Saturday, July 16, 2011

Final Transition

We're back in Sacramento and boy are things boring here at base. We have all the usual meetings and check-ins but it seems like everyone is phoning it in because they're ready to leave. I've been trying to get a head start on packing in order to pass the time but it ends up being a little stressful because I've managed to accumulate a TON of stuff the past 10 months. I'm also taking lots and lots of naps. I'm hoping to do some fun things these next few days to counteract the transition blues and leave the program on a high note.

Our last week at Camp Nawakwa was a high point of the round. We were able to complete construction on a new roof for one of the bathroom buildings as well as restore/build elements for a low-ropes adventure course. Because we had been camp counselors for 2 weeks it was nice to go back to shorter days and getting to use power tools. I also felt much more at home after experiencing camp and getting to know the staff better. They saw how committed we were to working hard and I know they appreciated us. They were also wonderful people who love camp and wanted to make sure we were happy and having a good time. I'll always be grateful for the hospitality and kindness we received from them.

Tomorrow morning I'm running my first 5k! I've been training for the past month or so and it's been nice to have a goal to work towards. I am definitely not a born runner and I think it's something that will always be hard for me but I am learning to enjoy it more. Because I run super slow I'm not aiming to finish in a certain amount of time - my goals are to finish and to run the whole time. I feel kind of silly knowing how long it will take me but I'm trying to focus on how far I've personally come and not think about the people who can run 3.1 miles in 20 minutes.

That's all for now...
Only 5 days left in NCCC!


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Now that I'm a counselor, there's nothing I'd rather be...

My two weeks of being a full-time camp counselor have come and gone and although it was exhausting and sometimes drove me crazy I'm so glad I got to have the experience.

The first week was especially for kids from military families - mostly with parents currently deployed who are about to come home. They're definitely facing some unique challenges so it was great to see them connect with each other and get the chance to have fun without worrying about their parents. I was with 7/8/9 year old girls during this week and they could be a handful. There was a lot of crying because of homesickness and bugs but they were also a lot of fun. I was with them all day and night except for a 2 hour break in the afternoon and was responsible for making sure all their basic needs were taken care of as well as getting them to their activities. During the week they got to climb the rock wall, go canoeing, do archery, swim in the pool, go on a nature hike, do drama, make crafts, and go to campfires every night. There were also special activities from the organization that funds the military camp to help the kids connect with each other and their role as a child in the military. Because of that there wasn't much free time and things often felt rushed. This past week was much more relaxed because there were fewer campers and I had a slightly older age group. We also started to feel more at home and got into the swing of things. It was more of the same activities, homesickness, and silly songs but the kids had a blast and so did I.

We have a long weekend for the 4th of July and we've already done some shopping, seen Transformers (it was crazy to see Chicago getting destroyed in it), and swam in the mountain snow-melt waters of the Santa Ana River. Tomorrow we're celebrating with fireworks in Big Bear (the closest city to our mountain home). This upcoming week we'll be doing some more maintenance including finishing a new roof and building some low-ropes course elements for the camp. We'll be around for a few days the following week then are packing up and heading back to Sacramento for the end of the year. It's crazy how time has flown and my AmeriLife is almost over... I'm starting to get antsy about what the next part of my life will look like. For now I'm just trying to make the most of each day and enjoy what's happening around me.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Camp Nawakwa, we hold you in our hearts...

