Summer Camp

Camp Habitat! 

So we’ve been in Kentucky for over a week now, just under a week left before we leave. Our time out here consists of two projects, the first of which was the first week, where we worked at the housing authority of Franklin, aka the projects. It was mostly yard maintenance type stuff, but I did build a couple hand rails along a porch. The second part, and the main reason why we’re here, is for Camp Habitat, a week long summer camp for middle and high schoolers, mainly the ones attending the single school in the county.

Our campers showed up saturday afternoon, and were all split into 10 crews total. There are only 40 campers, so each crew consists of 4-5 campers, an assistant crew leader (us N-trips), and a crew leader, which is someone from the community. The reason why my guys are just assistant crew leaders is so that the students can build relations with whoever from the community leads them, and so that they see that helping their own community is not just worthwhile, but exciting, fun, and honorable. On our second day in Kentucky, we got a short orientation, which included a brief synopsis of Camp Habitat and the jist of it is, the main gal behind it all a few years back was on a mission trip with her daughter, and it struck her that while it’s great to go out to different areas to help service the community, there’s a need in her hometown as well, and it would benefit not just the community, but the youth, to be inspired to help work and improve the area in which they live.

The days are a pretty typical camp schedule, but we start around 8am and finish around 10pm, with a couple breaks in there in places. Work goes from 8-4 (or 5), and then after dinner and whatnot there’s an activity later in the evening. The activities range from team games (the kids were split into 6 teams, different from their crews, and all given bandanas of different colors) where points are accumulated, to a pool party at the town country club, to a night of giant inflatables (I imagine bounce houses are what they’re getting at), and tomorrow we’re only doing a half day of work, before going to a farm with a giant field and creek running through the edge to have a cookout/game time.

The work, despite having the Habitat name on the signs, is not exactly constuction oriented, but rather what I consider “spring cleaning.” Trimming bushes, washing siding, cleaning gutters, and painting here and there. It can’t be too strenuous or dangerous because of liability issues of working with teenagers, but in the heat, even mundane things draw a sweat.

This has also been my first time interacting with teenagers since, well since I was one. And I’m not talking about 18-19 year old college teens, but rather 13-16 year olds. It’s the first time where I was far enough removed from being in that age range to really see how teens act, and I can understand how parents patience are tried constantly when raising kids through these ages. The first thing I noticed was that if there is a group of say, 5 teens, and you ask one of them a question, say, do they have any pets. Instead of hearing one kid’s answer, which you were expecting, you have every single kid simultaneously answer the question, as if they all thought it was directed at them.

Another very interesting aspect of working with them is that I’m finally on the other side of the fence. Growing up it’s always looking up to these older kids who seem so much wiser, smarter, and generally larger than life, to an extent. But now, I am that person. Well, my whole team are those people. I see the kids showing us a new thing that they can teach us, or trying to show off in front of us, trying to be buddy buddy, because having a friend college aged seems like the coolest thing at the time. Likewise, the adults (crew leaders and staff) treat us as equals, while the kids get treated as, well, teenagers. So that alone is quite a weird feeling, where the adults talk one on one about things with you, instead of yelling at you to stop making a mess when you eat your food because someone has to clean it up. It’s a whole different world from where I’m standing, and it’s fascinating.

I’ll update some more in a few days about the things we’ve done during camp, but I wanted to give a brief update about how things are going here, the answer to which is amazing. My whole team is already really close to the kids and the town as a whole, and we’re going to be the saddest of anyone having to leave after it’s all over. But when it happens, we’ll have more memories from this week than any other project we’ve done thus far, and we’ll be itching to go back to summer camp.

Long Overdue

Hello there readers of this fine, fine blog. Sorry I haven’t updated in quite a while, it’s been nothing but go go go lately. Let’s recap the last month, shall we?

River 5 returned to campus in Vicksburg on Monday, May 13th. That week, the week between projects, is known as “transition.” And boy, was it a crazy week. There are a lot of details that I don’t remember, but at the time it was quite stressful. The entire campus seemed to go out every night, and couple that with more boring trainings, people leaving the program and going home from of a plethora of reasons, and trying to fit in as much as possible with all the people everyone only gets to see one week out of every two months, and it was insane. The worst part about transition is that it feels very much like the stereotypical high school drama you see in movies, or more apt, during the formative high school years. I believe this is a result from the age range, the varying maturity levels, and the short time the entire corps has together before leaving on the next spike. By Wednesday, everyone I talked to was ready to leave again, and this is after weeks of hearing nothing but excitement to return to campus. Still, even with all of the craziness, it was awesome to hang out with River Fun again. Those guys were the only thing keeping me sane throughout transition.

