Thursday, May 27, 2010

March Madness Week 2: ND, St. Joseph's College, UGA, LUC

Week 2 of March Madness certainly lived up to its name as we welcomed four different colleges: The University of Notre Dame from South Bend IN, St. Josephs College from Maine, The University of Georgia, and Loyola University Chicago. All in all there were 39 volunteers! It was our largest group together as Farm Managers to date. It also marked a few special arrivals and anniversaries. For Jamie, it marked an exciting time as we finally welcomed a group from Maine, home of the GREATEST VACATION DESTINATION EVAH (Portland, ME). For myself, it was exciting to welcome my Alma Mater (Notre Dame) back to the Farm. In addition, Alex, Devyn and Sam, who had been down to the Farm when I was here as a volunteer. Finally, this week marked the one year anniversary of the first time I came to the Farm as a volunteer.

It was a pretty crazy week from a logistical standpoint. Having 39 volunteers here means a lot of planning and means that we have to run in a million different directions. There are only a limited number of sites that we send volunteers to each day. There are also a few of those sites (like the clothing pantry, food pantry, and construction) that require us to be there with the volunteers. So when we get groups that have 5 or 6 small groups, it doesn't leave us with much wiggle room for a schedule. Planning for these weeks is often like a twisted game of schedule sudoku.

I think this is an actual picture of Jamie during planning

One of the amazing things about this week was how quickly the groups meshed. With four different schools at the Farm, it would be easy for the volunteers to stick with what they know and associate only with people from their own school. It can be overwhelming to have so many new people to try and meet but the volunteers were extremely willing to extend themselves. By the end of the week it was difficult for us to tell who was from which school. There were multiple days where the free time after work sites turned into a party with 40 people sprawled across the lawn playing cornhole, frisbee and baseball. It was a true joy to watch how quickly everyone connected. I told the group at the end of the week that it was groups like this one that make me love the Farm and what we do.

During the week we had the opportunity to help Greg, a new architect who had just come on board with People's, move in to his new house in Maysville. Dave hadn't told us who it was we were helping to move in when he asked for our help (or more likely, I was too tired in the morning to put two and two together) and so it was a surprise to me when we pulled up to the house and it was Greg. I had met Greg rather briefly when Dave had brought him around the Farm when he was first thinking about moving down to Lewis County. It turns out that the storage company he had been using in Louisiville, where he was moving from, had agreed to deliver the storage unit to outside their normal area but with the stipulation that he could only have access to it for a few hours. So he had asked us for help moving all of his stuff into the house in the alloted time.

This is exactly the kind of task that illustrates what the Farm is all about. One of the beautiful things about the Farm is that it often expands your idea of what is service. Those coming down to Lewis County for a service trip might expect and be prepared for helping people in desperate living conditions. They have no problem digging through garbage or cleaning away muck and grime. It is easy to see the need in those situations and you can come away with a sense of satisfaction, knowing that you have truly made a difference. Ironically, it is often more difficult to see the service in helping someone who is more well off. Without the telltale signs of need, we struggle to see why our work is needed. But one of the mantras of the Farm is serving where you are needed. This was a case where we were definitely needed. Greg had everything in one of those P.O.D.S., which reminded me of the little bastard child of Optimus Prime. There were moving parts and levers galore. I was half expecting to find The Cube lodged somewhere in there. Greg also was moving into a triple level townhouse, which meant a lot of stairclimbing. With the help of the group we were able to get all Greg's stuff inside the house.

I smelled trouble when Sam Witwicky was the one driving the POD

I had a couple things that struck me while I was talking to Greg during the course of the move-in. I asked him about his journey to Lewis County and learned that he had attended OSU for his degree. While there he had had the call to work on low income housing. He told me that his coursework touched on it but didn't emphasize it enough to satusfy him. In the same way, the firm that he had been working for before People's had also dabbled in low income housing but hadn't had enough of a focus to whet his appetite. Greg told me that he had been interested in the low income housing because of the challenges it presents. The ultimate goal is to put out a quality product that people will be proud to own. At the same time, you want the product to be as affordable as possible. The tension between the two desires means that the architect has to be creative with his/her design. The need for a new challenge and the desire to help those less fortunate led Greg to come down to Lewis County.

Another thing that struck me when talking to Greg was the conditions surrounding his current move. During a break in the moving, Greg told me that he had put all this in storage 3 months ago. That just floored me. Those who have been to the Farm know that one of its charisms is simplicity. We ask the volunteers to give up their cell phones, laptops, TV, daily showers, and makeup among other things. But the volunteers are only here for the week, after which they return to their homes with all the comforts they were used to before they left. Meanwhile Greg had been at home and couldn't access a large portion of the things he owned. It had to have been frustrating for him to be at his house yet missing those little things that had made it home. That sort of sacrifice really puts our own efforts into perspective.

If there was an unofficial theme for this week, it would likely be poo. During the week, Jamie had the unenviable task of mucking out Wild Woman's barn. So they spent the afternoon knee deep in cow pies. Unfortunately, it wasn't the last time we had poo problems that week. Toward the end of the week, one of the volunteers informed us that the toilets in the bunkhouse were backing up. Ok, no problem, we have the toilets in the bathhouse. A short time later we were informed that two of the three toilets in the bathhouse had also become stopped up. Thus that meant we now had one toilet for 40 people. Luckily some of the volunteers were handy enough to fashion a homemade snake and braved the commode catastrophe to fix the problem.

Like I said earlier, the week marked the one year anniversary of my coming to the Farm as a volunteer. It was also just about the halfway point of my time as a Farm Manager. So it was sort of weird to look back and see how far I had come. A year ago I literally had no concept of what The Farm was about and now I had all these memories and experiences revolving around it. It had become a part of my story. In that years time, I had met people in the community who had affected me greatly and had become like family. The week was a great check up to see how far I'd come.

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