mt. St. Mary's week.

The Mount kids were here from October 11-October 16. I wrote in my last entry that the three of us were a little worried about how much authority we could project with a group of people that were essentially our own age. It wasn't even an issue because the Mount kids were so receptive to the Farm's message and so determined to perform sevice that they bought into the idea of putting yourself second and had no problems taking orders from us wacky Farm Managers.

With their sense of determination, the Mount kids really accomplished a lot. The first day at Construction we spent the whole day hauling cinderblocks around through what I assume was once dirt but was now decidedly mud. What struck me was that the individual task itself was pretty menial, to the point that John Lewis greeted us that morning by asking us if we had brought strong backs and weak minds, but by the end of the day we had completed the entire foundation to a house. Unreal. It was cool to see that stage of construction, since we're often working on a house once the walls have gone up. In a sequence of events very appropriate for the Farm, the group the next day was at the same worksite and literally built on our foundation. The group also made some real progress at the clothing pantry. While the overflowing donations are certainly a good thing, the mountain of bags in the back corner is a tad frustrating and makes it a logistical nightmare on handout day. So the fact that this group was able to give us a breather and organize the boxes behind the benches was a HUGE help.

Speaking of handout day, I was able to attend my first one on the Friday of that week. I was fortunate enough to have some time before the madness started to talk with the people there. Once again, I was struck by their sincerity and concern. There was a cold front that came in that week (it frosted that morning) but I was dumb and forgot my sweatshirt. I couldn't tell you the number of times people asked me if I was cold. These were people who would soon get tickets to go to the clothing pantry so they could try and get clothes. Some of them didn't have heat in their houses yet here they were, worrying about whether I was cold. It was a perfect example of Christian Love and community to me. I think it's an offshoot of two aspects of the region that become really apparent when you're here: Religion and Family. Church is such a large part of life here. They truly coming together and worshipping on Wednesdays and Sundays. They are true scholars of the Bible and take its message seriously. While this promotes some views that I don't exactly agree with, they also take to heart the call to love their neighbors. This makes for an incredibly tight knit community, one that sincerely cares for all its members. The people also highly value Family. Several generations of the same families often live in the same hollow, oftentimes on the same road. I was talking to Wayne Thurman, the patriarch of the Thurman family the other night. He told me how someone had offered his son, Brian, something like $100,000 for a strip of his land. 100k is not a sum to sneeze at especially in this area and Brian had enough land that he could stand to lose some of it but he merely said (and I'm paraphrasing a little here) "I'm sorry, the land isn't mine to sell, it's for my son."

From a Farm Manager perspective, this week was challenging. It seemed like every day something else was going wrong. We blew a fuse trying to make pancakes and ran ridiculously behind schedule on a day our boss came to the Farm (Though this did lead to my favorite quote for the day: "Yo Pancakes... Imma let you finish... but Bagels are the best Breakfast of ALL TIME! OF ALL TIME!!!"), the weather kept changing our schedule, we got lost on the way to construction, and one of the vans (Affectionately called Bougey due to its plush interior and mood lighting) got a flat tire on the way back from church on Wednesday night. But Jamie, Colleen and I kept rolling with the punches. Our mantra was dualy "Welcome to the Farm" and "We'll get it done somehow". And you know what? We got through it. It was a reminder that God never gives you more than you can handle. Flat Tire? Turns out one of the kids in the car knew how to change a tire like a champ. Blown fuse and running late? Turns out our Boss can't be on the Farm anyway. We must have done something right because at the end of the week Jimmy and Allison, the two student leaders both asked for applications to be Farm Managers! I think they wold both be really excellent Managers and hope they consider it.

Farm Analogy Time: Swift= Pancakes, Beyonce = Bagels and Kanye = Fuse?

I also saw a lot of growth from the Mount kids during the week. Maybe it was because they were more adept at expressing their sentiments during their reflections, but I got a sense that at the beginning of the week they came in with little bit of a savior complex. This certainly isn't a bad thing and actually pretty understandable when you think about the context of a service project like theirs. It's hard to really understand the area unless you've been here and easy to reduce it to an abstract concept when approaching it from the realm of academia. Doing so makes one view the region through a problem/ solution lens on a large scale rather than realizing the individual stories present here. But the sentiment also comes from a sincere desire to do good in the communituy and I think as long as that remains intact, you can't help but become affected by the people. I know it happened to me when I came here in March. But like me, they saw by the end of the week that the people here are far from helpless and in reality give as much to us as we do to them. Once they realized that the service here is a two way street the Mount kids were able to channel that spirit of fighting for social justice and really accomplish a lot as well as get a lot out of the experience.

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