Tuesday, January 1, 2013

It's Almost Time.

This time next week, I'll be getting ready to go to dinner with the Vinton campus staff and my fellow Class 19 Team Leaders.  It baffles me that this time is already almost here.  It was three months ago today that I found out that I was accepted for the position.  I remember it like it happened this morning.  I was riding in the truck with three of my fire teammates to spend the day harvesting pine cones.  Jessi was driving, Jerramie was in the passenger seat, and Sarah was in the backseat with me.  I knew that I would hear back from the three campuses that day (since I had interviewed with the Vinton, Vicksburg, and Perry Point campuses) about whether or not I was being offered a position.  So, on the way to pluck cones all day, I decided to kick the morning off by checking my email.  And there it was.  "AmeriCorps NCCC Team Leader Selection -- North Central Region Campus."  I cringed, thinking, "oh, they were supposed to call me, so an email must be their way of breaking it easy to me that I wasn't accepted into the job."  Reluctantly and nervously, I clicked on the email to open it.  And then I screamed.  And then I laughed.  And then I cried.  My truckmates must have thought that I had lost my mind and gone bananas.  I would have thought the same thing.  Here we were, enjoying a peaceful ride to work, and all of a sudden, the ginger kid starts going bonkers.  So why did I start behaving like a crazed lunatic, you ask?  This:

I couldn't believe that I had been offered the job, and at my first choice of campuses.  Saying that I was ecstatic would be a gross understatement.  I knew fairly early on in my NCCC experience that I wanted to apply to be a team leader the following year; it was something I was extremely passionate about, and it's fair to say that I wanted the job more than anything I've ever wanted before in my life.  To find out that I had been accepted truly was one of the best moments for me.

It really is hard to believe that this all took place three months ago.  So much has happened since then.  Pretty soon (very VERY shortly soon) I will be boarding that plane in Charlotte to fly off to Iowa.  I already have my bag packed, and am ready to spend some good quality time here at home with family and friends before this journey starts.  I'm going to need some solid relaxation before this crazy year begins.  And it's going to be epic. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Rusty Graham : Corps Member (A Team Leaderly Prequel!)

Well folks, in two weeks I will be embarking on my next adventure as an AmeriCorps NCCC team leader at the North Central Region, in Vinton, Iowa.  I'm incredibly excited to have another opportunity to serve with NCCC; my corps member year was easily the best experience of my life!  So, I figure, why not launch my TL blog by creating a prequel post, describing my year as a corps member?  Instead of typing everything out in a long, boring story, I think it will be most entertaining (and significantly easier) to document my explorations of the upper East coast through photographs.  So here goes!!

Let's get things started!  CTI and Mini-Spike:
Starting the journey off from the airport!  Josh (my handsome boo-thang) and his parents were there to see me off on the start of my most amazing N-Trip adventure.
Once we arrived, corps members are shuffled around during in-processing, which includes the issuing of our uniform items, and fitting for our steel toe boots, which are oh-so-crucial to keep your precious piggies safe during the workday.
After a week or so of CTI, corps members are split up into their permanent teams on Team Reveal day.  Emotions run high on this day; you split from your poddies (who you become surprisingly close with during such a short time) and discover who you will be spending the rest of your year with!   This was the day I became a member of Raven 4, and I could not possibly have asked for a more amazing team!
Here I am with Raven 4, during our first team dinner.  Millena (our wonderful team leader) made gumbo for us!  Let the bonding begin!
During CTI, teams go away for a three-day work experience known as "Mini-Spike."  This is the team's first chance to really work, eat, sleep, and live together.  Raven 4 headed to Wilmington, Delaware to work with Habitat for Humanity.  In this picture, the team stands in front of a huge truck stuffed with wall panels that we moved from the warehouse into the back of the truck.  We also spent time doing painting and construction work side-by-side with the homeowners.

Sharing one bathroom with ten other people can be tricky, so you have to find creative ways to handle your hygienic needs!  Hence, TOOTHBRUSH PARTIES!!!

