Six weeks of living with 10 other people, crawling under houses, painting, hanging drywall, flooring and a hundred other things went a lot faster than expected. By the time we were back in Colorado and one of the other team leaders said "six weeks ago" I had to think twice, it felt like I had only just left the Aurora campus, and there I was back in the thick of it. I had no expectations going into my first round of service with NCCC, which is probably part of the reason it went so swimmingly. I'm not saying there were no issues, bouts of exhaustion and frustration were inevitable, but it was an eventful six weeks, filled with loads of laughter and smiles to counter the moans and groans.
I've began to lose count of the number of places I've been told that this would be the place I'd build friendships to last a lifetime. First it was high school, but no those friends won't last, my real friends were supposed to be found during the transitive years of my life spent at UW-La Crosse, college roommates and classmates, those would be the people that stuck. Then I grew up, got a job and moved half a world away, a place where I didn't expect to find friends, but now seven years later have people in my life I can't imagine being without. You may be seeing a trend here, my picking up and rearranging life, shuffling the daily occurrences, throwing in new challenges and obstacles, but the great thing about all of this is that with each new change comes a whole new set of friendships. In the first few weeks of my service, back in the days of training at our campus in Aurora, I began to doubt how close I would grow to my counterparts, something felt lacking, but the last six weeks have changed all of that, and I now know I've let some people into my life that will remain for years to come.
Throughout all the training we endured, lectures on leadership, diversity, team management and professionalism, there was little conversation around reward. Education award and other work related benefits, sure, but not the emotional reward we would all would receive throughout the round. Having traveled, taught and volunteered before and knowing the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment after serving a community, that was a main factor in my applying to Americorps NCCC in the first place. After weeks of training, meeting and getting to know corps members and then traveling 16+ hours to Texas, my thoughts of service and reward had fallen by the wayside. I knew the reason I was there, the work I was supposed to be doing, but I couldn't imagine how it would be received by the community. In short, it was amazing.
As soon as the team arrived in Texas we were ready to get to work and eager to see what the Fuller Center had prepared for us. It was understood that organization might be chaotic for some time as some of the staff at Fuller Center recently shuffled around, but we were ready for whatever was thrown at us. Our first day of work we were split into two teams, half staying at our accommodation, a home that was recently renovated by the Fuller Center Volunteers, and half were sent a few blocks away to "Palm House" now more commonly "Leo's House".
CTI ended, teams were picked, all 250(ish) of us were inducted and suddenly it was time to go. I knew for weeks that I'd be heading to Texas to assist with disaster rebuild on damaged homes from Hurricane Harvey, but only once we started packing our bags did it become real. After so many weeks in Denver, sitting at a conference table, listening to lectures on safety, vehicle and tool use, leadership styles, conflict resolution, critical incidents and the list goes on, I had almost forgot we were preparing to deploy for something bigger. My team had our bags packed early and were one of the first ready to hit the road, but unfortunately, had to wait for the others. We had an all corps 'send off' at 8 am, a few quick words from our Unit Leaders and the Regional Director, and then it was finally time to go, ready for a 2 day, 16+ hour road trip to Southern Texas.
After weeks of living with our hundreds of roommates, cooking together, attending training, completing physical training and serving together, it was time to pick our permanent teams for round 1. I had a good idea from early on of who I wanted on my team, and had a handful approach me about the topic. It was hard to narrow down the list, considering who would work well together while not dividing themselves from the rest of the group, what personalities wouldn't clash too hard, and also balancing ages and genders. Not only that but the other TLs would likely overlap wants with my own, but thankfully Earth Unit was made up from so many strong individuals that I didn't doubt my team wouldn't be great.
Aside from all of the lectures, power points, discussions and team builders we did have a few opportunities to get out of the ‘classroom’. Our first weekend together the unit assistance had helped to set up a service day for all of the corps members. It was both a good opportunity to get off campus and also get to know our corps members in a different environment. Water and Fire units were headed downtown to work on flower bed removal and mulching while Earth unit traveled only a few miles from campus to Planes Conservation Center to help them with a few different projects. The specifics of the day weren’t 100 percent clear before we had left campus, but we were prepared for whatever they threw at us.
Over the course of my first month here, while spending hours in a conference room learning how to be a leader, there was one message repeatedly reiterated to us, as Team Leaders. Don’t fraternize with anyone, that sounds extreme, but we were directed not to cross lines with staff, corps members and the sponsor, so yeah basically everyone outside the green shirts. I’m all for this on the level of romantic relationships, honestly there just shouldn't’ be any of that in and around Americorps, but on a friendship level this rubbed me the wrong way.
As team leader training came to an end, the 27 of us began to mentally prepare for the arrival of our 240 corps members. We also had physical preparations, hanging posters and door decks, preparing their dorm rooms to look the least bit appealing, and planning all of the training that would be happening over the following three weeks. After the training and storytelling we heard from staff members and previous corps members, I was unsure about what to expected and slightly worried. I had faith though that the corps members assigned to Earth Unit would be amazing people and cause us no problems.
After weeks of training and countless hours sitting in the conference room, it was finally time for us to apply our skills and knowledge to a real world situation. Team green (the not-so-creative name for all Team Leaders) were signed up for a day of service at the Action Center, located in Lakewood CO. The only information we had before arriving was that we'd be helping food and clothing donations which would then be used to support the homeless community and those struggling to make ends meet from the community. I've done work like this on a few previous occasions, but I was not expecting what waited for me at the Action Center. Although they were forced to shut down their shelter services a few years ago due to lack of funding, the Action Center is doing amazing things with the resources they do have.
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".