….our staff back and a roster for my team! Yesterday, our staff was back in action working on finding the answers to the millions of inevitable questions that we were going to throw their way. Today, we had our first meeting in almost three weeks with those wonderful staff members and an audible buzz filled the entire room. It was evident that staff and team leaders alike were giddy to be back in one another’s presence and get back to work, greatly relieved to know that the corps year would in fact go on. After much anticipation over the past two months, I have finally received my team roster and things are beginning to feel real. Right now, I have a list of names on a piece of paper, but sometime soon, I will meet faces to put with those names and begin to develop working relationships with them. I will find out their likes and dislikes, I will support them and build them up, I will celebrate their successes, I will help them to correct their wrongs. It’s such a funny thing to have already made such a strong commitment to eleven people whom I have never met. I am already so excited to build a team with these people and grow over the next year as we get things done for America!
We are on day 12 of the government shutdown, and while it has caused a majority of our staff to be furloughed and has delayed the arrival of our corps members, it hasn’t been able to stop us from continuing to serve. This week, the Class 20 Team Leaders served on several park beautification and trail clearing projects in the Sacramento community. We spent our days raking, hedging, and pulling weeds. The hours were long and the sun was hot, however, the expressions of gratitude made by passerbys have once again shown me why I love this work. Sometimes, I would catch myself feeling worn out….pulling weeds for hours on end isn’t an easy job, nor is it a very engaging one. However, as I would catch myself with a complaint, I was able to shift my focus to my future corps members. The same un-inspiring thoughts that were going through my head would undoubtedly be the same ones spoken aloud by my team in the future: “It’s too hot for this, I’m hungry, my feet hurt”. I tried to think about what I would say to my team when they inevitably voice the same complaints to me. That’s when I was reminded of the importance of the sometimes-monotonous work we were doing. Manicuring the park made for a more welcoming appearance that would better encourage outdoor activity. Families are much more likely to spend time in the park if the ground is visibly free of weeds and trash. Kids are more likely to come play outside after school if the park looks like a clean, fun place to hangout with their friends. When trails are cleared and the hedges are trimmed back, those who enjoy them feel safer. After a few moments of reminding myself why I was there, I found new motivation and forgot about my aching shoulders.
This morning, I took part in an independent service project (ISP). ISPs are additional service opportunities that are not considered direct service as part of the required project work. Every corps member is expected to complete 80 ISP hours by the end of their term of service. The hours allow for exposure to areas of service they may not have the opportunity to experience as a long-term project. Although Team Leaders are exempt from the 80-hour ISP requirement, I have made it one of my goals to complete the same number as is required by my corps members. I have found that leadership by example is the most effective form of leadership and feel that if I am going to hold my team to a certain standard, I had better do my part to live up to that standard myself. This morning’s ISP took place at Davis Ranch with an organization called Helping Hands Produce, a non-profit founded by the owners of the ranch. Helping Hands Produce gathers volunteers to glean unpicked and unsold produce from the fields of Davis Ranch in order to donate it to the local food bank. Since much of the food collected in food drives has limited nutritional value, Helping Hands Produce ensures that those going hungry have access to fresh fruits and vegetables in order to obtain the nutrients needed to be healthy. As a bonus, the Davis Ranch was also hosting a festival today and after a few hours of picking bell peppers, tomatoes, and green beans for the food bank, I was able to get into the spirit of fall with some seasoned corn on the cob. Meaningful service isn’t without its perks!
Fun Fact: green bell peppers are just un-ripened red bell peppers!
Finding out which unit you are in is kind of a big deal here at AmeriCorps NCCC. At the Pacific Region, we have four units: Silver, Blue, Green and Gold. Each serves as a formal chain of command. A unit is essentially a team of seven team leaders, who each then have their own team of 8-11 corps members. After weeks of trying to guess which unit everyone was on and trying to pry the answers out of the various unit leaders as to how the units were chosen, we had finally been assigned into our units! About a week ago, I found out that I am officially a part of the Silver Unit: AKA The Wolfpack.
As promised, I am playing catch-up and this post is long overdue. On September 8th, the AmeriCorps Team Leaders participated in our first service event. It was a “Run to Remember”, honoring those who lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Our job was simply to prepare water stations and hand cups of water to the runners as they ran by. Not exactly saving the world, but this simple act of service had me bitten by the “bug” all over again. As the first few “seasoned” runners flew by our station, I began to beam. They were followed by hundreds of runners, joggers, and walkers. There were families, couples, and groups of friends who had come dressed to impress in matching outfits. Among the runners were countless veterans, law enforcement officers, and firefighters. Two men stood out to me among the rest. In 90-degree heat, these two men were running – not walking- in their full firefighter suit, bunker gear and PPE included. Though they were the ones deserving thanks, they expressed their gratitude towards us. The appreciation shown by all of the participants was overwhelming. Whether they actually grabbed a cup of water from us or not, the runners all voiced a quick “thanks!” or “thank you for volunteering!” as they passed us. I was falling in love with service all over again. It was such a great feeling to see this run draw so many people from all over the Sacramento area and to know that we were doing a small part to contribute to an event that clearly meant so much to them.
After the race, we were asked to place a flag in a flag garden. This flag garden contained one flag holder for each person who perished on September 11th. I chose to take a handful of flags to plant. After I finished planting what had seemed like a large amount of flags, I was feeling pretty accomplished. That was until I looked around to see how many empty flag holders were still left. My large handful of flags had hardly made a dent in filling the flag garden. We hear all of the time how many people we lost that day, but that was the first time I had ever had some sort of visual representation in front of me. It was astounding.
Our first service project, though only lasting an afternoon, will probably stay with me forever. To see so many people come together to remember those we lost 12 years ago was phenomenal. I had gone to the event that morning believing that our contribution was minimal, but by the end of the day, I was reminded how every act of service is significant.
Fun Fact: Every year, on the anniversary of September 11th, the firefighters of Sacramento climb to remember. Dressed in full gear, each carrying the name of a firefighter who lost their life in the terrorist attacks, they climb the stairs of the Renaissance Tower (28 stories) 4 times in order to reach 110 stories. The same number climbed by the firefighters on 9/11. How incredible is that?