Monthly Archives: April 2007


It’s getting to the point where it’s hot on my walks to work now. The flowers are peeking out. The birds are flirting and raising babies in the scrub. On a high note, I got to snorgle an early lilac bloom today…ahhhh.

Not much else to report. Club is going much as it always does. The colleague I will be switching jobs with come summer, with whom I had planned to be accompanying on a road trip around town today hunting down samples of pampering goodies for the Emma Center Mother’s Day celebration, begged off sick, so we’re doing that tomorrow. I’ve lined up a 90%-for-sure-settled “Reddy Freddy, the Preparedness Squirrel” event for the middle of May at my school, which should be fun (one person occupies the squirrel suit – not me, my shoulder is too whacked out to rest a heavy mascot head on it – while the other person – yep, me – teaches about emergency preparedness and hands out stickers). Supposedly, the kids love it.

One other new note is that with the new discipline policy finally put into print and into effect, we’ve been getting the hang of sending home the carbon-copied discipline notices whenever the kids merit one (and following up with phone calls home to their parents, which they are NOT thrilled about). Slowly but surely the kids are getting the idea that yes, this is real and yes, their parents will know about it one way or the other. We’ll see how it works out.

But other than that, it’s just been a welcome day of sluggish spring-induced euphoria. For which I am eternally grateful and shamelessly hogging all to myself.

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Doom and gloom

Today’s FMM (Friday Morning Meeting) training consisted of a local police officer coming in to help us deal with the issues of safety and crime in the places where we work, as well as helping the kids deal with their own issues about it when it comes up.

At least, that was the idea. What actually seemed to happen was a round up of just how insurmountable the problems are that we are facing. He did acknowledge that we are doing good, and that without us the work wouldn’t get done and it would be even worse. But you get the feeling, listening to him, that even with everyone working together, it’s like trying to stop a hurricane by blowing hard in the opposite direction.

Now I don’t for a moment believe that was his intention. In fact, he seemed quite rueful that that was where the tone of his talk seemed to be going. But really, when you’re talking about how to judge when it’s best to get a club full of elementary kids to hit the deck or run for cover in a gunfight, how “official” LA and other gangs are starting to come in and recruit the wannabes and talking about drug busts going from baggies to multiple kilos of coke in just a few years, it’s hard to get any other picture than one of descending chaos that can only be expected to get worse before it gets better.

One of the issues that seems to be adding unneeded drag to the whole situation is the fact that Asheville is a retirement/tourism town, which means that there is a distinct divide between rich, upper class folks who already have financial independence coming in to buy second or summer homes (as well as a growing group of “fix it and flip it” folks who are riding that wave), and a vastly larger and growing pool of people who can’t find work that pays enough to pay for the ever-increasing rent, let alone a home of their own. One of the initiatives they want to try is putting drug dealers into jobs instead of prison. But when even a relatively good job with benefits still won’t get you much more than a crappy rental, there’s no real incentive for the dealers to take them up on a program that’s going to be starting them in the burger-flipping range (assuming they can find such a job open) and winding them right back up in the same public housing they were pulled out of, only as a poor, barely-making it renter with no status instead of a rich self-made entrepreneur with props and cred a mile wide. Yeah. Good luck with that.

He did offer some helpful advice throughout the talk. It’s just not the kind of advice you ever hope to hear. Stuff like the safest place in the housing apts should gunfire break out, and how it’s probably better to run rather than hide these days if a shooter makes it onto campus, since they’ve gone from taking hostages (which are only useful when alive) to killing as many people as they can before they’re caught and killed themselves. And that there’s just not much we can do to make it better, except to be there to provide a role model for the few kids who are young enough, smart enough or lucky enough to pay attention.


And I was feeling so good about our work. Now it just seems like we’re band-aiding a gushing arterial wound, and not even getting that stuck on properly. I know I shouldn’t let it get to me. It is merely one man’s view, after all. OTOH, this man has been in Drugs and SWAT for a very long time and has had a very good view from which to report.

I truly value his opinions and his take on things. Really, I do. I just could have lived a long time, very happily, without hearing them.

