Saturday, June 26, 2010

See ya NOLA

Well, we're on the road tonight. We left New Orleans yesterday morning... after a GREAT week.

The last 2 weeks have been probably my favorite 2 weeks. The team has been splitting work sites, which caused no issues, and was probably a nice break from each other. I stayed and worked with Patrick. He's a supervisor for Habitat, and formerly an NCCC TL. He gave me a ton of control over projects, from laying cement pads, to putting up a chain link fence. Worked with some solid kids from North Carolina and a Prep school in Maryland.. had an absolute blast. Then we moved over to another site where, again, Patrick gave me lots of freedom. Here I lead more kids and even adults. It was a challenge leading adult males who probably know a hell of a lot more than me abuot construction, but it was a good experience. I think Pat and my work styles are very similar, so it was a pretty awesome time. The rest of the crew stayed at Catfish's worksite... another incredible "house leader" I think they're called. The team was able to build that house from the ground up; they got as far as the shingles on the roof. The house I was working on next door we started by putting the sill beams up and by time we left Thursday we were ready for the roof trusses. It was awesome.

Last weekend we held a community day for the kids in NOLA. We had face painting, fruits and veggies... lots of good stuff. It was a chill, quiet time. I clung to this little boy who clearly needed more parenting. Very violent - his mother gave me a visual as to why he was like that... so disappointing. I enjoyed working with him though, and it kept him occupied. I say I hate kids, and I think to an extent I do, but if they are trouble, I can't resist them.

Monday we went on a driving tour with John Wilkes Booth. No joke. He showed us around the hardest hit parts of NOLA, and explained how and why all of the devastation happened. It was a pretty intense time. We had also just watched the movie "When the levees broke." It's a 4 hour documentary, but if you want to know more about the realities of Katrina, our government, etc, then check it out. It was astounding and very informative.

Wednesday night Catfish took the team out for dinner... at probably the best restaurant in New Orleans. It was top-notch food, and the price deomonstrated that... it was sooo good - place called Joc imos, something like that - we met Catfish out later for some drinks... funny guy. Patrick also took Jon and I out for lunch last week at "the Joint." The BEST BBQ I have EVER had. Wow. And the mac & cheese.... I could live off of it.

Those two site supervisors are going to be hard to replace. Then again, so are the ones from RI. These experiences are incredible... I wish everyone would take the time to join a program like Americorps. They would not be disappointed.

So here we are, on day 2 of a 3 day trip... not the typical trip home. Usually we only get 2 days of travel, but I thought, hey, let's try something. So, we put in a proposal to travel for 3 days, travel up to Memphis, check out the Blues Highway, and spend the night in TN. Then on day 2, head to Mammoth Cave National Park and spend the night in Lexington, KY. And day 3 is a straight shot home. Didn't know if it would get approved, but we were told "yes, just don't spend anything more than you would on a 2 day trip." So we used our extra food money to buy groceries to make sandwiches for lunch and dinner last night. We were giong to pitch in to pay $5 each for the extra hotel cost (we didn't need much more than what we get in our budget), but the place we stayed last night bumped us into a smaller room, and a smoking room, so we got one of our two rooms for free.... so a free day of extra travel it is.

Yesterday we passed through Yahzoo city. It's the city in MS that was hit with tornadoes and 2 of my CM's were down there. We stopped in a couple spots to look at the damage. Incredible.

Mammoth Cave was an awesome place to stop. We are really enjoying the travel back... it's really relaxing. We still don't know where we are going next, but things are going really well now, so we're not too anxious about it. Tommorrow we arrive back in PerryPoint, and Wednesday night starts our summer break. I'm heading to Brooklyn for 5 days, and then spending 4 nights in NYC with my brother and sister.

I miss people. Some a ton. Sometimes I can't wait for November... December really, because I'll take some time traveling home... and then.. maybe I'm most anxious for January... there's some incredible things going on in my life... I love where I'm at, and probably even more where I'm going...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

There can only B1

More than happy to chat my team up today. As CM's, you have the responsibility to complete 80 ISP's (Independent Service Projects). Basically, you have to volunteer outside of work for a total of 80 hours before you finish the program in order to receive your education award. Well, the Region Director and my boss make it a high priority to finish these as early as possible, so that if you get called on disaster or if you get put in a secluded location, you do not have to worry about your ISP's. Additionally... it's a competitive thing.. who doesn't like to be done 1st?

