Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The only things worth paying for are free.

The life of a volunteer youth care worker is a little hectic, turns out. Also, when I told them in my interview that I am an easygoing/flexible person, I never realized how much that would come into play. What I mean is, I've been here two going on three weeks and my schedule has already changed several times.

For example, tonight I was supposed to leave at 8, but a program manager from another home came in at about 6 and asked if anyone wanted extra Cubs tickets. For tonight's game. There were four youth care workers on and we now have six youth (one move in today!), but one guy is on grounds restriction, one had lots of homework, and two really wanted gym time tonight, so only two wanted to go and another youth care worker and I got to take them.

Yep, I went to work thinking I'd be enforcing chores and watching the kids shoot hoops until bedtime and instead I ended up watching the Cubs lose horribly. It was still fun and I'm not going to complaing about free tickets or getting to finally see Wrigley!

Speaking of free things, I also found a coffee shop with free coffee on Mondays and today was Free Gyros Day, so I have the half I didn't eat for lunch waiting for me in the fridge. A MercyWorker from last year got new sunglasses and donated her old ones to me, which was fortunate because I just lost mine at the park this weekend. There's also a few free concerts in the park this weekend for Jazz Fest that I totally plan on soaking in. Such is the life of a volunteer.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What's College?

Today marks the first day of college classes for most students, but I feel so far removed from the college world that it's hard to think that my friends are actually walking around campus, having classes in Boyle and wandering around the Mulva. My route to the post office does take me through the UIC campus, though, so that was my taste of college for today. Happy first day of school my friends!
In other news, here is the community covenant we wrote and signed into effect last Wednesday:

Through the graces of God from our heart of hearts, we, the MercyWorks Community of 2010-2011, strive to wholly embrace the five program values of community, social justice, professional development, spirituality, and simple living.
We wish to intentionally bring our full presence to the spaces we enter and encourage each other to open doors and see things from a variety of perspectives, while respecting and supporting one another through the challenges ahead.
We promise to recognize the potential each person has to change the world, empower them to do so, and take responsibility for our part in that change.

(We also wrote a condensed version, which is more of an inside joke on the AmeriCorps pledge. It consists of five words: "Get things done for Amurrrica.")

Sunday, August 29, 2010

overwhelmed & completely appreciated

If it feels like I've been throwing a lot of random information at you these past few weeks, know that I feel the same way--orientation, training, and starting work has been a whirlwind of information overload. I have a feeling it will stay like this for most of the year, but hopefully my brain will figure out how to process it all and I won't feel so overwhelmed all the time.

It makes me wonder how the kids who move here handle all the transitions and new information, and that leads me to the conclusion that all of our programs here are not so different from MercyWorks. This isn't a new theory, as Katie told us at Wednesday Community Night that plenty of people have called MercyWorks the highest functioning home at Mercy (sometimes, though, we act like the lowest functioning).

Wednesday Community Nights are our weekly time to reconnect, have dinner together and reflect on one of the program values or on a relevant topic. This past Wednesday we got pizza and ice cream as a reward from our Orientation Retreat, when we won the gold at "Orientation Olympics" to build community. Our reflection was the reading and signing of the community covenant that we wrote during orientation followed by an affirmation circle. An affirmation circle is simply everyone taping a piece of paper to their backs so that everyone can write an affirmation on it without anyone knowing who wrote what. I loved reading what people wrote on mine afterwards, knowing what they enjoy about me.

Today, Sunday, means another house meeting (less fun than Community Night, and more on the business side of things). Because I went to the Daley Home staff retreat on Friday, I have today off and don't work until 2 on Monday. :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Swagger Wagon

You know those commercials for the new Toyota Sienna? The ones that brag how super cool they are and how they are not mom vans, but "Swagger Wagons"? That's totally the vehicle we use at Mercy Home. MercyWorks has one, along with a few cars, and each of the programs (from now on Daley Home = my program) has its own Sienna as well.

These past few days I have spent a considerable amount of time in the Swagger Wagon. Yesterday I went with another youth care worker (YCW) to pick up groceries for Daley's community night. They have one every Wednesday, much like MercyWorks, which means I'll never be there for it, but I did get to pick out some of the food they ate! (I checked today and my shopping was a success--they finished off all the nachos they made.) 

