Camp Easter Seals

Hey everyone!

So I have been spending the last four weeks working at an Easter Seals camp outside of Nashville. For those of you who don’t know what an Easter Seals camp is, allow me to enlighten you. This camp is for adults and children with both cognitive and physical disabilities. Each week is for a different group (i.e., adults with physical, children with cognitive, adults with cognitive, etc).

We spent the first week doing camp maintenance. My job was to clean out the Nasty green pool. Draining the pool was too expensive for camp budget, so I spent a week shocking and scrubbing the algae from the sides…eww. After prepping the camp, the first group of campers came for a fundraising weekend. This weekend was a fishing tournament where local fishermen take the campers out in their really nice boats and fish with them. The camper I was buddied with and I caught the most fish out of all the girls (35 lbs worth). At the award ceremony where all the campers receive awards, my campers were quite excited, so much in fact that one of them ran up to get her award when someone else’s name was called…

The next weekend was TBI weekend (Traumatic Brain Injury). This weekend is very emotionally difficult because all of the campers used to be high functioning individuals. The consequences of the injuries varied. They change from lack of memory and inhibitions (no frontal lobes), to lack of bladder control, and paralysis. I can’t imagine all of a sudden not being able to remember whether I have eaten breakfast or not, or where I was.

Just after the TBI campers left (literally 15 min later), the weeklong session for adults with cognitive disabilities started. This week was so much fun. Since I am a lifeguard, I am also on program staff which means I plan the evening activities. One night was Hollywood Squares. I got to be Nancy Kerrigan, when I walked out, my friend at camp and whacked my knee and I collapsed yelling/ crying “Why would someone do that?!” At night I got to help the counselors put their campers to bed. Despite some of the freak outs and poo-tasterfy stories, this experience has been incredible. This project really pushes people out of their comfort zone (cleaning up fecal matter, changing diapers, showering campers, and helping with other activities of daily living), but it is my favorite project so far. The staff are amazing, and the campers are incredible.

If anyone needs something to do for any number of weeks this summer, I highly suggest working at this camp. They need volunteers, and I promise that this will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

I miss you all and will be home June 28th! Only one month left!

Love,

Alena

The South

Hey everybody!

It is stinkin’ hot down here!!! We just completed our 8-day trail work project outside of Columbia SC. It was an amazing project despite the heat and the swimming humidity.

We lived in a dirt warehouse with sleeping mats on the floor. There were no showers, so needless to say, we were fithy and smelly by the end of the 8 days. Every morning we drove 30 min out to the Palmetto Trail. The Palmetto Trail is a trail that stretches across the state. what is interesting about this trail is that Americorps NCCC has built 70% of it so now that it is being shut down, there are not many volunteers working on it.

Our job on the trail was to build railings on one of the tenth of a mile long bridges through the swamp. These bridges are old Civil War railroad trestles that were used to transport Confederate supplies though the swamp. The Union troops (or Yankees as they call them down here) found out about the supplies and destroyed the train. There are still artifacts that are found in this area such as cannon balls, railroad pieces, and musket shells.

To build these railings, we had to nail brackets to stiffeners, then attach support beams to the stiffiners. We then placed these beams every 8 ft. Another group was nailing 2x4s into the brackets. We developed an effective system, and were able to complete the Bridge in the alloted time, which the site supervisor didn’t think we would be able to. Also, we had to take 1.5 days off because of the rain. The rain makes the red clay roads impossible to drive on so we were not able to make it down to work. In facct, when we tried, we got stuck and had to push the van out of the mud for 3 hours (why we don’t have 4-wheel drive is beyond me).

The trail was beautiful. 20ft below us was a cypress swamp with aligators, beavers, and cottonmouth snakes. It was amazing to look down while working and see all these creatures swimming. We also saw many butterflies, owls, turkeys, and deer.

The only bad part wbout the project was the heat. It is stupid hot down here. It would get to the end of the day and we couldn’t form articulate sentences, and every movement was in slow motion, which is hard when you are hammering. Also, we worked with some other volunteers for a few days who were a little sexist. they would say:

“Hey honey, let me screw that in for you, you will probably drop it aver the side, and we cant have that” (a new guy siad this after we had already installed 3/4 of the railings).

or “let me get some strong guys to help me lift this” or “where are all the guys?”

