Saturday, March 28, 2009

"It's a dawn of a new day---new hopes, new dreams, new ways."

"It's the dawn of a new day--New hopes, new dreams, new ways."

I woke up this morning around 6am, while everyone in the Chicago hostel was still fast asleep. I'm looking up at the white ceilings and realized that we were to leave at 10am. So, I began to think back to our reflection question for the last night. "What did we learn, will remember, and what issue impacted us the most."

For me, this trip has taught me to open my mind and heart to others. People may look at what we did in Chicago and say "Ehh, you didn't do much." It's not all about the physical accomplishment and I think the other women that spent the week with me would agree. Community arts has a way of touching so many social issues---Ageism, racism, social class discrimination, gang violence issues, sexism, etc. Each night we were able to sit around in a circle and discuss many issues that effect Chicago. We were also able to talk about how it impacts our lives at home.

I've seen these women grow. Old flames of hope and determination--passion, for community service was reignited within myself. Our service was to educate ourselves more, and to take all the knowledge we've received from amazing Chicago organizations and apply them to our lives to help better the Hamline community, as well as Minnesota.

People say drawing a picture isn't important.... artistic skill wont get you far.... but what if that skill can be transformed into a tool to help uplift an impoverished neighborhood? What if one mural could help spark a social movement-- notify people outside of the community as they drive through on their way to work? Is there something wrong here? If so, how can we all come together and fix it?

For me, this trip has been an eye-opening experience. I'm glad I was able to spend it with some amazing women and know, as do they, that we all have walked away from this trip with new goals and a willingness to go out into the rest of the world and make a positive change-through art.

--Simone <3

The Weekend, of End of the Week

So it's here, the week's end. Where to begin and how do I reflect at this point, especially because it's 6:15 am on the final Saturday and I just don't know where to start. The week has been long to say the least, working everyday starting Monday up through yesterday afternoon. We did manage to have some time to enjoy the beauty of the town, within the French Quarter, St. Charles Ave, the hopes within the Vietnamese Community. If I was to write about my entire week, I would simply just photo copy my journal and post that, but seeing has how I can't, I'll probably write just on highlights of the week.

My week began with a kick, with our first night out, we ate with Ms. JoAnn, a contact of Hamline and Sharon. After ordering our food, we were able to relax a little bit. We had everyone from the two groups there, so we filled out half the restaurant. But the real kicker was once the food came out, the waitress said something with pasta and both Jess and I ordered something from the pasta section. Jess thought it was hers right away, so she began working on it. About ten minutes later or so, our waitress came out with the Creole Pasta, which was actually Jess' order and what she had been eating was mine, which was a Shrimp Alfredo Pasta. On that note, that happened again last night, on our group's final dinner. We were eating at the Cheesecake Bistro and I had ordered, again, a Shrimp Pasta. And unlike last time, it wasn't Jess, it was Christina's. The funniest part was when the food came out because, like last time, both Jess and Christina thought it was theirs, but Christina began by saying that she didn't order shrimp and told everyone at the table that the shrimp was up for grabs, so everyone ate MY shrimp because everyone even realized that it was my plate and Christina's hadn't arrived yet.

The work within the week was long, with many of the work days starting by 8:30am at the latest. The one day that really began it all was probably Wednesday when Karine, Christina and I worked with Mrs. Janet Bell. She ran a small garden two blocks away from First Street UMC. We got there and were able to be outside and enjoy the weather/humidity, but she told us that she had a nightmare and that if we could make it go away, she would really be happy. Her nightmare was that of a fallen trestle that had been that way since Hurricane Gustav. She had spoken about the number of people that had been in prior to our group and said they didn't have any idea as to how to get it up.We told her that probably after lunch, we could get more of our group there and get it up by days end, and we did exactly that. After that day, I felt a lot better in being able to do as much as we can and also being to surprise the people in our abilities. She asked us not to leave without seeing her, she had made flower arrangements for us, five to be exact, and one of herbs--which was great because on Wednesday, I made dinner and I used some for stir-fry.

I wish I could continue to write more, but seeing as how I have only a half hour to get ready to run to the airport, I need to get my stuff in order. But stories like the couple above, are within everyone on any of the CSI trips, so I look forward to the many questions about and the group together and laughing at the fun times here, but until then--

--Teng Lor

N.O.( i dont know how to blog.)

Like the title suggests... I don't know how to blog but I do however write poetry.

My pictures alone cannot tell the story of how nature ran its course and dropped a bomb of destruction all over New Orleans beating spicy heart. If we ring out our sadness and look past the sinking sights of Katrina's horrible path you can dive and submerse yourself into a rich culture that sucked me in the minute I stepped out the New Orleans international Airport. How is it that if I just stand outside and look
up at the sky, I can feel every one's struggle but also find peace that only emerges from a beautiful community. New Orleans is like a body and its people are the organs that keep moving along although Katrina kicked it down recklessly. I hope that I have helped to keep healthy blood in its veins and take a slight load off if its already strained wise back. A stroll down the french quarter is like breathing in a breath of sweet cultural air. Every one's smiles and laughs fill my heart with appreciation. But I look at burdened people and pass the the ancient houses that have been robbed of their beauty and I feel a sense anticipation. With a humbled spirit I pray that my poetry will bring me strength. On my tear stained pages I wrote of the lower ninth ward and how there seems to be hardly any life within every heart that beats from my weakened ribcage and as my knees buckle I am hopeful for the wonderful community to come back and claim their bit of the beautiful world. New Orleans has been imprinted in my mind and like clockwork I will be reminded of its song. May New Orleans rest in life and with that I rest my pen because even the pages in my journal are starting to feel as heavy as my heart.

signed b.l.

