Saturday, April 3, 2010

Art group tour, free street, house of blues...oh my!

So today is our last and final, full day in Chicago- the beautiful, windy city. Sad...I know. I don't think anyone wants to really go back to school and leave this amazing city and community. Because, I know I sure don't.

What we did do today, was wonderful. We first went on a tour of some of Chicago's murals with our tour guide Brenda and one of the Chicago Public Art Group's interns Erin. We were all pretty excited to get to see what some of the cities fellow artists had done on some of the walls and bypasses with tile or spray paint. However, Brenda wasn't as enthusiastic as us. She openly mentioned to us that their company wasn't doing that great, and how art wasn't that great of a field to get into either. Even though the morning was a bit awkward at first, we had a great time hearing the stories of some of the big pieces of art work on some of the city walls and actually being able to see them up close.

The second part of the afternoon was spent at Free Street. We helped them prep for opening day for the play. Mostly we cleaned (mopping, sweeping) and helped them a great deal by hanging up posters. The entire staff and students seemed to really appreciate our work, which in the end was a great feeling. At the end of the day, Ron, one of the head staff leaders at Free Street, talked to us about just "going for it"- the "it" being theatre, or your passion in general. Ron and Brenda (our tour guide for the chicago murals)seemed to have very different perspectives and ideas of the field of art. Brenda's was that it wasn't the greatest of ideas, and Ron's was to go for it, not to let anything or anyone get in your way, and to find a good mentor. The differences definitely left for a good reflection during the day.

The last and final event of the evening was going out for dinner (and music, of course)at the House of Blues. The food was amazing, and the music, fabulous. I'm entirely grateful to have gone on this trip, and yet entirely sad at the same time that tomorrow is our last day in this amazing city. I will definitely bring back a lot of the things and ideas we have learned the week that we have been here.

Goodbye windy city. Hello Hamline.

New Orleans

Throughout my visit to New Orleans I noticed one really strong element of strength that each of the people that our group met with possessed. It was a sense of courage. Each person we met with had some great transition or change in their life, whether it was a hurricane, a death, or some other challenge. Each of these people took the power and energy of the city to propel them to make change in their own lives and in others. What was truly unique and inspiring about the people we interacted with was their positive attitude. Change is something that each person views as inevitable; however the residents saw this change as a chance to do great things. Through meeting with a community center leader whose family has had strong roots in the community, an ex-Berkley professor who began her life anew, and community group that advocates for its minority citizens' rights, that change in a community comes from a lot of passion and dedication. It was a great experience to work along side each of these strong community leaders to help them get a few steps closer to their goals.
Margaret Crenshaw

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Lower 9th Ward

Hey all,

On Wednesday we went to the Lower 9th Ward which was the area most devasted by the levy breaking. I was actually able to go up and touch the levy that failed, granted, I was touching the new addition to the levy. It was a very emotional experience to be the place where it all started. I was walking down the street at one point and saw a family sitting on their porch. I asked them how they were doing that day and only the older man really responded, but he responded cheerfully. He then turned around and asked me how I was doing... couldn't say that I could complain.

It was very surreal to be driving and walking through that area. There was also a very interesting dynamic: one area had some nice new modern houses that were being built for the "Make It Right" project, while the rest of the area had empty lots, destroyed homes, and few homes re-built by owners. I saw shoes and cushions, amongst other debris that was still left over. As I was finishing walking around I came up to this yellow house. It was very broken and damaged, but you could see inside, where perhaps a door used to be. I stepped onto the grass to get a better look and sitting right inside amidst all the rubble was this dirty yellow Tonka truck. It gave me the chills. To think that the house was still in that condition really bothered me. I couldn't believe that after 5 years, we're still at the point that we are in the "re-building process." It absolutley blows my mind.

Going down to the lower 9th Ward was an incredible, emotional, and very humbling experience. It was a perfect reminder of why all of us are here and why these opportunities to do service-learning are beyond crucial for each and every one of us, no matter which side of the service-learning we're on.

-Mikaela Fisher, '11

NOLA News Try 2- Maggie

Try 2 because I wrote this once but the computer erased it before it was saved. But on to more important things…

This trip to New Orleans for me has been about the stories. It has also been about the stories of the whole person. Every site that we visit there are stories of the people and places. The people are open to sharing their story to anyone who is willing to listen. And the places you just need to go out of your way to dig a little to find the truth.