On the rainy days we went to local museums and learned about the natural history of SC as well as the military history. Reading about the Civil War was very interesting. Even more interesting was the exhibit of the old Confederate flags that used to hang outside the State House. The plaque read that it stood for southern pride and solidarity, but “some people” thought it “offensive” so now they had to take it down by law…

However this new law didn’t stop the confederate flag being hung on every other building in Columbia…(I’m getting a little tired of the heat, the sexism and the confederate flag). We also visited Charles Sumpter’s grave (for all you history buffs out there).

So I leave for Nashville tomarrow where we will be working 100 hour weeks!!! I think I will be life guarding…alot…which in Easter Seals means cleaning up a lot of fecal matter!!!

Hope all is well with everyone!

i miss you, keep writting!'

Love,

Alena

Spring Break…whooooot

Hey everyone!

Currently I am on the last day of my “spring break.” It was not nearly long enough (spent most of it eating real food and sleeping), but I am excited to go back and finish up my last two months in Americorps. My team has been assigned a project in Nashville TN. In Nashville we will be working at an Easter Seals camp for people with physical and mental disabilities. We are all very excited to be taken out of the Gulf due to the emotional and physical stress, and are also thrilled to be in Nashville. There are many country music fans on my team and they plan to stalk the stars. Personally, I’m just excited for the barbeque.

So we finished up our project in Louisiana last Monday. We finished up one trailer and made a lot of progress of Mr. Terry’s house. Mr. Terry is a crawfish fisherman, and gave us another crawfish boil on our last day. He was our one of our favorite home owners because he would work right beside us and tell stories. He would also bring back strange creatures from the pond where he fished and wave them around in our faces (he brought a wood duck, and the fattest snapping turtle I have ever seen).

We got to experience a lot of Cajun culture. I took Cajun dance classes with a few of my teammates. We worked at a Cajun food cook off. Also, everyone cooked for us. In Delcambre, the town was so tightly knit that they knew everyone. If they found out you were working on someone’s house they would come by the next day with a Gumbo, or po boys, or some other Cajun dish. The food was incredible and the people were so welcoming and kind. Mr. Glenn, the neighbor of Terry, took us on his shrimping boat and taught us how to shrimp.

Overall, it was a good project for learning about the culture, but not as much for the work (very unorganized). The real highlight of the project was tutoring. Every Monday and Wednesday, we tutored at Ms. Kay’s tutoring center. I got assigned 3 second graders. There were 2 boys and a girl. They were adorable and “wicked smahhhht.” This tutoring center was set up so that the students had a place to go after school instead of the streets. It is also a motivational center for the students to get their homework done.

Well, I need to go catch my plane back to Charleston!

Miss and love you all, keep writting!

Love,

Alena

Abbeville, what a mess

Why hello there,

We arrived in Abbeville about two weeks ago. Our first residence was in the attic of a church. The pastor gave us an hour and a half orientaion to what we could and couldn’t do in the church, but made sure that we knew to “make our sleves at home.” An example of what we could do is breath, talk in quiet vioces, not touch each other, not touch anything around us, and play basketball in the gym as long as it didn’t hit anything. Just in case we didn’t understand him for the 1.5 hour orientation, he then wrote orange posted notes on everything reminding us not to use or touch anything…but to be sure to make ourselves at home.

Needless to say, we left this Spike housing, and moved to a less psychotic place of residency. We are now living on an experimental solar-powered farm about 20 minutes from anything. We are surrounded by beautiful fields filled with wildflowers…and cows…lots of cows…

We have been working in Delcum, which was a town where the houses were all flooded with at least 5 ft. of water. We have been mucking/gutting/demolding the houses. These houses are disgusting, and in any other area, they would all have been condemned and torn down. It would make a lot more sense to start from scratch with these houses, because there is no truly effective way to treat the mold. Unfortunately, in this area, there are no building codes, so if the owner wants to keep the house and rebuild, they are able to. I predict that in a few years, there is going to be a lot of sickness in these areas along the gulf. The mold will have regrown in all these houses and there will be an epidemic (black mold is rampant).

