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 mid-round move from Colordao to Missouri was weird, most other teams were traveling only a few hours, not 900 miles, but I seem to never be in line with what everyone else is doing, so it's cool. The team and I packed our bags on a Sunday afternoon, ready for Monday departure with a one night stop at campus scheduled. We were meant to return to pick up some materials before hitting the road Tuesday morning, but mother nature had different plans in store for us. After being warned about them, and then reading as the main character runs her car off the road in a Kansas ice storm in "While I'm Falling" I decided to check the forecast. "A winter mess" was predicted for Tuesday, stretching from Colorado to Missouri, in essence our entire drive. I contacted our unit leader and it was agreed, for safety concerns, and my mental, the team was allowed to stay on campus an extra day. I appreciated having a day 'off', time to sort my life out before packing it up again to move cross country, and as much as a few other denied it, I think they appreciated it as well, plus getting to see "Mother Earth" was an added bonus.
While I was enjoying my second round team, the staff of Habitat for Humanity Saint Vrain, the city of Longmont, and being in Colorado, I was also ready for a change. I'm not sure what's wrong with me and routine, but they don't last. I knew half my team would have loved to stay in Longmont working on these homes until completion, that's not how the program works, we had other places to be. While I was mostly tired of the construction work, waking up and putting on my boots, I wasn't really ready to leave the new friends we had made at each site, both staff and other volunteers.
My first few weeks in Colorado, back during the long hours of training, I wasn't quite sold on the attraction of Colorado. Sure, the mountains in the distance were pretty to look at, but I had also been surrounded by that for my four years in South Korea. Longmont though had a little more appeal, a quaint downtown, free buses, multiple breweries, good restaurants and a few parks, I was cool with living there for a few weeks. The town, the project, the staff, it was all going pretty swell, so I guess it makes sense that our departure came before some were ready. Me being me though, I was ready to go , six weeks and I was growing stir crazy, ready for a new city, new routine and new friends. I often wonder how I'll ever settle down somewhere, but that's not really necessary, is it?
You hike. Well either that or drink beer, but being part of an Americorps NCCC team hiking is usually the more acceptable option of the two. In fact, the first day we arrived in Longmont and met our project sponsor with Habitat for Humanity, we were informed of various nearby trails. I have a few avid outdoorsy people on my team, notably Jack, who would probably go live in the woods if he could, so I knew we would be taking advantage of this free entertainment. The first weekend, we started easy with a trip to McIntosh Lake, a short hike/walk suitable for all abilities, but yet offered spectacular views. It's been awhile since I've been surrounded my Mountains, oh Korea how I miss you so, and thus I was happy to be back to this norm.
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".