Monthly Archives: August 2007

The Never Ending Project update: I’m sticking a fork in it and calling it done

FINALLY, the weather cooperated long enough so that I could finish the last of the painting on the Emma Center today.

Woooohoooooo!!!!

Of course, when it comes to painting and the like, my lingering bits of OCD can kick in and I can keep finding things that “aren’t quite done yet” and that need just a bit more work literally forever. So I learned some time ago that some projects just won’t end all by themselves – you have to consciously decide when they’re done and call it a day. Took me long enough to learn that, but it sure comes in handy on projects like this, because in all truth painting is never really “done” – it can always look a little fresher, a little smoother and a little neater.

Adding to this nagging sensation is the fact that since I was painting an existing structure that has been added to over the years (wooden ramps to the doors, a wooden table to hold rain water collection barrels and so forth), there were places I simply couldn’t get into to paint (between the ramps/porches and the trailer, behind the table, etc). You can see down in there where it’s not painted, which aggravates me to no end, but it’s simply physically impossible to paint it unless you want to dismantle the ramps and whatnot (uh, no). On the plus side, you can only see these spots if you’re looking really hard. Which most people won’t. I mean, who spends their time peering down between a porch and it’s attached building?

So, at some point I simply had to draw a metaphorical (and, in some cases, literal) line, paint as close up to it as I could, and then step back, put down the brushes and say, “This further and no more. It’s done.”

And that’s where I got to today. Done. Fini. Over.

I hereby declare this trailer painted within the scope of my natural ability and the constraints imposed by reality and the laws of physics. May God have mercy on it’s soul.

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Things I did this year for the first time

Spending a year in Americorps is a great way to learn and do new things. Here is a woefully incomplete list of some of the things that I did for the very first (and maybe only) time as part of this year’s Americorps service.

This is, at best, an extremely abridged list – I’ve skipped over a lot of little things and no doubt I’ve missed some biggies that just aren’t coming to mind right now. But that will give you an idea of the breadth and depth of new experiences that I went through in just one year (and doesn’t take into account the stuff I learned during my first year with Habitat for Humanity).

For those of you just now coming into Americorps, I’ve got just one bit of advice: buckle your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen, you’re in for a crazy ride.

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Homework club vandalized

The Pisgah View Homework Club I was assigned to this last year was broken into recently. The latest ChildrenFirst Newsletter carried a short piece about it and a call for donations to replace what was gone:

PVA Vandalized

The Project MARCH Homework Club at Pisgah View Apartments was vandalized and some items were stolen. The break-in occurred during the recess between the summer enrichment program and the upcoming start of the after-school program. Stephanie Johnson, Project MARCH Coordinator, creatively used the temporary boards placed over the broken windows to reinforce the positive message that Project MARCH exemplifies in the Pisgah View community (see photo).

Following is a wish list of items needed before the club reopens. Please call 828-259-9717 if you can donate or purchase any of these items for the Homework Club.

Cordless phone and answering machine
Set of Motorola walkie-talkies for staff
Board games – especially Mancala
Sporting goods – basketballs, soccer balls, jump ropes, tennis ball with the velcro “mits,” other appropriate outdoor recreational equipment for elementary-age children
Legos
BrainQuest (2nd grade and up)
Five long folding tables and 12 folding chairs

The fact that the thieves took our heavily used board games and sporting equipment leads me to think it was teenagers (or stupid grownups who haven’t bothered to grow up) who thought their life just wouldn’t be complete without filling their closets with used and beaten-up toys stolen from children. Your average hardened crackheads wouldn’t have bothered hauling out half of that stuff, as there’s not much street value in an abused board game or BrainQuest books.

!#%*&*!! losers. Hope they’re happy. ‘Cause stealing toys from kids who don’t have all that much to begin with just so you can get a taste of some of that sweet, sweet Mancala goodness (missing pieces and all)…well, that’s just how you bring it on the street, dog.

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Time Management for Busy Volunteers: 5 Ways To Keep Volunteering From Ruining Your Busy Schedule

I know how it is – you’re a busy person with a lot of stuff on your plate. And yet, it’s so hard to turn down those requests to help out when the sign-up sheets get passed around, especially when your “socially conscious” boss is watching. So here you are once again, facing an afternoon (or even an entire day) of volunteering that’s torpedoing your schedule faster than a Russian sub at a fundraising raft race.