One of our site supervisors used to be a bomb specialist for the Marines. His suggestion is just to drop Napalm on this whole region. This explosive would “sterilize the ground” and people will be able to start from scratch without the fear of disease…this is a good idea, however, unfortunately, we do not have the funds to truly rebuild down here, so basically we are just putting a band aid on an amputated leg. So basically its been a little frustrating working because we feel like we aren’t fixing the real problem. Especially since the next hurricane season is projected to be bigger and more severe than the last.

Beside the frustrations, I went to New Orleans again this weekend to visit some of my AmeriFriends. We had a blast and stayed at a Hipppie-type commune place with TPs and lots of dreadlocks. Everyone was so friendly. They serve organic food to the residents of New Orleans.

Like Abbeville, New Orleans also needs a lot of work. Especially since it is the site of the largest oil spill in North American history (happened during Katrina). Also, the 9th ward has barely been touched. It is a festeriing wound that once opened is going to present 100s of other problems around the gulf. As Steve said, “Napalm…pure and simple…” I am kidding…but seriously…right now simply rebuilding isnt going to fix any of the long term problems.

I miss and love you all!

Please keep writing, I love hearing from everyone!

Love,

Alena

On to LA

Hey Everyone!

So I just got back to Charleston after finishing our project in Mississippi. It was an experience that has changed my perspective on many aspects of my life. The destruction was so great and the loss of the communities was unfathomable, yet people are rising up together and rebuilding. What struck me the most was the sense of community that I witnessed. No matter what faith, or race (which before the storm meant a huge deal to the Gulf Coast) people banded together to help one another.

I was able to attend a conference on homelessness caused by the hurricanes. Two other teammates and I got to sit and listen to people’s stories on how they survived the storm. People who would never have spoken to each other are now brought together to fight to rebuild. It was incredibly hard to listen to everyone and realize that there is only so much that I can do to help. The suicide rate in the region is going up because there

At the homes I was working on, I became close with the home owners. One man, Billy, survived the storm by placing his 5 year old daughter and 5 month old daughter into coolers so that they would float and placed them in the attic. He then put his pregnant wife up there and went onto the roof with an axe so that he could chop his family out if the flood waters kept rising. He was blown off the roof and had to swim back…luckily they all survived. He had 7 feet of flooding in his 1 story house. I heard stories like this on a daily basis and saw the damage and destruction everyday on the way to work.

On each home there is a spray-painted grid that was put there 3 days after the storm. On one side of the grid there is the date inspected. Another is the inspection # and the bottom is the number killed. I always saw a zero in that place until one of the last days I was staring out the window and my eyes fell upon a 2 at the bottom of the grid. My whole team just stared, we thought we had become almost numb to the destruction until we saw that. It took us a while to realize how numb we had become until we got back to Charleston and saw standing buildings…then it really sunk in.

We finished up the last days in Biloxi and got one woman moved into her house, and got 4 others almost there—they will be able to move in in the next few weeks. I am quite the skilled carpenter if I do say so myself (not to toot my own horn). Joy and I are the “master trimmers” and we installed floor trim in all the houses (I learned to cope the corners to make them match etc…). I also learned how to install drywall, mud, and flooring. The home owners told us that not only did we help them with building their homes, we also helped restore hope that they are not the forgotten coast, and that the coast will be rebuilt.

I also got to experience Gulf Coast Culture and see many Mardi Gras celebrations. It was so amazing to see the people rise up from the destruction and celebrate as well as poke fun at Katrina (like throwing MREs from some of the floats along with the beads).

Since Americorps NCCC is getting cut (unless people like you help save it), 80% of our projects are going to be disaster relief. This means that I am going to Abbysville Louisiana next. This town was hit by both Katrina and Rita so I don’t know what to expect.

The last website I gave you was the wrong site. Please go to savenccc.org to help save this program. We are needed now more than ever.

I miss you and love you all!

Love,

Alena

SEl Presidente = El Idiote

Hey Everyone!

So as you may have heard, the Bush administration has decided to make significant cutbacks in the budget. Medicare, Education, and Americorps are some of the organizations affected.

