Saturday, January 23, 2010

Off Week(end) in Akron: Small Goal Met

Ever since Archbishop Hoban High School had come to The Farm back in October we had talked about going up to visit Akron. Well, we figured that since January/ February is a slow time down here and we had a free week, there was no better time for us to make the trip. So the three of us loaded up into the Snitch and headed AK Rowdy for the January 20-22.

We had a few adventures before we even got to Akron. Bossman Joe had recently laid down the ultimatum to get rid of one of the Farm cats. In our time together in September, we had exactly doubled the amount of cats on the Farm from 2 to 4. The two newest members of our menagerie were C.C. (the Calico Cat or Christmas Cat depending on the season) and Moses. We had hopes of borrowing against our future Farm Manager Nights Out and hiring Jeff Probst to come in to host a special Cat Survivor (none of us were Finance majors in college) complete with a dead mouse immunity idol but instead we just had Bossman decide. So on our way to Akron we stoppped by the Sierra's Haven adoption center in Portsmouth, OH to drop off...(drumroll please) C.C. Don't feel too bad for her, though. When we got to Sierra's Haven, Jamie said it was essentially Cat Disneyland. So we bid adieu to C.C. and continued our travels.

The rest of our trip was uneventful unless you count our drive through scintillating Circleville, home of the famed pumpkin watertower. Jamie and I played a prolonged game of the celebrity name game (You name a celebrity/ historical figure and the next player must name a person with the same starting letter of their first name as the previous famous person's last name i.e. Teddy Roosevelt--> Richard Nixon--> Nelson Mandela). Between my love of sports and general pop culture and Jamie's love for the 1960s and 70s, it was a recipe for tedium. Finally, after 5 ish hours we made our triumphant entrance into Akron.

So we pulled up into a high school with a beat up Gold 12 passenger van and proceeded to abandon it in the parking lot...not sketchy at all right? We got the VIP tour of Hoban from Micah and Scott. I was really surprised by how large the school was when they told me that it served only 900 students. They also had a lot of really cool new resources like an all Mac Lab for digital imaging classes etc. Apparently, earlier in the decade the school got a bit of a facelift, during which they added an homage to a familiar sight on my alma mater's campus. As a Holy Cross school, Hoban dutifully plastered Blessed Basil Moreau's visage on every space of blank wall they could. I swear his creepy stare was looking at me after every corner I turned. It was a nice, albeit slightly disturbing, reminder of college, where Smitty may or may not have pilfered a 5x7 foot Basil Moreau canvas and proudly displayed it in the dorm room.

Oh hello, Basil...It's been awhile since you've creeped me out with that steely stare of yours

Later that night they took us to see the Winter One Act Plays at the school. It was a pun filled evening complete with Zombies, Amelia Aerhardt, and a bisexual stalking tollbooth attendant.

The only thing better than normal puns...Pokemon puns

There were a few kids from the Hoban and St Martha's crew that were involved in the plays so it was good to see their hard work come to life. After the plays, we went to grab some pizza with the chaperones at Luigi's. It was a delicious end to the day. After that, I headed back to Micah's place while Cindi put up Jamie and Colleen for their stay. I made good friends with Micah's three dogs, one of whom (Cowboy Bob) kept me company that night. I feel bad for any future teenagers living in that house because it is next to IMPOSSIBLE to take more than 3 steps without making the house creak like a ship in a typhoon.

Friday began at the crack of dawn, as I was an honorary member of Dudefast (Breakfast with the Dudes) with Micah. Every Friday he and some of the other male teachers at Hoban get together and grab breakfast at a local establishment. It was nice to see such a strong community among the teachers. Conversation strayed from best breakfast foods to classroom techniques to hilarious classroom anaecdotes. It was a nice way to start off the day and I can see why they've made an effort to keep up the tradition. During the course of the meal I learned that real men get gravy on their home fries... also that real men revel in completely destroying their GI tract.

