Saturday, March 6, 2010

Making Progress

The past few months of work have been a whirlwind of planning, networking, training, and collaborating. It took the first 6-7 months of my term to really figure out what I do (I know many of you are still wondering), what my daily tasks need to be, and what I can accomplish in the year I have been given. Now I finally feel as though I am getting things done, or at least setting other leaders up to be successful. Now that March has arrived, we will be traveling on a weekly basis all across the state, so stay tuned for road trip stories! This blog post will serve to update you all on what i've been attempting the past few months, and a bit of my own processing on where I can go in my last portion of my term.

HERDING CATS: As part of my position as Network Team Leader, I was asked to apply to be on the AmeriCorps Member Advisory Council when I first began my term. The point of the council is to gather members from different programs and areas in the state in order to collaborate on projects and build stronger relationships. It was frustrating at first because most of ACMAC is filled with VISTAs, and there was not a lot of shared knowledge of AmeriCorps state programs. For many of you reading this, you are probably still stuck on figuring out what these acronyms actually mean. Basically, the organization was not quite serving its purpose, and many areas of the state were not represented. Therefore, I collaborated with a friend to work on recruiting members from different programs located on some of the more rural areas that do not get a voice. It may not be the most rewarding of jobs, but it landed me the position as the Co-Coordinator. Now I am responsible for granting money for Global Youth Service Day, and putting my words into action. It has been important to me to work on setting up systems that will allow for success even when i'm no longer present. This is one piece of my job that I felt I could at least affect for now, and possibly encourage some collaboration on the reservations.

ITS ALL RELATIVE: Our first site visit brought me to Browning and Great Falls. Browning is a town outside of East Glacier on the Blackfeet Reservation. It is fairly close to Canada, and at the tail end of the tourism that booms in the summer from Glacier National Park. The campus we work with there is difficult to communicate with, but when projects occur they are extremely necessary. For our site visit, we set up meetings with members, the coordinator, and the team leader for early afternoon last Thursday. It was our surprise when we called to say we would be about 20 minutes late, and the coordinator responded with "oh shit". It seemed to shock us even more when we arrived on campus and realized that the buildings were empty. The coordinator met us willingly, but explained that the leader and members had left for Butte for a high school basketball game. We walked around the building, and realized that actually our coordinator was the only person left on campus. Frustrated and also slightly confused, we went along with the site visit the best we could. The campus was small, and did not have enough office space for a lot of the professors. Yet we had been requesting space for our AmeriCorps members to have a desk and a phone. I finally understood why communication had been difficult, and that there are major cultural differences that affect the work we do.

FLOORS OF SERVICE: Yes, that's right, once again I have found a way to include the Service Learning Community in my daily life. Turns out I don't stop talking about my experiences with the SLC at Elon. Team leaders on several campuses have begun working with departments and university heads to set up service floors / houses on their campuses. There are a few smaller campuses that have bought into the idea of an SLC and will be looking into how they work on their campus. i've given my input where appropriate, but am thrilled that they are going to give it a try. I am doing my best to adjust what I know has worked on the East Coast with the given culture at campuses here in the West. I think passing on service learning communities is the best way I can leave something sustainable to be built upon over the next few years.

So, I guess the lesson over the past few months has been that I have had to adjust my goals, figure out what I want to achieve, and work within the systems put in place here. Do I think that I can make a huge impact in just one year? No. However, I can do my best to provide resources and suggestions of how I think things can improve and create structures for these changes to be successful. Whether they work or not, is up to whoever takes them on in the future. In this business, with the short time i've been given, i've learned it is all about setting foundations for others to build upon and shape accordingly.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Apathy Inversion

After spending a few weeks in the south, it has been a challenging to get my footing back here in Missoula. The sun doesnt shine too much, because the cloud cover creates a pocket over the valley. It's amazing how weather can affect the mood, and the culture of a place. There was even talk of someone crying over the inversion. I guess the lack of sunshine will do that to you. The beauty of the inversion though, is that when the sun shine's through you really feel the warmth it sends.