The True Faces of Oppression

I decided to come on this because I thought it would be an excellent way to spend my spring break. I would be in a new city and I would also get a chance to help people. Coming on this trip would mean serving two of my greatest passions in one week, traveling and helping humanity (any way I can). From the first day I got to DC, I felt energy unlike no other state I've ever been to. I felt a renewal of strength, and a spirit of hope had awakened in me that I couldn't quite understand. I was in the nation's capital! This is where the hope of a nation is born! Although this was true, something was very wrong! All through the city there were homeless men and women camped outside in every single corner and on every street, even on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. People with nowhere to go laid outside the nation's capital waiting for hope to be awakened. How can a city that arises so much hope contain so much disparity?
Coming on this trip, I knew I was going to be "helping" the homeless, but I didn't know how much I would interact with them. I had no idea that I was going to be working with them (as they are not helpless), instead of "helping them." I believed I was going to be "helping" the homeless, although my heart was in the right place, I believed I had something to offer, I believed I had some divine knowledge I would've offered, a wonderful talent I would've performed to give anyone who interacted with me a sense of peace and happiness! As I approached these homeless individuals, I came to see that I had so many prejudices that I had not been aware of. These homeless individuals weren't at all helpless! They are able-bodied people who are trying to pull themselves back up with the little resources they have. Suddenly it became clear to me, I wasn't' here to help fight for them because they had already began fighting for themselves. I came to fight with them! I came to add on to the many voices that have already begun crying out that homelessness is preventable and unnecessary. I added on to their voices to make it louder, massive and stronger.
As I interacted with these men and women I saw that they were exactly like us. They had once been to college and lived in the dorms. they've gotten degrees, they had once been wealthy and loss it all because of the bad economy. They have families who love them deeply, they have nieces and nephews who still expect their uncles or aunties to bring home presents when they go home occasionally, and in return these homeless uncles or aunties try their best to find valuables to take home to their loved ones! They have hope for the future, dreams for their lives and goals to achieve. These individuals are just like us, they laugh just the same and being homeless has not killed their spirits (thank God). They still joke and know how to be social. We're all the same, the only difference is that at the end of the day we have a place to rest our heads, we have a home and a bed to go back to, and they don't. I should add that I "helped" one individual at one of the shelters by giving him a hug! A man asked me for a hug as we were leaving and I was honored and couldn't believe he had asked me for a hug! I jumped on him and didn't want to let him go. I made someone smile that day from giving him a hug, I will be a part of his story for those few seconds I spent hugging him, that is wonderful!!
Working with these great men and women wasn't enough for us Hamline students. We had to see what it was like on the outside. In order to begin this story, I would like to clarify that, I wouldn't say I now understand fully what it is like to be homeless, because it would be an impossible thing, but I now have a better sense of what being homeless is like than when I first came on this trip. We spent twenty four (24) hours on the streets of DC learning what exactly goes on outside of what we've been told and outside of what we've seen from afar. For the first time in my life I had experienced what life would be like if I had nowhere to go. Please keep in mind that this does not mean I fully understand what being homeless is like, as this was not the intention of our trip. In order to be an advocate, we had to know more than what the textbook or statistics offered, we met the homeless and spoke to them and heard their concerns, they told us about themselves and treated some of us as friends, proving to us that we were all just the same and that there is no reason that anyone shouldn't get the best of life like we had been given one way or the other. We went to the different sites where they offered assistance for homeless men and women and saw what they are doing to help. We went in public areas to see how we would be treated if we seemed like the stereotypical homeless man or woman and applied to jobs to see how we would be treated. The answers were shocking.
We went into the fancy restaurants and bookstores and it was clear that we didn't belong. I went into a bookstore with my partner and I had a sleeping bag inside a trash bag and this attracted attention. I walked in and the cashier was looking to see what I would do next. I took up many magazines and sat in a hidden corner where I wouldn't be seen, but just when I took a seat, one a sales person came to another man who was sitting a few steps away from me, and told him to leave. He seemed as if he was homeless and seeing this broke my heart! We left the bookstore after about 3 hours and the same sales person who had told the man to get out looked at us and seemed very upset because we had entered this store and looked in every magazine we wanted without buying anything and as he caught a glimpse of my huge trash bag I said, "bye", but he didn't respond! As we passed through the streets I saw people watching me and I almost felt like I had to prove myself worthy of being in the same space as others with better clothes. Why should I have to prove myself worthy when it is clear that we are both of the same species with only the differences in appearance? People on the streets walked past the homeless as if they didn't even exist, the homeless asked for change and some would give them and some pretended like they didn't hear them, there is nowhere to go at the end of the day, there's nowhere to lay your head after a hard day and this is horrible!
Coming on this trip is one of the greatest decisions I've made in my life! This trip has put us on our way to being global leaders in combating social justice issues. It has made some of us activist, educators, some thirsty for knowledge and change, it has made some prioritize, it has made us re-evaluate what we do in our lives and the effect it has on others (like ignoring the homeless on the streets when they ask for a little change, you do see them so why not acknowledge them?). It has re-affirmed others knowledge of homelessness and re-affirmed others faith in the system by simply knowing that someone on Capitol Hill cares about the issues of homelessness and willing to listen to our concerns. Some of us came on this trip having little or no knowledge about homelessness and we're leaving having gotten first-hand account of homelessness from hardworking and empowering individuals which has inspired us to want to do more.

Jonetta Morris

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Last Supper

Hey guys (and girls of COURSE!!), this post is being brought to you live from the Hostel in Chicago. I'm your host for the day, Ella!