Well, B1 thought that after being in RI for first round, and being on disaster, we were out of the running. "A team will for sure finish in the first round... we don't stand a chance." Well, a new goal was set for mid-round 2nd round. Well... it's just past mid-round, and we're done... THE FIRST ONE'S DONE! With 21 teams in the corps, that's a huge accomplishment. We are excited, my boss is excited, and so on. I think we get a free dinner from the Region Director AND my boss... sweet! The team is more than excited about it, as it means they do not have to worry about ISP's the rest of the year. They can stil volunteer if an interesting opportunity comes up... but they don't have to.. and I don't care!

Monday, June 7, 2010

New Orleans

It was a much desired and anticipated destination, and Badger 1 was estatic to find out that New Orleans wouuld be the location of their next project. I found out when my boss made a quick site visit... he pulled out the piece of paper and handed it to me. Not the most exciting way to find out the next round, but hey, cut to the chase I suppose. Wasn't going to be so easy for my team though.

It was difficult to hold it in, because 10 minutes after my boss told me where we were going, he told my team that I knew where we were going... so of course they were on my case from then on out to know WHERE we would be going and WHAT we would be doing for the next 6 week project known as Round 2. I smiled and said... "I think you have a debrief to get done." (The debrief is about a 20 minute presentation that the team presents to the Region Staff and Directors. It highlights what we learned about the project, things that could have been better, what we liked and all the bits and pieces that go into an Americorps Round).

It took about a week, maybe a little bit longer, but the morning came where we all headed out for PT... just like EVERY other morning in Rhode Island. Morale was average, and the team was not excited to be doing another "same 'ol routine" of circuits for their PT (Physical Traning). But we headed out, did pushups, sit ups, etc for the first 30 minutes, and then I changed it up and said "lets hit the running trail." That went over well... especially since one of the girls had to pee so bad she was in pain...

Like always, I said "run together... make it tighter...stay together." It didn't take long though before the team realized this wasn't a normal run... Along the path their were clues... such as "Good bye 1-bedroom apartment" & "Hello 3-bedroom house" & "can you say couches" & "can you build a house?" The very last chalking, which I had woken up at 5:15am to post on the trail said..."We're going to.... (20 feet further up) NEW ORLEANS!!!" I had never seen the team jog that fast during a PT... now I know they can do it!

After a 1 week transition back in Perry Point, MD, our homebase, where we did our debrief (rocked it) and our project brief for New Orleans (with a little bit of a lady GAGA introduction - "RaRa RaRaRa, NO LA, NO LALA, BADGER 1 IS GOING TO, GO TO NEW ORLEANS - yes, the background music was there [and NOLA stands for New Orleans, Louisiana]), we hit the road for our 2 day venture to New Orleans. Nothing too exciting... which for a drive is generally a good thing. We stopped overnight in Alcoa, TN, just outside of Knoxville. Our hotel did not have a pool, but the one next door did, so some of the team took advantage of that. Also, most of the team had not been to Cici's Pizza before, so after we discovered there was one down the road, that's where we went for dinner. However... there was NOT a Cici's there anymore... so we drove 20 miles towards Knoxville and tried it out anyhow. A couple of the guys on the team had a pizza challenge.. I think Bob took the win with more than 25 pieces... BALLER! Steve said he stopped ONLY because there wasn't anymore pizza that he liked...

We got to New Orleans, found our 3 bedroom house, with 3 couches, a backyard and a frontyard, did some grocery shopping, and settled in - we had to be at work at 7:45am the next day.

The experience down here has been incredible. We work with Habitat for Humanity. We do a lot of different things... we unload storage units at jobsites and bring materials back to the warehouse, we help lay foundation, we frame and do everything up to the shingles and then back down to the base trim... we literally do it all. After being in an office for nearly 6 weeks, the physical labor is a welcomed change of pace. Though, with temperatures in the 80's - mid 90's daily, and humidity lingering at 80%, there is certainly an acclimation to this climate. I love the similarity of this weather to the Wisconsin summers... summertime in WI is an ultimate high for me, but the lack of fresh water around here to enjoy via beach or boat is a bit of a letdown.

