Monday, December 21, 2009

Project Merry Christmas Part 1: The Best Way to Spread Chrtistmas Cheer...

The rest of December was marked by the preparation for and the execution of Project Merry Christmas. PMC is organized by the ministerial association and hands out food vouchers and toys to those who need it. The school age kids are covered by the local schools while we end up covering the rest including the home schooled kids and those people that fall through the cracks. The Farm pools the various donations, sorts them according to age groups, and then sets them up at the Lions Club so that people can "shop" for what they want. There was a lot to be done before all this went down.

We had an "off week" scheduled between Wright State and PMC but as my subtly placed quotes indicate, we were pretty busy. We spent a lot of the time at the clothing pantry (what else is new?) to try and get some of that ridiculous pile under control. It was a pretty bitterly cold on one of the days we worked there but we soldiered through it...naturally to find out later that there is in fact heat in the building. Typical. On one of the other days that we worked at the clothing pantry, I got the opportunity to work construction. It was good because it gave me an opportunity to work with the guys one last time before Christmas break. It was a lot of fun even though it was pretty cold and snowing throughout the day.

Speaking of cold, we had an interesting experience regarding the Farm's heating system. Our staff house is normally heated via heat pump. It essentially takes the heat from the air outside and pumps it into the house. It works fantastically as long as there is heat in the air to pump inside. However, once there are a few cold days in a row and all the residual heat is eliminated from the surrounding air, it turns into a dastardly air conditioning unit. When we did finally get a cold front that settled in, we did actually take the proper steps to head off the problem and we turned off the pump. Apparently, something happened with the pump because when I woke up the next morning it was 47 FREAKING DEGREES IN OUR HOUSE. I could literally feel myself getting sick. We scrambled to correct the situation. And by correct the situation, I mean we piled a myriad of heavy objects on the various vents throughout our house. We went to Church extra early Sunday morning just so that we could warm up. Eventually we talked to Dave, the Emperor of People's Self Help Housing, and were able to shut off the dreaded pump. If there was a story that typefied our time as Farm Managers, this would definitely be in the nomination envelope.

We should have known there would be a problem when this guy installed the heat pump

The off week was also when the Farm was officially turned into a Christmas Factory. We began what turned into a never ending cookie making whirlwind as we prepared gifts for those we delivered food boxes to, the people we worked with, and (most hilariously) Bossman. That last one came about as a result of pure boredom and a flash of creativity. We went back to the childhood tradition of leaving your shoes out on the evening of St. Nicholas and decided to make a middle-of-the-night expedition to Bossman's to drop off our present. It was complete with our incognito, black US Census Hats. As with most things involving us, we made quite a scene to the point that we were stopped by one of his neighbors that happened to work for the sheriff's office. Guess it looked a little shady to have people sneaking around at midnight and dropping off random boxes on people's doorsteps. Oops.

We also had the first of our many, many Christmas carolings. On Wednesday night the local churches got together and held The Ecumenical Church Walk. It started at the courthouse in town and then went to three local churches where we heard presentations on the history of each building. We did our part by caroling for the procession as they entered each building. It was made more challenging (though possibly more enjoyable for those witnessing our caroling) by the gale-like winds, which at times drowned out our voices. It was capped off with a cookies and treats reception that was downright delicious.

Thursday night we went to a concert benefitting the food pantry. It was a great night of music and entertainment. We even got introduced on stage as Glenmary Farm Managers, which was exciting. We helped out with collecting donations, which we found out later totaled a couple thousand dollars! After that, Friday was spent resting up and getting ready for the impending Project Week.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wright State University: What a Gyps

From November 30-December 5 we had a group of 14 come down from Wright State Campus Ministry in Dayton, OH. It was a real mix of students ranging from freshmen to grad students and they were accompanied by a priest, which was something new. After the break for Thanksgiving, it could have been really difficult to readjust to life on the Farm. To be fair, it was a little weird being back here the first few days before the group came. But this group had such a focus on service that it was actually really easy to get back into the swing of things.

With it being a Pantry handout week, we had a lot of work to do. There was the obligatory packing of the food boxes and all the work that needed to be done at the pantry. George received a new shipment of clothes so the pile which we had worked so hard to reduce was again piled to the ceiling. Ah well... another task for future groups eh? We had plenty of work just trying to get the place ready for the handout day on that Friday. The kids did a great job with all the work. They were totally ready and willing to take on the new challenges that were thrown at them.

I had the opportunity to go back to Licking Valley Senior Center for the first time since I came down in March as a volunteer. Jamie, Colleen and I have gone there to help pack the commodities but I haven't been there for the regularly scheduled program since becoming a Farm Manager. It was great to just be able to hang out with all the people there. We did some word searches, played some bingo and had some delicious Turkey. We entertained the people there for about 30 minutes with some Christmas carols. Surprisingly, Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer was a crowd pleaser (by request, of course).