Today is our last full day here in Chi-Town, and let me tell you, we are going to miss it! From Little Black Pearl, Drama Girls, and Insight Arts, there were so many things going on this week. My feet are DEAD, but MAN do I feel good about it!

So, this morning we went on a tour with the Chicago Public Art Group, which is a group located a couple blocks away from our wonderful "home" that help fund and plan out public art pieces. Most of these are murals, with some being sculpture. We went around to 5 different sites in the city, to see some of the finished products. We saw a great one (and my favorite out of the ones that we saw) on the side of a transitional home for families. For anyone into politics, it's the place where the Ex-Senator Blagojevich's wife worked for a couple years. This mural, and some others that we saw, were done in a new style called bricolage, which is like a mosaic, but instead of planning out each piece of tile, it was all just done on the wall, and then filled in with colored grout. (the pic above is part of the one that we saw! It was taken from my phone... but it's still pretty good quality.) We saw some other great murals, including one done by a famous spray-paint artist, whose name I can't spell, but his tag name is Static. Then we came upon the last one that we talked about, which is located between two VERY racially different neighborhoods who are constantly in gang wars. This piece of art was done by Static, who is African-American, and also by a Hispanic lady. They are both from the different warring neighborhoods, and came together to collaborate on this mural. It was originally going to be a very poignant mural, but then 2 weeks before the production was going to start, the principal of the school where the mural was being placed changed her mind on the message she wanted to send. Instead, they had to weaken the image, and create a mural based off of education. It still had some racial issues, but it seemed very bubble-gum.

The next thing that we did today was to go back to Insight Arts. We started out the day by meeting with the founder, Craig, and hearing his story and how he started the organization back in 1992. We then participated in a staff meeting, which was pretty interesting. We saw how the everyone knew pretty much everything about the org, and how the organization of the org worked (lol, that was a weird statement). Then, we took a little break outside, by walking up and down the street in search of people who would come to the event that we helped host that night. The event was a great success in my opinion! It was an Open Mic night, but only for women. Aubrey and I acted as the MC's for the evening, and Simone and Randa collaborated to create a poem to perform. Then all the women who work at Insight Arts performed, along with a couple people from the street. The acts were so varied, from dance to poems. And the poems: from war to race. It was a great time!

I'm really sad that we now have to go home tomorrow... These girls have been a great inspiration to me. I can't believe how fantastic our reflections have been at night, and how much we've all connected. We can laugh about pretty much anything now!! I'm SOOOO happy that I chose to go on a CSI trip!!

Ok, signing off now! Peace Out Hens and Roosters! See ya on the flip side!

PS. For supper tonight we had soup. And bread. So it was very "last supper" ish. Just thought you'd ALL want to know what we've been eating. :-)


Greetings from Chicago!
Today brought our group to a new work site called 'Insight Arts' in Roger's Park neighborhood. The neighborhoods here continue to fascinate me in their distinctiveness, diversity, and communal pride...

So, at Insight Arts, we participated in a Senior Arts program which was a very inspiring and necessary experience because it seemed to re-awaken the group to the importance of RESPECTING your elders!! I don't know why it is becoming so difficult for our society to view the elderly as human beings, but it is truly a disgrace. It seems like we have less and less time to devote to our own family members! I think the entire group would agree that it is necessary to re-invent the way we see the elderly community in the United States.

Personally, I connected with a woman named Amber who explained to me how art has helped her manage her anger and stress. This ensured me, for the 50th time on this trip, that I do want to pursue a career relevant to art therapy.

The entire group benefited greatly from our experience today, and the members of our trip keep reaching new levels of understanding with each passing day.

Thanks for reading.
Randa S.

New Orleans: Our busy Thursday!

Today we planned a full work day of returning to Miss Gertrude's house. We left about 7:45ish today but not before eating some of Wendy's cooking! She made breakfast for us today consisting of eggs, bacon, and biscuits! When we got to Miss Gertrude's house, she was looking fancy for her doctor's appointment. Before she left, we gave her a stack of about 10,000 paint samples (haha not really but it was a big stack;she had quite the variety!) to choose from for the walls of the 2 bathrooms, 3 bedrooms, kitchen, and living room. She left to her appointment with the many paint samples to look through while waiting :) Our main goal today for the house was to prime the front room, touch up priming for the back room and kitchen, and finish texturing (giving the wall something other than a smooth plain feeling) the large dining room. Three of our group focused first on the texturing and finished that up- were hoping for it to dry fast so that we could even maybe prime that today, but due to the humidity down here, it didn't allow us to prime this today. We will do this tomorrow. The rest of the group (6) all worked in the front living room priming all the walls and ceiling. When we finished this, we went to the back room and kitchen and touched up on some spots. That second layer really made the walls look clean and nice and really brightened up the rooms, seeing as the only light we have comes from her windows (she has gone without electricity since the hurricane-4 years). After this, we went to apply a second coat of primer to the front room but again, the humidity did not allow the walls to dry that fast. The day went by really fast because after hearing what part of the group told us all last night about how Miss Gertrude showed them where she had her daycare business (which is not in business now) and had a hard time talking about how this affected her life, we all got an even great boost of motivation to get this job done for her because she has seen numerous volunteer groups come in for years and still, the progress is only at texturing the walls... it is sad, really. That is why today we went in really focused, knowing our duties, and having a better feel as to what she experienced and has had to go through these last 4 years. When she returned from her doctor's appointment at about 4 (a typical day for us is working at her house from 8am-4pm), she came with 4 paint samples picked out- antique white for the living room, light blue for the bathrooms, light green for the the bedrooms, and light yellow for the kitchen. She was so thankful that we had got this much done for her and that her house was finally getting some color in there! We left shortly after, telling her we'd see her tomorrow same time. We then went to buy the paint so that it was all ready for tomorrow! We are all excited to see how nice that color is going to look and how happy it is going to make her. Tomorrow is our last day of working at her house so we are going to be efficient but it would be great to see all the coats of primer and paint done so we could see the final result :) After this, the next volunteer group that comes in will probably be helping to install her new flooring, in which after, she will be able to move back in all of her belongings that she is keeping in storage (and has been for 4 years!)! Can't wait to see tomorrow's result even though it will be sad departing from Miss Gertrude who has given us a better idea of how Katrina affected just not the homes of residents, but also jobs, families, and overall, daily lives.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A New Kind of Motivation

