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.
It's now been weeks since I've left Festus, lack of time and motivation has kept me from updating here too often, but the warmth felt from our sponsor in Missouri is still with me. I was nervous in the beginning, not sure how the project would pan out, a lack of tools and supervision could have sent us into a swirl of frustration, but that was never something we had to worry about. Our main point of contact, the renaissance man himself, Brent ensured that everything went smoothly; I'm still not convinced he was cloned at some point to manage everything he took on. Having never hosted a team before, it took a little while for DRA to catch up to speed with our needs (namely work and tools), but once they understood what pace we could work at they were quick to match it. We spent the first few weeks learning the skills, technique and code requirements involved in deck and ramp building and from that point on were let loose. The best thing about Brent is that he's more than a site supervisor, he's interested in teaching his trade and does a flawless job in doing so. There were a few occasions I heard him say "this is probably boring to you, but I'm going to explain anyway", but I assured him that no, it was actually quite interesting and I was exciting to be learning, not just swinging a hammer or manning a saw.
Another vital part of the teams success and well-being while serving in Festus is due to the care and attention given by Jennifer, another key player in the staff at DRA. Jennifer is the one who originally wrote the grant to get the team to Missouri, and from that point forward did not step away from the project one bit. Jennifer was sure to read the project application guidelines front and back, taking in every detail of what the team may be required to do or need from the sponsor during our six weeks of service. She was the one who got us into the YMCA for a free membership, and also set up various networking events at schools in the area for us to reach out to. For the amount of attention she was able to give the team you would have thought she had an abundance of free time, but with four boys at home I'm sure that's not the case.
Another key player, someone the team couldn't help but fall in love with was Nancy, the director of DRA. One of my team members describe Nancy as "a cool older lady that's lived in the hood" which oddly enough does a great job of painting a picture of her. She's so down to earth and immediately jumped into the dynamic and banter of our team, which helped us connect with her quickly and efficiently. Nancy wasn't around as much on the work site, but when she did show up the team was always glad to see her. My personal highlight with Nancy was joining her for an appearance on the local radio station KJFM, Haley and I joked that our next step in NPR.
What was most infectious about Nancy was her enthusiasm for everything, from projects with DRA to the greater community of Jefferson County and of course all of the teams events and activities, Nancy was there and ready to go. Every week the staff at DRA would host an end of the week dinner for the team on Friday evenings and one week Nancy roasted an entire Turkey, ensuring the team had plenty of leftovers to bring home with them.
A summary of Earth 4's time in Missouri wouldn't be complete without the introduction, thanks and acknowledgement of one last duo. Shortly after we arrived in Festus we were paired with a couple who had just begun volunteering with DRA, Pat and Dawn. The first week they were on site at a bathroom remodel and I only heard from some of my corps members how great they were, "they're like the cool aunt and uncle", but it wasn't until a week or so later that I found out for myself. If the staff at DRA did a good job of rolling with the jokes my team initiated, Pat and Dawn went one step further and often times began the banter themselves. The two just recently became "empty nester"s and turned to DRA to fill some of their free time, little did they know they'd be getting 10 new kids along with their service. Honestly, some of the long, cold and windy work days would have been significantly worse had they not been around for entertainment (and instruction). Pat became Brent's right hand man, but what was great is that he still looked to me for direction, acknowledging my title of team leader, even in cases where I didn't want to be the one making the final call.
While Festus Missouri was never before on my radar, and will still forever hold the nickname "fetus" from my team and I, it is a place that I have an odd tinge of longing for. It was only thanks to my tiredness of ramp building and construction that I was ready to go, but saying goodbye to this new family we had acquired was not easy. Honestly, Festus isn't that far from home and with a family friend just across the border in Illinois I just might pop in for a visit one day. For a first time sponsor these guys knocked it out of the park, and I'd be lying if I said I'm not bitter they didn't' receive sponsor of the round, but I am still holding out they get a nod for sponsor of the year because they damn well deserve it.
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".