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“Tough Love”

That was the name of the play that we took the Homework Club kids to see today. I was a bit nervous about the field trip – I’m always nervous about the prospect of hauling a dozen kids out into public where I can’t send them home if they get into trouble – but, just like last time we went to the Reid Center for a play, they were pretty much the best behaved kids in the room. There was a little talking and some fidgeting, and they went gonzo outside afterward while we were waiting for our ride. But that’s to be expected of young kids who are sitting still for a few hours. But over all, their behavior was stellar and I’m very much relieved to have gotten through the event emotionally unscarred.

Spent my morning having fun shadowing a colleague with whom I’ll be switching places when school’s out. She didn’t want to be cooped up for summer and I didn’t want to be outside, so it all works out. I’ll be manning a desk at the Emma Resource Center, updating their Emma Bucks database (I think it’s some sort of volunteer hours barter exchange thingy), helping them make their organic community garden into something bigger and better, learning how to write grants and doing the ordering/shopping for their on-site food bank. Plus, this summer they’re launching a neighborhood marketing campaign to create more awareness of their presence and services among the population they serve, and marketing is a gig near and dear to my heart. Sweet!

So I attended their weekly staff meeting today, which was cool since I was in a position to be able to contribute some valuable suggestions right off the bat, then spent an hour verbally walking through my colleague’s average day. Monday, we’re going off on a sponsor-finding mission to get samples of goodies for their Mother’s Day celebration and Tuesday, I’ll be doing a “ride along” to the town’s central food bank to learn how the pantry shopping bit works. It’s cool. I’ll be doing all the stuff I love – messing about with computers, marketing, gardening and not doing adventurous, outdoorsy stuff.

It’s great to be switching up jobs halfway through the service year. In fact, a good portion of us are doing that. It really breaks up the routine and snaps you out of your rut-stupor. Wish I’d had that option when I served in Habitat for Humanity. It would have made the whole thing that much easier to deal with. A little novelty and fresh air go a long way to preserving sanity.

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Getting to know you…

Some folks might view last night’s forays into the world of networking as simply an easy way to score gourmet nosh and free wine. Which it is. 😀 But it’s also something far more than that.

Networking is something you’re going to have to get used to doing if you ever plan on owning your own business, getting a job, moving up in the job that you currently work at or moving away from a job that is no longer working for you or that will be ending soon *cough-Americorps-cough* and into something better or different or just next on the list of stuff to do.

Of course, there are tons of other things networking can help you do – make friends, find a mate, have fun, discover cool projects or causes to join, meet new people – but those mentioned in the last paragraph are the one’s I’ll be talking about here.

Now, when I go to these events I don’t go as “Soni Americorps” for the simple reason that I plan on helping myself to a glass of wine or two and that’s a no-no when you’re officially representin’ with your gear and all (although I’m not shy about what I do if I’m asked, I’m never there in my “official capacity” as an Americorps member). OTOH, I’m constantly on the lookout for folks who can either help the program or help me with my program, some of the projects I’m working on, etc. And, of course, I’m always eyes-wide-open for new strategic partnerships and business for my own bill-paying work.

To put it bluntly, I’m a firm believer that financial capital follows social capital. Because in many cases, the old truism is, well, true: it ain’t what you know, it’s who you know.

This month, I hit paydirt in terms of folks who can help me with my long-term vision of creating some sort of micro-enterprise training center in the housing developments to help residents build self-sufficiency and financial stability. I discovered a local internet service company who is working on blanketing the Asheville area with broadband over powerline service, which is perfect for the prospect of wiring the entire develpment for broadband. (I shared a copy of a similar article with the housing development director last week, and she was extremely interested and excited, but unsure of how to proceed. BINGO!) I also got to talk to the local SCORE folks, who would make a great partner for this venture, as well as some local educational organizations who do small business classes and a women’s business group who offers scholarships, among others.

Long story short, by spending the night enjoying some great food and drink while opening myself up to meeting new people and listening to what they have to offer, I’ve got a good start on creating a foundation of contacts who can help me turn this vision into reality. (I also met a few potential partnerships and clients for my business, to boot, which is always nice.)