THE ROAD TO AFRICA: It has been some time since I began my quest to return to Africa. After forming a life in Montana, I became disconnected from the reasons that drove me to return to the Motherland. I was excited and honored after being nominated for a Rotary Ambassadorial S
cholarship, but after a year of waiting and no set plans it has been hard to imagine that the day will arrive that I get to actually board a plane. Although I still have yet to know which country I am traveling to "officially", I was pleasantly surprised by the energy at the Rotary training I attended in Greensboro last weekend. I must admit the training exceeded my expectations, mostly because it is a difficult task to prepare 40 people with varying age and travel experience for a year abroad in countries that span the globe. I had spent so much time thinking about sitting in a room for 10 hours straight that I forgot the purpose of the organization and that everyone is united under the "service above self" motto. Training began for me when I was introduced to my Greensboro Rotary Club Sponsor, an established international business woman from Nigeria. My doubts subsided after meaningful and cheerful conversation with Chi about her philosophies of cultural experiences and all that my experience in Africa could be. The first few hours were a whirlwind of introductions to other fellow scholars as well as Rotarians from all over the Eastern U.S. It was a jam packed day of networking. The sessions themselves served to inform us of the logistics and the process that follows acceptance of the scholarship. We heard from returned Scholars from Europe, South America, and Africa. I was excited to meet scholars heading to the same district, so at least I have some spots picked out to visit. Mostly though it helped me realize what a great experience this can be, and how above and beyond getting an education I will be able to make an impact using a powerful organization.

MY PIECE OF THE PUZZLE: I feel the most important piece of training for me was finding that strong passion I have had for returning for Africa, that has faded over the last few months. I haven't realized how disconnected I have become from my original desires to travel, learn under a new system, and make a positive impact abroad. How did just one night help me remind of this deep routed desire? Well, it started with an outgoing Rotarian. If you couple that with comedy, tangeable items, and inspiring sto
ries you get something close to the feeling each of us left with after dinner that evening. John T, was the man's name, and he told stories with fervor about how we have the ability as people to make change. He talked about the adversity he received abroad in the 80s, and how he managed to break down those barriers. He showed visuals of all of the things Rotarians have managed to do abroad, and then he handed each of us a puzzle piece. I began hearing names of established politicians, writers, world leaders, and peace keepers - all of whom who were Rotary Scholars. During this speech I began thumbing over my puzzle piece, wondering if I would have to get up and miserably try to put together a huge puzzle with the other 70 people in the room. Then I heard him say, these people are all pieces of a greater puzzle (if you are an SLCer, then you understand my love for Legacies, and how beautifully they fit into inspirational speeches). What is your piece of the puzzle going to be? I'm not sure if it was the way he spoke, that he strongly believed what he was saying, or that he had spent most of his life doing service abroad and using the money of an established business organization to help end a widespread virus (polio). Nonetheless, when he got off the stage, I no longer thought of the next 9 months of paperwork, the year I have spent filling out applications and interviewing, or the times i've questioned whether this was the right choice. Instead, I remembered that above and beyond anything, I have a desire to connect with another culture, to understand things from a different perspective, and to serve by meeting the needs of the community I study in.

APATHY VS ACTIVISM: Lately I have felt like there is no way to take action the way I used to be able to. At Elon, I felt that there was a certain unifying component of activism. Sometimes it was simple little acts like fasting shoes for a few days or walking on the grass not on the paths. However, when tragedy struck anywhere in the world it was a guarantee that students would be ready to act. I miss the days of walking through the Moseley Center and seeing tables, billboards, and signs of the countless causes that students were trying to raise awareness about or seek volunteers for. I often took for granted this environment, or at least did not stop to consider that this may not be the norm for most campuses. Here, as the inversion creates a pocket in the valley, it seems to also keep the culture inside. Missoula has so many non-profits and everyone in the community gives back to them somehow. However, the feel of UM and Missoula has not been the same in response to international tragedies. This is something that might have to do with the students, and the fact that we are in winter session or the way the school functions when it comes to service. IT has taken some time to get used to, and will take more work to get certain fundraisers going. I also feel as though I have let apathy overcome me a bit lately too. I'm not sure if this is due to not knowing where to commit my time or how to get involved outside of work, but I have not been as involved in the community as I had hoped after 6 months of living here. I have decided to work with the Missoula Rotary Club to see if there is anything they can do to raise money for Haiti. I have also committed to doing direct service with the Watershed Education Network, which will get me outside and more involved in the community. I have felt a bit of the effects of my own inversion, staying only in the office, and not making the most of the position ive been given in the community. My goal for the next 6 months is to really get out into the community, and stay committed to a few of these organizations.

So the past 2 weeks of being back in Missoula have certainly tested my patience. It has been difficult not knowing where I am going and when I am leaving the country, but I think the waiting has been good for me. I also feel like Rotary got me hyped up to get involved before I leave, and make the most of my time in Missoula. I am working hard to get back on a schedule, and feel like my old, fired up, Elon self again. It is a hard transition back into the clouds and gray of the mountains, but I look forward to the sun shining again. The good news about winter in Missoula? Just when the inversion seems too much to handle, snow fall brings relief and takes the gloom out of the day.