After CTI and Mini-Spike, the entire corps heads to induction, where we officially become corps members, and get ready to head off for our first spike!
While the rest of our team headed off to Delaware to begin our round one project, Emily and I headed down to North Carolina for a week's worth of  fire training at fire camp.  We spent hours in a classroom to learn the ins-and-outs of wildfire and prescribed burn, and got some practice field experience during the process.  Emily and I (along with the rest of the Class 18 firefighters) passed a vigorous pack test and maintained great conduct to earn a prestigious spot on the fire team.
Round One: Fort Delaware, City Year : D.C., and Greater D.C. Cares:
Our first round was split into three projects.  For the first two weeks, Raven 4 worked at Fort Delaware, a Civil War fort we helped to restore for their tourist season. 
Work at the fort included sweeping, scrubbing bat guano off the floors, pressure-washing the fences and deck, polishing metal war memorabilia, repainting and stacking gun shots, and polishing Babs, a huge gun used during the war. 
We had to take a boat to and from the island every day.  It was wonderful to approach the island in such an exciting way.
Here, Emily, Millena, and I are washing and polishing Babs. 
Raven 4 and Babs!
Here I am painting the boxes for the gun shots, just like Babs would have used.  We took the shot balls out, repainted the boxes, repainted the balls, and then restacked them. 
We were awfully proud of our newly-painted gun shot stack!

All that hard work can tire a corps member out!  What better way to recover than to bask in the sun?  Don't worry - we weren't slacking on the clock!  This relaxing moment happened during our lunch break. 

Back at our housing, Raven 4 kept a "Vent Wall," where we posted the good, bad, and ugly of how we felt.  It was a wonderful tool for Raven 4, and one that we continued through in every spike housing.

And, of course, there is always time for some fun team bonding!  Bonding doesn't require much time or money; something as simple as a pack of fake moustaches is wonderful for team morale.
The second part of our first round was spent working with City Year in Washington, D.C.  We helped City Year teams set up and run an alternate spring break program for inner-city youth, as well as assisting them with a day of service repainting the inside of one of their schools.  We also got to spend a day shadowing a City Year corps member during one of their regular workdays at school.

Here, the members of Raven 4 are standing on the state where we are from.  A great visual example of how spread out our team's home states are!

Raven 4 LOVES to play ninja in our downtime! 

Part of our responsibility with City Year was to make posters to decorate the walls during the spring break program.  I drew dinosaurs!
I led one of the classes during the spring break program.  Here, my City Year partner and I hid dinosaur bones made of cardboard and paper mache in a sandbox so the students could take the role of a paleontologist, digging the bones out and assembling the fossils on a large bone map.

Raven 4 lived at a church in Falls Church, VA, during our work with City Year.  This was my little corner of the room!

City Year, much like NCCC, works in teams; their staff had several ready for Raven 4 to complete as a team to familiarize us with what it's like for City Year teams. 
During a financial literacy seminar, these members of Raven 4 worked together to create a budget presentation.  We actually won "best presentation" during the class, and were given the opportunity to present our ideas to the whole City Year audience!
The third part of round one was spent working with Greater D.C. Cares, helping them set up for a weekend of service called Servathon.  Servathon split 8000+ volunteers up among sites across Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia to complete projects for different non-profit organizations.  Raven 4 split up with Greater D.C. Cares staff to drop off and pick up supplies (paint, mulch, garden tools, etc.) at the different sites across the Delmarva region.
Here I am at the warehouses where the supplies were kept, after the Servathon weekend.  I got a little bit of paint on my pants.

Emily and I worked at a battered women's shelter with a group of volunteers to repaint walls inside the shelter.  These rolls of paper were used to keep paint from getting all over the floor.

Here Emily and I are with the group of volunteers at the women's shelter.

One of our best PT (physical training) sessions in D.C. had Raven 4 running to different important landmarks.  We found this quote, and it couldn't have been more appropriate, or inspiring.

We also got to visit the Lincoln Memorial!
 Round Two: Raising Hope Together, Habitat for Humanity of Springfield, and Iron Hill Museum:
Raven 4 had a split second round as well.  We spent the first 4 1/2 weeks working with Raising Hope Together, a non-profit in Springfield, Massachusetts, that provided tornado recovery relief to people hit with an awful tornado in summer of 2011 that wreaked havoc through the West Springfield area.
One of the staff for Raising Hope Together took us to follow the path of the tornado.  It was insane to see how much devastation such a random act of nature could cause.
We worked at Mittineague Park (Mitt Park, as we called it) cleaning up fallen forest debris to clear the paths for walkers and joggers in the park.  We also worked in a few other park areas, clearing debris from trails, streams, and even the yards of homeowners.
Raven 4 was feeling mighty powerful after a hard days work in the forest, clearing debris!

