NC Americorps Spring Summit 2007

There are two times when all the Americorps in the state get to come together and hang out.

In the fall, just after the initial orientation period, we gather for the official Americorps Launch, during which we are all officially sworn into Americorps, listen to Very Important People speak on Very Important Topics, then break off into groups to participate in a variety of educational trainings, all of which is tucked in around the mass devouring of a hotel-catered breakfast and lunch.

And in the spring, usually a few short months before graduation, we meet again at the Spring Summit as we did Friday, where we were all officially sworn in as Americorps Alums, listened to some Very Important People speak on Very Important Topics and then broke off in groups to participate in a variety of educational trainings, all tucked in around the mass devouring of a college-facility-catered breakfast and lunch.

Are you sensing a pattern here?

Yeah, well, if nothing else Americorps is a consistent sort of gig. Anyway, Friday was our Spring Summit, so after our last mediation class we all loaded up into our carpools and headed out for Greensboro, arriving at around 7:30 just in time to be taken out to a lovely Vietnamese dinner that was served in individual portions that could have each fed a small village. I’m glad I just ordered a tofu/veggie stir-fry, as it only occupied a large family-sized serving platter. Others, who ordered curries, noodle bowls and other such entrees were confronted with serving bowls the size of wash basins, and that’s only just barely an exaggeration.

I’m on a personal kick to slow down my eating and monitor my portion control after realizing that some unhealthy eating habits I thought I’d licked had been creeping up on me over the past few years, namely wolfing my food down so fast that I barely taste it, then loading up on seconds and thirds so I can actually enjoy the food after my first inhalation. So I’ve been limiting myself to one serving per meal for most meals as a way to attack both problems at once – forcing myself to slow down or basically miss tasting the entire meal. But in this case, one serving was more like four. Unfortunately, there was no way to store the food as a take-home and I was loathe to waste it, so I finished most of mine. The rest of the gang were not so lucky and had to make some hard decisions made even harder by the fact that the food was amazingly tasty.

After we got back, a few of us went for a walk in a nearby office park to help settle the load a bit. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to sleep after such a heavy meal so late in the evening, but it turned out not to be a problem, so I awoke refreshed and (very) well fueled for the following day.

By way of comparison, we had way more fun at the Summit than at the Launch (Launches tend to be very proper and upright, and focus on trainings that will aid you in your Americorps assignment like disaster training and such, whereas Summits tend to be a bit more fun and future-focused with a somewhat “senioritis” energy to them).

The Summits also include some sort of “beyond Americorps” training on how to access and use your ed award and so on, for first-year members who may be wondering how it all works. Aside from that, the trainings tend to be oriented around the poles of “preparing for your life” and “this looks cool – let’s have a workshop on it.” I’ve already got the ed award process down, so I opted to just have fun.

[This wound up being a honking long post in order to cover the event adequately, and I’m going to break it here so it doesn’t eat the whole page. Just follow the clicky to read the rest.]

And I had a much better food experience at the Summit (a breakfast that included yogurt, granola and fresh berries, plus a whole table full of stupendously prepared vegan food at lunch) than I did at the Launch (the diabetic-shock special “white grains and sugar” breakfast, followed by a single vegetarian option for lunch, the demand for which was woefully underestimated). And both were waaaaayyy better than the Summit I attended during my last tour of duty.

After the opening welcome and announcements, we had a brief “howdy” from Americorps member Kait Goodnight from Habitat for Humanity Orange County, the Mohawk-haired representative from the Summit Planning Committee, a “Thank you” offering from Alice Keene from the NC Commission on Volunteerism, and a slideshow presentation from Judith Biondo Meeker from More Than Warmth, who was heading up the service project (at most Summits, there’s an ongoing service project you can participate in if you don’t have a training you’d like to attend).

After the speakers, we broke off for our first workshop. Here’s where I give a huge shout out to the Summit Planning Commitee, composed of Americorps members from around the state, who got together to create an absolutely stunning roster of incredibly fun and interesting workshops. A special shout out goes to Bri and Rachel, who are from our own Americorps team. Great job, guys!

I attended the Bike Me! Bike Repair and Maintenance workshop as my morning pick. I had considered the Tai Chi class, but my shoulder was acting up and I didn’t feel like pushing my luck. Anyway, I have a bike that was given to me by a friend, but it’s the first bike I’ve had since I was something like 13, and I’ve got no idea how to work on it, repair it or even evaluate its current condition re: usability. So I took this workshop and now feel a great deal more comfortable in knowledge, and more aware of my ignorance. 😀 On a side note, the marketing geek in me sat up and pointed like a trained hunting dog when I heard that the Bike Me! bike collective didn’t have a website and needed one.I spent a good 5 minutes after the workshop talking to them about it with a fellow geek and giving them my email so I could get back to them. I can’t help it – it’s embarrassingly Pavlovian.

Lunch followed, consisting of grilled or roasted Portobello mushroom caps, a salad with real spring greens, a lovely steamed vegetable side dish and an absolutely heavenly spring-berries crumble for dessert. OMG GOOD! It was hard to restrain myself to one serving. What a crappy week to have started that particular activity!

After lunch, we watched a slide show consisting of photos from this year’s teams that had been shot throughout the year, followed by a presentation by Dr. Timothy Johnson, who spoke to us about the newly formed Americorps Alums organization. We all said the Alum pledge, got our Alum pins and were exhorted to register on the website and purchase upgraded memberships, which entitles you to all sorts of discounts and bonuses (I’ve already signed up and sent in my $$).

After lunch, we had two more workshops. I opted for marketing superstar Nicole Pride’s Brand You! Develop, Package and Communicate Your Brand, and The Art of Re-Use, a crafting workshop led by Shannon Morrow of Greensboro’s Scrap Exchange, an organization that captures usable waste materials from businesses before they can be landfilled and offers it cheaply to artists and crafters.

In the first former workshop, we learned about how to “brand” ourselves by homing in our our best and most favored aspects, stretching and challenging ourselves with personal and professional growth to become more “in demand” and making sure we differentiate ourselves from those around us in an intentional and pro-active way. Like I said, I’m a marketing geek, so this one was pure fun for me. We did an exercise where we created a “Yellow Pages” ad that would show others why they should choose us rather than someone else (for whatever reason – employment, scholarships, etc). That really focuses your mind on what’s special about you and how you present that. I’m going to be filing that idea away for my clients.

In the latter workshop, we were basically set loose on barrels and tables full of stuff like fabric and paper scraps, cardboard tubes, end-run sticker sheets, yarn and other odds and ends of industrial left-overs and told to have fun. Now that’s my idea of a good time! I got a start on making a journal/pocket-paged book out of wallpaper scraps, a slubby brown yarn and some tape. Didn’t finish the project, but on the way out I snagged a few bits of stuff for later.

Overall, it was a great Summit. I learned a lot, met some cool people, ate well and had a blast. If there’s one downside to graduating from your second year of Americorps it’s knowing that there’ll be no more Summits and Launches for you. OTOH, I’m hoping the Alums org will step up with some great (and affordable!) trainings and conferences I can take advantage of.

But for now, it’s good to be home.

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