I'm writing from a hotel in San Diego where I'm enjoying my personal days with a visit from my mom. She flew in Friday then came to get me from the mountains and we drove down to San Diego together for a little vacation. It's been a really nice break from work (for both of us) and we've gotten to see a lot of this beautiful city!
Downtown San Diego from the ferry to Coronado Island

Mom as we arrived on Coronado

Me in front of the botanical building in Balboa Park

Seals basking on a rock and the beautiful beaches of La Jolla

Other than taking vacations my life right now consists of working at Camp Nawakwa in the San Bernadino National Forest (in between Redlands, CA and Big Bear, CA outside of a tiny town called Angelus Oaks). It's a summer camp run by a non-profit called Campfire USA and they have camps for kids from the LA area ages 7-17, most of who have never been to camp, the mountains, or even been out in the woods. My team is starting by working with the maintenance staff at Camp Nawakwa to do things like paint, clear trails, and remove debris to get things ready for the camp season. We've been doing this for 3 weeks already and it's been a little tedious. I definitely enjoy some things, like painting cabins, more than tasks that seem pretty redundant. For example, the fact that we live on a mountain means there's no way we can remove all the rocks from camp, which is something our sponsor has had us doing a LOT of. Moving rocks and sticks isn't the most exciting or glamorous work but we're doing it because the camp is in a national forest and the forest service does inspections every year to make sure there are no safety or fire hazards. I understand that our work is important to keep the camp running but it doesn't really change the day-to-day monotony of it. All of this is why I am so so so excited for the second portion of our time at camp when we will be acting as full-time camp counselors! It's always been a sort of secret dream of mine to be a camp counselor and I feel like it will probably never happen in the real world but in Ameriworld anything is possible. We have 3 full days of training this weekend and then we'll start having campers in week long sessions. I'm really looking forward to being around kids and getting the share nature and the camp experience with them. The fact that we get fed and won't have to cook our own meals when camp is in session is just a fringe benefit.

This round has been a bit challenging so far for a variety of reasons other than the rock moving. First of all, we've been living in very cramped quarters. Since there was another group using camp in the off-season, we've had to spend our first 3 weeks living in a one-bedroom cabin until they move out of the other housing. We had the 3 boys in the bedroom and the 6 of us girls got cozy in the living room.
Our beds are literally inches from each other and there's not a lot of room for our belongings or even our bodies. We had some difficult housing at times in Oregon but we haven't had to deal with not having any personal space and it can be a little rough for everyone. The other group left this weekend and when I get back from my days off we'll be in the bigger house which should help a lot. It will be nice not to have one person's snoring, sleep talking, or getting up to go to the bathroom as the reason why the whole team didn't sleep well. Better times are definitely ahead, though. We'll all have more space and fewer sleep disturbances... that is until we're in cabins with campers and have to deal with homesickness and nightmares. I think we're also all starting to feel the AmeriCorps version of senior-itis. Everyone is getting their plans for life after the program in place and realizing that we'll be going back to the real world in less than 6 weeks. It's crazy the way this program becomes your whole life and it takes a lot to prepare for life after. We don't have regular internet access which makes it difficult to keep up with loved ones and world events let alone apply for school and/or jobs. Despite the challenges we have faced, my team has pretty much become my family and I know we'll get through whatever the rest of this project throws our way. Enough complaining, here's the good stuff!
Like beautiful views!
 Pretty yellow flowers in the woods
 Rock climbing
 And a wonderful swimming pool

It's amazing how much I'm learning to love the outdoors and enjoy nature more than I ever have before. As the sign on the front of our cabin says, "Nature Knows Best"

So, about next year... er, this year. I'm officially going to University of Michigan in the fall to get my Masters in Social Work! I'm excited to have concrete plans and know that it's a great program where I'll learn a lot. I'll be living at home with my parents which will be a nice way to save money and be around my family but is definitely a change for me since I haven't been there for more than a few weeks since before college. I should be pretty busy with school, my field work, and hopefully a job (anyone have any leads?) and I know it will be nice to be able to go home after a long day to a place that actually feels like home. I'm really looking school and being able to learn about and practice the things I'm passionate about. My area of focus will be Interpersonal Practice with Children and Youth in Families and Society so I'm hoping to work directly with children and families while also doing outreach, advocacy, and education. It's kind of scary to think of myself as a grad student but as much as I don't want to think about the loans and pressure of being back in school I know I'm ready for the next step in my education.

