Monday, September 28, 2009

Building Engaged Citizens

“Don’t worry about what the world needs. Do what makes you come alive and do
that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
— Howard Thurman

BUILDING ENGAGED CITIZENS: This weekend was the Building Engaged Citizens conference for all of the Campus Corps members and Vista members that belong to Montana Campus Compact. In words that anyone outside of Montana can understand, it was orientation for college students that get AmeriCorps money to serve in their communities. My role in this hectic compilation of college students from universities all over the state was planning, facilitating, and lending my couch to the various VISTA's that stayed in Missoula over the weekend. Like many anticipated moments in life, I spent more time and energy planning for the conference than actually attending it. The weekend seemed to fly by and now remains in my memory as a whirlwind of new faces, behind the scenes tasks, and tons of icebreakers. It was exciting to see everyone in one place and get to have a somewhat leading role in this.

DEFINING SERVICE CONTROVERSY: I seemed to stir up quite the controversy with the "defining service" activity (Elon Vols folks, you all probably do this in your sleep now) but boy did we have some heated conversation. This activity is designed to really make people define what service means to them, and help them consider their own service ethic. For those of you that are unfamiliar the activity asks participants to rate different proiects on a scale, such as giving blood, donating money, voting, and joining the armed forces. In reality with 80 AmeriCorps members, it creates a heated conversation and deep debates. I saw this as a positive thing, because it got people discussing their definition of service and forcing themselves to really define what service means. It also proved how passionate people are about service and what it means to them. However, the debate left a bad taste in many people's mouths. I am a firm believer that this is where people learn the most but as a leader it also puts me in a tough spot because now we have unhappy participants. All in all it went well, and I guess there's nothing like a little bit of controversy to get people reflecting on their personal values.

HAPPENINGS ON HIGGINS: After the seven day work week I took Monday off to sleep and be mindless for a day. This led me to "liquid planet" (my favorite coffee shop) in the afternoon where I was able to enjoy the weather and be on the internet at the same time. I love walking around town in the afternoon because there are so many people out on the streets sipping coffee, writing, playing music, or reading. It is great to get to interact with strangers, and people watch. I ended up spending a good bit of the afternoon speaking to a man living off the disability allowance, who admitted to being an alcoholic. He opened up to me about all of his problems, what he wants from life, and how he got to where he is. It was a strange conversation, mostly because of how off guard I felt when a stranger wanted to speak with me. I've become so accustomed to tuning out my surroundings and having that "city" mindset of not interacting with anyone that I forget it's ok to interact with new people. It amazed me how open to sharing he was and how easily he admitted his problems. I wanted to help him, but listening felt like the only thing to do at that point. Needless to say, Brian has been on my mind all week and i'm glad I had the chance to interact with him. It's one of those moments that felt like I was in the right place at the right time. What does this have to do with my service or building engaged citizens? It made me realize that the "service" we provide on a daily basis through AmeriCorps should not end there. Instead it should inspire a certain mindset, where talking with a community member and giving of ourselves is part of our lifestyle and personality. It is the smaller aspects of "service", the subtle everyday deeds that really make us an engaged citizen.

HATS AND SCARVES: I have realized what "seasons" really mean as the cold begins to set in, and I find myself wearing a scarf, hat, and north face in my office. Winter is no joke out here, but i'm enjoying the change in season. Today is first Friday where I will be going down town to the art museums sipping free beverages and looking at new works of art. There certainly is a lot of culture to the town, and I'm excited to see all that arises from the winter here.

Well it's Friday afternoon, so it's time to go.. Tune in next week to hear about my weekend at an ACMAC (Americorps Member Advisory Council) retreat.

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