Monday, March 22, 2010

Assumption High School: Snow Day Like Today!

From February 7-13, we welcomed the girls from Assumption High School in Louisville, KY. It's weird to think that this was our first group from Kentucky. It was also our first all girls group. I've been getting pretty used to being outnumbered when groups come down here but this was definitely the highest concentration of estrogen I've been around in a while.

Before the week began, Joe warned us that Assumption historically gets pretty crappy weather. Apparently Jack Frost has a heydey whenever these girls come to the Farm. This year was no exception. Early, early, early (I can't stress the early part enough) on Tuesday I was woken up by Colleen. I could tell something was wrong by the tone of her voice. She tells me, "The power is out". It takes a few seconds for this to sink in. Meanwhile I see light flooding into my room under the door...and through the cracks ...and over the top of the unfinished wall. Naturally my first question was, "If the power is out, how is the light on?" Colleen's reply was, "I'm using a flashlight" (again, I can't stress how early in the morning it was). I reluctantly got up and we tried to solve the problem. Turning the breakers on and off quickly revealed that the problem was one that the electric company would have to solve. A quick scan of the Farm Manager manual didn't do anything to help things since it just said to check the breakers. Looking back on it, I'm pretty sure that situation pretty much captured our three essences pretty well. Colleen was immediately jolted out of bed as soon as the power turned off and began to scurry around to fix things, Jamie also noticed that the power had gone out but realizing there wasn't much to do simply rolled back over, I meanwhile was completely oblivious to the whole situation.

In the end, after consulting with an extremely coherent and not-at-all asleep Jamie, we decided we could do nothing more than sit tight and wait for the electric company to take care of the situation. A few hours later we reconvened in the kitchen. By now it was getting late in the morning and we needed to wake up the students. However, the power was still off. Colleen,more out of frustration than anything else said "I really wish the electricity would come back on". And, because Colleen has been wearing Doc Brown's hat on a regular basis, as the final syllable was leaving her lips the house hummed to life.

While our immediate problem of having no electricity was solved, we still had to deal with the weather that caused it. There is a pretty steep and long hill on Lower Kinney Road coming out of the Farm to the right and 59 has to go up and over Vanceburg Hill if you venture to the left. The Farm has one car (BRT the Big Red Truck) that can handle both hills pretty well even in the snow. Unfortunately the Golden Snitch does not have that capability while you would have to be completely insane to even look at Biz Marquis if there's a hint of snow on the ground. The group, as most of the groups that come here do, had only minivans that would not make it up either hill safely. So unfortunately we were stuck.

As it turns out we were actually stuck on the Farm for a whole day and a half. Lewis County got hit with the biggest snow storm in 25 years. All told we probably got hit with 10 inches over those two days. For those reading from northern climes, that figure may not seem too impressive. But remember, places like Chicago, New York, and Boston are used to those kind of numbers (though even the Northeast was hit really hard this winter). Here in Kentucky, the winding roads and hollers make a snowfall like that a major pain. The infrastructure just isn't as smooth when it comes to dealing with snow and so things can come to a halt. Schools shut down because they aren't allowed to run if not all the students can get to class. Because the transportation to some of our sites (Licking Valley and Comprehend) is tied to the school system, when the school transportation is shut down, we lose some of our sites. So even if we do manage to get off the Farm, we don't necessarily have anything to do once we leave.

Knowing that we were going to be hanging tight for a little while, we had to scramble to come up with tasks for the students. The Farm has conditioned us to roll with the punches. Many times, the schedule that we make before the week looks different from the things we do on a day to day basis. Nevertheless, coming up with stuff on the spot when we can't leave the Farm was frustrating. We did end up coming up with tasks for the girls to do. We made Valentine's Day cards for all the people in the Nursing Home. We also added to the already hefty load of T Shirt Bags.

At reflection a few days later, we were asked where we saw God during the week. My answer was that I saw it in the snowstorm. It wasn't something where I saw God's hand in the beauty in the works of nature per se (though the Farm does offer you those kinds of experiences quite often). I saw God more in the timing of the storm. During the first night of reflection, the night before the storm, a lot of the girls mentioned that they were going to use this week to sit back and relax. They were so used to going all the time and being super busy that they all wanted some time to just sit and relax. They all noticed a shortcoming in themselves that didn't allow them to do that as often as they should.

There's an old adage that you should never ask for patience because then God will send you a situation to test it. This was certainly one of those situations. The girls wanted to sit around and relax huh? Ok, well then let's send a snowstorm their way and make them relax. Apparently my vision of God is more George Burns than Old Testament, but that's besides the point. The girls had trouble getting used to just sitting around. We could see them getting frustrated with being cooped up inside. It was a good reminder to the Farm Managers about how groups view the weeks. For us, each week is another week on the Farm. There's an ebb and flow that we track through the months. Some weeks we have plenty of work and other weeks we have to scramble to work. But stepping back, we can see all the work that gets done here. Groups that pass through, on the other hand, only have their one week here. They've also been looking forward to the week with such anticipation and have been talking it up for so long that anything less than working 24/7 feels like they're getting the short shrift. It comes from a place of legitimately wanting to do as much as they can for Lewis County. But sometimes that eagerness makes volunteers forget that while they've chosen to serve, they can't always choose how they get to serve. And oftentimes it's just what the Farm needs. Tasks like Valentine's Day cards and T Shirt bags often get shoved to the side in a normal week. So getting trapped actually allowed us to get to those oft-ignored jobs. It was a blessing in disguise but it was a disguise that certainly made it difficult to see the blessing. Seeing through the disguise and recognizing the blessing is often a hard lesson to learn and takes a lot of humility and patience.