Today, since I worked during the day with my Supervisor and the Day Coordinator, I got to ride in the Swagger Wagon during supply trips to Staples and Target and later I went with our DC to pick up two youth from school. The guys live in different programs, but since they aren't in high school yet, they get dropped off and picked up from school and with so many of them it takes lots of staff to get everyone.  When we pulled up, they were super excited to see the Swagger Wagon...until they realized I was sitting up front. These guys love riding shotgun.

Tonight I have a one-on-one "date" with one of my 13 roommates (the plan is Italian ice in Little Italy) and tomorrow I have a staff retreat for my program.....but the weekend is almost here!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Preventing Crises & Meeting Vols

You should all be pleased to know that after eight hours of lecture/practice, I am currently (mostly) CPI (Crisis Prevention Institute) trained. What does that mean? If any of the guys or girls (in any program) grabs me, bites me, or pulls my hair, I can successfully maneuver my way out of that situation. Furthermore, if any of the youth are bringing damage to themselves or another person, I know how to safely and nonviolently restrain them until they calm down.

The thought of actually restraining on of the Daley guys is a little scary, but luckily restraints rarely if ever happen in my program--it's just better for everyone to know what to do in any situation.

Tomorrow we will finish our training and get fingerprinted and the remainder of my day I'll continue to be in program, getting to know the guys.

Tonight we are having volunteers from the Amate House over for some dinner and to compare volunteer years so far. Having other volunteers in the city is nice, since we can share useful hints about where to find bargains and how to cope with stipend-living!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Intro to Daley Home

After one day on the job, I'm not about to make any grand conclusions concerning how I feel about working in Daley Home. I will say, though, that if the rest of this year looks anything like today, I will definitely survive and most likely thrive.

What I'm saying is, I had a good first day of work.

A big component of today was Wingspan training. Wingspan is the computer program we use to log the goals and transition plans for each of the youths. Some parts are updated and filled in quarterly while other parts need to be filled in on a daily or weekly basis, so it's important for us to know our way around the database.

The rest of my day was spent in program, where I did actually get to meet the guys briefly. There are five guys in Daley Home right now, but most likely a few more will move in as the school year starts (we have five open beds). They range in age from 14-16 now, but technically Daley Home is open to 11-18 year olds. If you are wondering, yes, Daley Home IS named after former Chicago mayor Richard Daley (and his wife, Eleanor "Sis" Daley), though it is a little strange since their son is the current Chicago mayor.

Today was the first day of school for several of them, one starts school tomorrow, and another doesn't begin until after Labor Day since he attends public school, so right now their daily schedule is flexible. When I got there, the two not in school were playing basketball in the gym. Then we all went to lunch together, where I got to see some of my roommates with their Homes. In the afternoon the other guys got home from school; one of them left to go to work (Daley youth 16 and over are required to have jobs) and the others scrounged around the kitchen for food even though it would be supper time soon. (Don't worry, they were all hungry again, like typical high school boys.) After supper came homework/study/reading time and when I left at seven they were finishing so they could start evening chores. Each night is a little different, but they usually have some combination of chores/homework time/gym time/free time/community meeting before bedtime and lights out between 10 & 11.

I'm excited to get to know the guys, since from what I can already see they are a fun group. I know it will take some time for them to open up to me and not treat me like a newbie, but I'm sure I will win them over eventually. :)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ciao, Summer

Since training starts tomorrow and I'll finally have to wear grown up clothes, today is essentially my last day of summer. Last night most of my housemates and I went downtown and I finally saw Cloud Gate (aka The Bean) and the Crown Fountain. This morning we went to a local church service, which I really enjoyed due to the diversity. When we got back from church, we had our first official house meeting and figured out the chore rotation (with 14 people in one apartment, things get REAL messy) and our one-on-one rotation (we get to meet with a different roommate each week one-on-one to have some real face time instead of only interacting within the group).