Because Americorps’ budget has significantly been diminished, the president of Americorps has decided to get rid of Americorps NCCC after this year. As many of you know, this program has opened my eyes and allowed me to experience things that I never would have dreamed of. This program not only fosters the growth of leaders, but is also very beneficial to the communities it serves. It is hard to look at the difference we have made, then been told that we are not cost effective. Especially at a time when our help is so greatly needed here on the gulf coast.

We are doing everything we can down here to try to help Americorps, and there is something you can do as well. The bill to cut the Budget has not yet made it through Congress. If any of you have any political clout, talk to your senators and convince them not to approve these budget cuts. There is a petition you can sign at Americorps.org to help save Americorps and there is another one at Save Americorps.

Thank you!

Love,

Alena

P.S Things are good here (despite the above mentioned). We are working hard and long hours, building houses. We have met incredible people who have shared with us their survival stories. I will share all those with y’all another time, but I am running out of computer time.

 

 

Mississippi

Hey Everyone!

Sorry it took so long to write agian, but things have been a bit hectic (what a suprise).

So, Americorps decided that the need for help was much greater in Biloxi, Mississippi than Fort Myers, so they shipped from FL to Miss. Before I get into Mississippi, let me first tell you about how incredible Fort Myers was.

For starters, we were working with another team, Silver 3. They are some of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. They made the work day tons of fun. While in Fort Myers, we repaired houses that were damaged by Hurricane Wilma then worked on some homes being built. My friend Alex (Sliver 3), and I got chosen to work with the plumber named DUCK. Duck is a very interesting charcter. He is the youngest of 13, and likes to talk…A LOT. He has 2 tatoos, one of Donald Duck reading “the duck man” and another above his rear reading “plumbers crack.” The more comfortable he got with us, the more racist and inappropriate his comments and stories would get.

We decided to stop working with him after 3 days and went with the rest of our teams to help gut out and repair a house that was owned by a lonely man, who is now in prison somewhere (the house had been abandonded). We found all sorts of intersesting treasures. For example, his correspondence with his mail order bride he was receiving, along with the mail order bride catalog where he had circled and written comments near a few. We found a novel he had wrote, children’s books, an oversized valentine, and body bags… On the weekend we went to the Everglades and went on a fan boat ride…soo much fun!

We found out last Wednesday that we would be leaving Silver 3 and Fort Myers to go to Mississippi where the eye of Hurricane Katrina hit to do disaster relief. We said our tearful goodbyes and left Friday morning, drove 13 hours, and arrived at our camp. It was incredible to see the devastation progress as we came closer to Biloxi.

We are staying in circus tents with about 70 other volunteers per tent. There are 3 tents, and for all of us, there are 10 Porta-Potties and 10 portable showers. The devastation here is unimaginable. It has been 5 months since Katrina hit, and along the gulf, it still looks as though an atom bomb has hit. People are still living out of their cars, and people are still without proper food. Huge buildings are nothing but rubble, and where houses stood, there is nothing except piles of garbage. The worst part is, the Red Cross pulled out 2 months ago, so it is up to smaller organizations to keep rebuilding.

We are working with a Lutheran organiztion, and the circus tents are somewhat like a little commune (people are soooo friendly and supportive). We (Americorps) bring the average age way down (most of the volunteers are at least 55). We work from 6 in the morning until 5:30/6:00 then eat dinner comunally…followed by optional devotionals and prayer.

During the day, my team has been working on this one house putting up drywall, painting, trim, cieling…pretty much all of the interior work. It looks as though we will finish this house in a week or 2. We had the pleasure of meeting the family whose house it is. It is owned by a single mother with 2 kids who has had to cram into her parents’ house for the past 5 months. It is amazing to help her get her house back. Our work changes depending on where they need us. It is just hard because there is so much that needs to be done, and it’s hard to feel like you have even made a dent.

I miss you all, and hope you are all happy and healthy! Keep writing, I need the support!

Love,

Alena

P.S. No, I didn't get to meet David Ortiz, but Silver 3 promised me his autograph…

Recruiting, roaming, and Red Sox

HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!