One man that we met here in New Orleans said that people's stories are being exploited. That visitors are coming down to New Orleans, hearing the story, leaving, then either forgetting it or using it for their own personal benefit. I am fortunate to have heard so many stories over the times I have been to New Orleans. I am in my senior year at Hamline and I don't want to forget the stories and I want to do something about what I have heard.

So, I guess this is my promise to not forget and to return to New Orleans. I hope that my returning to the city will help to bring back people that have not been able or allowed to return to their home, New Orleans.

Thursday in Chicago (Aka we see all these works of art with wonderful titles and I can't think of anything more original than "Thursday in Chicago").

Thoughts on Thursday, April 1, 2010
Location: Stairwell, Hostel, Chicago, USA, the World, Milky Way Galaxy
Mood: Exhausted and contemplative (pretty much a buzz word of the group; we always claim to be processing everything we have just seen and are therefore sometimes a little quiet when it comes to discussion time.)
Today the Chicago group visited two art museums, attended two theatrical performances, helped to tidy up a theatre, and both ate at and rode on a subway. We are all pretty tired, and that definitely showed in reflection time tonight when a few of us found one of Amelia’s jokes so funny that we laughed until there were tears.
We started the morning by going to a Vietnam Veterans Museum. I personally thought that the pieces were very moving but a lot to digest in a short amount of time.
Then we headed to Free Street Theatre where the majority of us worked to help tidy up the place in preparation for opening night on Saturday. We also got to have the experience of sitting in on a rehearsal of the show, Abe’s in a Bad Way. It was so cool to see the students performing their own material and I am really impressed with what they have come up with.
We then hopped on a subway, got off the subway, ate at Subway and went to the hostel to change into our nicer evening attire.
When we got to the Chicago Institute of Art I was shocked by the sheer number of people there-the place was packed. We bashed around there for a while then headed to a play called Beautiful City. The deeper meaning behind the play was basically lost on us, the playwright was a little all over the place in message and we were all just so tired at that point in the day.
We then went to the hostel and discussed the day and here I am now writing about it.
If it were not so late/early I may have been more analytical about what we experienced, but right now I just want to go to bed. I’m gonna leave you with some random thoughts and then go get ready to face tomorrow.
1. Green apples are amazing
2. The people at Free Street kept thanking us for the work we did, and that was very cool to see the little tidying up had an impact
3. The people at the theatre where Beautiful City was being put on were also really thrilled to see us, and that was cool
4. I forgot to mention we finally stopped at a dunkin donuts/baskin robbins
5. If any of my sentence structure doesn’t make sense, please chalk it up to the hour and no my lack of ability to write coherently. Thanks.
6. This trip has pretty much been amazing and the people we are coming in contact each day are so inspiring
7. I think we are all sad that tomorrow is our last real day of the trip, but I’m sure it will be an awesome one
8. The End.
Kate Buechler.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March 31st Aubrey and Nancy

Today we started off the day serving in D.C. Central Kitchen. DCCK is a really cool organization that has job training in the culinary arts for formerly homeless people. it has an outreach program that helps people join the job program to get off the street, off drugs, or into a career. DCCK also has food that goes out into the community and feeds into 100 other organizations. Ms. Dot was in charge of the Salad station which as a vegetarian I got to be a part of. She was a character who liked things to be right. for example: we shouldn't take off our gloves until specifically told and the cucumbers are only meant to be shaved in three places. After that we got to eat food that was prepared in DCCK. It was really good and had representation of all of the food groups.

Between lunch and visiting the Capitol, we were able to lounge on the Capitol mall. A few of us found a fountain and laid down on the edge. A while later, a patrol officer came and told us that we were not allowed to lay down. One of the first thoughts I had was that the folks at the Capitol are very concerned with aesthetics: if they were so concerned with tourists lounging, how would they feel about the homeless wandering around and even settling down?

In the afternoon we started off lobbying MN representatives: Walz and Paulsen. We specifically asked about putting homelessnness in the front of the eyes of the gov't. Walz's aide was very helpful in telling us that most of the homelessness funds are allocated by state governments.

Right now we are preparing for the Homeless challenge. We will be out on the street from 2pm til 2pm. We are preparing the stories that will be our background as to why we are homeless. All of us will be recently homeless in our story. We have also been discussing our fears and worries. what will we say if someone does ask us our story? What are we going to do with nothing to do??? Will we be bored? Where will we go to the bathroom? How will others look at us? Will we get kicked out of restaurants or museums?

