Friday, October 30, 2009

Notre Dame: Party in the U.S.A.

I said in the previous post that we had two groups back to back. The second of the two groups was my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. They were on Fall Break from beautiful South Bend from October 18-23. There were 17 of them but what I noticed from the beginning was how young they seemed. The majority of them were sophomores, something I guess I didn’t notice when I came down in the spring.

Having a group from ND was both exciting and a little nerve wracking. I was very excited to talk to Domers about everything from football to the dining halls. At the same time there was a little nervousness on my part with them coming here. As a Farm Manager I always feel a little anxious having groups come here because I have this hope that they will love this place as I do. There was a heightened sense of this feeling because the group was from Notre Dame. Notre Dame is a place that became a home for me for 4 years but it was much more than the fact that I went to college there. There is a Spirit at Notre Dame that you buy into as a student and alum. The University stands for something larger in the world; it’s a force for change and for good. It prides itself on having students who truly care for humanity and fight for causes they find worthy. There is a faith and inherent trust we have in the University to continue to select and nurture students in this way. It’s why we proudly wear ND gear to the point that people ask us if we have anything else in our wardrobe. It’s why we approach total strangers because they have a Notre Dame class ring. And it’s why we continually make the trek back to beautiful South Bend, IN to cheer on our beloved football team.
My Home for 4 Years: Love Thee, Notre Dame

While all this is true I still had apprehenions going into this week. Would this group get the Farm? Would they truly want to do service or was this just a resume builder? If not, what would that say about the University? Where does that leave me. Seems like I got caught forgetting the concept of God’s Time and looking ahead huh? I shouldn’t have worried and really just trusted the fact that these were Notre Dame students and they would be here for the right reasons. They absolutely 100% understood what the Farm was about. I was really impressed with their reflections on the first night. Because of the tight Notre Dame community, there is often a tendency to get trapped in the Notre Dame bubble. And being from Notre Dame, students are used to tackling problems in an academic setting so there’s a tendency to approach service projects like this as abstract problems to be solved. But the very first night, Ethan mentioned how on the drive down he began to realize this was an area very much like his own home and likely filled with people not significantly different from himself in many aspects. It’s a conclusion I came to, but only after about a week here. To hear that kind of insight come from them immediately assured me that Notre Dame continues to produce special individuals.

Another thing that impressed me how well they all connected with the people here. Most groups do well connecting with the people at ministry of presence sites like the Nursing Home and Comprehend. But it’s often harder to make that sort of connection at some of the direct service sites. It’s sort of like a left brain/ right brain thing. It’s hard to engage direct service and ministry of presence both at the same time. Oftentimes at construction sites this is due to the fact that we’re often given jobs that get us out of the way of the guys while they do their own thing. But when I was with the group on Tuesday, a lot of them spent most of the day up on the roof with Rog, John Lewis and Bo. It seemed like the kids really took it upon themselves to try and form a connection with the workers. When they were presented with the opportunity to do so, they actually took full advantage of it. At lunch the workers were joking around with the students and the students were joking right back. Rog kept telling Allsion (a psych major) that she should schedule an appointment when she gets out of school to see Case and Perry. He then added that she could probably make a living just seeing those two since she’d never figure out exactly what was wrong with them. Indicative of the fact that the kids really connected with the workers was that fact that this was the most I had ever seen/ heard Case talk with a group there.

At a second site, the kids interacted with Mr. Ivey, the future occupant. He lives in a house that is still on the property and does not have running water. When he heard the group was from Notre Dame he said he had something for them. He went into his house and came out with a Notre Dame windbreaker. He said his niece gave it to him but that he figured they would like it more than he would. It was another example of the astounding generosity of the people of Appalachia. He didn’t have running water in his house yet he was so willing to just give away a perfectly good jacket just because he thought they would appreciate it. And it was made possible because of the efforts the kids made to connect with the people they served.

The group accomplished a lot during the week. They roofed that entire house and also spent time putting up the roof at another site. They were excellent at the Nursing Home and Comprehend and danced up a storm at the Thurman’s. We happened to catch Bivens during a revival week so the churchgoers were extra fired up for service on Wednesday. During reflection that night Matt said something that was profound. He said he was struggling during the service during prayer because the sound of everyone saying their prayers out loud made it difficult to get any sort of coherent thought formed. He was getting so frustrated until the only prayer he could muster was something along the lines of “Lord, I don’t know what these people are saying but I do know that they clearly Love you and understand you. Please bless them and answer their prayers”. It was an extremely understanding and Farm-like sentiment that I was impressed at hearing from a person who had been here for 3 days.

The kids also packed all the food boxes for the next pantry day. It was a bit of a hard day for me because as we were packing the boxes I noticed that we were really running low on food. There were more than a few instances of scrambling to find alternatives to items that George had asked to be put into the boxes because we completely ran out. The pantry relies both on government commodities and corporate donations. The third Friday of the month is reserved for commodities while the first is supported by corporate donations. Because the commodities have to be inventoried, they cannot be used during the first Friday. The number of families that the pantry serves has jumped from about 180 in June to about 240. Unfortunately, as this is happening, the economic slowdown has hit the pantry and corporate donations are drying up. George often buys some food in bulk but since monetary donations are also hard to come by, it’s now getting difficult to buy enough to supply everyone. It’s come to then point where George has become really nervous about the upcoming holiday season. That’s when I knew it was really bad because George, along with his big heart, has seemingly limitless optimism. But as dire as the situation seems, as is often the case, it has brought out some excellent examples of Christian Love. We told the Notre Dame students about our concerns on Thursday at dinner. As typical Notre Dame students, they immediately began to brainstorm ideas to try and help George out. They talked about having second collections at mass and making a presentation during their Appalachia seminar. Their generous spirit and sincerity in their attempts to help was so impressive and really made me proud to be an alum. They weren’t the only ones to step up for the Pantry. I emailed Micah from Hoban and got an almost instantaneous response indicating they would divert a portion of their canned food drive to us as well as donate the proceeds from a dress down day to the Pantry. It’s so great to see how the volunteers who come here are affected by this place enough to want to give back.

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