So, it has been a while since my last email, but this is not because a lot has not been happening.

I spent my break in Costa Rica, which is a beautiful touristy get away in Central America…it was a blast, and very different from Americorps. It was hard to return to this dilapidated base after a week of luxury.

On my return, I found out that one of my teammates, Whitney, decided to leave Americorps much to our disapiontement. We spent the next few days saying good bye to her and we did it in a Whitney sort of way…breaking the rules.

A few of us decided to go exploring on the base. The Base is over 8 miles long and we are only on the very edge of one side. So we got into our van and drove around. Security is tightening on the base because parts of it are being taken over by the FBI and CIA so this was our last opportunity for pictures. We first stopped at the old power house which looks like something out of a horror movie. There are all sorts of rusty pipes, stair wells, and smashed windows. Not to mention there are weird noises coming out of it. We explored a bit then drove onto the part of the base where the Naval officers and families used to live. The houses were HUGE and beautful despite the fact that they were abandoned. We walked up to the biggest house and tried to get in, but it was boarded up. We then noticed the bullet holes in the door frame and window.

We then proceeded to drive along the the road until we came across what appeared to be a graveyard. We got out of the van and looked at the gravestones. The weird thing was that all the little plaques had been washed out with acid (very purposeful). The one plaque that hadn’t whipped out had a bar code on it…

Severely weirded out, we drove back to our side of base speculating what those stones were…we came up with three options…Aliens, CIA, or POWs…but there is probably some logical explanation, but this is a lot more fun.

The next day was “life after Americorps day” where we walk around booths figuring out what we are doing next year. Since I already know, I was able to walk around for fun and not stress like the majority of the corps. I had a very pleasant conversation with an FBI recruitment officer, a Navy recruiter, Fish and Wildlife rep., some sort of hippyish commune director, Peace Corps, and the Red Cross. There were many others, but I just took their leaflets. The FBI was the coolest, plus they gave away cool freebies.

On my retrun to my room, my Team Leader called to inform me that I would be the ATL (assistant team leader) for the next project. This just means I have more responsibility, and have to fill out lots of paper work.

I leave tomarrow for Fort Myers (RED SOX SPRING TRAINING). While down there we will be doing repairs on homes that were damaged/destroyed when hurricane Wilma hit. We will be there for 6 weeks and working with another team (Silver 3). They seem like a lot of fun, and it will be nice to meet/work with/hang out with another team.

While down there I will find a way to hug/get my picture taken with Jason Veritek and David Ortiz…I think I will use my government satus to my advantage…“I serously think it would improve morale of this dedicated team if they were to meet the Red Sox. They have been working long hours doing disaster relief and they are huge fans. I think you owe it to this country to allow these teams this small request.”

I need to work on my wordage…but that is the plea I shall try. Any sugeestions are most welcome.

Well, that’s all for now!

Hope everyone had a happy holiday! I miss you all very much!

Keep writing, I want to hear what everyone is up to. Even if I can’t respond personally, I STILL CARE!!!

Love,

Alena

Terrorists…They are everywhere

So I had a very interesting day today. I got to pretend to be a victim of a terrorist attack for a drill. Basically they asked our team to act as victims so that they could test their readiness for an attack.

The premise of the attack was that a car bomb exploded near a radioactive tank. There were two wrecked cars, and a smoke machine inside the tank spraying us with “radioactivity.” We each had a role to play. Some of us were covered in fake blood and guts and put into the cars. Others were lying dead. I got to have “severe anxiety,” which meant that I got to pester the workers and fake cry and hyperventilate.

You may be wondering…are we prepared for an attack???

HECK NO!

It took them 2 hours to respond to the “attack” meanwhile while we were laying there waiting, they were setting us up so that it would look the best on camera. Mostly this was just a showing for the news. Then, once they got there, they didn’t treat the critically injured patients first, my teammate “having a diabetic emergency” was left passed out on the street, and they forced my teammate who “couldn’t breathe” to walk by herself to the nearest station They made another teammate who was a spinal victim move himself from the car…the list goes on.

