What are we waiting for? Oh right, it’s Advent!

I decided to write my blog post today because I have taken on a the #AdventWord challenge. Each day in Advent a different hashtagged word is chosen to share on social media, either with words of wisdom, an image, devotions, inspirational quotes or anything that represents the word to them. It is only day two, so I guess a blog post about the word will work for today!

The word is #Journey. And there are a whole mess of cliches that use the word, and yet none of them fully encapsulate what it means to any given individual. For some the journey is exhausting, and grueling because it allows them to get to a destination and be at peace, or at least be  comfortable. Others experience the journey as formative because it changes them along the way, and once again, gets them to an end point or completion. Others say that the destination doesn’t really matter, it is how you get there. But once again, “there” is a place, a location, a destination, an end point. But what if there isn’t truly an end point? What if when you get to where you think you are done, God puts another journey in your lap? What if  God gives you something new to discover about yourself?

I think that’s is one of my favorite parts of serving in the Episcopal Service Corps away from where I was raised. I didn’t start with a network here when I arrived. I don’t have easy access to my family in order to tap into that support system. I don’t have the church that I grew up in to give me that foundation of strength to go out on a limb and take risks. But I do have my faith, and I do have strength in who I am.

I think separating myself from home is a big step in my personal journey to understand everything I am capable of. Being away from home has allowed me to examine who I am, and how I have grown and changed over my whole life. I have been able to understand what it means to live in a household of people who all grew up in such different ways and belief styles. We all are trying to understand who we are on our own, as well as understanding who we are in relation to each other. This is not an easy journey, but once again, it’s not something that is going to just settle and finally work. We live in a house of unknown variables that could change at any given moment. We can’t just sit around waiting for someone else to do the work, we all have to do it together. We were called to do this work and discern how we live in community. As well as being called to understand how our internal community of six is called to relate to the larger community of Baltimore.

As a larger church community, we are in Advent, waiting for the birth of the Christ child. Which is really a neat time. We are lucky enough to know what is coming, where this journey is taking us. But even after he is born, we have a whole journey ahead of us. Not only do we have a journey that leads us to Epiphany, but then Lent and then on to Holy Week heading for Easter. It’s a long and transformative journey. Jesus had a whole lifetime of journeying to understanding who he was to others. He was created to share and spread the love of God to all the people of the earth. Which, coincidentally, is what we are all called to do in Christ’s image. This is something that I so strongly believe. That we are built to love. It is never our place to judge or change people. It is our responsibility to share our gifts, and our light with the world in order to be prepared for everything that God offers us.

My favorite quote is by Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates  others.”

To me this is exactly what it means to be Christian, and exactly what it means to live into the image of Christ. Jesus shared his love so openly with the world. He gave and gave, and being with others filled him enough that he was able to continuously give. That sort of generosity is contagious. That sort of unconditional love makes others want to share and be a part of it. The desire to explore one’s faith draws others into the conversation. This is the season of waiting in anticipation. We may know what is going to happen next in the Church year, but it’s our job to discover what happens next in our own journeys.

My journey is only beginning, and I have learned so much already. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me next!

Good Morning Baltimore

I’ll be honest: Baltimore was never on my list of places to live. In fact, Baltimore was never even on my list of places to visit. The only time I ever really thought about Baltimore was when I watch one of  my favorite musicals, Hairspray. Other than that, it never crossed my mind.

That is, till I applied for ESC. Not only did Baltimore get put on my list on places to live, it was in the number one slot. When my plane landed, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. All I knew of Baltimore was the 1962 Baltimore in Hairspray. In other words, I knew nothing about modern day real life Baltimore. When the plane landed that hot August morning, I found open arms and the adventure of a lifetime waiting for me.

Since then I have made friends who have turned into family as we cooked and ate dinner together, laughed together, and explored Baltimore together. I found wonderful spots in Baltimore, from bookstores to coffeehouses to festivals to parks where I can sit with a stack of library books and read. I marvel at trees with red and yellow leaves that I rarely got home in Texas. I have made friends with toddlers on the bus on the way to work and at town halls. I fell in love with my job where I work with a wonderful group of people and work for issues I am passionate about. I am close enough to DC that I can easily go down for marches and museums. I continue to grow in the Episcopal church and my faith continues to grow stronger.

