Sunday, March 12, 2017

Progress, Protests, and Purpose

The Women's March at the State House in Boise, Idaho was a success with huge crowds, even during a snow storm. We peacefully made our voices heard and marched in solidarity with people across the country. 

Fr. Grubb visited us while our program coordinator was in Boise. The last time we saw him was at orientation in August, so it was a great reunion! 

Almost all of our support families came together while our program coordinator was in Boise. We love these gatherings where we can all catch up with one another. 

The JVs from Woodburn, OR visited in late February. We had a great time showing them around Boise. We took this photo in the State House. 

The Boise community on the last day of retreat, featuring hummus we were gifted!

     These past couple months have been very busy and a whirlwind of trips, visits, and learning opportunities. This post won’t do any justice to the experiences I have had recently. In February we had the opportunity to host our program coordinator for our community in Boise, which was great. Our program coordinator is a wonderful support system for us and they have all sorts of resources for JVs. His role in February was to facilitate reflections and get our thoughts in order about reaching the six month mark of our service. While our program coordinator was here we had opportunities to reflect and reminisce about the past six months as well as look forward to what might come next and what we want to do and see in these last six months. I’m in awe that we are already so far into our year. I think we’re in a good place. Someone once told me that it takes about four months to feel like you really have a grasp on a new position. By six months, I feel comfortable at my service site and I feel like I have a good idea about various social justice areas and about the guests we serve each day. While there is always more to learn, knowing the local resources and exactly what to do in certain situations gives me a lot of comfort. Our program coordinator told us he once heard it said that the first six months of service are for learning and the last six months are for reflecting and giving. This seems to be pretty accurate.
     We had the opportunity to see Chinese acrobats at a local performance while our program coordinator was in Boise and had a priest, who was a former JV and a speaker at orientation, visit our community at that time. We had attended the Women’s March in Boise a couple weeks prior and felt very connected to people around the country asking for the chance to be heard. This was an important time for us, as the march made history. We hosted the Woodburn, OR JV’s in Boise in February. It was so much fun showing them around the city and hearing their perspectives on our temporary home.
     Almost directly after our program coordinator visited Boise, our community drove to Northeastern Washington for our second retreat of the year. This retreat was focused around social and ecological justice and allowed us all to reflect on service so far and how far we’ve all come from the beginning of the year. It was nice to have a larger focus on many different areas of social justice throughout the weekend. We reflected on our experience with the factors that make up who we are; the privileges, the disadvantages, and more. We explored intersectionality as it relates to ourselves personally and as it relates to those we serve. We had opportunities to talk with people from different locales around the Northwest, different social justice areas, and different perspectives and experiences. The retreat was rewarding and inspiring, but also a lot to think through. I’m so glad we have the opportunity to embark on retreats throughout the year.
     After the retreat, the next day, my community mate and I went to the Serve Idaho Conference for two days. The first day was involved AmeriCorps members who served around the state of Idaho. The second day was the general conference. The general conference was focused on The Time, Treasures, and Talents of Older Adults. Each day, there were wonderful speakers who talked about the experiences as AmeriCorps members and about the experiences of elderly volunteers and their value to all organizations. My organization is run mostly by volunteers, most of them retired, with only one paid employee, so volunteer coordinating is very important. I am in that role this year and I love it. Finding new ways to connect with and schedule volunteers through this conference has been wonderful. I wrote an article for my program reflecting on the conference, and that is below.