This is my fourth trip down to New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina - this year has been a lot like previous trips, but also very different from any trip before. A couple days ago, a student wondered aloud, what it must feel like to live in the conditions that several do in New Orleans, well yesterday, a few students in our group had an opportunity to see some of the frustration of a New Orleans native. The person's whose house we are working on, was very vocal about how much she appreciates the help of volunteers, but also shared with us her frustration. She has not received help from the Road Home program, is still fighting to get full payments of insurance, has been taken advantage of by electricians and contractors, on top of losing everything she built and acquired over the last 30 years. I could feel her frustration and those of us, who heard her story, were left speechless, but motivated to work even harder to do whatever we can to help her.

There is something that I have heard during this trip, from the people of New Orleans, that I am still not sure how to respond to. Many people, have talked about plans and actions being taken so that if something similar to Hurricane Katrina happens in the future, that they will be able to take care of themselves and their communities. While this is great, it is underscored with the fact that these individuals, groups and communities - feel that it is necessary because they can not depend on anyone else. It is as if they can not trust or rely upon (some) community organizations, community leaders, and especially not the government (local, state and national) to come to their assistance during their times of need.

I am amazed at the advancements of individual groups - but sad that the smaller groups do not feel as full members of the larger community.

DC walking in wet shoes

From the reflections @ what was hard about the homeless challenge just before it ended:
People didn't acknowledge me, they didn't look at me, I didn't exist
hard to know that i had a place to go
i felt really sad
i was being harassed and others intervened, chivalry isn't dead people took care of me
there's a community on the streets that isn't in the shelters, you don't get to choose, in a shelter, who you hang with or sleep close to
i felt really loved, welcomed with information
i heard people's stories all night long
there's such a lack of choice and control over your life, if you're a vegetarian you eat what people give you (i ate meat for the first time in over a year) and you have to get to a place on "time" in order to eat anything
surprised at how much i stereotyped "normal" people
reading body language was extremely important
telling my story about being on the street i felt pulled into being a FAILURE
i met people who were very, very well educated
it's mentally and physically exhausting to be on the streets, so who is really lazy really???
there's no such thing as "time" and there's no brain capacity past survival, sort of
loosing time was hard, what day is it, what year is it, i need to eat at 6, what is 6?

the reflections on the ethics of walking in wet shoes and the discussions with elected officials and our stories will come later shoes are wet because it's raining on the street.
good night

beginning of the challenge

The past two days have been the longest and most exhausted days of the whole trip. We did the homeless challenge from the National Coalition for the Homeless - we had to disguise ourselves as homeless people and spend 24 hours on the street. It was hard staying on the street all day, having no money and nowhere to go. We tried to do panhandling from random people from the road. However, the non profit organizations in DC are doing a good job providing food and assistance to the homeless people. There are a lot of shelters where people come to eat. In the evening, there's a soup truck that comes by the park to provide food for people. We learned that if people go hungry in DC then it's their fault because there are a great deal of resources for homeless people. We have been volunteering in a lot of shelters where we see a lot of people come, and eat free food.
After one night of sleeping on the street, we came to talk to MN senator, Amy Klobuchar, and our representatives Betty McCollum and Tim Walt about homelessness issues.
P/S: There are a lot of great stories about our challenge that we are willing to share but we are so tired and sleepy now, so this is the end of the blog for today!
This is from Quynh...the only person up to explain to Sharon why all the lights just went off.


How's the trip going thus far? What challenges have you come across? Remember to have fun! Hope all is well! 


Chicago people

Today was our last day volunteering at the Little Black Pearl Workshop, and it left all of us a little sad. we spent our time there finishing projects that we had started and hanging out with the awesome kids. We were really sad that it was our last day, but Heidi and Monica let us know that we could come back any time we wanted; we are definitely coming back for Pearl Fest! After finishing our time there we went to the play, Mongolia, at the Goodman Theater. It was an excellent play that focused on diversity and family, which tied into a lot of what we've been talking about the whole week. Unfortunately, there were some very rude people in the theater that didn't turn off their cell phones, which went off at some crucial points during the play.... After the play we walked back to the hostile (to find some very cute french boys checking in) and had our discussion about what we had seen and experienced. We all agreed that while diversity is still a huge issue, we (our country) has come a long way from where we once were. All in all, i really enjoyed the day and can't wait to do more tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hello everyone!

Today we had a busy day in New Orleans. We learned how to put texture on the walls in a house (which was cool) and we put another cote of prime on some of the walls in this house. Latter in the day, some of us went to Mrs. Bell's Garden and helped her lift up a huge trellis that had been knocked down by the storm. It had been down for 8 months, so she was very happy that it was back up. To thank us, she made us each a bouquet of flowers from her garden :)
They were really pretty and smelled wonderful! Afterwards people went across the street and picked up a trashed parking lot, planted 2 trees, and weeded pastor Lance's front yard. I can't wait until tomorrow to work again & Wendy's barbecuing!! YUMMY!!!!