The rest of today is free for us, so I took the El downtown to meet up with Kate & Lara from school. I got to see The Bean in daylight as well as eat some more deep dish pizza. It was my first time taking public transportation in Chicago by myself, and all I've done before was get on the blue line and transfer to the red line to head north. I got on the blue line (we have a stop about two blocks away) to head downtown and basically guessed where to get off based on which stops sounded like downtown streets. It worked, though because when I got off I was only a few blocks from Millennium Park. I think I'll be able to do this!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Licensed to Drive

I'm officially a licensed driver in the state of Illinois. At the expense of my Wisconsin license, which they made me surrender at the DMV, and after taking a written exam, which I aced, I stood in line and got my photo taken for my brand new license. Add that to me driving in vehicles with Illinois plates downtown and in all sorts of traffic, and you have an Chicagoan.

It feels like there are so many steps to moving somewhere new and starting a new job. I've been filling out paperwork for weeks, signing tons of documents, learning how to punch in, going over job expectations and dress codes, attending daily community meetings and info sessions---and I have yet to actually meet the guys I'm working with. I have gotten a tour of my placement, Daley Home, but none of the guys were there at that time. This coming week is more training (CPR, crisis prevention, computer systems, etc) and finally on Sunday I will get to meet the guys.

If you can't tell by the randomness of these posts, I'm a mess right now. I can't remember what day it is most of the time, thanks to being gone on retreat, and I feel like I'm in an alternate universe. Having 13 roommates is awesome so far (we're still in the "Honeymoon" phase where we like each other), but because we are still getting to know each other, etc, we tend to stay up quite late to hang out. We've had so much information thrown at us in the past week that in order to stay sane I have to just take it one day at a time. Thinking ahead makes me anxious.

On Thursday, when we got back from retreat, Fr. Scott came to our apartment and cooked us a wonderful meal of pasta with pesto. He also said mass right in our living room, along with telling us a bunch of stories about the creation of Mercy Home. You can tell Mercy Home is his passion and that he puts a lot into making sure the boys and girls who live here are safe and taken care of.

Friday was our last offical day of retreat, even though we were back in the city. We went to Mary Bartelme park (a few blocks away) to go over our handbook and have a picnic lunch. It was extremely hot, so we only lasted halfway through the handbook before breaking out lunch and heading back to the apartment for the rest of it. We also decided on house jobs for the year (a coordinator for each of the program values, vehicle coordinators, hospitality coordinators, etc) and I am the MercyWorks Petty Cash Officer along with Diego. Math is not my strong suit, but I figure I can add and subtract and sort receipts. Since Mercy Home is a nonprofit, we are not taxed on our purchases (a great thing since the rate is something like 10%).

Last night we stayed in to play pictionary and study for our written driving exam today, and tomorrow we have our first house meeting to decide chores and put into effect community rules. Now I'm thinking it's time I head to the beach and enjoy the humidity. :)


Friday, August 20, 2010

Orientation Retreat Overview

I only have fifteen minutes before the last day of our Orientation Retreat begins, but quickly:

We are back in Chicago after four days in Culver, IN. Actually, we were in the middle of nowhere; Culver was a good drive into town. Our retreat house was something straight out of the 70s--we're talking modular furniture and wood paneling here--but the outdoor pool complete with slide and diving board was appreciated in the midday heat.

Our retreat focused on MercyWorks' five program values: Professional Development, Community, Simple Living, Social Justice, and Spirituality. Each day we delved into a value with our program coordinators and other coworkers from Mercy Home and then we got community time to discuss how we would like to incorporate each value into our year. (For example: on the topic of Simple Living we decided to try out Meatless Mondays for a bit.)

It was a great retreat as far as getting to know my community memebers better, mostly because we were so secluded. The retreat felt like a time warp and I have to keep reminding myself today is Friday. When we didn't have offical retreat activities to do, the fourteen of us would play Mafia (a storytelling card game? it's hard to describe), go swimming, take naps, or just hang out and talk/be goofy. A couple of us gained new nicknames thanks to late night discussions and we overall got a lot closer.