My adventure in Baltimore is an adventure that I had never thought to dream of, because I only knew of ESC existence a couple of months ago. Thank goodness for google right? But it has been the adventure I needed. In the city I never thought to visit is the city where I am starting to figure out my life. It is in Baltimore that I am starting to figure who I am outside of college and outside of my home state. It has become a place where I continue exploring being a Episcopalian and falling more in love with the Episcopal church every day.  Baltimore has brought on so many wonderful adventures in the two months I have been here so far.

Good Morning Baltimore. What adventures do you have for me today?

Baltimore BookFest

I moved to Baltimore about a little over a month ago to work in nonprofits and what an adventure it has been! So new city, new adventures and a new blog. I am really loving Baltimore so far. And part of that is because of……..
Book Festivals!
As a bookish introvert, a three-day book festival was heaven. The festival was in the inner harbor, so it was along the water, which made it even better. There was tent after tent, each filled with treasures. Some were filled with books, others book related crafts, food, music, and speakers. I went to some tents filled with books so often, the people working there started to recognize me. I was filled with bliss, coming home with my arms and bags filled with books.
I was in heaven.
Other than finding wonderful books and being in a fun environment, one of my favorite things about the festival was the speakers. They had speakers speaking on every topic available. The highlight for me was getting to hear Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speak (and getting my book autographed). For those who don’t know, Chimanda is a novelist famous for giving TedTalks such as “We Should All Be Feminist.” I have yet to read all her novels, but the ones I have are wonderful and I love her TedTalks.
Chimamanda was intelligent and funny as she was asked questions by both the audience and the moderator. She told stories and ideas that really resonated with me, such as “I think today there are women who are interested in history and politics and high heels.”
But something that touched me was the people who came to listen to Chimamanda. Ten minutes before she came out, the tent was packed, despite the sweltering heat. And so many types of people! There was white, black, Hispanic, women, men, young, old. There was a young Hispanic woman in tears over the impact that Chimamanda’s novels-often dealing with things like race- have had on her life. There was a young Feminist teen shaking over getting to talk to her favorite author. There was a group of old women willing to sit in the heat for I am guessing at least an hour to make sure they got good seats.
This is what I love about books. Books bring people together, it brings people together to share ideas, to bond over favorite books and characters. Books are our power, help shape us and our ideas. Books assure us that we are not alone. To quote Laura Bush: “The power of a book lies in its power to turn a solitary act into a shared vision.”
This is what I saw on a hot Sunday afternoon. I saw people from different walks of life, with different stories and experiences, come together because we have something in common: we were all were impacted by the same author, the same stories.
How magical is that?
Books do that. Books create magic. Books bring people together.

The things we take with us

Living on your own after college is a weird thing. It’s different than going away to college because there aren’t school deadlines and you aren’t living in a dorm. A friend of mine recently pointed out that everyone’s college experience is not the same, so I will speak for myself here. For me, going to college was of course different that what I was used to before and provided a much-needed culture shock in some ways, but it was still a padded experience. I lived on campus all four years (minus the semester I was abroad in New Zealand), which meant that I always had a meal plan and I always had a place to live that was looked after and regulated by the university (UMBC). There was a hearty helping of privilege involved with my college experience, something that has become painfully real to me since meeting other recent graduates from other areas of the country. My point is that even in my privileged experience of college, there were things I learned that have been absolutely pivotal for my transformation into an adult and a functioning citizen of my community. I’ve been reflecting on these things as I have moved out into “the real world”, or as close to “the real world” as you can get in a year-long service program. I’ve been thinking about how the things I’ve learned in college and in my life have supported me and given me the tools to be successful in life. In this blog post, I wanted to share a bit about this as a way to express my gratitude for these things.