Scott White has the best bed sheets ever; green & white stripes with pink flamingos (sorry ladies he's taken) but Teng is on the market & has pirate pajama pants (RRrrrrr Matey).

Tuesday in Chicago

Hey Everyone-

This post is brought to you by Rayna and Kelly in Chicago. We had a great day yesterday and started off our morning a the Little Black Pearl ( The LBP fuses art and entrepreneurship to teach high school students how to create art and turn it into a sell-able product. The $10 million facilities at LBP are beautiful and include: glassblowing studio, a painting studio, a ceramic studio, a woodworking studio, as well as a cafe that showcases the student and staff's art.

All of our volunteer projects differed yesterday; some of us helped plan the LBP annual summer festival, "Pearl Fest," while others painted walls. Two of our trip members created a program focusing on health and nutrition for the children to participate in. One of members even wrote a small statement why community monetary support is important for the success of the LPB, which will be posted on the organization's website. As you can see, much of this work was office related, although at 4:00pm, we were able to serve food to the kids and interact with them. The variety of tasks, from administrative to hands-on serving, helped us understand everything that goes into running a non-profit organization.

We thank LBP for their hospitality and kindness and for everything they've done to make this trip worthwhile.

After our time at the LBP we explored Chicago and then headed back to the hostel to get ready for our group dinner out on the town. We ate dinner at the House of Blues, a blues club in downtown. The food and music was fantastic.

After dinner we came back to the hostel and had a great reflection where we talked about how our own identities (race, class, etc.) have shaped how we've perceived our experiences in Chicago.

DC Night

Moments from today: we sat in the Senate gallery listening to three Senators talk about the importance of the Kennedy Hatch Serve America Act, how volunteering, AmeriCorps, Peace Corp is about our community, our values, and our future. Listening to the Senator, a woman's voice, say, "Walk The Talk", among students who are exercising heart, mind, and spirit about homelessness, poverty, and civic skills made me cry. Reading the post from New Orleans about why we serve made me cry. Talking in DC about how the genocide of indigenous people is represented in the artwork in the Rotunda, why the myth of America is carved in stone, why people are missing from the center of our political life, what we might do about the lie, the lies told over and over again, made me cry. Trying to sleep in a shelter when people are loudly uncomfortable down on the street, out on the street, makes me jittery. How we are trying, in New Orleans, in DC, in Chicago, up in White Earth, on the bus to Atlanta, building a Habitat house in Florida, to hone our values and live them, makes me proud.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The layers of the city...

The sun has gone down over Washington D.C., leaving the 11 members of the trip enjoying a quiet night in the hostel. Today was a full day - we started out with a 3 hour shift at the DC Central Kitchen - an organization that makes over 4,200 meals a day. The shifts varied - chopping, scooping, packing, etc., and we all enjoyed a wonderful morning meeting other volunteers and staff members. In addition to making thousands of meals, DC Central Kitchen is also devoted to helping homeless people turn their lives around. They offer classes to teach them how to work and serve, and every 8 weeks a class celebrates their graduation. From what we have seen, the act of turning a person's life around is just as important, if not more so, than making sure they have a bed for the night or a meal for the day.

Our group was then introduced to the second world of D.C., as we walked three blocks and were at the front doors of the Capitol building. Though as we have learned, there is in fact not front or back to either the White House or the Capitol. Silly D.C. After being shuffled through security (which is necessary to go through when meeting with any government official as well) we began our tour of this historic building. In the end, we found it was awe inspiring on many different levels; 1. The incredible history of our country that this building represents, 2. The different levels of democracy, and 3. How our democracy discounts the many people that sit on the streets, perhaps out of earshot, but within sight.

We then had our first experience speaking with Minnesota representatives, starting with John Kline of the 2nd Minnesota District. Only one of our group is one of his constituents, but we were able to speak with one of his aides. It was a quick meeting, and one typical of a busy House member - we explained our purpose, and gave him our information. We have two more meetings to go, one with Senator Amy Klobuchar and another with 4th district Representative Betty McCollum. Plus any other offices we decide to walk into, which vary greatly with the different members of our group.

For some people it was their first experience with the political process - a process that they found surprisingly easily accessible. If there was one thing worth sharing for today, it's that every citizen of this country has the right to be represented in our democratic government, and to be represented is to be involved. Your congressperson cannot help achieve your goals for your community if you don't express them - believe it or not, those people are there because of you, and for you. Don't complain about them, take advantage of them.

Our experience with homelessness is becoming more and more complex as we discuss different ways that homeless people are viewed. It's a problem with many questions and many answers and none that are clearly "correct." Let's see what questions are asked and answered tomorrow.

Until then, goodnight from N Street in D.C., and sleep well in yours beds.


Sand, Mud, Prime, Eat, Repeat...

Today we spent another busy work day at Ms. Gertrude's house in the Upper Ninth Ward. We continued to sand and add mud to the drywall, a process that could really go on forever, especially if you're a perfectionist... We also primed the back bedrooms of her house in preparation for adding some color! Although the work can be tiresome, we found the energy to work for several hours, especially after realizing that Ms. Gertrude has and continues to live in the "house" we have helped build while we are working on it. For most of our group, we always thought people lived in a rental while their house was being built or in this case re-built. Unfortunately, not everyone has the resources to do so. We are excited to start texturing the walls of Ms. Gertrude's house tomorrow and watch the house transform in the next few days.

After a full morning and early afternoon of work, our team headed back to People's Volunteer House for a quick lunch, shower, and change of clothes! Lunch of course was leftovers from last night. I helped prepare last night's feast of spaghetti and garlic bread, but cooking for nine people is a little different than cooking for one. Three pounds of ground turkey and two huge boxes of pasta later, we found ourselves with a little more food than we could manage in one sitting...thus the leftovers for lunch. Also, the oven at People's has been broken for a few days, so the garlic bread was pan fried (it actually turned out very good!).