After Dudefast, I met up with Jamie and Colleen at Hoban. We spent the day speaking in the senior religion classes about the work we do at Glenmary and service in general. It was actually pretty funny being at the front of a high school classroom. We could totally see the kids as they struggled to stay awake during 1st and 2nd period, fought off the post-lunch drowsy-hangover, and then checked out for last period. There were questions and people generally interested in what we did so I was glad see that. We spent about 10 or 15 minutes in each class so we had some free time to wander the halls. During this Jamie and Colleen almost got detentions for wearing jeans while I was mistaken for some vagrant creeper. Hilarious. We got to see some of the English projects that Cindi had her class do on books of their choice. We spent lunch with kids from the Hoban and St. Martha's groups, which was good. It was a little strange/ jarring to see the kids in an environment other than The Farm. I had gotten so used to knowing the kids as they were while they were here. It reminded me how special The Farm is that it encourages all these kids to give up things that they're so used to every day. It was fun to see them in their environment. One other thing I had forgotten since High School was how freaking long the days were. We were definitely blowin' through nap time there at the end.

At the end of the long day we went back to Micah's place to indulge ourselves in some hilarious youtube clips. After some dinner at a local Mexican joint we went to the Hoban vs. Walsh boys basketball game. We actually snagged courtside seats, which was great. The gym itself (which was at Walsh) was pretty impressive. It had more of a cathedral-like feel to it and was pretty sweet looking for a high school gym. We got to see some more Hoban and St. Martha's kids that came down to The Farm before and during the game. The game itself was pretty good. It was back and forth with a lot of momentum changes throughout. The Hoban student section was incredibly loud for the whiteout. The two best things about the game were 1) One of the refs looked like a Lionel Richie who had been to the buffet one too many times and 2) The best kid on Walsh looked like a cross between Lil Bow Wow and the dude from You Got Served. If you think I didn't yell at the kid that I wanted his shoes so I could be Like Mike... you clearly don't know me. Unfortunately the game was marred somewhat by the fact that ol' Lionel Richie wanted to be the center of attention instead of the 17 year old kids that were out there playing. Making bad calls is one thing. It happens to the best of refs and I can totally understand it. Going back and forth with student fans and making no effort to hide admiration with individual players is just plain unprofessional. Unfortunate. But it was a lot of fun to go crazy for the evening.

"Why hello there...I am here to call a terrible game...and have magnificent hair while doing it"

After the game we all went over to The Lockview, a bar/ restaurant in downtown Akron... for the delicious grilled cheese of course. Micah's buddies, Nick and Andy (who run the website that I now want to spend my entire stipend on) hung out with us for the night. We had a lot of fun just swapping stories and being oddly struck by how much our waitress loved Delonte West.

The next morning we dragged ourselves over to Golden Corral to experience the most American of experiences... the Buffet Brunch. We met up with a handful of the Hoban kids and it was nice to see them before we left. After we had stuffed ourselves with endless platters of bacon and watered down coffee we bid adieu to the kids and headed back to the Hoban parking lot to pick up the Snitch. We finally pulled out of the Hoban parking lot and began our trip back to The Farm. On the way, we stoppped by Costco and dropped a cool G (you have no idea how much I've always wanted to legitimately say that) on groceries. The rest of the trip was uneventful and we eventually made it back home in one piece.

Our trip to Akron was a smashing success and it was due exclusively to our hosts. So I'd like to extend a huge, HUGE thank you to Micah, Cindi, Scott, all of the Hoban teachers/ kids, and the St. Martha's kids for hosting us this weekend and inviting us into your homes/ schools. We had a blast and hope that you all continue to come to the Farm and enjoy it as much as we have enjoyed your company.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fordham University Global Outreach: 10% of All Jokes are True

From January 10-16 we had a group from Fordham University's Global Outreach (GO!) program come down to the Farm. It was a little weird being back after almost a month away, but this group proved to be really well suited to reintroducing us to the Farm. They had a lot of energy for both fun and service and it really made for a great week.