I graduated from UMBC with two majors and a minor. I studied Gender and Women’s Studies and Environmental Studies with a minor in Music (fun fact — I sometimes leave out the fact that I have a minor as well, because it makes me feel like an overachieving nerd). As a recent graduate of college, I always get asked how I will use those things for a career. “So, what are you planning to do with that?” Well, the answer is, whatever I dang well please! To be honest, I’ve BSed the answer to this question so far because I don’t truly know what the answer is yet. What I have learned though, is that the things I have picked up and the skills I developed through these top-of-the-line programs at UMBC have stayed with me, and are helping me now. In Gender and Women’s Studies, I absorbed information about how identities intertwine with one another, and can mean privilege or marginalization for people. Intersectionality was one of the most important concepts I grasped as a GWST student (look it up, it’s pretty cool). I also learned about the knowledge of experience, meaning that everyone’s experience as a person, everyone’s story is valid and can be treated as true knowledge that can teach us about our world. I have found these things to be invaluable and applicable to any job, any situation. Of course the information I took in from my Environmental Studies major has been extremely useful as well. I took courses on environmental policy, how gender intersects with the natural environment, how some populations of people are more susceptible to the effects of environmental destruction than others, and so on. In my service placement at Great Kids Farm this year, all of these things are relevant. The Gender and Women’s Studies as well as the Environmental Studies. I’m sure there will be another blog post at some point about how these things are coming into play for me at the farm. So far, I can tell you that the farm serves the children in the Baltimore City Public School system, some of which are in situations where they haven’t been very far out of the city or haven’t been exposed to much in the natural world. A good chunk of this population come from marginalized communities. Gender and Women’s Studies has taught me that the experiences of these children are 100% valid and that their narratives can provide a more complete picture of the world. Environmental Studies has taught me that rotating crops is important, climate change is real and needs to be addressed, and Communities of Color and poor communities are more at risk to feel the effects of environmental damage than white or more affluent communities. This is about environmental justice, which is another fascinating topic to read up on.

These are the things I take with me. Thanks be to God.

Of course my academics will always be useful to me, but the things I learned about interacting with other people and my community from attending UMBC have been more valuable to me than I can actually put into words. Through student organizations such as  Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry (or “Jesus Club” as we have lovingly named it), Students for Environmental Awareness, Student Government Association, Residential Life, participating in the STRiVE Leadership Retreat, and others have taught me about what it means to be a good citizen. How do you work with others for a common goal in an efficient way? How do you network with others in a way to make community partnerships that will strengthen your organization? Who are the stakeholders? Who are your contacts? With these skills of community organizing, I have been empowered to start my own projects. These tools in my community-building toolkit have empowered and inspired me to practice these things in the “real world” and in my year of service. At one point in my life, community organizing and activism seemed like a far-off thing that wasn’t attainable outside of the UMBC bubble, but as I grew and changed, I realized this is not so. I have the power to take the initiative in a project and make it happen.

These are the things I take with me. Thanks be to God.

This blog post has started out as a “what did you learn in college” essay, but I promise you there are other things from my life that I have continued to take with me. I am forever grateful for the tidbits of knowledge my parents have given me. Some of it is practical information such as salt will make water boil faster, always use the buddy system in a new place, why leaving things plugged into an outlet is bad if you’re not using them, how to check my oil in my car, and how to change a tire. Other wisdom has to do with how to treat yourself and interact with the world. Two things that are particularly useful for me at this point in my life are: “Let yourself off the hook” and “Find where you can do the most good”. I should paint these things on our bathroom mirror here at the house so I can be reminded every single day. Let yourself off the hook. Don’t beat yourself up for small things. Find where you can do the most good. How can I best serve my community today? Thank you to my parents, who instilled these things in me.

These are the things I take with me. Thanks be to God.

Finally, and arguably the most important, is my faith. I carry the love of Jesus Christ with me every day and I get to share that with the world. My faith journey has been something like this so far: I was baptized into the Episcopal Church when I was a young kid, I followed my parents and church family and did what I was supposed to do (Sunday school, mission trips, etc), and continued to go to church in college and after college. Except, in college it was different. My family and church family weren’t around to help me decide what to believe about being a Christian. I began to discover that for myself. I am so grateful for this period of learning in my life. Our campus ministry, Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry (“Jesus Club” as I mentioned before) gave me the space to discuss my questions with my peers (and with two awesome campus ministry chaplain ladies) and fill in the blanks for myself. This was my spiritual home, and this is what brought me to the Episcopal Service Corps. I can’t explain how important this ministry is, and how it has impacted my life. For that I say, ALLELUIA! This journey has brought me to a point where I am passionate about sharing the love of Jesus (and the Episcopal Church) with others, which has brought the idea of going to seminary into my head. I will say that I am in a period of discernment, and I am open to what God will call me to do next.

These are the things I take with me. Thanks be to God. AMEN.