The biggest job we had while working with Raising Hope Together was clearing a plot of land for them to create an anniversary garden for the victims of the tornado.  We had to dig up the grass, till and level the soil, spread mulch, and clip bushes and weeds off the chain-link fence.  We also had to load large bags of the yard waste (pictured above) into a U-Haul truck to be taken to a disposal site.  These bags were HEAVY!

Here is some of the yard debris that Raven 4 cleared up to be taken away to the dump.

Millena and I are struggling to yank free fallen tree limbs.

On Mondays, Raven 4 went to a local food bank to help sort and organize food products for shipping and selling.
Raven 4 had the honor of meeting the governor of Massachusetts during the dedication ceremony for the anniversary garden.

We sure are photogenic!

Here are our boots at the end of a long muddy day of debris clearing!

The second part of the first round was spent working on a blitz build with Habitat for Humanity in Springfield.  The goal of the blitz build was to take this house (which was a prefab house, and brought in as four separate pieces of house) and make it completely livable in a ten-day period of time.  Raven 4 worked for twelve days straight with Habitat to make sure that the project got finished. 

Raven 4 started working on this house before it was even brought in.  Here Millena and I are working on drilling a hole through almost a foot of concrete for plumbing pipes.

Breaking through that concrete was so rewarding!
Overall, Raven 4 really loved the work we got to do for the blitz build.  It was easy to get excited for photo ops!

We had all sorts of responsibilities through the blitz build.  Here, Mary and I are helping construct the front porch.  Raven 4 also installed the insulation in the basement, put up most of the house siding, constructed the back porch, mixed concrete for posts, and painted the inside of the house.

Raven 4 loved working on this house because we got to work side-by-side with Toni, the homeowner.  She was wonderful, and very appreciative of all the hard work we were doing to get her home ready to live in.  Working with her was really inspirational; knowing the work we did was affecting a real person in such a major way was a driving force behind all of our hard work with this project.

We had to climb up pretty high to get some of that siding up!  In this picture, I am working with Don, a wonderful man who gave his time to Habitat for Humanity to help with the blitz build.  Don was our supervisor ninety percent of the time, and we learned a lot about construction from him.

Lots of people showed up for the dedication ceremony in which Habitat for Humanity hands the keys to the house over to Toni, the homeowner.  Being able to watch Toni get the keys to her new house (that we all worked so hard to build) was one of the most rewarding moments of my life.
In NCCC, your housing situation changes each round and for each project.  Raven 4 was lucky enough to live in this wonderful mansion during our stay in Springfield.  We each had our own rooms (except Cookie and Rachel, who chose to room together) and there were still rooms left over!
The final two weeks or so of our 2nd round was spent working with the Iron Hill Museum in Delaware.  Our goal for this project was to clear a trail all the way around the museum, paint sign posts for points of interest around the trail, and make current parts of the trail handicap accessible. 

Here's one section of trail that Raven 4 cleared.  We used Pulaskis, loppers, handsaws, rakes, shovels, and other hand tools to clear the trail. 

We also helped spread small gravel stones across sections of the trail where tree roots couldn't be cut out.  Putting the rocks down covered the roots, smoothing the trail path, creating terrain that wheelchairs could cross. 
Here we are, taking a small break from clearing the trail.  It was so peaceful working out in the middle of the woods.

Sometimes I got a little too tired, and Jimmy had to carry me around on his rake.

We had a little problem finding nests of bees and yellow jackets while we cleared trail.  Fortunately, I was the only person who got stung.  At the end of the round, our Service Learning Initiator (Mary) asked us to write or draw a personal reflection for the round, and this was mine!

The museum staff also wanted us to clear this section of the woods so that people driving on the road could see the museum as they approached from the right.  This is the before photo...

...and this is the after!  Pretty awesome work, right?
Round Three: Habitat for Humanity in Camden, New Jersey:
For our third round, Raven 4 worked with Habitat for Humanity in Camden, New Jersey.  We spent the entire round in Camden, which was a new experience for our team.  We welcomed Emily back from her fire round, and had the pleasure of adding Monique to our team. 