Serve Idaho: Reflections on Inclusion
     When I started in my placement this year at my placement, I naturally began coordinating the seventy-five volunteers that help the shelter operate smoothly. There is one paid employee at the organization and everyone else is a volunteer. I enjoy this aspect of the organization and I truly see the community giving everything they have- time, a listening ear, in-kind donations- every day to assist those in need. Most of the volunteers are retired and over fifty years old. I did not pay much attention to this fact when I started in my position, I just knew I enjoyed talking with the volunteers, getting to know them and getting to know their perspective on the organization.
     One of my goals for this year has been to conquer the task of volunteer coordinating. For anyone who has been in a similar position, they know that this task is not always easy. Luckily, we have many committed, wonderful volunteers who are ready to take on any extra tasks, and we appreciate them so much for that quality. The Serve Idaho Conference this year focused on post-retirement age volunteers and their immense value to the organizations to which they serve. I learned a lot about recruiting older volunteers and about how to create a welcoming and inclusive environment to which they would be inclined to continue volunteering. I learned that not everyone is immersed in the world of nonprofits and therefore may be hesitant to volunteer, as they don’t necessarily know their place or how they are needed in the community. The most beneficial aspect of the conference was hearing directly from older volunteers who currently devote their time to serving the community. They discussed their experiences in volunteering; the good, the bad, and the mediocre. They shared their knowledge as volunteers, which was valued by all present. They said they wanted to feel heard, valued, and to understand the vision of the organization. They wanted to feel like an important part of the operation of the organization. They wanted consistency and organization. They wanted to be a part of a positive change in the community. All of these points seem fairly minimal, but when staff at an organization put this all together, volunteers can feel more valued and substantial, therefore creating an environment where they want to stay and contribute their skills.
     Since starting in my position, I have made a point to spend time with the volunteers and get to know them as well as those we serve. This has been important to me because every now and then someone will surprise you. I am always curious why someone wants to volunteer, what has drawn them to the shelter, and any talents they may have to improve the organization. There is one volunteer who was supervising computer use and enjoyed it, but seemed like he had more to gain from the experience. Upon further discussion, we found that he is a skilled musician. Now there is a music program once a week for our guests to participate in, which has proven to be a therapeutic and positive program.
     The speakers at the conference reminded me how important it is to connect with every person I encounter at service, those I directly serve include the volunteers I serve beside. At the day of the conference dedicated to AmeriCorps members, I was reminded that the service done by all AmeriCorps members is vastly different and incredibly important. While we all serve in different roles, we are all volunteers working together to create a community that cares for those who often go unheard and overlooked. Meeting volunteers from all branches of AmeriCorps, including Senior Corps volunteers, was a highlight of the conference. People devoting their time to service at all ages and coming from all backgrounds is inspiring. I have taken these experiences with me to my service site and I hope to keep these important messages with me throughout the remainder of the year, gaining as much from volunteers of all ages as I can.

     The transition from February to March at service has been a noticeable one. In February it was still winter and still very busy at my service site with people wanting to get out of the cold each day. It has slowly started to warm up in March, which is wonderful, and people are slowly dispersing. More are sleeping outside and spending time in the parks. A few highlights from the past couple months have been having a guest remain regulated on meds and off of illegal substances. There were a few bumps in the road, but this guest is persistent in their recovery. Another guest got housing, yet another is going to in April after six years in shelters. There is a little girl who comes to check mail with her father and she recently got a haircut. She seemed sullen, but I made a big deal of her haircut, telling her how wonderful she looked. She smiled and said a genuine thank you. She said her class was picking on her that week because of her haircut. My supervisor and I had to pull a man off of the sidewalk as other guests told us he was close to rolling into the road. He had laid down, drunk, and was close to falling into traffic. This was off of our property, not technically our problem, but we both went to make sure this guest was safe and was able to move away from the curb. This is one of my favorite moments recently, as odd as that may sound. I think it shows the lengths we go to for guests and it truly brings a new challenge every day when so many people we care about are out on the streets being hurt, hurting themselves, and the least we could do is move this man in from the curb. There is another guest who was recently released from jail. He was around all the time before he went in. When he got out he had a case worker who got him housing, payee services, and stability on medications. Within three days he lost his housing, was off his medications, and the organization that provided case management was shut down. This does not usually happen, at least not so fast. I was blown away. He is in the exact same position he started in before he went to jail, which is what we see a lot. So quickly he was thrust back into the shelters and he returned to his old routine, so that if I don’t think about the past couple months, it’s as if he picked up right where he left off exactly, as many do.
     These past couple months have been packed with many wonderful and simultaneously heartbreaking experiences. I am fortunate to be of service in this way, I would not trade the difficult times for anything, as it has shaped my perspective in these past seven months. I can’t believe the year is flying by so quickly and I am trying to take in everything I can while I am here. Thank you all for all of the support and guidance you have given to me throughout these past seven months, I truly appreciate it.