Today we are tying up any loose ends, going over our MercyWorks handbook, and celebrating the end of retreat with a picnic lunch in the park a few blocks from our apartment. We have this weekend mostly off (with the exception of taking a written drivers' test to get our Illinois licenses) and then training starts on Monday!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

First Impressions of the Second City

This place is magical! It's surreal being here, finally starting this adventure when I've been waiting for it for so long. Last night we had dinner on the beach (amazing in itself), but the drive back through the city was jaw-dropping. For some reason the song "Whatever You Imagine" from The Pagemaster popped in my head. I would post a link to it here, but media streaming sites are blocked on Mercy Home computers.

Besides unpacking, rearranging furniture (in my room that I have all to myself), and getting to know the 13 other volunteers (from England, California, Minnesota, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin & Illinois), I've also been filling out stacks of paperwork for HR and the AmeriCorps, eating traditional Chicago food like deep dish pizza, and interviewing for my specific placement here at Mercy Home (I'll find out later today if I am working in AfterCare or Daley Home).

One of the most unexpected feelings I've had so far is my amazement at all the people. Mercy Home is IN Chicago, basically downtown, center city, so anytime we go anywhere there are people all over the streets. I knew there would be, Chicago's population is about 3 million--similar to Rome--but unlike in Rome, all of these people speak English and look like me. I think that's what's most...I don't know the word...unsettling? shocking? It's strange, I know.

Today is our Welcome Mass & Ceremony, so we'll be meeting more staff (including Fr. Scott, the top dog) and getting more introductory information. Then we have tonight and most of tomorrow off until we need to leave for our Orientation Retreat in Indiana. I'll blog more then, and hopefully have some pictures!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Can I Vacuum Pack My Bags With a Dyson?

The Summer Before the Summer of Love: Stories byNeed a book to help you take a break from packing your life due to the fact that you move to Chicago in 36 hours and you still have to find a way to fit all your clothes in a hiking backpack? Try The Summer Before The Summer of Love by Marly Swick.

Soon after I arrive in Chicago, I'll have my placement interview to figure out which specific job I will have at Mercy Home. On Saturday we'll have a welcome banquet/ceremony/mass and on Sunday we are headed to Indiana for our orientation retreat, so I'm not sure how much you'll hear from me until next week Friday.

Today I was (finally) reading through my volunteer handbook and came across my address:

Rachel Kaiser
MercyWorks Volunteer Program
Mercy Home for Boys & Girls
1140 W. Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60607

It's a mouthful (or envelope-full) to be sure. Want a postcard from the Windy City? Send me your address and I'll think about it. :)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Green Thumb, Red Tomatoes

I think Grandma Amanda would be pretty proud of these tomatoes--ripe before Grandpa Andy's birthday.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Starbucks & Service

It's funny that I spent most of the summer reading and contemplating nonfiction books more on the theory side of things, ie they strictly talked about one or more of the five program values of MercyWorks (service, spirituality, simple lifestyle, community, professional development). Funny because I both started and ended the summer with books on my own to-read list that fell under the practice side of things, ie they followed one person's journey of some sort and how they lived out one or more of the five program values.

How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone ElseThe book I started with was Eat, Pray, Love, but I've talked about that one enough on here. The book I just finished, How Starbucks Saved My Life, showcased almost all of the values, with the exception of spirituality (though an argument could be made that it had hints of spirituality).

When Michael Gates Gill finds himself out of a job, he is knocked pretty far down the social ladder. A job at a busy Starbucks in New York City allows him to refocus his priorities. Instead of demanding services from others, he serves all types of people ("Guests") without prejudice. Instead of treating himself to all-you-can-eat dinners, he cuts his spending and enjoys things like evening walks or sampling coffees. No longer a part of the cutthroat world of corporate America, he embraces his fellow Starbucks workers ("Partners") and forms a sort of community with them. And even though he had been at the top of the professional world as an advertising executive, his professional development at Starbucks puts his old life to shame.

As I read this book, I wondered why it hadn't been made into a movie yet. A simple Google search proved that one is in the making, though. It also really made me want to work at a coffee shop. Maybe that's what I'll do after my year of service in Chicago.