That's what's going on around here. Lots of excitement! Lots of rocks! I'll post again once I experience a week of living the camp counselor dream.
Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain

It's been a LONG time since I've blogged- I skipped a whole project round! I've decided to make more of an effort not only for my mother who has been requesting updates but also so that I have a record of my experiences to look back on.

Although I'm currently at 6,000 feet in the mountains of the San Bernadino National Forest, I spent March and April in a much different environment working for Oregon State Parks. We traveled to a new park almost every week and did work including removal of invasive species, trail building and maintenance, and planting of native species as part of a stream bed restoration project. Our time there included a lot of long rainy days and some interesting living arrangements (a mouse in our house, tent camping, and spending 2 weeks on the floor in a warehouse are the highlights). It was definitely a struggle at times but I loved getting the opportunity to connect with and appreciate a beautiful part of the country that I may have otherwise never seen. Whenever the rain cleared up it was absolutely gorgeous! We could see Mt. Hood in the distance at several parks and there were rivers and streams running through lush forests of ferns and douglas fir. I also got the chance to visit Portland a couple of times and realized what a great city it is. I could definitely see myself living there at some point in my life.

Here are some photos to wrap up my quick summary of the past 2 months of my life:

All the rain made this jacket an essential part of my uniform. Here I am raking out an area at Champoeg State Park

We came back from work one day to a collapsed tent...
Building a trail at Stub Stewart State Park  

Laying out flag lines for our large-scale planting project at Elijah Bristow State Park
Planting Cottonwood trees with a 3rd grader from a local school
Pulling invasive Scotch Broom with my teammate Clarissa
Pulling invasive species takes a lot out of you! Resting a a big pile of Scotch Broom
Wading in the creek at Milo McIver State Park with teammate Elizabeth
The team standing on "steps" we made through a muddy section of a previously closed trail at Milo McIver
We visited Silver Falls, a beautiful park with 10 waterfalls
We got the chance to relax at Oregon Brewfest, a festival at the Oregon Gardens with tastings of craft and microbrews

I promise I'll be back soon with an update on what I'm doing now and my life/future... It's all very exciting!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

And onto the next one

We had to say goodbye to Healdsburg and The Bishop's Ranch last week. The last half of the project was even better than the first and it was so hard to leave the place that had so quickly felt like home to me and my team.

Our sponsor had a special event at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco so we were able to spend the day there enjoying ourselves and worked the event for them that night. It was nice to be in a city for the day and we got to explore the beautiful cathedral.
Silver 3 takes on San Fran!

I was incredibly lucky to have Ashkon visit for a weekend. We enjoyed some time at the coast and spent a night in Bogeda Bay.
Ashkon enjoying the coast
 We also went wine tasting with some of my teammates
Wine tasting

The next weekend my mom and brother John came for a visit. We spent some nice time in the town of Healdsburg (which I actually hadn't been able to explore much before) and drove to the coast for sunset one night, stopping in several towns and Armstrong Redwood Forest on our way. John and I  took advantage of the bike rentals offered by the hotel and rode around town and the surrounding areas. We also got the chance to do some wine tasting and check out Lake Sonoma before they left.
Me and Mama at the ranch
Biking through the vineyards
Taking the scenic route to the coast

Leaving The Bishop's Ranch was difficult, mostly because of how kind and caring all the staff had been. They truly made us feel like family and made sure we were getting the most out of our time there. I'll never forget Jack, Doug, Travis, Rick, Cass, and the rest of the staff and am so grateful for everything they did for us. They looked out for us, led hikes, made us dinner, told us jokes, and taught us SO much.

Our final projects included working on a suspension bridge, building new trails, finishing building the fence and painting the house, burning the rest of the brush that was left behind, sanding outdoor furniture, and working with compost. The variety was amazing and it meant I was rarely bored or frustrated with what I was doing. We also got the chance to learn from our supervisor Doug about blacksmithing and worked several afternoons in the forge doing metal work. It's something I would never just try on my own but it was a lot of fun and I made a wall hook to keep as well as some support bars for our suspension bridge.
Oh yeah... we also pulled giant logs with ropes. Hardcore.