Sorry for the blogging detour on last night dinner fiasco! So, back to today. Following lunch and a short break, we loaded up the van and headed to the Northeast of People's to East Orleans. We talked with Father Vien Nguyen of Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. It was AMAZING to hear about the progress his community has made since Katrina. Over 95% of the community in the area has returned AND rebuilt. WOW! In most of the neighborhoods we have traveled through, there are still many houses that have yet to be gutted, so to hear that 95% of this community is rebuilt is a sign 0f hope for the entire New Orleans community. It can and will be done, but it takes determination, resources, and help from not only volunteers, but also community members. Their future goals include building a huge urban farm for the entire community to grow organic produce and raise their own food! Additionally, they plan to build a community health center since prior to Katrina there were 3 hospitals within 7 miles of the community and now the nearest hospital is in downtown New Orleans over 15 minutes and 20 miles from where they live. Beyond rebuilding, the Vietnamese community is working to stop the expansion of landfills in and around their property. They have been in constant legal battles with the government to clean up these dirty landfills and prevent new ones form being built in and around their homes. What a fascinating community to visit!

Tomorrow will of course bring new adventures and new stories! Hopefully we will see huge progress on Ms. Gertrude's house and the weather will allow primer and texture work to dry quickly!

Lastly tonight, I just wanted to let everyone reading know we have had three days of gorgeous weather (around 78 degrees)! Hope you're not too jealous back in MN! Talk to you all later!

Bye from New Orleans!

Why We Serve

It was something small; an interaction that in any other circumstance I'd have forgotten long ago. But seeing that woman on the side of the street waving at our non-distinct, industrial van and shouting, "Thank ya'll for coming down to help us in 'Nawlins!" made me pause and deeply reflect on why volunteerism on every level is so vital.

The ironic thing is that we weren't pulling into her driveway, tools in hand; rather, her house was lost from line of sight after a few moments of proceeding down the narrow, winding New Orleans roads. Moreover, she didn't even know for sure that we were volunteers--didn't know we'd traveled over a thousand miles from a blustery state called Minnesota from a college called Hamline, sponsored by an office called OSLV. Still, when our van rumbled past (perhaps a little bit too fast) this woman still produced her biggest smile and warmest welcome.

There are some twenty of us in this group; we will not single-handedly dredge up the Ninth Ward from its desolation or solve any of the complicated socio-political tensions that exist in this city. But provide an old woman with a reassurance that the nation hasn't forgotten about her city; that people are still here to help?

That's why we serve.


Yesterday we woke up, had a delicious breakfast and ran down the street to catch the bus. We arrived at our site, The Little Black Pearl, early so we could take a look at our surroundings. We walked in the direction of the Obama mansion. The houses got bigger and bigger and then... there were cop cars. They beeped at us when we tried to keep walking on the street. Luckily Megan rocked, and figured out the back way...
The little Black Pearl gave us an awesome tour and we talked with the founder and director, Monica. LBP was created to give kids in the neighborhood goals and dreams. Monica had talked to many of them and they had told her that they didn't think they'd live past thirty. She also wanted to give African American kids role models in the arts as direct examples that an art career can happen. LBP does a huge range of things from having a huge PEArlFests, which creates money to support the non-profit, but they also hire artists and give them salaries and benefits, which sounds amazing if you ask me... Hire me, please...
Today we worked with kids who wanted to learn about ceramics, woodworking, painting, mixed media, mosaics and in the future glass blowing as well as the skills to market these things.
Of course the day was great, but when we were leaving the bus was flagged down, and i couldn't find my bus pass!
"OMG Where's my Bus Pass>>!?! AHH i don't have my BUs Pass!!! Wait!!! My bus pass is lost!??!!!!" all while running towards the bus... Mind you this is Chicago bus time, not TWin Cities- they don't wait for you... Anyway we tried to sneak someone else's bus pass... didn't work...
When we got off the bus in the Blues District, we saw a complete opposite to the Obama area. Trash was everywhere, buildings were boarded up and not maintained well.. Kids in this area are also served by LBP...
Then we went on the 'L' and went to our next place.
DRAMA Girls! The director of RED Moon was a Hamline Alum!! This is an awesome program that takes girls in 4-8th grade. When we got there we played a quick game of Red Light, green Light, and other openers. The girls began working on their fairy tales while we created bubbles of paper mache. the purpose of Drama Girls is to keep the girls in that age group wanting to be involved. The founder had realized that girls that age began to step bag in mixed group settings, allowing the boys to do all of the stuff that was going on while they talked in the corners.... The point of the Drama Girls is to give them mentors and give them a voice. Their main goal is the play that they create and put on in the summer.

Tuesday Morning in New Orleans

This will be our 3rd full day in the Crescent City (New Orleans) and I am looking forward to a full day. So far, my group has kept a busy schedule. Our first night here, we had the opportunity to have dinner with Mrs. Joanne and Lynn. Mrs Joanne is a New Orleans native. She invited our group to her church on Sunday, which we attended. After church, the Annual Mardi Gras Indian parade was held, passing by the People's Volunteer Center where we stayed. Many of us, took many pictures of the parade participants in their colorful costumes. Afterwards the group went down to the lower 9th Ward. It was a powerful experience to see the change from the celebratory parade to the spirit in the 9th Ward. What was also enlightening, was that to end the evening, several went to the French Quarter. That provided an additional opportunity for people to compare the work done in different areas of New Orleans.