Well, no more!

Follow these simple tips to streamline your volunteer activities and I guarantee you’ll never have to worry about juggling volunteerism and your jam-packed schedule again.


1. Show Up When You Get Around To It

Look, everyone’s going to be getting there all at once and it’s going to be chaos. Plus they’ll probably be doing some sort of (yawn) orientation for the zip-heads. But you know how to find your way around a simple work site and crowds give you hives. Besides, it’s not like you’re getting paid or anything. If you wanted to punch a clock, you’d be at work, right? So, take your time, field a few more calls, catch a few extra Z’s – whatever. The work will still be there when you get there.

Oh, and if you are going to be late, please – don’t bother calling. Your volunteer coordinator is going to be up to her neck in idiots trying to figure out how to work the sign-in pen. Don’t pester her. She’ll figure it out sooner or later on her own, anyway.


2. Instructions Are For Zip-Heads

You’ve finally gotten there and signed in (printing takes forever, so avoid that time-wasting trap and stick to your normal scrawl…they’ll be able to read your handwriting just fine). But now some granola-crunching hippy is holding everyone up by rattling off a list of unnecessary instructions and “duh” safety tips.

Blah, blah, blah. You’re not a five-year-old – you’re just going to be pounding nails and hanging siding. How hard could it be? Besides, you’ve done this before and know a few shortcuts. So use the orientation time to get in a few more vital text messages, and then do it the way you know how to do it – who knows, maybe they’ll learn something. Let the sheeple do it the hard way.


3. Don’t Let The Organizers Drop The Ball

What ball? Any ball. It’s their job to keep this gig running smoothly, so if you see something wrong (not enough ice for the free refreshments, their selection of tools is not up to par, there’s some clue-free loser who insists on doing everything the hard way in charge of your team, etc), make sure you let them know. And don’t back down if they don’t immediately fix the situation. You’re doing the organizers a favor by keeping the support volunteers from slacking off. The site would grind to a halt if someone didn’t keep an eye on things.


4. Rules Are For Clients, Not Volunteers

Sure, those poor people getting the food boxes have to take what you give them. But dude, you’ve been here shelving donations all day. Why shouldn’t you load yourself up a box of the good stuff on your way out? You deserve it! And it’ll save you a trip to the store on the way home, so you won’t have to leave off volunteering early to do that. They should be grateful.


5. Leave Early Anyway

You’ve got things to do and people to see. Messing around with clean-up and whatnot is just going to slow you down. The rest of the team won’t mind if you slip out a bit early – they know you’ve got important stuff hanging on the line. And if you leave now, you won’t have to fight the crowd to get out of parking, and that’ll cut at least 5 minutes off the time it takes you to get to the gym.


Bringing It All Together

The key to keeping your volunteer activities from cutting into your busy schedule boils down to one word – priorities. What’s more important – your schedule, or all that other stuff? Seriously, weekend plans do not make themselves!

Cutting corners, shaving time and making sure the support team knows who they’re here to serve will keep you from wasting your talents and cooling your heels doing pointless busy-work. Once you’ve turned this time management system into a habit, streamlining your volunteerism to minimize schedule disruption will be as easy as falling off a ladder.

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Curses, foiled again

Got up early today (after a crappy mostly sleepless night, even) to finish up the last few hours of painting touchup that will finish the paint job on the Emma trailer and finally get that job off my “to do, already” list and the hovering weight of it off my shoulders. It’s been a week + since I’ve been able to get back there at a decent hour to get any work done (before nine there’s too much dew and after about noon, it’s too damned hot for the paint to go on right) and since I’ve just got a few bits of touch up, it’s been driving me crazy to be that close to done for so long and yet not be able to just get in there and whack it out.

Alas.

Hurricane Dean seems to be throwing some (I’ll admit, much needed) rain our way. I had hoped I could get what I had to get done, done before the rain came in (it was scheduled for later today), but 10 minutes after I touched paint to brush here it came.

Gah!

True, it cleared up by around 11:30, but the weather forecast calls for a good chance of thunderstorms all week and I didn’t want to get started – again – only to have get rained on – again – and by then it was already too hot anyway, so I just gave up. I’ll hold off until next week, when the hurricane leftovers should be done with and try again.