Most of our work focused on helping out around this series of row homes, six in total.  Our projects greatly varied over the 8 weeks that we worked with them.  Painting walls and stairs, leveling the yard, installing large portions of chain link fence in the backyard, installing blinds for the windows, caulking, laying flooring in the kitchens and living rooms, installing kitchen cabinets, and intense amounts of cleaning are some examples of the work we did in these houses.

Another part of our work in Camden was to work on the demolition at another Habitat site, right across the street from our housing.  The demolition process was really fun, dirty, and exhausting work.  We took down the staircases on the first floor and in the basement, cut off the roof and support beams, and took down the bricks on the second story layer by layer.  When we took the bricks down, had to determine whether or not they were in good condition.  If in good condition, we kept them to clean the mortar off so that the ReStore could sell them again.  If in bad condition, we wheel barrowed the bricks and debris off to the Habitat dumpsters.

This was the second story of the house after we took the roof off, and before we started taking down the brick.

Here Raven 4 sits, scraping mortar off of the bricks.  Thanks to a radio, dance parties, and great team cooperation, this seemingly tedious task actually went by pretty quick!

Raven 4 sits in front of the demolition house at the end of the day.
We also had a few revitalization projects in the community around us.  This is another Habitat property that needed to be cleared of the weeds and shrubbery.  Clearing the plants took away a hiding spot for any unsavory characters or activities, making Camden a little bit of a safer place to live. 

We worked hard to clear that lot!

Raven 4 was also able to host a Day of Service where we, along with several community volunteers, went around the neighborhood we lived in to clean the streets of garbage and weeds. 

We bagged up so much garbage and weeded so many sidewalks!

Here we are with the wonderful volunteers who showed up to help us with the Day of Service.  We wound up with over twenty full bags of garbage and lawn waste!

Raven 4 spent a lot of time assembling chain link fencing in the backyard of the housing units.

More fencing!  I swear, if I never see chain link fence again in my life, I'll be perfectly fine with that.  The fencing was easily the most frustrating work that I did all year; I hated it!  Despite my unreasonable fury with chain link fencing, the job still had to get done, and Raven 4 got it done in style.

We spent a lot of time cleaning (and re-cleaning) the houses to get them ready for the dedication ceremony.  We had to wear these blue booties over our steel toes (or take them off entirely) every time we entered the houses that had the flooring down.  This kept the floors clean and free from any scratches.

Raven 4 LOVES coffee and donuts!  This was the morning of the dedication ceremony, where three of the six houses were being dedicated.

Putting up tents, sweeping the street and sidewalk, blowing up balloons, setting up chairs, and cleaning the houses all had to be done the morning of the dedication.

Once everything was set up, we went back to our housing, put on our AmeriTux, and headed back to enjoy the dedication ceremony. 

Because our boots got so dirty at work, we had to take them off before went into the house.

Our Project Outreach Liaisons, Jimmy and Monique, set up several fun Independent Service Projects for us through our time in Camden.  We worked with the Philadelphia Magic Garden, MANNA, the Museum of Natural History, and a local community garden for ISPs.  Here I am with a cicada, working a sign-up table for bug tours at the Museum of Natural History.

Of course we still had to get in our PT three times a week (or five times for myself and Emily.)  What better way to cool down after an intense PT session than to swing with the team?
Round Four: Phoenix Four:
For my fourth round, I split away from Raven 4 to join Phoenix 4 for my fire round.  The Perry Point campus pulls their firefighters from their regular teams to create composite fire teams, and here I am with mine!  For the first two weeks, one of the Support Team Leaders led our group in Maine. 

Having an organized plan is very important during a prescribed burn.  This chart is very important during a burn operation.  It shows who your authority is, who your team is, what part of the fire you will work, and which engines will be used. 

Firefighters are given maps that show the layout and topography of the area prior to the burn.  These maps are crucial and show important features of the area, such as where the fire will begin and where water is located.

I got to work ignition for this burn.  Working ignition means that you take a drip torch (in my case) or fusee and set a line of fuel on fire to burn.  During a burn, firefighters work in squads, and the members of each squad have different responsibilities, like ignition, holding the line (preventing fire from spreading outside of the burn unit,) and scouting.