We also had plenty of fun with the group. The Thurmans were a blast, as usual. They have such a visible bond and a sense of fun that it's so hard not to enjoy yourself there. This time they were giving Jeff crap for gaining a whopping 11 pounds after Thanksgiving. He steadfastly maintained that his new belly was a badge of honor since it took so much effort to get to that point. I don't immediately hate every country song that comes on the radio now, and I think that's primarily due to the Thurmans. The atmosphere there is just so perfect for enjoying music that it doesn't matter what they sing, I always appreciate it. There have been a few instances where I go looking for songs after I've heard them at the Thurmans' and I find that the original is terrible. Case in point is That Summer. I love it every time the Thurmans play it but I was repulsed by the Garth Brooks version when I finally heard it... weird. They've also turned me onto some songs I end up loving in their original form. Toes by the Zac Brown Band is one of those ones. If you would have told me 4 months ago that this would be a song I surfed the airwaves for, I would have called you crazy. But I guess the Farm has brought me out of my comfort zone. It's a good feeling. It's part of the growth process I guess and shows that the Farm has affected me at least in this small way.

There was plenty of fun had during the week outside of the normal program. There was a night we spent around the fire singing Taylor Swift’s entire song catalog and playing Make a Song, where much hilarity ensued. They also taught us the infinitely fun game of Scum and we had a marathon, two tier session on the last night. It was a hectic evening with a lot of fun and a multitude of hilarious chief Scum pictures (RAKE IT, SCUM!). Naturally, it was capped off with a few games of ninja.

Congrats on your brother getting into ND. Umm.... call me?

There were a few things that were made evident to me this week. The first was the sense of community found here. It's something I have noticed throughout my weeks here but sometimes it's more prominent than others. This was one of those weeks when I really noticed it. At Licking Valley I could sense it talking to everyone and watching all the seniors interact with one another and swap stories about their grandchildren. There was a genuine interest for the welfare of others that existed in that place. Going to Mosby for service on Wednesday showed the community that forms around Christ here. The Buckners make up the majority of Mosby's congregation and it's like a mini family reunion everytime they go to service. But it's always remarkable to me how they make such an effort to welcome us when we go. They really do make us feel like part of the family. The Construction guys over at People's were also an example of the community to be found here. It's been a while since I've worked with John and Rog's crew and I could sense they were sincere when they said they had missed working with me. They were excited to see me again and the feeling was mutual. In the short 3 months that I've been here, they've really welcomed me and made me feel like a part of the crew. Everywhere I go in Lewis County, I see examples of the strong community that exists here. It's a wonderful feeling. But it's also taught me some things.

The strength of the community here derives from 2 main sources: family and faith. At Notre Dame, it was a similar situation. The University does such an excellent job at fostering community and its cited so often that community is really a buzzword when discussing Notre Dame. The love that students have for the school is no accident and comes from the same sources as the community here: family and faith. There, it was so easy to tap into both sources. The dorm life, football games, and classrooms established the Notre Dame family while having chapels in every dorm and the many faith based programs and places around campus made up the faith portion. It was the perfect storm for a patently lazy person such as myself. All I literally had to do was wander downstairs every week to go to mass. But I found that a funny thing happened when I went home. Now that it wasn't so easy, I would miss Church. Being here has reminded me that you can find a strong community in places other than Notre Dame. It may take effort, but the effort that you exert brings back rewards far exceeding it.

The second thing I noticed this week was the power of doing small things. While at Licking Valley one woman commented on how I seemed to memorize everyone's name after meeting them. It was such a small gesture on my part but it really made an impact on this woman. When we were at Mosby, Rick came around (like he always does) to shake everyone's hand before the service. Again, it's a small gesture but it does so much. It sets the tone for the service and creates such a welcoming atmosphere. Those dual lessons of community and doing the small things are ones I hope to bring back with me long after my year here is up.

The kids really got a lot out of the week. Different groups latch onto different aspects of the Farm and this one definitely found its identity in the spirituality component of the Farm. They took the opportunity for quiet reflection to really get in touch (or back in touch) with God. It was a good reminder to me of the value of sitting quietly and reflecting. Fred closed out the week with a really excellent homily. It was based on the gospel about the two houses- one built on rock and the other built on sand. Fred referenced the fact that the chapel had to be rebuilt multiple times but that it was possible because the chapel had a strong foundation a la the house built on rock. The foundation, Fred explained, that the chapel is built on is Jesus. He made the point that the Farm is what Christianity is all about. It's about loving those you meet and living simply not because it's hip but because Jesus set the example for the rest of us. I thought it was a homily that captured the essence of the Farm really well. It was also good to celebrate mass in the chapel, since we haven't had the opportunity to do so since I've been here. It was a great reminder of what we do here and a nice ending to the week.