Hopefully if there is a disaster it won’t happen anywhere near Charleston. Apparently I am a good fake crier because I got complemented on my acting abilty…even though the moment I turned my head I would crack up because the whole thing was ridiculous.

Another thing that makes me feel safe is that one of the “victims” was “strapped” with a bomb and they never discovered it…

So now, Meredith—who is stilll covered in blood and whose brains seems to be spilling out—is lying in front of the galley to freak everyone out…at least some good things come from mock terrorist attacks…

Anyway, the good news is that I found out where my next project is…the bad news is that it is back down in cursed Florida…but at least we are rebuilding houses destroyed in Wilma and working with another team, even though we don’t know who yet!

Well I’m off to watch Meredith!

I am home the 21st!

Love,

Alena

 

 

Hello

Hey,

Sorry I have not written in a while, but we have been working weird hours, and I am rarely back with enough time to use the computers.

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I have been working at Eagle Harbor Home for Boys. This is a temporary home for boys either in foster care, or in state custody because their parents are seen as unfit. The majority of the boys have been abused and have never had any stability in their life. This home is designed to bring them love, trust, and stability while they live there.

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My site supervisor (the man who runs the place) is a very interesting character. He is very friendly, but can say the most inappropriate things, and can make some very ignorant remarks. He is very religious and raises the boys religious. He would not let them see Harry Potter because it promoted Satan… He also doesn’t believe that women should work (they need to stay home and clean/cook/take care of the children). We spend the mornings doing manual labor. We build onto the house, lug boxes, organize their cluttered giant warehouse, send out letters, and garden. After 4:00 we tutor and play with the boys once they get home from school. My student is failing half his classes, is 15, but is still in 7th grade. He is very intelligent, but he doesn’t work because nobody has ever pushed him. It is very frustrating and sad, because it’s hard to know if he will continue doing his work once Americorps is no longer there. After tutoring I play cards with another boy who can almost give me a run for my money in Hearts and Spades. We had Thanksgiving at their house. It was hard not being able to come home, but it was also nice to eat with my Americorps family and the boys.

I was Fun POC (Point of Contact) for this Spike, so I designed a scavanger hunt for my team. Some of the tasks they must complete are:

  • serenade a member of the Coast Guard with a romantic song
  • take a picture with a Taiwanese Navy officer while they are in full uniform (hard hats and all)
  • eat at the galley all dressed up. Bring a table cloth, candles, flowers, etc…
  • take a picture of the campus director wearing a crazy hat…
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There are much more, but most of them wouldn’t make sense if if you haven’t seen base. It just is really super depressing and boring on base so I just had to spice it up a bit. They are starting to reactivate the base, so they have put all this fencing around us because otherwise it may be a security hazard…or something like that. They think us Americorps members are spies for those damn terrorists…and fences are going to keep us from finding out information. However, there are holes in them, and they just inconvenience us because we have to walk completely out of our way to get anywhere. Very tempted to use one of our chain saws…Also, base is huanted…but I'll save my crazy ghost stories for another time. Anyway..

I come home in exactly 2 weeks!! I am soo excited to see y’all! Please keep writing, I love hearing from everyone!

Love,

Alena

Adios Miami/Flood of 2005

Hey everyone!

I just finished writing everyone a lovely email, but then the computer crashed…URRRG anyway…

We drove back down to Miami and saw all the damage progress the further south we got. Trees that were over 10ft in diameter were completely uprooted, roofs/signs/awnings were torn up, and power lines were down. It is hard to imagine that this was only a type 3 hurricane.

After arriving, we went straight to work. We went to distribution sites and helped hand out ice, water, and food. We were guarded by the national guard, and things ran pretty smoothly. It was both emotionally and physically tiring. It was hard to determine what families deserved what, and whether people were being truthful when they told us they had 10 kids at home. An interesting conversation I had with one man was:


Man: “Can I get more food and water for the 3 old ladies I have at home?” 
Me: “I’m sorry sir, but we are only allowed to give supplies for people that are here.” 
Man: “But all 6 of the old ladies are in wheelchairs.” 
Me: “6? all 6?” 
Man: “Yeah…all 6 are in wheelchairs, and the other 2 have heart problems.”
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Instances like these were easy to figure out whether they were being truthful, however other times were a lot more difficult. It was very gratifying to give the deserving victims their necessities. There is a very strong sense of community within Miami, and it was very uplifting to see everyone taking care of their neighbors and elderly. We got to do distribution at the Orange Bowl. After hours we snuck in and played ultimate frisbee on the field for PT, it was amazing!

