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.
After spending six weeks in Texas working with the Fuller Center, one would think that I picked up a slew of construction skills and knowledge, however one would be wrong. Sure, I learned a bit about drywall installation, tiling and floors, but I somehow didn't feel that I learned that much. That could also just be my discrediting my own abilities, who knows. Like I said, I wasn't initially excited to be building homes in the cold, but I kept my fingers crossed and hoped for the best. Compared to the Fuller Center, I knew that our work with Habitat would be vastly different in one key regard, organization. While in Texas, I often wondered what the team would be doing on a day to day basis, I knew that this time around I'd have a little more direction. Every week our first day of work would start with an all staff construction meeting, discussing the progress from the prior week and a rough layout of plans for the week to come. This was like music to my (Type A) ears, actual organisation and plans, things were looking up for this project.
After the whirlwind that was round 1 everyone was given a break, 10 days to do with as they pleased. While I would have been perfectly content staying on campus, enjoying the quiet, I was overdue for a holiday at home, after being away for so many. It was nice to be home, I caught up on a lot of sleep and spent time with family, but after a few days I began to grow bored. The longer I sat around 'relaxing' the less I wanted to head back to NCCC, instead I started looking up flights to Europe and Asia, despite knowing that I would go back to Colorado. The day I left campus I decided to change my return flight, combing back on New Years Eve to hang out with a few new pals, rather than scrambling to find plans at home. My flight arrived late, so our plans were also a bit ad hoc, but I was happy to be back in my element. I relished the two days I had on campus with only a few others back, but that quiet quickly disappeared.
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".
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".