So the girls struggled with being stuck on the Farm, which I think was a good thing. It's those challenging situations in life that promote growth. This was certainly a challenge for the girls as they tried to temper their enthusiasm for service and channel it toward what they were asked to do. But a funny thing happened; some of them began to really take the message of the Farm to heart and began to be in the moment and savor the opportunity to do service, no matter where they did it. The next day, instead ofworrying about whether they would be able to get off the Farm, the girls began to throw themselves into the tasks at hand. We had some of them build a box for the sports equipment and they were so psyched to work on it. There was a lot of planning, measuring,and cutting done with a lot of enthusiasm. Another group was working on fixing the couches in the volunteer kitchen. With 500 volunteers coming through here each year, those couches serve as the home to many backsides. This is addition to the second home that the short one serves for Jamie. At the end of it, you might as well be sitting on the ground. So this group spent time reinforcing those couches and extending their lifetime for more volunteers to enjoy. The other group spent some time in the staffhouse. We had been noticing that our tile floor was recently sarting to resemble a mosaic that seemed to grow by the day. We had the girls help take up the tile in the front and common rooms.

As the girls embraced focusing on the tasks at hand and really made strides in their awareness of the moment, the weather seemed to reflect their progress. Where the day before they had been clouded by their worries concerning the future, this day they were able to clear that out of their minds and see the value in what they were doing. The weather, having been convinced that the girls were learning, relented and broke, allowing the girls to take their new found appreciation of being present into the wider community. Watching the concordant progress of the girls and the storm was really special and an example to me of the presence of God in the week.

I would be remiss if, at this point, I didn't mention the actions of the 3 chaperones that came with AHS. We always have daily meetings with the leaders/ chaperones of the groups. These are partly to inform them of what's happening that particular day. More importantly, they are a forum for the leadres to voice any concerns they have with the week as it's running. When we met on that second morning, the leaders expressed that they were worried about the progression of the storm. They, too, had noticed some of the girls having trouble with being stuck and were bringing it to our attention. They wanted to know about how long we could be expect to be stuck on the Farm and listened as we explained the situation with the plows and the the hills. They brainstormed with us to come up with activities for the girls to do while they were here. It was fantastic. I say that with 100% sincerity. It was a perfect example of being proactive leaders. Too many times when we hear someone say that they welcome feedback and want to hear concerns we read into it and assume they are saying that only as a formality. They just want us to rubber stamp what they do, we think. Instead of offering constructive criticism, we stay silent, sompiling a mental checklist of all the shortcomings, which we reveal after the fact. Here, it's akin to having a smooth week only to find out, come evaluation time, that there were a lot of problems. It was so gratifying to hear these leaders bring their concerns to the forefront in a thoughtful, helpful manner. It didn't come across as an attack on the program or the 3 of us. Instead, we could see that they were legitimately concerned first for their students. The meeting made what could have been a stressful situation seem less like an obstacle and more like an opportunity.

Thanks to the proactivity of the leaders, the rest of the week went smoothly. The groups had fun at the clothing pantry finding all sorts of wacky outfits. They were also able to wrangle (get it??) up a figurine of a hermaphraditic cow (essentially a bull that for some reason, had udders). On a completely depressing note, they were able to make me feel super old. One of the girls found a small puffy orange vest. As she held it up I quipped, "Looks like Marty Mcfly's mom decided to donate his childhood wardrobe to Lewis County". Nothing. Completely blank stares. I said "C'mon, Back to the Future... Michael J Fox..." Someone said "Oh, the guy from the LFO song?" If you recall, the lyrical geniuses behind Summer Girls (that's right, this blog just linked an LFO song. And you wonder why I never post) tossed in this gem: "Fell deep in love,but now we ain't speaking/Michael J Fox was Alex P Keaton". I'm sure the man suffering with Parkinson's rests easy knowing that his legacy is as a footnote in a terrible pop song. I promptly blacked out. I don't know what the kids are learning in school these days but it's definitely not what they need to be learning. Unreal. Even more depressing was the fact that one of their chaperones, Angela, informed me that we are a mere 5 years away from the year that Marty McFly went into the Future in the second installment (2015). Ugh. Seeing as how my Back to the Future references are reaching critical mass, I better wrap this up.

Despite cosntant reminders of my rapidly dwindling youth, the week was a good one filled with challenges overcome, laughs, and a lot of service done. Oh, and snow. Lots and lots of snow.