MLK Day of Service 2017

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

To commemorate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service 2017, AmeriCorps programs throughout the country participated in providing service in their communities. These are just a few of the stories of how our JV AmeriCorps members served!

JV AmeriCorps members located in Juneau walked from house to house installing smoke detectors and educating residents about house fires with the American Red Cross.

’16-17 JV AmeriCorps members in Juneau volunteering with the American Red Cross.

Alaska – JV AmeriCorps members in Juneau and Anchorage walked from house to house installing smoke detectors and educating residents on fire safety with the American Red Cross. Our Anchorage JV AmeriCorps members’ service activities were featured in the Alaska Dispatch News–  read the article here! In Bethel, JV AmeriCorps members hosted a showing of the documentary, For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska. Additionally, members created an “I have a dream” board for interested parties to disclose their dreams.

Oregon – Woodburn JV AmeriCorps members Marit Olson, Jared Harris, and Emily Curran spent the day weatherizing homes through the Community Energy Project with Hands On Greater Portland. Meanwhile, in Hood River, residents were blasted with snowy winter weather, so in response to the weather, our Hood River JV AmeriCorps members teamed up with Providence Hospital’s Volunteers in Action to shovel care receivers driveways.

In Hood River, residents were blasted with snowy winter weather! Our JV AmeriCorps members located in Hood River teamed up with Providence Hospital’s Volunteers in Action to shovel care receivers driveways!

’16-17 Hood River JV AmeriCorps members shoveling care receivers’ driveways.

Washington  The JV AmeriCorps members in Grays Harbor carried on the tradition set by last year’s JV AmeriCorps members by picking up garbage throughout the Aberdeen and Hoquiam neighborhoods. In Tacoma, a few of our JV AmeriCorps members spent their time getting their hands dirty in the garden! Blair Bellis and Benjamin Feiten volunteered at Hilltop Urban Gardens where they composted, painted signs, and prepared the gardens for spring. At L’Arche Farms, Elizabeth Nawrocki recruited and coordinated volunteers for completing tasks throughout the farm.

Idaho – In the Boise community, JV AmeriCorps members Mariah Ertel, Mary Franz, Mary Haggerty, and AnnaMarie Marsilio spent MLK Day volunteering at Big Brother Big Sister of Southwest Idaho. Our members tackled various responsibilities assigned to them, such as organizing a storage facility, taking inventory, and reorganizing t-shirts.

According to Mary Haggerty, “Serving on Martin Luther King Jr. Day with my community knowing that so many other communities, not only in JVC Northwest but across the country, were serving others filled me with peace and hope. Hearing about and seeing so many people spread light made the ideal of a bright future tangible.”

Jared Harris, Emily Curran, and Marit Olson, spent the day weatherizing homes through the Community Energy Project with Hands On Great Portland.

’16-17 JV AmeriCorps members Jared Harris and Emily Curran weatherizing a home in Portland.

Montana – School was still in session in Hays, Montana, so our JV AmeriCorps members spent time educating their students on the history of Martin Luther King, Jr.. JV AmeriCorps members located in Missoula volunteered at the Poverello Center where they focused their day on homeless outreach.

Thank you to all who participated in MLK Day of Service 2017!

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Lessons in Love

Our latest blog post is written by FJV AmeriCorps member Heidi Hanson (Spokane, WA ’15-16) who served as the House Support/Care Giver with L’Arche Spokane in Spokane, Washington. Below, Heidi shares her experience forming relationships and growing in love and compassion with her Core Members and community of L’Arche Spokane.

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Heidi and a Core Member cooking dinner together

The celebration of love and compassion was an ever-present aspect of my year of service with L’Arche Spokane, a community of individuals with and without developmental disabilities sharing life together.  Life in L’Arche provides a unique opportunity to celebrate authentic love, the love that encourages us to find the gifts in one another, provides the foundation for compassion, and enables mutual relationships to form.  Throughout my service year, I reflected on what I learned about the very real and human experience of love as we grew in relationship with one another.

Love is acceptance.  When I first walked into L’Arche, I knew I was somewhere special.  I was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of welcoming and compassion.  I observed the Core Members (as the individuals with developmental disabilities are known within L’Arche) and assistants engaging with one another, together as friends and completely comfortable, which was something I could not wait to be a part of.