The most defining characteristic of the group was the extremely strong community they had. This isn't necessarily unique when it comes to groups on the Farm. I am very often surprised at how close the groups grow during their time here. What was unique about this particular community was the fact that it was already strong before they arrived. This is due in large part to the nature of the GO! program at Fordham. They have been meeting at least once a week since October. In addition to their weekly group meetings, they have been staging fundraising bake sales and had to meet with another person from the group one-on-one at least once every week. Thus, by the time they came to the Farm they had already formed a strong bond with every one of their group members. A second factor played into how close the team was before the week. Joe and Christine, the two leaders of the group, went through a pretty extensive interview process to select the team members. It was very apparent during the week that they had really made a concerted effort to select people that were all different personalities and brought something different to the group. The drawn out process may seem like overkill to some people but it makes sense when you dissect the logic behind it. First, gauging the personalities of the would be team members is crucial to running a successful team. Second, the amount of time devoted by the team leading up to the week was a refleciton of the attitude that GO! takes when approaching things like this. I heard from many of the students that GO! insisted on using the label "project" when refrerring to the week, eschewing titles like "trip". Project implies a long term, lasting experience while trip connotes something that begins and ends with the week. To really promote that idea of permanence it's really actually necessary to have that applicaiton process and all those meetings beforehand. I thought it was a really unique way to look at coming down to the Farm and one that benefitted them as they spent their week here.

One of the advantages of having an already strong community was that they were really able to open up during reflection. They really explored a lot of different ideas and personal insights that would have been difficult to share had they not known each other so well. The knowledge that everyone in the room genuinely cared about each other and was there to support one another allowed each person to really put themselves out there. Thus the reflections were always really insightful and sincere. By all means I'm not saying that reflections by other groups are fake or cursory. However, it's hard for goups to really open up and get over that initial hesitancy if they're still trying to get used to each other. This group didn't have to go through that period of reticence. In fact, it took me a little by surprise at first. However, their willingness to be open was refreshing and helped me to in turn reflect openly about the week. It was evident in everything they did during the week that they really had a strong bond and support structure. They participated in the service at Mosby more than any other group we've had and even had the courage to ask to be prayed over. All this is possible because they knew they could count on their team members for support.

The group worked really hard while they were here. We spent one of the days at the Food Pantry packing the boxes for handout. We used a slightly different strategy for packing boxes this time around. Normally, when I've packed boxes before, we just set up 30 empty boxes on tables and assign each person a few items that they then place into each box. It's a process that is kind of cool to see because of the progression. Normally in the beginning, there's a lot of chaos as people are running into each other and dropping stuff and we have to repackage stuff because the boxes are unwieldy. But as it goes on people figure it out and it becomes a more organized chaos.

This time around though, George had set up a conveyor belt so instead we just slid each box down and put the items in one at a time. It was good for me because it pushed me out of my own comfort zone. I found myself getting frustrated as boxes began to pile up and my back began to hurt from lifting all of them. Old George also came by, as he usually does, to help out. Because it was a commodities week, the boxes were pretty heavy so there really wasn't much Old George could do in terms of helping. I could feel my impatience growing as he struggled to lift boxes and (as I saw it) slowed down the line. As this happened, though, I really derived some strength from the rest of the team. Jim, who was working right alongside of me, never once complained and did the work with such purpose that it was truly inspiring. At the other end I saw Christine working with such a smile on her face. She kept talking to Old George in a way that I could tell she was truly interested in what he had to say and wasn't just humoring him. Naturally, at reflection that night we talked about instances we had to use patience. It was thrown out that patience is often necessary in order to live in community. While that is certainly true, as I reflected I realized that community is where I derive my patience. It's especially true here at the Farm. Schedules are constantly changing and plans are always being modified. This would be difficult if it wasn't for the community that Colleen, Jamie and myself have here. We all lean on each other and when something changes we all just shrug and say "Welcome to the Farm". It's easy to endure when you have a support system behind you.