Now I'm back in Sacramento for transition. It's been a nice week of wrapping up the last project and getting ready for the next. The week has included doing our midyear PT baseline (my 1.5 mile time and push-ups have improved!), checking in with the staff, and having a Life After AmeriCorps day. Life After AmeriCorps day included some workshops that were pretty helpful as I think about next year. I've already applied to grad school for two MSW programs and am now waiting to hear back in order to make further plans. Thinking about the future after NCCC is strange but I know it will soon be a reality since we're more than halfway done.

On Tuesday we're heading to Salem, Oregon to work for Oregon State Parks. We'll be doing lots of trail work and invasive species removal and traveling to several parks in the area. Our main home will be a historic farmhouse in Salem but when we travel to parks during the week we will be staying in cabins or camping. I'm excited to get some camping experience but I know it will also be a challenge to live in tents and not have the best amenities. Doing things like camping that I would never do otherwise is part of the reason I joined this program so I'm looking forward to make the most of it. The work itself should also be challenging since we'll be doing physical labor outside all day in such a rainy climate. I'm ready with rain gear and a positive attitude so hopefully my spirits won't be dampened (literally). There was a team there last round and when we met with them it sounded like they had a great experience so hopefully we will too!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Home on the ranch

Obviously my plan to blog more regularly in 2011 isn't going so well. It's been hard to force myself to write and I don't want it to become a chore so I'll just be updating whenever the mood strikes.

It's Round 2! We're actually halfway thorough this project already so I'll have to backtrack a little. As I said in my last entry, Silver 3 is in Healdsburg, CA at a retreat center run by the Episcopal Diocese of California called The Bishop's Ranch (about the ranch). It is absolutely beautiful here and I've liked this project way more than expected. Here are some pictures so you can be jealous of the beautiful place I get to live:

Relax and enjoy the view
The Chapel
Mount St. Helena and vineyards
Even the dairy farm next door is beautiful

Since there are groups of various sizes coming and going all the time here at the ranch, we end up moving around quite a bit to whatever space is available. It can be a little stressful to have to pack and move several times a week but it also means we get to stay in almost all of the very cushy housing here. There are times when I get a room to myself but even when I have a roommate there's still plenty of space to spread out. The staff here are beyond accommodating and we get fresh sheets and towels provided by housekeeping each time we move. There are probably about 10 full-time people that we've gotten to know pretty well and I can't stop being amazed at how nice everyone is. They genuinely want to make sure we're having a good experience here and are also interested in getting to know us as individuals rather than just workers. I've felt incredibly at home here especially since they feed us lunch and dinner almost every day (whenever groups are here and the ranch is open) and the food AMAZING. They focus on using local and organic ingredients and everything is so tasty! I feel nourished and blissful after almost every meal and seeing the kitchen creativity has inspired me to cook more adventurously. Inspirational is really the way to describe this place. The scenery is gorgeous in so many ways. From the front porch of the house we're living in now I can see vineyards down in the valley and Mount St. Helena in the distance. There are also acres and acres of forest with trails and scenic lookout points and the rolling green hills of an organic dairy farm next door. We've been lucky to have great weather almost the whole time too so most days are clear and every time I look up from my work I'm in awe of the beauty all around me.