We've all got GREAT farmer tans, and the need to wear steel toe boots makes it look like we're always wearing a bright white pair of sox when we take our boots off. And the grueling days in the heat do not end at 4:30 when we leave work.. we still have to go home and do PT three times a week - so after an 8-9 hour day in the sun, lifting, hammering, doing masonry work, we go workout for roughly 45 minutes... Badger 1 is DAMN tough... though the complaining that creeps in may not lead you to believe so.

Then we head home for the night, usually make some food, and just relax. A few nights we'll head out and do things on the town, but usually it's just enough time for us to relax before hitting the hay... we wish... we have cots and matress pads, not quite as soft as hay, but it works. Last week most of us got out on the town and went on a VooDoo tour, accompanied by a few drinks, it was a LOT of fun. The Celtics are in the Finals for Basketball... so a couple of the team folks head out and watch that regularly. Wednesday nights we have team meetings, so we usually put in a 12-13 hour day on Wednesdays... Tuesday is shopping night... which was awesome this week. The first thing I found for the team was a grill... so Saturday night we had a grill-out with Badger 6... hamburgers (made up of ground beef, minced mushrooms and onions, and mixed with some fajita seasoning... OMG - good), veggie burgers (ate my first one ever, and it was excellent!), and jalopeno cheddar sausages - it was great.

I've had some away time and relaxation time recently too - I had a good friend come down to New Orleans a couple weekends ago. Spent three days with him, we had a pool day at the hotel with the other TL's, which was highly enjoyable... really good to relax. The following weekend, Memorial Day weekend, I went out on a "photo tour" of the city with another TL, Sadie. She picked me up at 6am, and we hit the town with our cameras.. I have a facebook album that I'm uploading right now with all those photo's, it was great. Later that weekend Aunt Denise, Andrea and Noah made their way into town. Spent a couple of days and nights enjoying food and drinks with them, including AUDUBON PARK, which has the incredible "Tree of Life."It's magnificent!

Settling back into the groove of things now. We had two teammates in Mississippi working on the disaster relief efforts from the tornadoes that tore through Yazoo City, but they came back on Thursday... it's great having them back. The team is in high spirits, we enjoy what we do, and we're having a great time! We also have these things called "ISP's" - they are "Independent Service Projects." Basically, Corps Members (CM's) have to volunteer 80 hours in addition to what they do during the work week. IT can be at festivals, museums, etc. Well, Badger 1 is DONE as of yesterday. We may be the first team done in the ENTIRE CORPS! That means all 9 CM's have their 80 hours done... that is an additional 720 hours of service that they all did... AND we were on disaster first round, and 2 CM's were on disaster the first part of this round... it's super impressive and I'm more than proud of them... they really are a great team. In fact, one of my CM's said at our team meeint Wednesday "As far as I'm concerned, we ARE the best team, because we get the MOST done." Agreed.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Rhode Island