God in the midst of us: An overview of things so far

 

It’s been two weeks. Two weeks of getting to know each other, learning about how to form community within the ESC house and in the wider areas of our neighborhood and the city. What does it mean to build consensus? Why should we care about racism as Christians? How do you write a house covenant with guidelines that hold the house community accountable? How can we use one-on-one conversations as building blocks of community? These are only some of the questions we explored in our orientation time. Now, as we are preparing to start our service on Tuesday morning, I have spent some time reflecting on our journey so far, and I have been thinking about how God has been walking with us in our journeys so far.

My journey started on Sunday, August 20th. After my church service at home, I started the drive up to Baltimore from Salisbury, MD (my home). When I was about halfway there, I got a battery light in my car, followed by a check-engine light. Long story short, my mom came to my rescue, helped me load all of my things into her car, and drove me the rest of the way to Baltimore. What a day! I arrived and then went on a walking tour of our neighborhood, Bolton Hill. Having car troubles made the day extremely stressful, and when things are that bad, it is hard to see God working around you. Boy, I was so glad to see my mom that day. God was definitely present there, and also in the conversations we had in the car on the way to Baltimore. It was almost like God was telling me to take some time out and enjoy the company of my family a little more. Don’t take that for granted.

Orientation was full of the Holy Spirit. I have enjoyed all of the conversations about living in intentional community with each other this year. I have also very much enjoyed getting to know the other Gileads and exploring the city with them on our Baltimore scavenger hunt. It just so happens we are all Episcopalians, but have different backgrounds with the Church, and different paths that have led us to our year of service. It fills my heart with joy to be living with Christians my age equally as passionate about justice and service as I am. We will all be doing different kinds of service this year, but it is all God’s work.

One of my favorite parts of orientation was our official commissioning by the Assisting Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland. The Holy Spirit was certainly present when alumni, program team members, ESC MD board members, clergy, and other supporters of the program all gathered together to pray for us and officially welcome us to Baltimore and wish us Godspeed in our service year. My favorite part was the blessing of our hands to do Christ’s work this year. Bishop Chilton came to each of us with a prayer and with holy oil to put on our hands. It was very special.

I have been overwhelmed in the best way possible by the support given to us by the ESC MD team as well as by Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill. Our residence is part of the rectory of the parish, and we have been so thankful to have such a wonderful place to live in for this year.

And now, we prepare our hearts and minds for our service to begin on Tuesday. I can’t wait to start my work at Great Kids Farm and see where God leads me this year!

Getting to Know Baltimore!

As we all arrived in Baltimore and were given a list of places to go and visit we worked as a team to get to know the city we all have chosen to call home for the next year. The list included having us all together head to each place and take a photo, most of which turned out to be selfies, and we met a lot of people and it helped us all feel a bit more comfortable navigating the city and even just our neighborhood!

Our first stop was to Red Emma’s which is a co-op coffee shop and bookstore! We learned that everyone who works there is a part owner, and that they offer free classes in the back space, and people can offer free classes there. They serve vegan food and a whole section of the store is lined with bookshelves with books for sale! It definitely had a little something for each of us!

 

Another thing on our list was to take a picture with some in an Orioles or Ravens clothing, and so at Red Emma’s we asked a man sitting at the table across from a couple of us if he would let us take a picture with him and his name was Keith! He was really nice and we were very thankful!

We ended up staying for an author/speaker, Howard Ryan, and he spoke of corporate America’s interests in the education system and why it is a problem.

Our next find was with Rev. Joe Wood after meeting about conflict styles, we went to the local coffee shop around the corner, “On the Hill”, which was originally for us to get a receipt from a locally owned business (and the all important coffee and treats) and we ended up being able to get a picture with Mount Royal elementary/middle school which is right across the street and is also in our neighborhood!

 

The on our first Friday together we used the afternoon to seek out quite a few locations on our list! We started out heading to the local Enoch Pratt branch library to get our library cards! On the way we found the Walter’s Art Museum and on our way we snagged a picture with a friendly security officer! She also told us directions to get to City Hall!

After we left the library, we headed over to Lexington Market and on the way we found a shop that sold wigs which was also on our list, it was at a corner of a pretty busy intersection and we all felt like total tourists and outsiders, but we learned that the self-consciousness was not obvious to others, but was a challenge we could face for ourselves. We made it to Lexington Market and it was so busy and there was every kind of vendor that you could imagine, and it was so busy.