The day we left was once again bittersweet. This time though, there was a twist. It came down to only three (maybe four?) teams that had yet to head out, mine being one of them. Suddenly, the TLs all gather inside Green Hall and come back out, and I can tell something is happening. Turns out that the staff decided to wait until an hour before we were supposed to leave to start switching people to different teams. Through the grapevine, I heard that each TL elected one person from their team to go to another one, for whatever reason, and so some people ended up getting moved. There were a few reasons for the moves. One team had lost 3 members and was really small, and another team needed a strong female cm to help lead the team, so a lot of it was just trying to keep the teams balanced. We lost one team member to another team throughout the craziness, but I would be lying if I said we aren’t a much stronger team without this person. Even with that being said, it was a tough moment for us all, but I’m happy to report that said cm is happy on their new team, and as far as Rio Cinco goes, we’re 10x stronger, more cohesive, and tighter than we were in West Virginia. And with that, we left to head to Alabama.

We got acquainted with our housing, which we knew could in no possible way be anything other than disappointing after our last project housing. But we’re making due. We (and when I say we, I mean both my team and the construction team, who were in Tuscaloosa for their first round and stayed in the same house we’re in now) were supposed to stay in a house built by habitat on the same street as most of our project sites, but it fell through for some unknown reason and while they secured new housing, it’s 20 minutes outside Tuscaloosa in a small town (which is in the middle of nowhere). 

The work makes everything worth it though. I never knew just how awesome helping to build houses would be. Before I go further, let me step back and give a little background as to our project and project sponsor. We’re working solely with Habitat for Humanity Tuscaloosa during our time here. Habitat, in case you have never heard of them before, dear reader, is a non-profit organization founded in 1976 that’s devoted to building “simple, decent, and affordable” housing. The homeowners who the houses are built for pay essentially for nothing more than the materials of the house itself. The down payment for the houses are paid through “sweat equity,” or essentially the homeowner coming out to a project site and helping out in the building process, and after it’s built the family pays a no interest mortgage on it. It’s a really cool system.

The majority of the houses that Habitat Tuscaloosa are and have been building for the last couple years have been in areas hit by an F4 tornado that swept through the city in April of 2011, during the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded. We don’t work just on those building projects, but it’s a big part. Case in point though, this past week me and two others on my team split from the rest of the team to do some demo work on the house of an 85 year old Korean war veteran whose house was in a bad state of disrepair. We went in, knocked down window and door trim, the roofing, a lot of drywall, and ceiling boards and are now in the process of putting it all back together. 

We have one more week in Tuscaloosa before we head to Kentucky for a couple weeks, where we’re doing Camp Habitat, a summer camp for middle and high schoolers interested in construction. It will be nice to go a little north, because as much as I have loved all parts of the South that I’ve been through so far, the one constant that will keep me from ever moving down is the weather. Namely, during this time of the year, the heat specifically. 90 degree days with humidity is something I don’t think I’ll ever be well equipped enough to deal with. Blame it on growing up in one of the most wonderful climates in the world, but it’s been quite an adjustment I’ve been dealing with. Even with that though, the work keeps me coming back. Another great sponsor, more rewarding work, and a strong team are what’s going on right now, and I’m pretty darn happy.

Progression

Only a few days left in West Virginia. We’re leaving this coming Sunday, less than 4 days from now. I have to say, I’m really going to miss this place but luckily, I think our upcoming projects will ease the pain and longing that the team has for our first spike. A certain amount of the fondness comes from the fact that this has been us “testing” the waters out. We were thrust out into the wild, both figuratively and literally, to an extent, and had to survive alongside each other for two months. Being around each other almost every waking hour, working long days together, eating together, and dealing with life in Pocahontas County in general- no cell service and all- as a single unit. The first round I would hazard to guess is always the biggest test of every new NCCC class. Every so often we get word from someone on another team that so-and-so left, or got switched to a different team, or got kicked out of the program for some reason. Yet here my team is, intact and dare I even say, coming together. There’s only one issue that may or may not be resolved come transition (the week spent at campus in between projects) but coming straight from the TL’s mouth, our “problem” is much farther down the priority list when it comes to something that the unit leader needs to address in that many, many other teams have much more serious issues that are being looked into first.