So, there is a little bit of backtracking to do.... I meant to start this back in January, but clearly that did not happen. I find it important to document for myslef everything that's going on, and also it's an easy way to keep others informed about "me." So I'm going back in time and writing about all of my experiences to date.. of course I'll miss some, and due to confidentiality I really can't say everything that goes on in the life of a Team Leader (TL), but I can give a good idea of the basics. Hopefully from here on out I'll stay on top of the blog, and update it weekly... reminders may be needed!
We arrived in Rhode Island on a rainy day... that seemed to be the theme of our trip. RAIN.
We were supposed to be working with the town of Cumberland, RI in a nearby park. RI is where the industrial revolution basically started. That's where the first and most textile mills were built, and industry in RI was booming back in the day. There are many rivers there, so the water power really allowed them to "get up and go" when it came to industry.
However, as electricity and new technologies came to light, RI's industries became obsolete. Mills closed down and cities shutdown. RI now has the highest unemployment rate in the U.S.
After spending a week and a half in the park, with lots of rainy days, we received a call form the RI Emergency Management Agency (EMA) - they needed two CM's to help them with flood response efforts. By the end of that week we had 4 CM's working 12 hour shifts, covering the 24 hours in a day, and that next week we all got pulled off of the town's project and placed on disaster. The flooding we saw was incredible...
Eventually, we moved to the United Way building in Providence, RI where we did "call backs." Essentially, FEMA told everyone who was affected by the floods to call "211." Then, we recorded their information and called them back to see of what assistance we could be to them. Badger 1 made more than 12,000 phone calls in the roughly 30 days we were there. We started off working 12 hour days, 7 days a week, and eventually cut it down to 8-10 hour days, 6 days a week. We had to enter the roughly 2,500 people's information into databases.. yes, not just one, but multiple, file all of the paperwork, make phone calls, attend meetings, etc. It was a really busy time,a nd often stressful. To add to the matter... we lived in a 1-bedroom apartment. The guys lived in the living room (5 of us), and the girls lived in the bedroom (5 of them). We had a kitchen and bathroom to share... just didn't offer a whole lot of "get away space." But the team pushed through and made it work... doing one hell of a job!

Amongst the crazy hours, we did manage to have fun, too. We had a day trip to Newport.. which was actually an afternoon trip. It was our first day off as a team in over 4 weeks, so we all slept in, and by time we got on the road it was 2:30pm. Then it took 2.5 hours to get to Newport... because the 45 minute drive extends itself when you drive an hour out of the way.. oops. Newport was a great way for us to relax, enjoy each others company, and regroup. The fresh water, cool breeze, and just being out, in "civies" (civilian clothes). It was a GREAT, short trip.
We also did some movie nights at the theatre, who gave us discount for being government/military employees (hey, the ID's did the talking), we did an Autism walk with one of our sponsors, our sponsor had us over for dinner, took us out for dinner (New England Clam Cakes are SO good), and others.
Additionally, three of us took on a personal challenge... we did a 1/2 marathon. None of the 3 of us had EVER ran one before, and due to how busy we were, none of us really had a chance to train for it... we just DID IT! It was incredible. Steve finished with about a 7min 30sec pace, I finished with about an 8min pace, and Jamie finished with about a 8min 5sec pace.. or something very close to that. Oh, a half marathon is 13.1 miles. It was a great experience... I'll NEVER run a marathon.
I can't speak highly enough of our sponsors in RI. Sponsors are the people we work for. They are our "host" and provide us with the work. The Town of Cumberland was more than accomodating to our needs. Though we lived in a 1 bedroom apartment, it was a last minute adjustment, and they did everything they could to find something more... we settled with it after a while, and called it home... reluctantly at times.
The ladies we worked with at the United Way and 211 were incredible. They offered us breakfast and lunches and dinners, brought us out, brought us to their homes, gave us gifts... they were amazing.... the exact people that anyone would like to work for. With them, we also worked alongside Hands on Disaster Response... again... incredible people who make it their living to help families out when they need it most.
We had a great ISP sponsor in Cumberland as well. Russell, a local theatre director. Him and his crew of volunteers and workers were FANTASTIC. He was easily the person that the team loved to go work for. After long days and weeks, we still found time to fit Russ and his theatre into our schedule to help paint, do yard clean up (which had been neglected, unwillingly, for roughly 4 years), help at events, etc. An absolute honor to work with.
Rhode Island was a mental challenge... for everyone. Getting used to the team was an uphill climb. There are so many distinct and strong personalities on Badger 1 - I do not know how it happened. Christian, who is currently referring to herself as the anti-Christ (probably the funniest thing on the team at this point), says we are "still in the arranged marriage phase, but getting better every day." I'd agree. Just before we left RI we had a chance to meet the Govenor at the United Way, Russ threw us a going away party, our friends with Hands On took us to Boston for dinner...and the Town of Cumberland threw a celebration as well... We will not forget the work that we did, and the challenges we overcame while in RI. But... we're happy and realize why we do "rounds" in AmeriCorps, and do not stay in one place the entire year...