Of course, sometimes the events pan out and other times they don’t. The overwhelming success of this one had a lot to do with the fact that this wasn’t the Chamber of Commerce’s ordinary networking event – this month, it was sort of hybrid networking/merchant showcase/business awards thingy, so there were a lot of local businesses with tables out to promote their stuff (mmmmm…free post-its). But still, you never know where opportunity will strike. I’ve found clients, partnerships, friends and the like in the dullest of groups.

The thing is, you just gotta get out there. Most jobs go to people whom those in the hiring seat already know (or who have been referred to them), so it’s in your best interest to build those relationships before you need them. (As the saying goes, dig your well before you get thirsty.) On the other end of the action, a business can’t function without a steady stream of new clients, partnerships and collaborations, and whether you own it or are just another working stiff holding down his or her section of the cube farm, you’re responsible for finding those people and bringing them into the fold.

Once you become an adult, unless your goal is to climb up onto a mountainside and retire into the life of a naked, unwashed hermit living on dew and wind-borne edibles, networking is a skill you’ll need to master sooner rather than later. And, as I’ve mentioned before, being an Americorps member grants you access to some lofty places and important people that you would almost certainly never have had on your own. Take advantage of that now, while you’ve still got it, because once you’ve formed those relationships (assuming you take the time to nurture and maintain them) they’re yours for life.

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No blog for you

Sorry guys. Got in late after the monthly networking soirée I attend to troll for business and meet folks who can help me with my many projects and, as usual, I’m both bushed and moderately under the influence of the free wine they hand out to keep the biz chat flowing. So, no blog for you. Better luck tomorrow night!

To make you feel better, I offer you this kittah (who represents my current state of existence):

So tired

Why are you here?

Why are you here?

This is a question you’ll hear more than once if you sign up for a tour in Americorps, starting with your application interview before you even get in. And it’s one I’ve had trouble articulating for this particular tour. I mean, anyone who knows me knows I’m not a kid person. And yet, I’ve chosen to work with kids for the year. And while I’m all for stretching yourself and personal growth challenges and all, none of that ever really did more than provide a description of what was going to happen, not why I did it in the first place.

Then today I was reading Me to We (a book I highly recommend, btw), when I came across one story in which the same thing was asked of another woman who had devoted her life to service. Her answer? Because it’s the right thing to do. No more, no less. Nothing fancy or inspirational or woo-woo, no blathering on about purpose, passion or personal gifts. Just simply, it’s the right thing to do.

Of course, I firmly believe in purpose, passion and gifts. And I know from inspiration – I’ve been there more times than I can count. But when I read her response, I felt a resonance with it and recognized that in trying to come up with something deeper, more meaningful for an answer, I had overlooked the obvious. I do it, as she does, because it’s the right thing to do.

Why serve in the first place? Because it’s the right thing to do. No more. No less. Why kids? Because that’s where the need was. No sudden burning desire to make up for lost time with the wee ones (no – God no). No higher purpose, no divine calling. But really, need there be? Isn’t it enough to simply be called to do what needs to be done, because it needs to be done, where the need presents itself?

I have nothing but admiration for those to whom working with kids is a calling. It’s truly God’s work. And for those who have been inspired, called, divinely revealed or otherwise assured that working with kids is indeed going to be their life’s passion and purpose, well by God, more power to you.

But that’s not me. And I’m okay with that. I have my own passions, purpose and gifts and another reason for taking this position was to have a year “off” from dealing with them so they’d settle down where I could get a clear view of them so I could decide where I wanted to go with them. And that’s working out for me, too. The more time and space I get away from my passions, the clearer they get and the more defined they are in my mind. And in the meantime, I’m content to simply be doing the work that needs doing. It feels like the right thing to do right now.

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Earth Day kicks my butt up a mountain and back down again

For Earth Day this year, Project POWER teamed up with Project Conserve (an Americorps environmental project) to do some trail maintenance and stuff. There were two options – clean up a riverside area then go on a canoe trip for half the day, or go out into the mountains on Tennessee (an hour or so away, just over the state border) to do a little upkeep on a nature preserve. Neither one sounded like much fun to me, but I figured my shoulder wouldn’t forgive several hours of paddling whereas I could probably work around it doing trail maintenance. It was another example of one of those activities that everyone seems to enjoy but me, leaving me to wonder if they’re insane or I am. After a day of “roughing it” in the midsts of all of nature’s glory, I’m prepared to admit it – it’s them. These people are nuts.