Looking back at the two months here it almost feels like a dream, from our arrival and trying to figure out the roads and how to get where, to the snow storm that trapped us in the house for a day, our numerous walmart runs for groceries (and basically any trip to do something because it was 40+ minutes no matter what), and all of the site supervisors we’ve met and worked with along the way. I have much respect for the park and forest workers out here, whether they’re full time state employed or part of AmeriCorps (state/national or Vista). We’ve heard a few times that West Virginia has one of the nicest and most self sufficient park systems in the country, despite the workers being paid vastly less than their counterparts in other states, but they know how to make it work. I’d love to come back here in the future, years down the road and hike the trails we’ve worked on, drive the highland scenic highway and scope out all the trees we’ve planted along it (about 7,000 roughly). The mountains and coastline back home will always be my stomping grounds and I’ll never undervalue how amazing it is, but WV is (and I feel always will be) one of the most beautiful locations in the country that I’ve ever had the fortune to call home, even for a short period of time.

To recap the work we’ve down since the last update, our second to last week had us back in Seneca State Forest working on more trails, and it solidified our choice as our favorite work site, just due to how great the trails are and how much we loved the workers there. Thursday and Friday had us back at Droop Mountain to do a little trail work and clear the picnic areas of all the fallen leaves so the park will be ready for the rush of visitors come memorial day weekend. Both Saturday and Sunday we had ISP opportunities, Saturday being a Habitat for Humanity project that was virtually done but we helped finished off putting roofing on a house that had been constructed, and Sunday was a few hours at the Pearl S. Buck museum helping to till some dirt in their garden. I got a nice little surprise as well when I was notified that I’m currently ranked #5 for the entire River Unit in ISP hours completed, but even better than that, my team has 4 members ranked in the top 10, a feat none of the other 6 teams in the unit can say they have. We have a couple more ISP’s lined up for Friday and Saturday possibly, but when all is said and done, I should near somewhere in the 50s. Each cm only needs 80 ISP hours to complete the program, but can recieve a congressional award for bronze (100 hours), silver (150 hours), or gold (250 hours) if they meet the requirements. I’m shooting for the silver and with any luck I’ll be able to hit it near the end of the 3rd round or at the worst not too far into the 4th. It’s nothing more than a medal really but I’ll be able to add it on my list of accomplishments so why not. 

Getting back to work, this week has us doing trail maintenance at the NRAO, which is really nice to have a 5 minute drive to work instead of the usual half hour to hour ride. Yesterday we had three people take sick days which really slowed us down, not to mention the fact that we aren’t supposed to have more than one person at a time take a day off just for no other reason than it leaves us short-handed. I still don’t understand why the other team members have taken sick days, so far only me and one other guy have yet to call in sick. Taking a sick day the last week we are here seems to hurt especially, since we’re so close to the finish line. Last night we had an unexpected visitor, a janitor from the NRAO who I imagine takes care of the house we’re staying in as well when it’s not occupied, and we were informed that the small gulley down below the house was flooding and we might be evacuated to the dorms at the NRAO if it kept up. It never happened, but the rain continued and it led to today, one of the weirdest yet fun work days so far. We arrived at the NRAO in pouring rain at 7, met with our poc who asked if we wanted to work trails, and was subsequently greeted by a resounding “no” from the majority of the team members. Having no real rainy day project, we were told to head back to the house and basically do spring cleaning so that the house looks nice when we leave. The cleaning didn’t really take all that long, and while it was nice to “work from home” for a day, I believe the TL only gave us maybe 4 hours for the day, half of what we would have gotten if we had our normal work day.

So with that recap out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff! The projects have been divvied up and for our next project, we will be going to… *drumroll*

Tuscaloosa, Alabama!
It’s a Habitat for Humanity build, and we’ll be picking up where the construction team, who was there for this current round, left off. Naturally, everyone was a little dissapointed that we weren’t going to Florida, but our attitudes picked up pretty quickly. Being back in civilization again will be great, not to mention that it’s a college town so there is plenty to do. And while I will have to grit my teeth and deal with the innumerable raging ‘Bama fans at every corner, half of the project will be in the summer after school is let out so it should thin the crowd out a bit hopefully. Birmingham is also only an hour away, which is nothing after our time in WV going places. The other great thing is that the Tuscaloosa Habitat sponsor has been named sponsor of the year a couple times over. I’m not sure if it’s just relegated to the Southern Region or if it’s the whole country, but the point is they know what they’re doing and we’ll be treated well when we’re down there, so I’m stoked. The only thing that is yet to be seen is if this team can hang in there and keep moving towards a fully functioning team that operates on it’s own, instead of having to be told to do everything. The name of the game is progression.