Here we are laying a wet line.  Wet lines soak the opposite side of the burn unit to prevent fire from spreading into fuel that isn't supposed to be burned. 

Staying hydrated is one of the most important things to remember during a burn.  So is always having your PPE (personal protective equipment.)

The aftermath of one of our prescribed burns!

During your fire round, it's tradition for the men to not shave and grow out their facial hair.  I never knew I could grow such a ferocious beard!

Here we are in Maine celebrating after our last fire.  The burn season there ends around the beginning of October.  Overall, P4 was able to burn around 160 acres.  We had a wonderful time in Maine, and I know that we would all love the opportunity to go back and work together again for more burns.

Phoenix Four actually spent more time on other projects than we did on burns.  After the burning in Maine, we headed down to the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia, the usual haunting grounds for Phoenix teams.  Our first week there was spent helping the forestry service harvest pine cones to help repopulate the native long-leaf pine.  We collected over 2000 cones!  After that, we moved to Virginia Beach for almost two weeks to help the Department of Wildlife Services rebuild a boardwalk that had given away to age.  We tore up what remained of the old boardwalk and completely rebuilt the walk and the observation deck.  Then, we went back up to Maryland to help the National Aquarium with a tree-planting project.  We were able to work with another composite team from our campus (known as the Nomadic Neanderthals, led by my best NCCC friend and teammate, Abby.)  We worked with the aquarium for a week, planting around 2000 trees and living a life of luxury in a hotel during the work.  That weekend, Hurricane Sandy was approaching to strike the East coast, so our team was split up to work in several different Red Cross hurricane shelters.  Once the hurricane dissipated, we journeyed up to New Jersey to work as administrative assistants in the Red Cross headquarters.

Bonus Footage: TRANSITIONS!!
One of the best times of the year is transitions, the periods of time between spike rounds.  As the Community Council President, it was my job to coordinate with the other CCR's to create events for the corps to participate in during transition.  Here I am with two of my fellow Raven CCR's, leading some corps members in a water balloon fight. 

Transition events are a great way for corps members to blow off some steam, relax, have fun, and get to know other corps members that they don't get to work with through the year.  It was a lot of hard work as CCR president to set up these events, but watching how much the corps enjoyed them was always worth the effort.

The CCR's also had to set up an All-Corps day event, an epic day full of sports, games, and food for the entire corps to participate in.  It took a lot of effort and planning, but we had a fantastic team of CCR's and wonderful staff point of contact (THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, THEA!!!) so the events were always a blast.

Of course, being in the power of presidency has it's drawbacks.  Like getting soaked with a cooler full of water.

Transitions are also a great time for team bonding.  There is a lot of chill, relax, downtime during transitions, which gives corps members ample opportunity to get to know each other. 

Now, this obviously isn't usual NCCC attire.  Here I am dressed up to host another CCR event: The Alter-Ego Fashion Show, where corps members came dressed up in whatever attire their alter-ego felt like donning for an evening. 

Transitions are also a time for business.  They are a time for extra training, teambuilding, and unit and community meetings.  Raven 4 had the pleasure to host the community meeting during transition between third and fourth round.  The meeting was space-themed, so we all dressed up as aliens!  (Except for Jimmy, who dressed up as Dr. Who.)

Unfortunately, my service term came to an early end during our work with the Red Cross in New Jersey.  My grandfather passed away on November 2nd; we were set to graduate November 15th.  I decided that it was more important to graduate early (since I had worked over 2100 hours and met all of the graduation requirements) and head home to be with my family.  I missed out on close-out and graduation, but I know my NCCC family and friends had a great time, and that I made the right decision in coming home. 

Overall, my NCCC experience was amazing and life-changing.  I'm so much stronger a person now than I was when I went into the program.  In fact, I loved the program so much, I am heading off in two weeks to serve again!  This time I will be serving at the Vinton, Iowa, campus, and as a team leader.  I'll have green shirts and my very own team of hard-working corps members!  I really look forward to the experiences this year has to offer, and to documenting my TL year much more than I did during my corps member year!  I can't wait to get started; my new adventure will be here before I know it!!
And I'd like to say THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to my NCCC teammates and friends who provided the photos that I used in this blog.  I miss each of you oh-so much.  Raven 4 and Phoenix 4 will always hold a very special place in my heart; thanks for an amazing year!