After Lexington Market we headed south to City Hall and found a Lutheran Church (Zion Church) which was having a “Brats and Bier” event, because of the Germanic roots. They even still have a service in German! We went in to take a picture of a Christian space that wasn’t our next door neighbor Memorial Episcopal Church, or the Cathedral. We asked the man at the the grill about getting into the church for a scavenger hunt and he pointed us to Pastor Anke, and she was the sweetest! We told her about our scavenger hunt and she took us on a tour of the Sanctuary, and there were liturgical quotes on the walls in German script. She told us about how the church struggled with losing parish members during WWII as well as struggling with immigration issues with the new Presidential administration. She was the kindest and sweetest and so willing to share the story of her church and parish! She introduced us to the parish historian and guided us towards options for a Civil War artifact which included some cannons in Fells Point. We didn’t make it there, but it’s a possibility for the future. We then made our way to Little Italy and found a great deal at Viccaro’s and found our way home on the Charm City Circulator.

On our way home that day, we stopped at the “male/female” statue at Penn Station. It is a cross figure of a male and a female silhouette that has a heartbeat that shows up at an interval that we couldn’t quite define!

After our second week of orientation, we found our way (a bit more comfortably) around town, during this afternoon we made it to a the Civil War artifact, being the platform where a Confederate statue was removed before we even made it into Baltimore. Some of us wished we could have been a part of history in that sense, of ridding this country of the power dynamic inherent in our white privilege. But alas, we are here to serve our community to create the world God wants for us. The monument has a lot of red spray paint all over it, which we assumed was related to the blood spilled and the sacrifice of others for what we as Americans praise as freedom and Patriotism. We all universally feel that working for the service towards developing a more peaceful and accepting society is something we have been universally called to do.

After the artifact, we passed by the Brown building at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) on the way to find one of the locations for Project PLASE (People Lacking Ample Shelter and Employment) as well as stopping by the Charles Theatre, and then looping back to Project PLASE (Hannah’s work site) as well as moving North on Charles Street to find Graffiti Alley and a Halal Deli/Market.

Our final bits of the Scavenger Hunt were completed with our half day on Sept. 1st! We split up into some pairs and tackled the last few selections.

A couple of us (Suz and Will) drove out to Great Kids Farm (Suz’s work site) in Catonsville. This is a program partnered with Baltimore City Public Schools to educate children about sustainable and healthy eating. The goat featured here is called Toast!

Another pair (Noah and Hannah) headed out to take the Citylink to find the other site for Project PLASE (Noah’s work site). After some troubles with bus tickets, they had a fun adventure learning how to get bus passes as well as getting the right ones for the right routes! They made it there and made it home safely and had a nice little adventure through the journey!

Our final pair (Rebecca and Kait) headed out to find the location for LIRS (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, Rebecca’s work site) which is accessible via the Charm City Circulator! The bus lets off about a block away so it’s definitely an easy trip! We decided to explore the neighborhood around it a bit and found a great used bookstore where they had a promotion going on, where if you join their email list you can get a free cookbook and so we each got a vegetarian cook book for free!

Our last few items on the scavenger hunt list we needed were a picture of food grown in the city and a picture in the Cathedral (Kait’s work site). Our landlord Monty, dropped off some fresh basil that his neighbor grew. We forgot to take a picture of the actual basil but we turned it into pesto, which we made without a blender, and it tastes amazing! Our picture in the Cathedral is in teh Peace Chapel after our commissioning, with our fearless leader, Jan Hamill, as we are all so excited to begin our service year!

We are all so excited to start at our worksites and we are all gearing up for a year of intentional community and service that allows us to deepen our faith, our understanding of ourselves and how we can help and engage the world around us.

Always On the Road: NYC

Some Baltimoreans say: Baltimore city is like the mini-version of NYC. After staying in Baltimore city for a while, I finally made my way to NYC over Easter break. The overall experience is, amazing!

It was a really special trip to me. Six years ago, when I first arrived in the states, NYC is the first place I stayed for three nights before I headed to FL to meet my host family. I have heard people all over the world talking about this international city and what American dreams mean to them. Of course, I had no idea what American dreams mean to me at that point as a 17-year-old who first traveled abroad by myself. Now, after six years’ growth through high school, college and work, I seem to start to understand the passion people have when they talk about their American dreams. It all start from the moment when your feet touched NYC.