At the end of my first day of service, one of the Core Members gave me a great big hug as we said goodbye.  I’ve received many hugs from this Core Member since then, but in that moment I felt truly welcomed into the L’Arche family!  Although he didn’t know much about me aside from being a new JV, his acceptance of me into his life and home was so genuine it made me feel like I already belonged.  He literally welcomed me with open arms!  In this small display of compassion, I realized that L’Arche is a place where everyone, no matter their role in our community, can come exactly as they are and be met with kindness and grace.  As we focus our efforts on the acceptance and appreciation of one another, without requiring them to be anything other than themselves, we are able to discover, value, and learn from their individual gifts.  The founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier, once wrote, “To love someone is to show them their beauty, worth, and importance.” It is through an accepting love that we hope to do that for everyone in our community.

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Spokane JV AmeriCorps members at Lake Wallowa

Love is forgiveness.  Although we do our best to be accepting of one another, it is inevitable that a community, or any relationship really, will experience times of tension and discord.  We are only human, after all.  The more difficult times at L’Arche have tested my patience, but it has also been a safe space to accept my own weaknesses and learn to openly communicate with those who think and understand differently than me.  Sharing life together includes many moments such as this, revealing that acceptance of others requires daily effort toward understanding and compassion so that we can forgive one another and continue to grow.

A few months into my service, there was a new pizza place having their grand opening where they gave away a free pizza to every person who waited in line.  That day only two Core Members were around, so the other assistant and I offered to take them out to get pizzas for lunch.  As we were about to leave, one of the Core Members refused to go, because he wanted to go to a different pizza place instead.  Even when we offered to go to both, he became very angry and said he wanted to go to his place or nowhere at all.  I asked if we could talk about it just the two of us, and we had a conversation about how community living means we can’t always get exactly what we want and sometimes we have to compromise.  He listened to what I said, but he still didn’t want to go.  I told him that was okay, but I asked him to think about how that decision impacted other people in the community.  The time spent on an outing with Core Members is something all assistants enjoy, so it was unfortunate that one would have to stay behind.  A while later, the Core Member came to the table, put his hand on my shoulder, and said “I’m sorry.  Next time I go with you, okay?  I’m sorry.”  I was touched by his apology, because normally he cools off and moves on but doesn’t often ask forgiveness outright.  Sharing life together includes many moments such as this, revealing that acceptance of others requires daily effort towards understanding and compassion so that we can forgive one another and continue to grow.

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Quality girl time on retreat

Love is in the little things.  One of the best aspects of L’Arche is that it is rooted in community and fosters the development of mutual relationships.  By experiencing life together, we have the continuous opportunity to share in the celebration and joy that can be found in the little things of everyday life.  It demonstrates what Jean Vanier meant when he said, “Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things.  It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.”  I feel like most of my L’Arche stories demonstrate this lesson in love, but I will share a few that really stand out.

About a month into my JV AmeriCorps year, there was a weekend where all but one of the Core Members were gone spending time with their families.  I spent that Saturday one-on-one with the remaining Core Member.  We watched an episode of her favorite TV show, went out to lunch, and spent the afternoon making chocolate chip cookies while dancing and singing along to the Hairspray soundtrack in the kitchen.  Going into that day I was nervous because she is one of the Core Members who takes the longest to warm up to new assistants, and she still hadn’t quite warmed up to me.  As we sat together eating our freshly baked cookies, she looked up at me, smiled, and said “thanks!” Now, I consider her one of my closest friends, and I’m thankful for the many moments we have shared that have brought us closer together!

One night, as I was preparing to go home at 9:20 pm after an evening shift that ran a little late, one of the Core Members suddenly ran upstairs to his room.  He came back down with a concerned look on his face and a large flashlight in his hand.  He handed me the flashlight and told me to take it with me so I wouldn’t have to walk home in the dark.  I was touched that he was worried about me and was willing to give me his own flashlight just to make sure I would be safe.

Pure joy at a L’Arche event

One of my absolute favorite times in L’Arche is when we are all sitting around the table sharing a meal together.  Whether it is for breakfast or dinner, taking the time to sit with one another, to come together to eat and pray, is a little thing I look forward to every day!  Joining hands with my L’Arche family around the table provides a tangible sense of the support and compassion I feel in our community!  These are just a few examples of the many little moments and simple acts of love that have made my L’Arche experience so amazing and have truly transformed my heart!