I'm so grateful to be surrounded by all this beauty because the work we're doing is pretty tough. The first few weeks we focused mostly on forest fire prevention by removing brush and logs from a canyon area behind the main ranch buildings. That way if a fire comes through the area, it won't be able to spread as quickly and may not climb to hill to destroy the buildings. Fuel reduction is an issue I hadn't thought much about before this project since there aren't a lot of forest fires in the midwest but it's been really interesting to learn about. One of our supervisors is training to be a wild-land firefighter so he has a ton of stuff to teach us. It's great to hear about why we're supposed to do things certain ways and what the benefit will be to the land. The work itself involves cutting down low tree limbs with chain saws and loppers, then dragging the brush out into a clearing and forming piles to be chipped or burned. It can be slow-going because there is a ton of area to clear and we've been mostly working on a very steep hill. Different fun days in the "canyon" as we call it have included getting to use a wood chipper to make chip for the trails and burning brush piles. We so manage to find some fun in almost every day either by entertaining each other with silliness, finding cool animals like lizards and scorpions, or stopping for impromptu lessons from our sponsors about things like tying knots, operating an excavator and a tractor, and fun facts about the area. They definitely make a point to mix things up for us and keep it fun, especially when it's clear we're dragging a little. Other than the canyon fuel reduction, I've also worked on building a fence around a pond, spreading wood chips on trails, painting a house, filling a culvert with rocks to slow the flow of water, removing invasive species, and pruning rose bushes and fruit trees (ps there are lemon, tangerine, and kiwi growing on them right now... it's so wonderful to grab a tangerine from a tree for a snack). The variety keeps things interesting and I've learned so much from working with our expert supervisors. It's also nice to be outside all day and working hard gives me such a sense of satisfaction when the day is over.

Carrying logs on one of our first days
We took a break from work to learn how to operate some heavy machinery. It was in the parking lot so I didn't actually get to dig anything but it was still amazing.
The burn crew tending fire
Silver 3 after a day of burning and wood chipping

The past two weekends the ranch has been full with guests so we've gone to stay at St. Dorothy's Rest, a "sister" retreat center of sorts in the redwood forests of Camp Meeker, CA. It's only about 45 minutes away but the scenery is so different. Since we have weekends off I spent most of my time relaxing and but we also got the chance to do an ISP (AmeriAcronym for Independent Service Project which are our hours outside of normal work) and explore the area. This included a scenic drive to the coast and a visit to some interesting little towns including one with the most amazing bakery. Apparently this area is where a lot of people from San Francisco moved after the 60s and you can definitely tell there's a hippie vibe mixed in with the farmers and small town quirkiness. The coast is less than an hour away and the beaches are beautiful. I haven't spent a lot of time near the pacific but there's something so soothing about being near water that I loved it immediately.
Sonoma State Beach near Goat Rock

LOVING the beach

Alyssa, Clarissa, Georgie, Me, and Mike (with our van) in front of the Pacific

The one not so great experience has been the recurring poison oak I've had for the past 3 weeks. Poison oak is everywhere while we're working in the canyon and there's really no way to avoid it but apparently I'm either more sensitive to it or less careful about avoiding it than my teammates. It all started when we burned a brush pile that had some poison oak mixed in. I was wearing short sleeves because it was so hot by the fire and I'm sure some of it got me then. My other teammate that got "THE OAK" and I were miserable for a few days but I finally caved and went to the doctor. I got steroids to treat the rash and it started getting better. It takes a long time (4-6 weeks) for it to fully go away but I was feeling good until last week when I used my gloves the day after dealing with tons of poison oak. I brushed against my face with my glove and used my gloved hand to pull up my socks and push up my sleeves. Thus I have it again on my hands, arms, legs, and face. It's been a pretty miserable experience since the itching keeps me from sleeping and the irritation and pain is pretty much constant during the day. It's upsetting to not have any control of what's happening to my body and not know where it will pop up next. Today I went to the doctor again and am hoping for some relief these next few days.

This weekend Ashkon is coming to visit and we're planning on doing some sightseeing and wine tasting in the area. It'll be great to have him here and be able to show him where I'm living and have him meet my team. Then next weekend my mom and brother are visiting. I'm so lucky to have visitors and am really looking forward to getting to spend time with all of them.