My group got our work assignment yesterday and we are working on a house in the upper 9th ward. We are sanding drywall, mudding, applying primer and applying texture to the walls. I think many of us were surprise at how exhausted we were at the end of the day. Over dinner on Monday, we had a great conversation, allowing us to vocalize our thoughts/concerns around issues of class, privilege, organizational structure and civic responsibility. I will probably write more about all of these I need to hurry and eat breakfast. my group plans to leave the volunteer center by 8 a.m. in order to be on the work site and ready to work by 8:30.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Monday in DC

Hello! This is Anne reporting from the hostel in the beautiful Washington DC, listening to all the girls laughing in the room. Today was the first day of service with the entire group. Some served breakfast at the women's shelter across the street and we all set out in the afternoon to do some yard work for Miss Brown. After a few mishaps with the metro system, we arrived at the van that took us to Miss Brown's house, which had quite a ferocious backyard. Luckily we were able to clear much of the brush and vines growing wildly throughout the yard. The program we worked through helps elderly sustain their living situations so they can keep living in their homes. The program is free for the residents and the hug from Miss Brown at the end really conveyed how thankful she was.
After returning from yard work, we had some down time before taking a tour of N Street Village, the women's shelter across the street that offers various programs and temporary/permanent housing for its clients. Though the services for the homeless are obviously inadequate for the proportion of the population that they cater to, the N Street Village tour really opened my eyes to all of the services and volunteers that helped make the homeless as comfortable as possible and give them services to help them out of their situation.
We met several women, Mary and Patty, who lived in the N Street Village complex who told us their stories. I won't go into details for confidentiality reasons but they were extremely compelling and made me rethink the face of homelessness. It happens to average people who happen upon bad times and have trouble getting out. These people deserve help. I can't even imagine the thousands upon thousands of people like Mary and Patty who don't have a place to sleep at night and aren't getting the help they need.
It was an emotional day for all of us, but the chance to serve alongside these girls was fun and thought provoking. I am anticipating the days ahead and more chances to learn and serve.

White Earth: Straight from the Sugarbush

Let's see. This is Lora. I am sitting in the Ice Cracking Tavern with Orin, Eric, and Maggie right now before a 17-bar wide game of Bingo after a hard day's work. The work started early though, yesterday.

Nancy, Christy, Eric, Steph, and Miriam all went to Itasca Park. For those of you not well-versed in MN terrain, that's the supposed origin of the Mississippi. There's a culture center there where they got to get a good look at the history of territories and their distribution throughout the state.
Patrice, Orin, Nick, Maggie, and myself all went to help Ron, the site coordinator for the White Earth Land Recovery Project. They had been tapping since last Saturday and it was time to collect. So out we went with two 5-gallon buckets a piece and started emptying the bags and buckets hanging on the maples. Knee-high snow and about 4,000 taps, but the rest of the crew had been working since early morning. We set in about 10:30.
"The Sugar Shack"
I found out quickly that I did not have appropriate boots and had to sit in the lodge where they cook the sap. We had collected approximately 900 gallons of sap by lunch break and ended up with 2,700 total by the end of the day. Every fifteen minutes they had to load more wood into the furnace to boil the 200 gallons that fit into the large metal pool for sap. It takes about 3 hours to cook the sap, depending on the humidity level. Every 40 gallons of sap makes a gallon of syrup, because it's about 3% sugar content/level. That's a lot of gallons and hours for that sweet sweep sap. But we each got a finger's worth of taste this morning and it was great. Much of what we collected may have been thaw Ron said.
The trees aren't flowing today because it is too cold and if it doesn't freeze at night, and the sun doesn't heat things up to about 40 degrees, things kind of slow down. It was a drizzly day, but we gathered with the St. Thomas crew and broke into two groups. One group tromped around checking for bags with holes in them and tapping more trees. The other group, of which I was a part of, went and collected wood that had been chopped intermittently in the woods. I'll tell you, there was a great deal of heaving and ho'ing going on and all our shoulders a bit more knotted than before. It was pretty profound to be grateful to sit down on a stump now and again.

Lastnight, to preface our whole-hearted dive into the work we read a speech by Winona LaDuke, taking turns, and set intentions for the trip. It was a good way to support eachother's experience and to see a little deeper into the character of each person we are living with for a week.

Ron has been this wonderful initiator, he's got ridiculous jokes and an everpresent laugh that brings everyone along. He is great at explaining the painstaking amount of effort it takes to make this syrup without making me feel ungrateful. He just emphasizes, 'there's much to do.' And we set in, working from about 9-5 today.

Nancy has been a welcome presence, and I thought I'd post the ingredients Five-Minute Artisan Bread that she has so graciously made for us:

-1-1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast 9about 1-1/2 packets)
-1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
-6-1/2 cups unbleached flour, plus extra for dusting dough

I guess I'm not going to post the prep cause I am feeling a bit fatigued, but if you're interested just reply and I can make that happen.

I don't have the recipe with me right now for dinner lastnight but I assure you the cooscoos (the food so nice they named it twice, oh yeah, I went there) that Patrice prepared was DELICIOUS. Mhm.

We have had a few, okay, a great number of ridiculous moments.
Yesterday we tried to turn around in the van at the end of the day and got suctioned in by the mucky mud. Orin, our 'life coach' as I've taken to calling him, helped guide Nick's driving and we all got out and pushed.

Then, riding on the 'sap sleigh' (a horse-drawn sleigh that holds a huge tub for the sap we collect in giant tubs dispersed in the woods) about 4 of us were pitched off into the snow when the horses picked up speed (Rosebud and Andeg which in Ojibawe means 'Crow', not the other faithful steeds Bonnie and Clyde).

