Wednesday, March 12, 2014

You Raise Me Up

Today was probably the most powerful day I’ll have on this trip, so powerful in fact that I’m actually writing it a day later.  We started out our day at the worksite.  Work group 2 returned to the painting house and continued to paint walls, trim, and the dreaded popcorn ceilings inside, while tearing down siding outside.  Work group 1 hauled all the garbage from the foreclosure house out to dumpsters and then set to work on insulating pipes in a crawl space and digging holes for a fence on a third house on the block.

One of our faithful contractors, Jason, giving pointers on removing siding.

Sam, one of our student coordinators

This is the second full dumpster of the afternoon

A lone pool ladder from the backyard sans any sign of a pool
We ended our day early today in order to visit several local elementary schools in the Harlan County School District to speak with eighth grade students about getting ready for high school and preparing for college.  We split into five groups and my group went to Green Hills Elementary.  To get to our school we had to drive up and over a mountain and I’ve never seen anything like what we saw on our drive.  Everything in Harlan was pretty much thawed from the storm we had on Monday, but as we climbed the mountain the water that was freely running down the rock sides started a reverse melting process as we ascended.  The water gave way to ice and then to thick, sharp icicles hanging from every crevice.  We moved from sun to shade and then into complete fog as the clouds hadn’t lifted yet from the top of the mountain.  At the top we felt like we had literally been transported to a completely different location.  It was wild.

Our visit with the students was powerful.  They were shy and a little snarky, pretty typical eighth graders, but their principal shared with us that our students had the highest standardized test scores in the county.  He was so proud of their performance and almost every one of the seventeen students at this incredibly small school said they were already thinking about going to college and where they may want to go.  Our student shared their experiences at La Salle and also their challenges in getting to college themselves.  While the students didn’t say a lot, I think it was a positive experience for both groups of students.  After meeting with the students the principal gave us a tour of the school.  All students receive free breakfast and lunch.  I was particularly struck by a woman we met who does support for students that come into the first grade behind in reading and writing.  Because of the size of the school she is able to spend half an hour individually with each student, helping to get them up to speed and succeed in the classroom.

Hanging out after our school visit waiting for the cookout

Absolutely love this picture of one of our musicians, Jake

For dinner we had a cookout on the grill and welcomed a guest to the house.  Scott is a teacher at Harlan County High School and he happened to be volunteering at the soup kitchen on Tuesday when half of our students were there volunteering.  One of our students spent a long time talking to Scott and invited him to have dinner with us.  We stood in a circle outside on the edge of our hilltop, holding hands while Scott asked for prayer requests and then said grace over our meal.  It was yet another moment that highlighted how special people and moments seem to be in Harlan.  That Scott came to our cabin and then asked who we needed to pray for was touching and showed exactly what the people here are all about. 

Reflection was around a campfire expertly constructed and kept alive for several hours by one of our students.  It was extraordinarily powerful and personal as “You Raise Me Up” was played and rocks from around our cabin were given to each member of the trip.  We were asked to think about who had been a rock for us in our lives and for whom we hoped to be a rock.  I was blown away by the touching, personal stories shared by everyone around that campfire.  Some of the stories were uplifting, some were heartbreaking, but all of them were so genuine.  I sat on my picnic table, away from the fire so my face wasn’t brightly lit, and quietly cried on and off throughout the entire reflection.  I was so touched by many of the stories shared and personally connected with some of them in a way that caught me completely off guard.  I chose not to share in this reflection, partly because I was feeling a little overwhelmed and partly because I wanted to ensure as a staff leader that the focus remained on the students and their experience.  I realize now as I’m writing this that even though I didn’t share anything out loud I gained a lot of insight and am even now still processing the experience.  My words here don’t do the night justice, but powerful is just the tip of the iceberg.

Campfire post reflection


More s'mores!!

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