It's getting late and we're getting up early tomorrow to head to San Francisco to help set-up and work an event the ranch is holding at Grace Cathedral there. We'll also get some time to explore on our own and I'm excited to be in a city again.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

And into 2011...

In addition to my obvious break from blogging, I'm also in the midst of NCCC's winter break. I consider myself lucky to be able to visit both Chicago and Ann Arbor along with a side trip to El Paso, IL to see my grandma and other relatives. I flew into Chicago and spent several days there with Ashkon and seeing friends while trying to adjust to what real winter feels like. I headed to Ann Arbor a few days before Christmas and really enjoyed catching up with lots of friends from high school and reuniting with some of my best friends. Christmas was relaxing and my family supplied me with some NCCC essentials, including warm socks and new running shoes. We spent a few days with my grandma and I'm posting this from Chicago where I've returned for New Year's Eve. It's been nice to have some time in the "real world" outside AmeriCorps but time is rushing by and I'll be heading back to Sacramento early Sunday morning.

I guess I need to backtrack a little and talk about the rest of our first round project at Larchmont Elementary. By the last few weeks at school I felt completely comfortable in the classroom environment and working with students. We had established routines in each classroom and the students knew what to expect and were able to make real progress with their work. I also was able to connect personally with several students who seemed to need extra emotional and social support in addition to help with schoolwork. I feel like I was able to make the most difference by taking time to talk with those students who were labeled as troublemakers or seen as lost causes. A lot of them just wanted someone to hear their frustrations with whatever was going on in their lives and had an amazing awareness of what they could do to succeed more in school. I only hope that some of what we talked about stuck with them and that they can move forward in a positive way. It was so hard to leave all the students and teachers at Larchmont. They truly made us feel like part of the community and it's hard to know we won't be going back after break. We were able to go out on a positive note by introducing the next team during the morning of our last day. I think the students were glad to see that they would have new AmeriCorps friends (a favorite word at Larchmont which is used instead of saying "boys and girls" or other ways of referring to students). We also returned to the school for a holiday concert on the students' last day of school. It was great to see them perform, especially since many of us worked with classes on their songs. They also sang us a special goodbye song and the teachers said their thanks and goodbyes. It was definitely a tear-jerking experience but it was nice to have closure. The good thing about having our first project be in Sacramento is that when we're back on transition we will hopefully be able to visit school and see the students. We also plan on writing postcards to classes to keep them updated on where we are and let them know we still think about them.

One of my favorite things about the end of the round was getting to hear from all the teams who were away on spike. It gave me a new perspective on how relatively easy we had it last round with our living situation and supportive sponsor. Many teams faced challenges that we may see in the future and it helped to hear about how they dealt with them. We also had a chance to celebrate our accomplishments with one another and check-in with NCCC staff about how the project went.  While it was a bit of a shock to have everyone back on campus when we were used to having it to ourselves it ended up being really nice to reconnect and share experiences.

Now that our first round project is over it's time to start thinking about what comes next! My team is heading to Healdsburg, CA (in Sonoma County) to The Bishop's Ranch. It hosts retreats, conferences, and camps for religious groups and non-profit organizations. They are also focused on environmental education and cultural programs. We will be living at the ranch, which happens to be in the middle of wine country, and working on a variety of environmental stewardship and conservation tasks in addition to some infrastructure improvement. I'm not sure exactly what this will entail but I know we'll be doing some trail clearing, watershed restoration, and invasive species removal in addition to working on some of the educational aspects of the sponsor's mission. This kind of work isn't my favorite but I'll be looking for ways to get the most out of the experience anyway. I'm excited that our team will be working together in an outdoor environment because I think it will allow us to get to know each other a lot better and have some fun while we work. I'm also excited to see a different part of California (even though it's only about 2.5 hours away from where we are now) and be surrounded by beautiful scenery.

I'll post again once we're settled in Healdsburg, it should be another great adventure!

Thanks for reading and have a Happy New Year!