After doing distribution we began work on our original project on Virginia Key. The project consisted of weeding out exotic species and saving the native endangered plant species. In the afternoon we worked in the plant nursery. The job was not very fun, and VERY HOT. Luckly, we worked on a beach, so during our lunch breaks, we swam in the ocean.

Since we still didn’t have power, we took showers at City Hall and charged all of our cell phones there. 3 nights before we left, our landlord brought us a generator for power, so we had limited power the last three nights.

So here is our really exciting adventure on Monday night. Since we had a generator we decided to watch a movie. My team decided upon The Shining. You all know how much I LOVE horror movies…I spent about 75% of the movie with my head buried in my teammates arm screaming. Needless to say, I was kind of on edge. Most of the team went to bed having already seen the movie so there were just 4 of us awake. The movie was about to be over when we heard an explosion from the kitchen. My immediate reaction is to hit the floor thinking that someone is shooting at us because of the neighborhood we are in. Jen apparently had the same idea because she joined me there (I don’t know when I realized it was a bad neighborhood, it could have been when we were walking home and a police car drove up to us and said, “You whiteys are going the wrong way, you are about to get shot or robbed,” or maybe it was what appeared to be an episode of Cops across the street the night earlier which culminated in 2 of our neighbors being dragged out of their houses and shoved into cop cars).

We then see smoke coming out of the kitchen and discover that it was not a gunshot, but the condensed milk cans that our team leader was boiling down. Apparently the water had evaporated, and the cans exploded coating every single surface, including the ceiling in a thick gooey caramel. We cleaned it up and went to bed around 1 AM.

I was having a very pleasant dream about being on a boat when I was awoken at 3 by my teamate Meredith yelling, “Get up and grab your stuff, we are flooding.” I reached down and felt water and soon discovered the reason for my dream, my air mattress was floating on about 3 inches of water. I then realized, that since there was no shelving in the house, everything I owned was now drenched in the flood including my books, camera, and iPod. We quickly got up and moved everything out of the house. We then swept out all the water after shutting the water off (a pipe had burst). By this time it was 5 AM and we all collapsed on our air mattresses in our front yard and fell asleep. I was awoken by an eerie feeling. I looked up, and there was a lady staring down at me, still dazed, I said somthing like “Good morning” or “Hello.” She startled, yelled, and ran away. It occured to us how strange it must look to everyone in the neighborhood. 11 people sleeping in their front yard, with the entire contents of the house strewn across the yard. Our cloths were hanging on trees and fences, and books were drying on window sills. Our neighbors already thought we were some kind of experiment (we were asked if it was some government experiment to move 11 white kids into the ghetto), and now I think their suspicions were confirmed. We spent the rest of the day doing laundry and trying to salvage/access the damage.

Wednesday was our last day on Virginia Key. We finally drove home to Charleston where there is power, and good food (never thought I would think that the galley food is good…) I also have my room to myself because my roommate and suite mates are still on spike!

I hope everyone is going well! I miss you!

Please keep writing and or sending my snail mail!

Alena Rosen 
Americorps NCCC/Class XII, Gold 5 
2231 South Hobson 
Charleston, SC 29405

Love,

Alena

My adventure in Okefenokee Swamp/Escape from Wilma

Hey everybody (I’ve been told its creepy when I say Y’all)

OkefenokeeNaomiDeanne.JPG

We evacuated from Miami on Friday and drove up to Okefenokee Swamp/Wildlife Refuge in southeren Georgia. We arrived at night and found out that we would be staying in a series of trailers. We unpacked, then fell asleep. We woke up the next morning and had the official information session for all volunteers. We learned about the swamp, and watched a “award winning” video on the wildlife/conservation efforts. The swamp is the same size as half of Rhode Island. We then asked what there is to do around here because we had the whole weekend off. We found out that there was a river where all the locals swim.