That is, if Mother Nature could kindly &*#@%!! condescend to allow me a 5 hour window (2 to paint, three to dry) between too wet and too hot to do it in.

*shakes fist at sky*

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New header image

Did a quick collage of a few pics from our team’s service year, just to jazz things up a bit. From left to right, we have a few of my colleagues getting things done, the Alums logo (’cause I am all about the Alums now, baby), our group graduation pic (that’s me in the long gray dress toward the right), and a shot of some of us waiting for our marching orders the day of the Grove Park charity golf tournament (me again, on the right).

And now for something completely different…

Over on the Americorps Alums archive page of the Hands On blog, I found this revealing, year-old post from Charlotte Gulley that could prove relevant to this year’s new crop of Americorps:

Another thing about my experience–for the first time in my life, I was an ethnic minority. I grew up in a town that was almost painfully homogeneous. In my AmeriCorps experience, I experienced for the first time how it feels for someone to see your skin color before they see your face or hear your name. For the first time in my life, I was “white” before I was “Charlotte,” and it was eye opening. I was immersed in black culture for eleven months, and gained a lot of perspective on plurality. My culture is not the only one worth knowing about, and my experience in life is by far not the only one worth consideration.

Depending on the person, joining Americorps can be like stepping into the Total Perspective Vortex from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. This infernal machine was designed to instill a true sense of perspective by “show[ing] its victim the entire unimaginable infinity of the universe with a very tiny marker that says “You Are Here” which points to a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot.”

Ouchie.

Welcome to Americorps. If you are not coming from a background of ethnic minority, poverty, inner-city grit or one of the other demographics that Americorps-served organization often serve, or aren’t intimately familiar with them from some other history of service, you’re in for a great big whop upside the head with the clue-by-four.

Given that a majority of Americorps members tend to be middle to upper class white kids taking a break year before college or between degrees, this is likely to be the case.

Here are some fun things you will get to experience in your Americorps service:

  • You may end up, quite likely for the first time, as an ethnic minority. Welcome to the world of judgment based on color first, person second (if ever)
  • You will get to see what it’s like to try to eat a balanced diet on food stamps. Hint: if you want organic and fair trade, you’ll either need another job or a vanishingly small appetite.
  • If you handle your money unwisely (and mom and dad don’t bail you out) you may get to see what it feels like to make the quintessential poverty-line choice between heatin’ and eatin.’
  • Depending on your service assignment, you’ll learn what a long, hard day of manual feels like. For a whole year.
  • You’ll learn to love “refreshments provided” events. You will also learn to say “Yes!” quickly when someone asks if anyone wants to take home the leftover food from said event.
  • You’ll learn to watch people fall through cracks over and over again, through no fault of their own, that no one in your normal sphere of contact ever has to worry about. You’ll see firsthand that poverty isn’t the poor person’s fault, and that below a certain level of income the safety nets and support services society enacts to help actually work against you (can’t get a job because you would lose benefits that keep you fed, doctored, housed and clothed and that the added income wouldn’t even begin make up for, etc). This means that you’ll have something else to worry about during tough times later in life that never would have occurred to you before Americorps.
  • You will learn what it’s like to persevere even though it appears that you’re getting nothing done. Eventually, you’ll burn out. The next week, something will happen to show you that all your hard work was completely and utterly meaningless. Then – maybe a week later, maybe a month later – something will happen to prove that you really did make life better for someone in a real, tangible way – that you changed someone’s life in a way that nothing can ever take away. And that difference will be something that you have always taken for granted in your own life. That’s when you’ll suddenly feel like a whiny, privileged git for being so caught up in the need to be patted on the head for your work that you failed to note how pointless your own whiny, privileged discomfort was compared to what those you serve would lose if you were to quit. Kick self, rinse, repeat.
  • Slowly but surely (unless you are very lucky), you will find that some of your old friends seem increasingly more shallow and hard to be around, especially when they start making those homeless-guy jokes you used to think were so funny.
  • During your term in Americorps, you’ll quite likely discover something new about yourself pretty much every week or so that you never knew and that is uncomfortable to know. Navel gazing will take on a masochistic air. You’ll get over it. But in the end you won’t leave Americorps as the same person who joined it. If you do, you weren’t really paying attention.

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