I have learned and grown tremendously in my time with L’Arche. I have experienced a love I never imagined I would find in a single place. It’s amazing what you find in an organization based on the common humanity of different people, celebrating and sharing life together.  Despite whatever ups and downs may occur, the many meaningful moments we share foster mutual relationships based in authentic love.  This love is accepting another person for who they are, looking beyond the surface to see and appreciate their gifts, forgiving them, laughing and crying with them, and an offer of friendship.  This is the experience of life and love that I have found in L’Arche, where my friends have shown me a level of trust, compassion, vulnerability, and joy that has challenged me to grow.  Is there any greater gift than to be truly cared for, to have people in your life who accept you, forgive you, and show their love for you in the little things every day?  I think not.  After all, “we are simply human beings, enfolded in weakness and in hope, called together to change our world one heart at a time” (Jean Vanier).  I have been blessed to serve my year with my L’Arche family, celebrating the love we share!  They have truly changed my heart and my world with their love!

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Shattering Mental Health Biases

In our latest blog post, JV AmeriCorps member Karilynn Cooper (Spokane, WA ’14-15, Seattle, WA ’15-16) shares her experience identifying and overcoming her mental health biases through her service with Community House Mental Health Agency.  

Before beginning my service to adults with severe mental illness, encountering an individual on the streets who appeared to be talking to someone who wasn’t there probably would have driven me to turn around and walk in the opposite direction. In my second year of serving through the JVC Northwest AmeriCorps program, I have had the pleasure of joining the staff at Community House Mental Health Agency (Community House) in Seattle in embracing and welcoming those who are used to having backs turned on them.

Karilynn serving at Community House

This mindset that I was once guilty of possessing reflects the general thought processes and biases of a society that walks away from the growing issue of mental illness, forming a greater divide between those with a diagnosis and those without. Community House, which was founded in 1976 in Seattle, is a small out-patient mental health organization. Community House provides treatment services in the way of case management, psychiatry, and medication management. There is a weekday treatment program consisting of hobby and support groups, peer support, snacks, and a hot lunch. Most importantly, Community House is a safe haven in the Seattle community for clients to come, connect, and receive support from peers and staff.

My role at this placement as a case manager (three days a week) and a day treatment staff member (two days a week) is a hybrid position that mixes two important aspects of Community House. Serving in these two roles provides me with two different lenses in which to view and assess the needs at this organization, leading to many opportunities to facilitate changes in different areas. As a case manager, I provide support, service coordination, and assistance with articulating goals for treatment to a case load of individuals. As a day treatment staff member, I wear many hats: serving as a cook, medication distributor, group facilitator, or house chores supervisor to Community House attendees.

Often, the attendees are “regulars” who show up frequently to socialize, partake in a chore, attend appointments, or eat lunch. The best part of day treatment by far is the time I get to spend simply engaging with these attendees, which is a part of my service that feels the least like “work” and more of a leisure activity. Even after having served in many different settings since becoming interested in social work, I have not once had the opportunity or been encouraged to spend leisure time with clients in order to get to know them as people instead of consumers in need of assistance until I started serving here.

Karilynn Cooper Community

Karilynn (bottom left) with her ’14-15 JV community mates

What I witness on a daily basis in my interactions with Community House clients is an overabundance of unique personalities, abilities, hopes, dreams, and talents. I especially notice a longing for connection, a defining characteristic of the human condition that is not always easily recognizable among many in this population. Look a little bit closer and you will see painters, drawers, writers, poets, comedians, beautiful toothless or dentured grins, hard-workers, the brave, the wise, and the generous. You will find those with a wealth of knowledge and  intelligence, those who endure the torment of inner voices, or those constantly trying to keep their heads above the deep dark waters of depression.

These are individuals who should not to be ignored but included and celebrated within a society which claims diversity and freedom of expression to be of the utmost importance. We can approach those who are challenged with a mental illness with patience, kindness, humility, and with the purpose of learning from them rather than molding them into what we believe to be “normal.” As I have already begun to have my own biases shattered, I fail to name all of the ways in which I have improved as a person just by spending time with Community House clients. It fills my heart with joy to have the opportunity to assist in maintaining a positive and safe environment for these friends of mine.

AmeriCorps Week: Cultivating Roots in Grays Harbor, WA

This AmeriCorps Week, we’re highlighting JV AmeriCorps service throughout the Northwest. JV AmeriCorps member Megan Norris (Grays Harbor, WA ’15-16) describes how participation in the Cultivating Roots garden has strengthened the feeling of community with youth and economically disadvantaged community members in Grays Harbor, WA. We thank Megan for sharing her story of service and would like to acknowledge all current and former members who have so graciously served in our program.  