None of us have showered or shaved for the past two days. Our feet have been sort of worked in by all of the walking we've done but that also will factor into how tired we are while walking. I personally am going to wear pants I haven't washed for a month and the shirt I've worn for the past two days.
We will be traveling in two's and will meet up with the group for the night.There will be one cell phone among the pairs for safety and absolute emergency only.
By doing this challenge we hope to gain a partial understanding of the difficulties that go along with being homeless.
I really hope to push myself both physically and mentally and to really grow from this experience.

Chicago Day 5: Jazmin

Today was hard. It was our last day at Little Black Pearl, which I have absolutely fallen in love with (slash hope to find a way to work with this summer?). I think all of us were just starting to make some great connections with the students, and for us to have to leave now, without getting to see the final culmination of all the hard work is heartbreaking (and I hope you'll understand how sincerely I mean that without me having to tell you that I actually shed a few tears on the matter). I just hope beyond hope that we were able to accurately convey to the students how much we really did want to be there for them on the last day.

We've been having great discussions each night and it's exciting to get to hear Katie, Kate, Amelia, Simone, Clara, Lewis, Bre'Elle, and Megan share more of themselves each night. Hearing where others come from and how they're interpreting this experience, as well as being able to share myself, is quite a learning experience. I've been hugely inspired by my fellow group members' inspiration, and definitely gained some new insight, WHICH, excitingly, was one of my goals for this trip. So I'll pat myself on the back and check off that box.

So, in sum, although I'm slightly hoping that by some twist of fate we'll be able to attend the final day of the Little black Pearl program (even if only for a few more hugs), I'm highly enjoying my time and looking forward to what else this trip will bring.

What's your story?

Southern hospitality isn't just a cliche, but a way of life.

We have discovered this day after day in New Orleans, and it doesn't matter what socioeconomic status the person is in; they open their homes and lives. In multiple instances we can simply start conversations with a simple "what's your story?" Everyone has one, but here they are all defined by "before the storm" and "after the storm".

We are halfway finished with our trip, and it has quickly become a blur.

New Orleans is the case study for economic disparities. On the first night we drove through wealthy neighborhoods which were largely unaffected by "the storm", but today we visited the lower 9th ward. The stark contrast between the wealthy and the poor neighborhoods was overwhelming. But, even when we were in the 9th ward witnessing the devastation, it was easier to focus on the brand new houses which Brangelina are building through their "Make it Right" campaign than it was to wander the ruins of what was once a home. The greatest tragedy of the situation is that those most affected by Katrina were those least capable to deal with it. That's how it seems to always go, but it seems so unfair for the French Quarter (our backyard) to be so minimally affected and for others to lose everything. Finding an old digital camera in a pile of five-year-old rubble made it so real to me; both Mac and I would have given anything to see the photos that were on them, photos that proved that someone had really been in that room (which is now faint lines on concrete proving the existence of kitchen tiles).

We meet people wherever we go, and are happy to do such although we have been warned not to talk to strangers. Personal connections have been unequivocally the most important aspect of this trip, and most people we speak to ask us to carry their stories with us and share them with others.

I fully believe that were it not for the hospitality people have shown us, the trip would mean significantly less.That being said,
if anyone needs their house sanded, mudded (does that word exist outside of the construction world?) or their walls textured, let us know. We have swiftly become professionals.


Reflection: Chicago, Day 4.

What do we do with our dreams?

This has been the theme today in Chicago. What do we do with our dreams? What are our dreams? How far are we willing to go to pursue what we believe in; what we dream of?

Monica Haslip, founder and executive director of Little Black Pearl, one of the organizations with whom we're volunteering throughout the week, seems to keep dreams in her pocket, next to the lint. She's had thousands, it seems, and somedays she's clearly had so many that a few of them had to survive the spin cycle and land back where they'd started: with her.