And this morning, on our way back from the office where Ron met us, St. Thomas' van sank through the water-deteriorateed dirt road. Luckily, Ron, his truck, and a strong rope were with us. With a push and Ron's four-wheel-drive, they were freed and we set to the woods.

When I say we hauled wood, I mean that wood was hauled. First, you pitch it close enough to fill the plastic sled you have with you. Then, if you're lucky, there's enough snow to pull the sled easily to the dirt road and make a pile for the sleigh to come collect. They stack it on the sleigh, pull it to just outside the Sugar Shack and set to splitting the big pieces. Most of the wood today was wet and will have to dry while they use the older wood from the massive pile.

Well, Bingo just ended, no winners at this table. I think Nick's at the grocery store to replenish our stock and then he's cooking fajitas for us. I look forward to it with a greatful mind, body, and soul. I think I can safely say the same for the rest of the group.

To all the committed hearts,
Lora, the White Earth Spokespersonage

monday. march 23, 2009

today we had orientation about our worksite. our group was assign to a house to restore some broken things. we did several things such as remodeling the kitchen floors and we learned to "grout" which was a way of filling the empty spaces between the tiles. we spent a lot of time doing that and it was not an easy thing. we finished our duties around 4 oclock and headed back for dinner. Tonight we are having spagetthi.

What Is Art?

The four year old boy on the street drumming a beat on the bucket between his feet.
This is art.

The Bean in Millennium Park.
This is art.

The mural on the side of a man's house.
This is art.

The symphony playing in the Chicago Cultural Center.
This is art.

The words "Everyone Matters" written on the gallery wall.
This is art.

A poem intertwined with a quilt, a sculpture, a painting.
This is art.

This poem is art.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

First Day in New Orleans

Today we went we to a Swamp Tour bright and early. We went to the same place the Wild Boys went and filmed. There were pictures of Steve-o with our tour guide. Our tour guide showed us over 10 alligators, one was HUGE!!!! We have pictures!! He also brought out a little one they we could all hold... I was too chicken, but almost everyone else did. After the Sweet swamp tour we went to a parade that went right past Peoples, where we are staying. It was really interesting to see the costumes they were wearing, like Native American Head Dress... After the Parade we went to the Lower 9th ward, and it was very emotional. Going there made everything more real. We saw toys of kids, churches, schools and much more. We met a family that lived there and the woman said she use to live down the block and that her house was lifted up and was found on top of her car. There was also a group from New Jersey there talking with them. She meets people like us on a daily basis. Being in the lower 9th ward was probably the most interesting thing we did all day. After we visited the lower 9th we went ate and walked down to the French Quarter.. We ate dessert, veignts, they were like funnel cakes, but so much better!!! We also went around to all the shops and it was really interesting to see the people. We rode the trolley back to our homestead and everyone is beat from a long day in the sun. We have a meeting at 8:30 tomorrow to find out where we will be working this week. Thats all for now!!!

Communication is key in D.C.!

Hi from sunny D.C.!
It truly was quite warm today - I appreciate being able to soak up some rays on my spring break. Along with the sun, the attractions of Washington D.C., many of which offer stories - always history and sometimes visions for the future. I saw a lot of these during a "Civil Rights Scavenger Hunt"/walk around the city today. As I gathered from a few of the quotes that are carved into the granite tiles in "Freedom Plaza", the planners of our nation's capital believed that the city would reflect or live up to these ideals of our nation, "one day very soon."
Yet in this city of ideals, there are unmet needs on every street. This is not ideal. Not everyone in the U.S. is able to experience the "land of opportunity."
An engaging discussion tonight about the reasons why people have such different socio-ecomic experiences in the U.S. led to values. Specifically we talked about how societal values drive the perpetuation of the disparity. As members of our society, prominent values communicate something about our society as a whole. It seems some values tell the "have-nots," either directly or indirectly, "you are not." For example, you are not allowed to sit, not allowed to vote, not allowed to be listened to in a job interview, not allowed to enter, not allowed to have choices about the food you eat or the clothes you wear, not allowed to relax or laugh, not allowed to be like the rest of us.
Meanwhile, the voices of some people are quieted, or absent (again, not being able to vote, or not being taken seriously when asking for more affordable housing or healthcare).
I will enjoy experiencing up close the beauty of the ideals in the U.S. capital, while also examining whose values are reflected on the streets here, and what those values communicate.

yes we can in DC

N Street Shelter shelters homeless women and is part of Luther Place, a social justice community and church. While I can't wait to read what Hamline students write, I figured to start off this 2009 on site blog with a comment about DC in 2009.
Last time I was here with a CSI group to this very place was in 2002. DC is so different. Yes there are people living on the streets, in the metro entrances. Yes, there was a soup kitchen in a park between here and the White House. Yes, the grass on Smithsonian mall is patchy and in the breeze it gusts and stings.
Yes also to the excitement that is palpable, the pictures of Obama eating a Chili Dog at Ben's Chili Bowl, which like this church, opened its doors during the riots after the assaisination of MLK Jr, the steady thrill that the President's motorcade is in the neighborhood, and the poise of the people protesting on the anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war, yes, DC seems different. It feels anchored in the long struggle for racial justice and that grounds the thinking and the work about the economy and the other struggles for justice in our time.
Thanks for reading and keep popping in as students begin to blog.

Monday, March 16, 2009

CSI 2009

Welcome back! This year students from Hamline will be traveling to four different locations:
New Orleans, LA: Rebuilding New Orleans post Katrina
Chicago, IL: Community Arts
Washington, DC: Homelessness, Service, Education, and Advocacy
White Earth, MN: Environmental and Food Justice, Sustainable Communities