The Waiting Game

It’s getting down to the wire. We have two weeks left in West Virginia for this round, and everyone is starting to lick their lips at the thought of meeting back up with everyone on campus for transition.

The past week was overall probably the most fun week I’ve had on this project. Starting from last weekend, we had our Spring Break and spent Friday through Monday in Washington DC. It was an experience, and I loved every minute of it. In the short time I was there, I got to:

  • learn how to ride the metro
  • visit multiple smithsonian museums
  • walked probably a good 4 miles every day of my visit
  • ate awesome food
  • talk (and text) people from back home
  • decompress after a long 5 weeks in WV

We got back Monday night and I immediately knocked out, ready for another week. Tuesday we finished the tree planting on the highland scenic highway that we worked on last week, and started on actual trailwork. That continued through Wednesday and Thursday. I have to say that the work we did on the trail was by far the winner for my favorite work so far in WV. Essentially, it was leveling out a trail, the Allegheny trail to be exact, which at points was severely sloped due to erosion from rain and the very little maintenance done to it. My team dug into the side hills and turned a foot and a half wide, sloping trail into 2 and a half feet wide, flat nice-to-walk trail. Because of my background in hiking and backpacking, doing something like this is kind of personal to me, and I can really appreciate the work we did. Thursday morning we also created about 200 ft of brand new trailhead because the old trailhead was too steep and arduous to use, so a new section a little bit up the road was dug out.

Friday we went to Marlinton to clean up the Greenbrier river trail for the triathalon on Saturday, which we also were able to volunteer at. I was super stoked for it, as I’ve always thought volunteering at a race, be it a triathalon, marathon, or what-have-you, would be a fun experience. And let me say, it was a blast. The free t-shirt and food didn’t hurt either though. My team was split up along the bike route and basically directed traffic. It was a good, and easy, 7 hours of ISP work so that was a nice plus too.

Lastly, the slate of round 2 selections came out yesterday, and boy will it be interesting. The projects don’t seem to be quite as scattered this time, as all the projects are basically in West Virginia, Mississippi, Florida, and one or two in a couple other states. All the teams had to make a list of their top 3 choices and include a motivational statement about why they want to go to each one, and then the unit leaders will divy the projects up. Unfortunately, the most popular projects will be listed as #1 and #2 by probably 10-12 of the teams, so it’s a long shot that we’ll get it, but our first choice (well, everyone’s first choice) is working a food drive in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. I think it’s pretty self explanatory why that’s everyone’s first choice. Our second choice was a Habitat for Humanity project in Atlantic Beach, Florida and our third choice was a project in North Carolina.

The one little extra twist to this round is the addition of a composite team project. What a composite team is, is a team made up of 8-10 cm’s, but taken out of the normal teams. So 8-10 teams will lose a member (only for this one round) essentially, to compose this team. What the composite team will be doing is working at a summer camp in Virginia, acting as camp counselors. The camp is for developmentally disabled and mentally handicapped individuals, from kids to adults, to provide recreation and exercise for them. To get on the composite team, each cm must provide a motivational statement. This one was a tough decision for me, in that while nomally I wouldn’t even have to think about it and throw my name in the hat for the composite team, there is still a chance my team might get the food drive in Ft Lauderdale, which I would REALLY want to do, for multiple reasons. But I submitted my statement for the composite team, so whats done is done and we’ll see how it all turns out. Florida would be great to do a project in, and I’d choose it over Virginia any day, but it remains to be seen who will get what. There’s also a chance I may not be selected for the composite team just because my team itself is so small.

As far as what I want though, I’d really like a break from my team. It’s all part of the program, living and working with others, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get tough at times. At the same time though, the simple fact is that the team relies on me quite a bit, not to sound arrogant or anything. It’s just that we don’t exactly have the most mature team, and apart from the TL, the responsibility to keep everyone focused and working hard is partially on my shoulders. I kind of naturally just fell into the role, between me being the first ATL and the fact that I am kind of looked at as the one to take charge if the TL isn’t around. I guess it’s part of my “big brother” (sibling-wise, not the phrase/tv show) mentality that I’ve always had to watch out for everyone else. Regardless, if I do a composite team project, whether this next round or one after, I know for a fact I’m essentially putting a lot more stress on my TL. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m going to do what I want to do, and what I think will help me get the most out of this program, but if it works out I’ll feel a little bad at leaving the team for a couple months. In any case, I just want all the projects to be straightened out, because I hate playing the waiting game.