Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chicago Volunteers in the News

MercyWorkers got a shout out from Claire Noonan, director of the St. Catherine of Siena Center at DominicanUniversity! Check her article out here:

Community Bowls Me Over

There's nothing better than a day off right after a day off. Thursdays are to me what Sundays are to people who work regular hours and I take full advantage of mine. I've got a date planned with one of my roommates, I'll probably nap at some point, and I'm even doing a load of laundry.

Yesterday, my Saturday, I woke up early to do yoga at the dance studio across the street. Their fall session is "Pay What You Can," which is a pretty good deal. When I came back, Diego, Britney, and I made an egg scramble for breakfast before heading to the beach. The weather was perfect, and because it was a Wednesday afternoon in September, we had the beach pretty much to ourselves.

When we got back it was about time to start Community Night. First, Kevin and Megan fed us one of the best meals I've had since I got here. Our activity for the night was bowling (the Wisconsinites rocked this activity), but first we had a discussion about any concerns or props we had about community. The usual things--chores not being done, things being messy--were hashed again, but it was also good to hear that some people have been feeling left out or have been having troubles getting into community. We can guess these things, but no one really knows until it's actually talked about. Everyone in the community also gave props to each other for being honest, respecting each other, and being way fun.

Finally, we got our new simple living challenge. First we had to write down one thing we do to prepare ourselves for the day or destress after a long day, then we each got someone else's de-stresser. Diego got mine, which is to booty dance to loud music, and I got Megan's, which is to listen to this song everyday (generally before work). I'll leave you with my favorite version so far:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It ain't easy being cheesy.

It's going to be a tough day at work today, considering all my smack talk last night. I really thought the Packers would win. Who knew we'd run out of time just as the Bears took the lead. We started watching the game at the end of the second quarter, when the guys finally finished their chores for the night. (If I had a dollar for every time the guys give me an excuse for why they can't or won't do their chores, it'd be like I actually had a paying job.)  My shift was over before the game was, so I let them know as I left that I'd see them the next day, with my team as the winners.

On the plus side, I can use this as a teaching moment to show them what a gracious loser looks like.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lights & Shoes & Concept

With Wednesday came the return of our electricity in the apartment. How crazy to be able to see while showering at night! We used the extra money from not grocery shopping the previous week to buy fixings for a bunch of sandwiches, which we handed out in the Loop to the hungry/homeless gathered near train stations and in other high traffic areas.

Our new simple living challenge? Pick one pair of shoes. Wear only those for the week. We're lucky to even have a choice here, since for many people around the world their only option is to go shoeless or fashion shoes out of whatever can be found. My choice is my Toms, short for Tomorrows. When you buy a pair of shoes from this company, they send another pair to a child in a developing nation. They're super comfy and look super classy, so those are other pluses.

Yesterday and today we had Conceptual Framework training, which basically means sitting in a board room for 7 hours each day learning a lot of theory as far as therapy in residential goes. Besides sitting for so long, I really enjoyed it. I'm a theory person for sure, so concepts are pretty awesome to me. I won't discuss them all here, because I know not many people go for that stuff...besides, dinner is ready since we are celebrating Megan's birthday!!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bumming at 'Bucks.


A lot has happened since last Friday. On the work front, I've definitely gotten more confident working with the guys. Developing relationships with them is my number one priority at this point, and this takes time since most of them are not trusting of people in authority/new people/white girls from rural neighborhoods. They're getting used to having me around, though, and now when I see them in the cafeteria on my days off (I can eat in my apartment or go downstairs to the caf that all the boys/staff eat in) they are like "Hi Rach! When do you work next?" Most of them know I just live upstairs, which is okay with me. Some of the guys here don't know where us vols live, but my guys are mature enough about having us so close.

I haven't had the same days off each week, but it looks like my "weekend" will be Wednesday/Thursday. It's fun because a lot of my roommates have these days off, but it kind of stinks since we have to be here Wednesday nights for Community Night, meaning I can't really take off for a weekend. (For those of you in the 9-5 M-F workforce, this is like always having to be home Saturday night.)

I made the most of this awkward weekend this week, taking in free hot yoga yesterday and Wednesday (yoga in a 97 degree with humidity room = awesome and super cleansing) and a free day at the Field Museum on Wednesday.

This week for Community Night we joined with all three houses of Amate House for dinner & training. We also heard our new Simple Living Challenge for the week. These can range from no texting to writing thank you notes and are meant to make us think about simpler things in all areas of our lives. The focus this weekis on homelessness, so first we turned the electricity off in our apartment (except fridge/freezer, stove [it's gas], and one light for fire safety reasons). Those who are homeless have to work with the natural rising and setting of the sun and most of the time can only find shelter from dusk to dawn, if at all. We now have to burn candles at night and find ourselves hanging out with each other more rather than retreating to our rooms or to a TV or computer at night. I had to do laundry in our shower yesterday and even though we have a skylight in our bathroom, it was a little cloudy so the lighting wasn't the greatest. Cell phone use has to be kept to a minimum since we can't charge them at home, and listening to the radio is out. Right now I'm at the local Starbucks to charge my phone, check my email and post on here (I also got to Skype Bailey & Quinn!).