Taking Boltbus from Baltimore to NYC is really convenient and affordable. Plus I got to experience the city views when I got close to the destination. It is interesting when I looked back to Baltimore city as the bus was passing by downtown where I have lived for almost a year. The city is beautiful, especially under the sunrise. I just seldom pay attention to when living here daily.

NYC is a whole new story. Within the four days I was there, I toured Columbia University, Central Park, Wall Street, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Time Square, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Manhattan School of Music. I think I tried my best being a wonderful tourist and making good use of every second staying in NYC. Catching up with old friends, visiting different sites and trying out tasty food all made my NYC trip exciting and memorable. Yet another part I really like is just sitting in the subway observing different kinds of people on their way to work, school, or like me, busy with being a tourist. It is the diversity rooted in this city’s every corner attracts me.

If now you ask me to come up with words describing American dream, I think I will choose diversity, freedom, and acceptance. In New York, maybe there is no such words describing nationality, race, social class, or other classifications we tend to use in society. Everyone seems to be the same yet so different at the same time. A New Yorker can also be a tourist, a tourist can become a New Yorker. Then, what role did I play this time? Guess I am an old friend coming back to visit. New York seems to stay the same the past six years while I have changed so much. Glad we can still catch up.

I did miss New York on my way back to Baltimore, miss the diversity, the atmosphere, the fast-speed life, yet I think I miss Baltimore too. No matter how long you have stayed in a city, if you ever considered it as your home, then it became your home. Home can be anywhere our hearts and minds point to.

I have been called a world traveler and my experience being part of ESC program so far granted me more courage to see more parts of this country and the world. I hope I can always carry the diverse mind-set and acceptance no matter where I go, who I interact with.

Always on the road, body or mind.

Where are we going next……

 

Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like

Politics this past year have been rough on everyone. No matter what side of the political spectrum you fell into in this past election, you probably felt some form of disappointment with your candidate or with the political process. With everything going on, we felt the need to stand up for our rights, to be a reminder that we are the majority and that we are watching.

The excitement for the day really started out the night before. Anna and I were waiting on our friends from the ESC program in NYC to arrive. Around 11, we found out that their bus full of protestors had broken down just south of the Maryland/Pennsylvania border. Deciding not to wait for a backup bus, we set out to rescue them. Following our GPS we ended up on a windy little backroad completely covered in fog. It definitely set the mood for how inauguration day had made many of us feel.

But through the ominous fog (and with checking the GPS every 5 seconds) we finally made it tot the rest-stop they were stuck at. As we pulled up to the bus, we could see different groups of people all over the

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We’re all super awake

parking lot, trying to find transportation to DC for the next day. We even had a couple people asking us if we could take anyone with us. We found our friends Rachel and Hannah and safely made it back to Baltimore.

The next day started very early. Our bus left at 7am (which if you know me, you know I’m barely functioning by 10am) so we had to get up pretty early to make it in time. We got to Redeemer just in time to meet our group leader and board the buses. Everyone was really excited and the bus buzzed with energy as we sped off toward DC.

When our bus got to DC, we circled the stadium before we parked. It was incredible to see the sheer amount of people walking towards the capitol. It was a sea of pink hats. We stepped off the bus and joined the throng headed toward the metro. The platform was completely packed and we all piled into the train. Once on the train they told us there were so many people at the station closest to the rally point that they were closing the station and we should plan to get off somewhere else.

We got off at the Capitol and once again joined the masses of people headed towards the march. It took us close to an hour to make it off the platform. Trains were arriving every few minutes and added more and more people to our masses. The energy was so potent you could feel it in theIMG_2345 air. Every so often someone would start up a chant and we would all chant and cheer and wave at the passing trains. The chanting continued as we made our way down the street, passing the Capitol, before finally arriving at 3rd and Independence.

We spent the next few hours wandering through the crowds. Our group got separated at one point, but we eventually all wandered back together. We eventually found ourselves caught up in a crowd stuck behind the Native American Museum. Everywhere we went you could see people admiring each other’s signs and outfits, discussing their reasons for marching, and coming together to protest as one. The energy was so positive and everywhere we went people were so warm and welcoming to each other. One woman showed up in a Trump hat followed by a man with a camera trying to stir up an argument. They were met with polite disagreement and soon left because they could not get the spiteful response they wanted.