The group was also really full of energy for the whole week. There were more than a few spirited rounds of ninja played on the Farm that week. They also played a marathon session of Scattegories that had plenty of energy behind it... as well as a Collosseum-esque thumbs up/ thumbs down approval system.

Commodus is apparently a tough Scattegories judge

Normally we have to do some cajolling to get groups to dance at the Thurmans' but this group needed no such urging. This was in addition to all the signing and dancing that took place in the cars as it was. They had the chance to play some Charades at Comprehend, which both the clients and kids got a kick out of doing. Though somehow a "space race" and "mother" were the clues that were supposed to lead us to Terminator? The students also broke out the Puzz 3D during the week. There was also a lot of fun had assigning everyone roles from various TV shows and movies. All in all their sense of fun was contagious and made for a great week full of plenty of laughs.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Project Merry Christmas Part 2: It Feels Like Christmas

It was finally crunch time as we went through the final preparations for Project Merry Christmas and then finally Project itself on December 15th. It was a whirlwind of a week as people continued to come in and out of the Farm. It was pretty nonstop, filled with cookies, caroling and craziness. All in all it was a great time that left us completely exhausted but fulfilled.

The first group that came in was a young adult group from Cincinnati. Included in this group was my good buddy from school, Matt and his roomate (also from ND), Leah. It was really cool to see people I knew on the Farm. It was funny thinking about the odds that Matt and I would end up a few hours away from each other and that he would join a faith group that would make a trip to the place where I work. Crazy. We got to work right away with some of us cleaning up the clothes pantry (I feel like I've probably blogged more about that darn place more than anywhere else) while others went to go ring the bell for Salvation Army. Later that night we had more people from Cincinnati come down and a few from nearby Moorehead also arrived. The kitchen soon turned into a cookie making factory as we made an assembly line to bake and decorate cookies for pantry day. It lasted about 3 hours, during which we made over 200 cookies! There were all shapes, sizes and colors. By the end of it, we literally had no more room in the fridges as they were all filled with trays upon trays of cookies. The continuous cookie making clearly had an effect on Leah as she temporarily lost her mind and attempted to slather everyone with frosting.


We went to mass the next morning and made some final firewood deliveries. As the people from Cincinnati were pulling out of the driveway, a group from Loyola University of Chicago (LUC) pulled in to the Farm. They've been coming to the Farm to help out with PMC for a few years now so they were pretty excited to be back at it. They showed up with a whole U Haul full of toys and food, which was awesome. We had to unload the toys and sort them into the different age groups in God's Time Room. We also sent some people out to shop for supplies that we were lacking. By the time we finished, you could barely walk through the room. It was really great to see all the generosity in physical form. After we had sorted the toys, we started to pack them into boxes and label them. Soon everything was completely packed and ready to be loaded into the UHaul.

On Monday a group of students and I went to the Christian Community Center to deliver the food that LUC had brought in the UHaul. There was something like 1000 pounds of food, which if you think it sounds like a lot... well it is. Some of it was sorted but a lot of it was not. So we had the job of unloading and then sorting all the cans into the different categories that Jan uses. It was kind of similar to a day at the food pantry in that it was pretty hectic in the beginning but by the end we were all clicking as a team and working together. It was pretty cool to see the controlled chaos as various cans whipped through the air and into their designated spots. I was surpised by how quickly the work went. We got the whole truck unpacked and sorted in a matter of hours! I guess that just highlights the power of working as a group.