The second part of the challege is even though we have a budget of $250 each week for apartment food, we are not going grocery shopping until next Wednesday. This wouldn't be bad, except we already hadn't gone grocery shopping for a while and we are down to the bare minimums (aka, rice and beans). Like I said before, we can eat three meals a day in the cafeteria M-F, so that helps, but it also means getting up super early to make breakfast and being around for the rest of the meals. We had to rearrange our schedules to make it back for lunch and dinner serving. Since I chose to come to Starbucks, I missed the lunch serving and will have to eat the food in the apartment or wait until dinner. We're trying not to eat up all the food in our apartment, though, since the caf isn't open on the weekends and we'll need the food then. It's really making us think about what a large part of the population deals with on a daily basis and it's interesting how much of our day now revolves around planning out meals, more specifically, where we will find our next one. Some people have complained, but the thing is, after this week we get our electricity and food many people in Chicago and around the world don't have that luxury.

Today I only work 5-10 since I work an 11 hour shift on Tuesdays and Fridays are pretty chill in program--most of my guys will go home on pass so we do an activity (movies, mall, park) with the ones who stay. Tomorrow I work during the day, which leaves my evening open for more hot yoga and seeing my roommates. We may live together, but with all of our varied schedules I have to intentionally find time to actually see some of them!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It's Official: I'm a Sox Fan.

Yesterday, Jillian, Kate and I had had enough. We pulled everything off the shelves in our pantry, cleaned, resorted everything, and put things back in their proper places. We didn't stop with the pantry, though. Both freezers and fridges got a deep clean too. Things in mysterious packaging got thrown out to make room for the large donation of food the kitchen sent to us--turns out they over-ordered for programs. One call from reception and ta-da! our apartment is bequeathed with excess bread, bakery items, and cereal.

Another call from reception made Kate and I the lucky owners of tickets for the Sox game last night. She literally called us twenty minutes before the game started, so Kate and I quickly got ready and hopped on the L. Eight stops later, we joined the crowds of people still entering U.S. Cellular Field as fireworks exploded overhead (we got there late, just as Morel hit his homerun in the third inning).

Now that I've been to both a Cubs and a Sox game, I think it's okay for me to officially be a Sox fan. The Sox game was far more interesting and the fans actually cheered for their team, who in turn actually won.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaWhen Kate and I got back from the game, organizational inspirations struck again and I (with the help of Britney, Diego, and Kevin) rearranged our computer room. Now I am enjoying the positive feng shui in here and debating over whether I should take a walk outside in the rainy grayness or stay in to finish the awesome book I'm reading (The Devil in the White City, Erik's about Chicago).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Good Eats.

If I have learned anything from traveling, it's to never underestimate the differences and power of food in cultures. During the weekends at Mercy, the youth eat in program instead of the cafeteria. Most of my guys cook for themselves (or at least make PB & Js), but since they were all coming back from pass for the holiday my coworker and I decided to cook. This meant an assortment of deep fried foods, oven baked turkey tetrazzini, and tomato soup. Then on Tuesday, there was an event in the kitchen so pizza was delivered to each program, where the guys plus a few staff polished off four giant pizzas from Marcello's. (Remember, these guys are in high school...they'll eat a lot of pretty much anything.)

Cooking in our apartment amounts to similar feasts of random food items--bowls of cereal followed by leftover turkey burgers and washed down with cheese or a clementine or a handful of almonds--except on Community Night. Each Wednesday, we can expect a full-fledged meal cooked by two of our roommates and featuring their favorite recipes and family classics. A week ago Amanda and Britney made chicken and rice with beans and corn on tortillas, and last night Kate and Becca treated us to marinaded drumsticks, asparagus, and scalloped corn (similar to cornbread).

My turn to cook isn't until October, but I'm already paging through my recipes in search of something awesome. Ideas?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Taking Care of Business

I'm in the office at work right now, and the view out my window is absolutely gorgeous. I'm facing east, and all I can see is the reflection of the sun setting on the Chicago skyline. The Willis/Sears Tower stands tallest, flanked by the AT&T Corporate Center and the 311 S. Wacker Building (yep, it's really named that). The rest of the skyline extends to the north in a row of mirrored windows and heaven-reaching spires.

Program is pretty quiet tonight, with all but one of our guys home on pass. A usual Saturday afternoon/evening might include an activity (park, movies, beach), but the only youth here is in bed, not feeling well. Instead he sleeps while I read, continue to familiarize myself with policies, and make rounds every so often. The rest of my roommates either have the day off or are already done with work for the day, but I'm here until ten. Then I can join them for Becca's (one of my roommates) birthday bash (one day late, since she worked all day yesterday).

I spent my weekend (Thursday & Friday) exploring the Loop (Chicago's downtown) and catching some free jazz for Jazz Fest in Milennium Park. It's safe to say walking around Chicago is tons easier that finding my way around Rome was. For starters, the majority of streets run straight and they are all clearly labeled with street signs. I've heard that "the grid" is super important when figuring out where things are, but I'm still learning how that works. All I know is Madison and State are the origin points (0 NS/ & 0 W/E) and from there you work your way out, counting blocks up and down (ie, Jackson is at 300 S, meaning 3 blocks south of Madison, and runs from 88 E to 6000 W).

Time for another walk around program...ciao!