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Famous women and their important contributions

The energy grew more restless as we approached the start time for the march. The word spread that there were too many people on the parade route already so we could not march that way. People got more and more restless, and eventually we just took off in our own direction. We followed the crowd up Pennsylvania Ave. towards the White House, following the same route that the Inaugural Parade had taken the day before. It was incredible to watch as the bleachers along the route fill up with spectators and marchers alike. As we marched along our voices joined as one with all the different chants from the day. For awhile me marched near a family with two adorable tiny girls who were some of the biggest voices of the group. They lead the chants and everyone around them couldn’t help but to join in.

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Protestors on the bleachers

We made it almost to the White House before we had to return to the bus. We took the metro back from Federal Triangle. The vibe was still completely positive as people helped each other figure out which way they needed to go to get back home. We were all exhausted by the time we made it back to the bus, but you could still tell that everyone was excited and happy with the events of the day. People were swapping stories and sharing snacks as we waited for the bus to leave. By the time we got on the highway though, everybody had settled in and most of us had fallen asleep.

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Favorite sign from the march!

All in all it was an amazing experience. One that will live on in our memories forever. The fight still isn’t over though. Watching the events that have taken place since the march, there is still plenty more work to do. It is up to us as citizens of this country to keep our government in check. The organizers of the march have put together the next 10 actions to be taken in the first 100 days. So get involved, and help us keep fighting for the rights of all people. Together we really can make America great! This is what democracy looks like!

The Stories Underneath

So many of us, when walking or driving around, we see the people holding those cardboard signs, those who seem less fortunate than us. What we never realize or never even think about is the fact of how many there are. We never think about who they are or their circumstances surrounding how they got there. We never realize what types of experiences that they have had to get to where they are. I am one now to think about what is available to them nowadays and not feel as sorry for them. But also at the same time, I never think about what they may had gone through during their time of homelessness, who they may of encountered, how many bad experiences they have had to not even want to go into a shelter.

The homeless point in time count started today. It actually started for me on last Thursday (January 19) when I went to the team leader training. When I first heard about this homeless point in time count, I was very intrigued by the idea of getting to do something like this just for the fact of being better able to understand more of the idea of where residents who live where I work could of came from before going to the shelter.  Homelessness has always been a curiosity of mine because it never makes sense. Now since working at the shelter it has made me have even more questions especially about those who are panhandling on different streets.  There are so many resources available for these people where they could have three meals a day as well as most of the time a place to sleep and even people to help them find a home and get health services. All these questions that I have have led me to want to participate in this count just to find out more about how people on the street may live.

Starting out,  the training was very interesting. The people were organized but could be better so. One of the most interesting aspects of this count for me was the veteran portion.  They are wanting all veterans that we meet on the street to automatically go into a shelter that night.  And then they said that they would find them shelter within 48 hours. For me that seems a bit surreal. The training overall allowed me to learn a lot. The only difference between the team leader training and the normal volunteer training was the fact that we got to learn about our route to find the homeless people. In the training we learned about the survey as well as the different crisis methods (in case there happened to be one). We also got to meet people who may also be on the team. In my case, the other team members of mine had gone to the training the previous day so I was unable to meet them until Sunday night (January 22). Overall I felt that the training was very productive and it made me even more excited for the event itself.

On the Sunday night, the excitement happened. We were supposed to meet at 7 pm at Our Daily Bread. Originally, I had no idea where that was, so I planned on driving there. When I put it in my GPS though, I found out that it was only 0.4 miles from where I was, so in the beginning I felt quite stupid. In the end though, it was OK cause I had to drive around for about 20 minutes trying to find parking. Each time that I went to the training places I found it very interesting. Since being in Baltimore I have been able to learn a lot more about the different homeless resources and where people can go to get help. But I had never actually seen the different

My team members

My team members

properties. So being able to go into both Helping Up Mission as well as Our Daily Bread makes the words actually have some pictures to them. It helps me to see how well put together they are and how they can be so successful. Both of the places are quite big buildings and they allow a lot of people to be in there at once which is a great help when there are so many homeless in Baltimore that are needing more resources.