So there I am, at this preserve, and the first activity for the group I’m with is hiking a trail to remove branches and such. A trail that led apparently straight up the side of the mountain. A trail that apparently defines the word “trail” as “somewhere a deer once walked, sometime.” A trail that went up and up and up, and yet never seemed to get any closer to the top. I will never understand the lure of mountain hiking. It’s nothing but excruciatingly painful, hard slogging work for what seems like forever, and the risk of hurting yourself – either by slipping and subsequently falling and rolling down into the next county or by being prevented from falling and rolling down into the next county by crashing into a tree or large boulder – is just one near-vertical step away. At the end of all of this heart-wrenching, lung-abrading, leg-breaking labor, you get…a view of the mountains (at least that’s the theory – we didn’t get a view because we never got to the top). Well, boy howdy! That’s a treasure you can’t get from driving up onto the parkway in the comfort of your own vehicle and pulling into an overlook…oh, wait. Yes you can. Never mind. And now you get to walk back down the mountain and try not to become a ballistic missile all over again, only this time you’re not only fighting gravity, you’re actively battling the momentum of your own burrito-laden arse as it tries to outrun your feet down the hillside. Fun!

At least I managed to do my share of debris removal without unduly abusing my shoulder. So that was okay. And it was nice to see swathes of Fringed phacelia fimbriata covering the mountainside like snow. The bumblebees were out in force and it sounded like a not-to-distant speedway at full throttle. It was reassuring to see the bumblebees and other pollinators out, given the hive collapses going on out there in the commercial bee world.

OTOH, one of the things I had specifically asked about was the presence of bathrooms on the trail maintenance crew, since the answer determines a lot of packing and personal planning issues either way. I was assured there were. There weren’t. Not even porta-potties. Just lots and lots of rather open hillside and a whole crowd of folks for whom the term “shake it dry” came readily and nonchalantly. Ahem. I am NOT a “shake it dry” kind of chick, especially when I’m around a whole lot of people. Luckily, some of my colleagues had decided to camp that night (another option that was listed as available on-site, which was not – they ended up camping at a nearby campground) and had brought paper with them, from which I gratefully borrowed enough to get me by. But let’s just say that squatting behind a not-often-used tool shed while an unruly pack of hunting dogs “cheered” me on with much enthusiasm is not exactly conducive to a relaxed, healthy state of bodily function. Thank goodness for good bladder control.

After lunch (my non-outdoorsiness should be apparent to all by the fact that everyone else brought sandwiches and trail mix, while I brought veggie sushi. With chopsticks. And managed quite well, thank you very much), we got to spend the afternoon pulling rocks out of a field so that the caretaker can attempt to put down grass.

Yep. Picking rocks. Out of a mountain. A mountain that’s made out of…wait for it…rocks. It’s just rocks, all the way down.

But picking rocks was the order of the day, so we picked rocks. Managed to clear a whole 20 feet square between us all in just a few hours. Wohooo. Except, of course, for the really big rocks. And the rocks underneath those that we couldn’t see. And, you know, the rest of the mountain under that. But other than that, in that 20′ area, there was nothing but holes.

I’m not sure that we accomplished much of anything other than to move a few fallen limbs out of the way of the (very) occasional hikers who come to that spot, and clear out a few rocks from an area that will probably just fill back in when the rains come and wash the now unanchored dirt down the mountainside, exposing the next layer. The rest of the crew seemed to be having fun with the whole “hiking up the side of a mountain thing,” but like I said, they’re insane. Personally, I feel like I’ve been run through a commercial front-loading washing machine on the heavy-duty cycle, then set out to dry in an oven. I’m sunburned, sore and ended up going to bed at about 6pm out of sheer exhaustion.

But that’s the way of Americorps. Sometimes you end up spending rather large chunks of time engaged in activities that appear to be pointless for reasons other than maybe the character-building of having done them. I’m not sure how much character I built, though. And besides, I’m rather fond of the character I’ve already built by not doing that sort of thing. But hey, I got hours for it and I bought myself one of those Nutty-Buddy knock-offs afterward as a treat. So it wasn’t all bad.

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