That night we had to prepare the Vanceburg Lion's Club for Project the next morning. We set up a series of "rooms" within the building. They were really just groups of tables that had toys from the same age group. We had a room for infants, 3-5 yr olds, 6-8 yr olds, 9-12 year olds, teens, and adults. We had to wait for the weekly bingo game to finish before we could set up so it was close to midnight before we finally got done. I was put in charge of setting up the table with all the teddy bears. And when I say all the teddy bears, I mean the mountain of teddy bears that we received. I have never seen a collection of so many fluffy characters since the heyday of the Care Bears. Apparently some lady donated her entire collection so that we had bags upon bags of these things. There were Pooh bears, panda bears, polar bears, Paddington bears, black bears, white bears, small bears, tall bears, and even an appearance by Teddy Ruxpin (which reminded me of my all time favorite radio meltdown ever). I spent painstaking minutes arranging the various Ursidates (Linneaus FTW) so that they looked all pretty and had some semblance of order. After finsihing set up, we trooped back to the Farm to rest up before the madness began...

The day of project began bright and early (as witnessed by Jamie's willingness to simply sleep in the kitchen overnight to shorten her trip in the morning). We had to get there about an hour early to do some final setup so we were all a little groggy. We made a quick run to Dolla Dolla General to pick up Santa Hats and an extension cord to plug into the coffee machine so Jamie wouldn't straight up shank someone. When we got to the Lion's Club, there was already a line of people waiting to get inside. We each got assigned to a different room and prepared for the rush. I, of course, was asked to man the teddy bear table. The minsiters from the local churches were checking people in at the front. Once they determined how many people were in their family, each person was assigned one of us as a shopper. It was pretty non stop for about 3 hours and there was a lot of restocking on my part. While it was great to finally see the results of our efforts over the last few weeks, it was also quite a crazy atmosphere and really was over prettty quickly. It was weird because we spent so much time getting ready for Project but it flew by and it was over. But was good to see a lot of the people that we work with in the community come in and get some gifts. Watching the kids take each person around with so much attention and care was really wonderful to watch. They were so sincere in their desire to see that everyone got what they wanted for Christmas.

Team PMC 2009: Please note Bossman being extremely professional in the background

After we finished up with Project and got a little lunch, we headed to the Nursing Home to do some caroling. It was fun to do the caroling with so many people since it drowned out our voices to the point where we sounded somewhat decent. After doing that, we headed to Wal Mart to ring the Salvation Army bell. Now, there are many strategies one can use when ringing the bell. There is the the normal, friendly ringer, the passive aggressive, blantantly aggresive and many variations thereof. Our particular tactic was to sing as loud as possible so people couldn't possibly ignore us. This is especially easy when singing the 12 Days of Christmas (5 GOLDEN RINGS!!!!!). We spent a few solid hours ringing and singing and raising money. We apparently made an impact because the Wal Mart greeters asked us to sing for them inside for them and declared we were the best crew of bell ringers they have seen (full disclosure: they've only been greeters for 2 years now). We even had a woman feel so sorry for us (it was pretty darn cold) that she bought us all hot chocolate. It was capped off by Jake taking off on one of those Rascal- type scooters with a bell and bucket to hit up the people in the parking lot.

The final task before Christmas break was to do the Pantry handout on the 18th. We spent time with the students from LUC making over 350 (!!) food boxes in preparation. With so many people helping us we had two sets of tables going and were abe to get a lot done in a little time. It was again a little controlled chaos but everything ended up getting done. The Pantry handout itself went smoothly and we had plenty of cookies for everyone.

We had one final adventure before we finally went home for the Holidays. After the handout, Joe informed us that we were going to get pretty cold and snow that night after the rain we had gotten and so the hill by the Farm was liable to ice over. Thus we went from the Pantry to the Farm to throw all our stuff into suitcases and rush to Bossman's. So our first few months together at the Farm came to an appropriate end as we flew around the staffhouse in a panic and crashed at Bossman's for the night.

I hope everyone had a a great Christmas and a good Holdiay season. Thanks to everyone that has come down to the Farm and helped out. Lewis County is a special community and you have all done a lot for it. I know I have learned a lot from the people down here and I hope you did as well. It's been four months that have gone by really quickly but have been really enjoyable. I have really had a lot of fun on the Farm and it's due in large part to the volunteers so thank you.