We were lucky enough to have lunch with Monica today, and to be able to receive her stories. From working comfortably at BET to literally running out of money in the planning and processing stages of the Little Black Pearl Workshop, she's seen it all, and she's never taken any of it lightly. When she was twenty-eight, she got the idea to buy a building and turn it into a youth art space -- so she did it. When she decided to expand and build a brand new facility, she did it. When the contractor turned around and sued her for $2 million and she knew she could fight the suit, she did that, too. She's built some of Little Black Pearl with her own hands. She's demanded that the Chicago Transit Authority donate a bus on which the kids could paint -- "I called somebody at CTA," Monica told us, "who said that the CTA never had, didn't want to, and absolutely wouldn't donate a bus to us, and then I got them to donate a bus to us."

That is to say, when she wanted public transportation to be her students' canvas, she did that, too.

She won't lie to you. She says the most important part of a dream is that when you have it, it's already real. But from there, it's all on you and how much you're willing to put into it. Somedays when it got really rough, Monica said, it was all she could do to just accomplish what she could in a given day -- and so she accomplished it.

We talked about our dreams tonight during our reflection. Not the weird dreams where Bugs Bunny is a gangster and there's a contract out on your grandmother's life -- which was a very real dream from my childhood and no, I don't want to get into it -- but the real dreams that we want to pursue. Some of us want to be actors. Some of us want to work with children. Some publish; some be the President of the United States.

My dream is to be a performance poet. As much as I'm willing to admit that these days -- and that is a fairly recent confession -- I'm afraid of it. Terrified. As Gregory Pickett put it, "Ain't Nobody Hirin' Poets."

Wait; what's that? You don't know Gregory Pickett?


But we all have dreams. That's what today was about. Whether it was my conversation with a boy who told me that painting keeps him out of trouble and that maybe he'd like to keep doing it, or my own staring at the carpet and trying to put myself in the mindset of a twenty-eight year old purchasing a building on a hunch and a passion, tonight I know that dreams are about commitment.

Dreams don't fall into your lap -- that's why they're called dreams. When we dream at night, we burrow deep into our subconscious and decide what really matters without letting ourselves and our days and our woes get in the way. When we dream during the day, we drift away from the world for a moment and take a breath to think about what we really want to think about. In either case, the ideas we grant ourselves are fantastic and whimsical, and it's no coincidence that we can only hear them once we get rid of the static.

It is late. Soon, I will dream. Soon, I imagine, we will all dream.

It's a start.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Third Day in DC-Muna

As soon as we got off the plane and made our way to our hostel, we immediately noticed why Washington DC was the site for our trip on homelessness. I am beginning to learn so much about my group, both the differences and similarities I hold with them. One thing we all shared in common, was that we didn't have a real experience with the issue of homelessness, and we also never met anyone who was dealing with it. DC definitely gives us all that experience. Everywhere you go, no matter the time, you are bound to see someone digging through the trash, or trying to catch up on some sleep in a dark alley. As students, we aren't sure how to approach homeless individuals, and whether or not those individuals are even willing to let us approach them.
During dinner, we have group reflections. these reflections serve as an 'aha' moment for some, and debate for others, It doesn't take us long to discover that the issue of homelessness encompasses other concerns and issues that we each approach differently, and feel differently about. For example, some of us feel that giving panhandlers money isn't a good idea, and instead we should be donating to charities that use those funds for individuals responsibly. Some of us also feel that we should give individuals money directly, since it maintains the interaction between the giver and the receiver. I stand on the latter side of the debate. For me, it's all about preserving and maintaining personal connections with individuals who live on the streets. But, as I mentioned earlier, it is not easy for most of us, especially myself, to break down my barrier and push myself to interact with homeless people more. I guess I looked at people who are living on the streets with an "us/they" mentality. While on my trip, I'm beginning to challenge that notion, and myself to really understand the issue at hand.
Today was a great day for me. We started the day volunteering with a group that provides services for senior citizens on the brink of homelessness. We helped a wonderful, sweet lady named Ellen. As soon as we got there, Ellen had a lot to tell us. We cleaned her entire home, and by the end, Ellen was crying. Ellen touches a lot of us, and our hard work inside her house made it all worth it for each one of us. For me,that experience was the best volunteer activity we did.On the way back to our hostel, I noticed an old, homeless man sitting on a bench. He didn't look like in the mood to talk. I decided to say hello, and I was surprised with the warm reception he gave me.
Right now, my group members and I are mentally preparing ourselves for the Homeless Challenge. Everyone has been doing a very good job in getting themselves in that mood. Overall, I think in these three days in DC, everyone of us have grown, and become a lot more conscientious students.