Monday, March 10, 2014

Be Where Your Feet Are

SNOW DAY!!  Well, our first day of work was a bust.  We got a rain/sleet/ice/snow storm that kept us from going out to the work sites today.  One of the houses we’re going to work on needs a roof and a roof is not the best place to be in an ice storm.  I also think the other house is a bit further up in the mountains and got more snow than we got.  So, what to do when you’re up at 7am with nowhere to go??  WalMart of course!  Katie, Sean, the coordinators and I headed down to the WalMart on the advice of one of the carpenters that we may not be able to go later if the weather worsened.  We picked up some food supplies and I bought ingredients to bake brownies, because when you’re stuck inside all day the best thing to do is bake comfort food.

Our snowy mountain view

This is what happens when you leave your camera out on the table while you take a trip to WalMart...
We came back from WalMart and the coordinators announced that we’d be having a talent show.  Students quickly signed up in groups and as individuals and started planning their routines.  Da Kru, as they named themselves, did a dancing tribute to Michael Jackson, complete with a moonwalker and the infamous Thriller dance.  We also saw interpretive dance, poetry reading, singing, and all got a lesson in East Coast swing.  The finale, and overall winner of the talent show, were three students who actually wrote an original song in the two hours they had to plan about our experience thus far and then performed the song with guitar, ukulele, and harmonica in hand.  The talent these students have exceeds all reason.  They are an incredible group.

A push-up contest as part of the talent show...I suppose it beats hair braiding

Everyone getting in their East Coast Swing skills.  And yes, those are matching onesie pajamas you see...
A video of the winning act will be posted soon.

We entertained ourselves for the rest of the afternoon by playing card games and I actually got TWO naps in, plus I baked a double batch of brownies.  In fact, as I’m writing this at 11pm I almost feel like the talent show happened yesterday since I’ve done so much since then. 

Never too old for good old fashioned coloring books!

Taking a moment to reflect and journal

As the snow tapered off half of the students and coordinators headed off to Christ Hands soup kitchen to prepare and a meal and spend time with some of the people of Harlan.  My group stayed behind at the cabin, but from the stories they returned with it sounded like an amazing experience.  I’m looking forward to going to serve with my workgroup on Thursday night. 

Back at the cabin we split into two groups and planned impromptu skits about family.  They were outlandish and full of crazy stereotypes, but we were able to reflect on the experience afterwards and talk about how we each define family, how families can vary widely, and it planted a seed to be mindful of the people we meet this week, checking our expectations at the door, and meeting them where they are.  After spending so much time talking about family we decided to push all of our tables together and eat dinner (grilled cheese and tomato soup with goldfish!) family style. 

Once the soup kitchen group returned to the house we were joined by Blake, the Executive Director of Christian Outreach with Appalachian People or COAP.  This is the organization that La Salle partners with each year and they are the carpenters that take us to work sites, mentor us through projects, and teach us about the Harlan community in the process.  Blake talked to us about his experience and what’s been happening around Harlan and COAP in recent years. 

First, let me back up and provide a history of COAP for you.  In 1976 there was major flooding in Harlan and subsequent devastating damage.  A Mennonite group, along with many other volunteer organizations showed up in Harlan to help with cleanup.  Some stayed and over time formed into COAP.  Four years ago the organization was in a bad place financially and it looked like their doors may close.  That’s when Blake was hired to be director.  You can tell from how he talks about Harlan and COAP that this is his passion, that he feels called to serve his community, and that he is committed to making Harlan a better place for all of the residents here.  This past year was the first year in a long time that COAP was able to turn an actual profit and reinvest in tools, vehicles, and employee resources. 

Downtown Harlan during the flood of 1976
Blake is incredibly knowledgeable about energy efficient building and USDA funding for rural development.  He was born and raised in Harlan, graduated from college in Tennessee, and when he and his wife found out they were going to have their son they decided they needed to move back to Harlan and raise him from their roots.  He’s about to graduate high school and go off to college himself.  Blake radiates talking about his family and his work and I’m really struggling to find the words to describe such a presence.

After Blake left we got into reflection mode and focused on this place that we are in, Harlan, KY.  Students shared the experiences they've had thus far, talking about people they've met, things they've seen, and how it all makes us feel.  As in past reflections we talked about being present in this experience and making sure that we stay where our feet are.  I think that’s a great quote and a very simple way of thinking about staying present.

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