March 8 - 14 is deemed "Americorps Week" as a time to honor both the programs and participants who have served since the inception of the program in 1994. While it has been eight months since I completed my service term with the Southwest Region, there remains a lasting impact from the time I spent serving our country. The most obvious comes in the form of friendships, individuals I did not know a year and a half ago I now eagerly watch for updates, as they continue doing amazing things. From my ATL [Assistant team leader] who has now become a Team Leader with in the North Central region, to fellow team members who are now serving with or about to embark on an adventure through service in the Peace Corps. There are others who have returned to "normal life" as we so call it, but I have no doubt that service still plays a role in their daily routines.
Wrapping up round 3, tying up loose ends in Deming, saying goodbye and preparing for the trip home consumed most of my attention, so it wasn’t until we were back on campus that it finally began to sink in that this was the end. Our 11 months of service with Americorps NCCC was coming to an end, and it was time for us all to say goodbye [see you later] and begin looking forward to the “What’s next?”. With my past of consistent travel, continually meeting new people and not long after saying goodbye, that part didn’t phase me too much, what was a shock though was having a wide open schedule. I had grown accustomed to having somewhere to be, people to look after, rules to follow and work to be done; now released on my own after graduation I finally had time to relax, or rather crash.
While Deming New Mexico is a place I never in a million years would have imagined I would one day end up, I’m grateful for the time I spent there. It was a challenging three months, to say the least, but it taught me a lot, lessons about life, team members, the politics of our country, immigration laws and loopholes, and most importantly humanity. Deming is one of the poorest cities in the country, but the amount of generosity, passion and love that came from the people of Deming was remarkable and something I won’t forget. The team and I began this round with hesitation, not sure what path our project would take, where we would be living or how we would be received in the community, but over time those worries were answered and we managed to discovered the beauty lying under the dusty surface of Deming.
While the teams time in New Mexico was a continual roller coaster of ups, downs, twists and turns, it also presented everyone with numerous challenges and learning curves. Towards the end of the round the pace of everything began to pick up speed with the end of our service, and return to Colorado, quickly coming into focus. Before leaving this unique spot on the map the team wanted to fit in some R&R, taking in some of the beauty, history and culture of the cities surrounding our small home of Deming. Up first was a day trip to White Sands National Monument, where we would also have the opportunity to meet up with Earth 5, another team from the Aurora campus serving in Fort Stanton, New Mexico. The trip required approval from staff, considering it was nearly a two hour drive, a possible exhorborent use of Government resources (Black Betty our trusty Ford Transit family van), and we were grateful to get that approval.
During my first two rounds with NCCC I was so wrapped up in the project and team that I never felt a strong urge to get away, and thus coming into round 3 I still had my whopping three vacation and two "life after Americorps" days at my disposal. With round 3 in Deming turning into the roller coaster ride that it is I could not have been more grateful for those days. I used two a few wees ago to travel home and visit family, attend my cousins wedding, fight off my cold and catch up on much needed sleep. While it was nice to see familiar faces the trip didn't recharge me in the way I had hoped, I needed more of an adventure and change of scenery. This last weekend I used my additional days to explore New Mexico, outside of the confines of Deming and my team. When I coincidentally met a woman in Silver City from Alamorgordo who had nothing but positive things to say about the area, including Cloudcroft and the Lincoln National Forest, I was sold. Five days of solo travel, a night of courchsufing and some random exploration were just what I needed to get me through this last month of service.
zEarth 4 is still alive and well, sweating it out in that dry heat of New Mexico. Everyone keeps telling me that it has been unseasonably cool down here this year and honestly, I wouldn't want to see a "normal" summer if that's the case. The team has continued work on various projects, rolling with the punches and staying flexible. Over the course of the last few weeks things have settled down at the refugee shelter, thanks either to more organization being put in place or a decrease in the number of migrants being dropped in Deming. Either way this has meant the team has been able to step back a bit from our support there and focus efforts on different areas of the community. Unfortunately, things never fell quite into the rhythm we had hoped, projects constantly waiting on other factors before we can step in, but there always seems to be something for us to work on.
In stark contrast to the first two rounds of my service term with Americorps NCCC, round 3 has been nothing but curve balls. The team came to Deming, NM expecting to build a test vineyard and work on landscaping at a park development project. We have now been here for just over one month and have done none of the above and a little of everything else. The team and I started this week with a meeting at the charter school, outlining some upcoming projects the team would tackle, but by the end of that meeting all was swept under the rug and new game plan was under way. Our meeting ended with the sponsor, Mr. Lyons saying "Why don't you swing by the fairgrounds and see if they could use your help", such a casual statement, but the one sentence that may alter the trajectory of the rest of our time here - but first let me give you a little background.
While the team and I are stationed in Deming, NM that does little to explain the variety of which our work entails. Within the city itself we have been shuffled from one location to another, helping where there is need, but beyond that we've paid visit to a few surrounding communities as well. Last weekend was our first introduction to Silver City, the home of last years "Southwest Region Sponsor of the Year, Rocky Hildebrand", and what a fun little city it is. We were brought in to assist with the coordination and running of the 2019 Tour of the Gila bike race, and were welcomed into the community with open and eager arms. After only a few hours in the city it was evident that the infamous "A" and grey t-shirts have been through this town before, we received many inquisitive questions from the community and a few invitations to serve with different organizations. Although we were still a little in the dark as to what our work at the race would entail, the warmth of the city showed us that it would be a good weekend.
After an arduous week back on campus in Aurora it was time for me to pack my red bag once again, this time for the last time and head south, almost all the way to Mexico. My third round placement would be taking me to Deming, New Mexico in Luna County, one of the poorest in the state. I was both excited and apprehensive about the project, with immense need in the area I knew there would be work to do, however being a first time sponsor I was also worried about the organization of the 12 weeks lying ahead of my round 3 team. It's now been two weeks since my round 3 team and I have arrived in Deming, and I must say I'm glad I came in with that apprehension because things are going just about as I had expected. Our project sponsors are eager, yes, but the execution of things has yet to really take off. Never the less I'm currently 33 miles away from Mexico surrounded by desert and mountains, quite the shift from the "homey" feeling I had in Missouri, so much so I sometimes feel like I'm in another country - so that's a plus!
I've always known about the "Midwest charm", how friendly people are in this region of the country, but it wasn't until I left and came back did I really grasp the severity of it all. I grew up in Wisconsin where friendly hello's and nods from strangers were almost as common as the 20-minute goodbye, this all was nothing new to me, but after being away for an extended period of time I began to forget about it. After being in Festus, MO for only a few days though, I was quickly remembering just how friendly "Midwesterners" can be.
A Year of Service
My life, being anything but predictable, has taken another turn. Rather than moving to Jeju, South Korea - my original plan for Fall '18, I'm going to test drive Denver, CO and its surroundings, an area people just keep telling me "I'd love".