Community gardens are so much more than plants or produce. They have a social and community aspect rather unique to the culture of a shared outside space. They are a space which many people invest love and want to see succeed. The Cultivating Roots garden, where I serve through the agency Grays Harbor Public Health and Social Service Department,  is located within Pacific Court Housing Development. Pacific Court is low income housing under ownership of the Housing Authority of Grays Harbor.

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Megan excited to ‘get things done!’

The residents who live among and around the garden, if involved in it, have grown not only produce in the beds, but also affinity for the space. The neighborhood children are especially keen of the garden. Some of my favorite days of service are the ones where I arrive at the garden with the intention of tending to the beds only to be met with enthusiastic children ready to harvest, learn, and help.

One October afternoon I was met with a different emotion from one of the dedicated garden volunteers. At 8 years old, she is a fantastic helper and quick learner, but on this day, she had come to the garden as a place of solace. In tears, this garden volunteer choked out a simple question, “May I help you today? I had a rough day and really just want to be in the garden.” Over the next two hours, we chatted about her day and why she was crying; we talked about ways tomorrow could be a better day; and we got our hands messy in the garden beds.

Cultivating Roots Garden

Other children came and went from the garden that day, sharing smiles and well wishes. When the garden chores were finished, not only were there 14 lbs. of harvest to be distributed, but a strong sense of community filled the air. A day was bettered by spending time in the garden, and the garden gained a reputation as a safe place to come when one has a crummy day. I was reminded that day of how my time in the garden is service and that the garden being located in the Pacific Court development, a neighborhood where parents often have to work two shifts and is full of hard working and earnest people, is a great fit.

MLK Day of Service 2016

 

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?'” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In honor of the 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, our JV AmeriCorps members participated in restoration projects, rallies, food drives, and more! Check out a few summaries of this year’s MLK Day service activities!

From Laura Paolino, JV AmeriCorps member serving in Yakima, WA:  

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JV AmeriCorps members serving in Yakima

“Our house participated in a March for Justice on Martin Luther King Day, which was followed by a program held at the Yakima Convention Center where we listened to talks from various members of the community on the theme of service. We heard from a local high school senior, who urged us to “stick with love,” a Reverend who sang “We Shall Overcome,” and the Yakima School District Superintendent, who encouraged the Yakima community to continue MLK’s message of serving others. In an effort to create a tangible action step, he created an initiative called “Yakima Act 1000,” an online platform where community members are encouraged to create teams and rack up 1000 hours of service over the next year (yakact1000.org).

Following the program, we walked over to one of Yakima’s community centers, where members of the march shared a meal of hot soup, crackers, and coffee. It was a beautiful day filled with music and a strong sense of hope, solidarity, and community.”


JV AmeriCorps members serving in Gresham, OR:

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Anna Butler (far left) with her JV AmeriCorps member community mates

JV AmeriCorps member Anna Butler (Gresham, OR ’15-16) serves as the Eastside Green Team Education Specialist at SOLVE. In honor of MLK Day, SOLVE hosted a river cleanup event. Volunteers, including Anna and many of her Gresham JV AmeriCorps community mates, removed litter along the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade. Separate from the day of service, the Gresham community also hosted a viewing and discussion of the film Selma.


From Megan Norris, JV AmeriCorps member serving in Grays Harbor, WA:  

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Megan Norris (left) and Lauren McCabe (right) serving on MLK Day

“The Grays Harbor community participated in MLK Day of Service by picking up garbage in our neck of the woods. We live in an area of Aberdeen that is often looked down upon and  referred to as Felony Flats…. the area was where ex-cons were granted housing after incarceration.

As Jesuit Volunteers striving to live eco-consciously, the high amount of trash in the road, on the sidewalks, and in yards where we live has been disheartening this year. From just three blocks we were able to bag 7 full bags of trash. The result of our service was immediately noticeable-the street looks a lot better!”


A huge THANK YOU to everyone who participated in celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

‘Tis the Season of Giving

JV AmeriCorps member Elizabeth Murphy (Spokane, WA ’14-16) shares her experience serving as Community Food Resource Specialist at the Catholic Charities of Spokane in Spokane, WA. Below, Murphy reflects on her favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, and the joy and excitement she feels for food and community. 