 

Both nights of the count we were provided with pizza for dinner. The first night though, was the night that all of the people on the team met. My team in itself was quite small, we only had 5 people on our team. In the end though, it was perfectly fine cause we drove most of the time and only needed to take one vehicle. We were assigned to the area around Federal Hill and down near Fort McHenry. We didn’t encounter many of homeless people on the street the first night, but the first one we had I had pointed out because it looked like a person, but I wasn’t for sure. In the end though, we encountered about 5 people that night, 3 of which completed a full survey. Overall I was very pleased with the first night.

The second night was just as eventful as well as it went smoother. That night as well I was able to have a friend join on our volunteer time. We did not meet as many people that night as well. I was able to point out another person though that was not as noticeable from the vehicle. He was one who was noticeably mentally handicapped. He got very nervous when most of the team was surrounding him. One of the people on the team was one who carried around things to give out to people he encountered, so he was able to give him a new blanket. After that I asked him again if he would be willing to and he accepted after I asked if it was only me.

After that experience when we were back in the vehicle, one of the other people on the team asked me what my major was in university. I told her that I majored in International Studies with a minor in World Languages and Culture. She told me after that it was very surprising to me because of the fact that I have a natural helping ability.

After I heard that, it just made things clear for me. Since I started working here at Project PLASE, I had considered different paths for what I should do after this year. I had been considering a master’s degree down the path, but  didn’t even know what to do. But I was leaning towards a Social Work degree. After this women told me that, I was just like, OK, its going to happen. I don’t know when I will start it, but I will definitely be moving my way to getting that degree.

One impressive thing that I realized from this Point in Time Count was how dedicated Baltimore is to trying to drastically reduce homelessness in the city. The mayor was present at the first night to give a short speech. It impressed me that she was willing to come and talk to the volunteers are wanting to help to count the people suffering with this issue.

Here is my sneaky photo of the mayor talking.

Here is my sneaky photo of the mayor talking.

 

This experience for me has been one to make me think about a lot. It has made me realize that people have different experiences in different places. We may think we are doing best for them, but in some ways, it may be making things worse for people. Sometimes people may not want our help. One of the people that I met during this experience was one who wasn’t homeless in his mind. He may of been homeless in my mind and others’ minds, but in his, he has they says “home is where the heart is.” He is happy where he is staying, so why should he move? With that in mind, sometimes we need to think about other people and try to put ourselves in their shoes. Sometimes, what we think may help, could also hinder.

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The beautiful night view. One of my favorite things about living in a city.

Connecting Back, Continuing Forward

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Spending the past several days back in Buffalo, NY I was able to see my family and friends again after our move to Baltimore back in August. All of my five siblings were home at once, I spent time with friends from AmeriCorps I had made last year, and still was able to participate in a secret santa gift exchange with my high school friends who continue to meet up on a weekly basis. One of my best friends from college even came over to my parents’ house to spend the New Year with all of us!

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My amazing family! Top: Me, Martha and Peter. Bottom: Mom, Dad, Ben and Beth

All of these connections are important for me to keep up with, especially since I don’t live in Buffalo anymore. Having fun with old friends was a perfect way to spend the holiday season and I’m thankful for the hugs, conversations, and going out on the town with all of them. But after ringing in the New Year, I was Baltimore bound once again.

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College bestie: Kelsey!

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High school friends from left: Stephen, James, Chuck and Eric

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Two AmeriCorps friends from Left: Intefada, MaryLynn, and Me

Coming back to the great MD has its own ups and downs. I was excited to see my housemates and hear about their holiday breaks. Some went to see their families or went on vacation, one stayed around the Baltimore area, and we all got back at different times. I was also able to catch up with swing dance friends that I have met within the past four months and make more plans with them for the coming weeks now that I’m back in town. Its easy to fall back into the fun, but more difficult to engage back into this year of discernment and change for yourself. Having been around many people back home who are happy enough to take you as you were slightly makes continuing forward with your year of service a bit of a battle.

As important as it is to take a break from working on your service, and also on yourself, it is equally important to get back into the reason why you began the year in the first place. For me, that reason was to explore my relationship with God and what that could look like in my life. This requires more focus and thought than it would to get a drink with my Buffalo friends, or spend time with my siblings at a family dinner at my parents’ house. But this year is a balance. Among work, service, new friends, old friends, family and self, our year in Episcopal Service Corps is meant to challenge and reward us. Continuing forward into 2017, we all are getting our heads back into the game of ESC MD!