In the season of giving, I find that I receive so much. My experience over the past year has shown me how invigorating little victories can be. As I watch a child have her first taste of spinach, have a senior ask me, “what’s a smoothie,” or give someone a bag of arugula, their favorite vegetable, I am filled with joy in a cheesy excited way. I jokingly told one of my housemates Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, because everyone gets as excited about food as I am every day.  I try to carry the joy and comfort of sharing a meal with family and friends into an everyday tradition.

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Elizabeth Murphy at the Acorn Squash Harvest at Food For All Farm

Serving at the same placement in Spokane for two years has allowed me to grow and deepen in relationship with the people I serve. Weekly, I deliver produce to St. Margaret’s Women and Children’s Shelter residents.  Last week, an alumni of our program stopped by to drop off her “Christmas Blessings form” for her and her son, and I offered her a bunch of bananas. She ecstatically said, “Love! My baby is going to love this!” When the same mom was living in the shelter in the spring, I remember her calling asking me to, “please save me and my baby food from the community kitchen!” I get so excited when other people get excited about fruits and vegetables!  Even through the simple pleasure of a bunch of bananas, I am lucky to connect with moms and kids who in turn make me excited to continue serving at my placement.

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Delicious food served at a dinner at St. Margaret’s Women and Children’s Shelter

Last winter, I began serving with residents at Fr. Bach Haven housing for previously chronically-homeless men and women. We had a community kitchen cooking class and nutrition education series that allowed me to continue serving in the springtime. With another community partner, we hosted a garden-themed lunch and gardening class one week and the following week planted garden pots in front of their building. Since I decided to stay a as a JV year here second year, I was happy I could continue to serve with their case manager to plan a harvest-themed potluck for residents this fall and eat the fruits of our labor. I brought food from our program’s Food for All Farm and residents brought food from their garden pots. There’s a special connection that comes from working the soil, preparing a meal, and sharing a meal together.

Another program within Catholic Charities is called Senior Services through which I was matched with a low-income senior who I’ll call Sam (not her real name). I get to go to her apartment every week, make a meal with her, and we share that meal together. Sometimes we even go on field trips! Twice this summer I was able to take her to the farmers market so she could spend her senior farmers market nutrition program checks (which the Food for All program distributes in Spokane). Even though Sam is away from her family and on a tight budget, she has such a joyful presence and zest for life. I love my weekly visits with Sam. She always makes me laugh, gives me hugs, and loves every meal we make together (especially butternut squash soup). This year, I get to spend my Thanksgiving sharing a meal with her, another one of the reasons I am so happy to continue serving at my placement and deepen the relationships I’ve made over the past year.

Feeding Hunger for Food and Community

JV AmeriCorps member Sarah Moore (Grays Harbor, WA ’14-15) shares her experience serving as Early Learning Specialist at the YMCA of Grays Harbor in Washington. Below, Moore reflects on her involvement with the Park and Play program.

Last summer, the YMCA of Grays Harbor partnered with the Aberdeen School District to provide a strong program for children that combines food and fun. Each day, our Park and Play program served anywhere between 50 to 150 lunches and snacks to kids at three parks in town.

It was obvious after only a few weeks of programming that these children are in great need of food. Without these lunches, many children would go without food or without proper nutrition. However, I think there is a greater hunger than for food among these children: there is a hunger for community, for friendship, and for opportunity.

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Sarah (far right) and her Gray’s Harbor JV AmeriCorps member community mates

After being given a lunch packed with a sandwich, fruits, vegetables, chips, and milk, the kids grabbed a seat around the park, usually at a picnic table. With only a few picnic tables available, kids often ended up eating with new friends. Conversation usually started about what was in the lunch that day: what they like, don’t like, or have never tried before. At times, there were even proposed trades for an extra bag of chips.

Food was only the starting point for finding commonalities among new friends. The conversations quickly evolved from food to what game or activity we would play after eating or even details about life at home or school. Conversation continued as we brought out rubber bands to make bracelets, play dough, or paint. We cheered for one another through hula-hoop contests, hand games, and running races. Through it all we learned each other’s names, languages, and stories. I believe this is the greatest thing we have to offer at the parks.

After only a few weeks of the Park and Play program, I was convinced that it was the moments shared around the table and beyond that kept the kids coming back day after day and staying for the duration of the program. Yes—we were hungry for food. But the food spoke to a hunger that was deeper; a hunger to be present with one another, to play, to laugh, to share, and to build relationships.