OkefenokeeGirls.JPG

We drove to the river and discovered that the water was tea colored. The locals started laughing when we said we wanted to go swimming because apparently there are lots of alligators and cotton mouth snakes (very poisonous). We then looked across the bank, and on top of a cliff, there was a rope swing. We could not resist, so a few of us swam across. To swing off the rope swing, we had to climb this really rickety tree that would launch the rope off the cliff so that you were suspended 40 ft over the water. It may have been one of the most thrilling experiences in my life. I was scared sh*tless, but the the free fall made it worth the anxiety.Besides the fear of the sketchy rope breaking, the fear of falling striaght into an alligators mouth nearly made me wet myself.

On Sunday we went on a “canoe” trip around the swamp. I use quotes because we were in plastic boats, with plastic paddles, and nobody on my team knows how to canoe properly. It was really cool to explore the swamp though. We saw alligators, and birds, and the area was BEAUTIFUL!

On Monday we met our supervisor Russel. Imagine the crockhunter with a southern accent, who makes fun of himself for being a typical redneck. He taught us how to use power tools, and we ventured off into the swamp to clear a trail. We got to put on camouflage overall waders and we trudged through the swamp. It gave me a strange sense of power using power tools in camouflage. I can see why people actually go swamping for fun. Russel told us that what happens in Okefenokee stays in Okefinokee, but I’ll tell you guys anyways.

Here are the rules we broke that made the day sooo much better:

  1. We got to ride in the front basket of a 4 wheeler driven by Russel. Imagine speeding alond the bumpy trails feeling like there is nothing beneath you, and there is absolutely nothing stopping you from flying into a nearby tree. So much fun. In the words of Meredith “This is better then Disney World.”
  2. We got to hold baby alligators. Not only that, but Russel waved the baby alligator in front of the mommy till it lunged at us. We all screamed and Russel cackled. He did not put the alligator back until he heard a car coming because we aren’t supposed to touch the animals.

We then spent the next two days in motor boats traveling through narrow passageways clearing a 12 mile canoe trail. It was amazing careening around sharp bends in the swamp, especially when Russel was driving. I was sitting on the bow of the boat and he yells up to me “Hey, Alena, brace yourself. I’m going to show you how we crash in Okefenokee.” He then proceeded to crash into the brush. After clearing the trail, we then tore down a structure in the swamp and finished up today.

Tomorrow we go back to Miami. There is no power down there, so I don’t know how well I will be able to communicate. I am sad to be leaving the swamp, but I am happy to get back to Miami.

I hope all is well with everyone! Keep writing!

Love,

Alena

Ms. Wilma

Hey Y’all

Naomi in the kitchen

Naomi in the kitchen

I am enjoying Miami immensely, although it is unlike any city I have ever lived in before. Our house is a small one floor, 4 bedroom house for the 11 of us. There are bars on the windows, and barbed wire fences on two of the sides . We are the only white peolple in our neighborhood, and we stand out due to our uniforms and government vehicle.

When we first arrived two little boys walked up to us and asked us “What went down?”

Whitney on an air matress

Whitney on an air matress

(due to our govnt vehicle and militaryesque uniforms). we then explained that we were the new neighbors, and their response was “Y’all white?” We asked if it was a problem, and they chimed “yeah”.

It is an interesting experience being a minority. I mean down here I am one because I’m Jewish. But I have never been in a place where my skin color is the minority. I think that it will be good for me.

Also, almost everyone speaks Spanish. I am trying to practice, but I have found that I am very rusty. I hope by the end I can carry on a decent conversation.

Ernesto, our sponsor

Ernesto, our sponsor

Our project sponsors are the nicest people ever. They are hilarious, accommodating, and very knowledgeable about their given fields. They make sure we understand exactly why we are doing what we are doing. The last 3 days have been spent pickingup a huge amount of trash along the coast that was washed ashore from the hurricanes. I can never look styrofoam in the face ever again.The stuff we find is disgusting, and the work is tedious, but

our sponsors make it fun by joking around with us. They are both immigrants from Cuba. They are

helping us with our Spanish, and they want our help with English. They are going to take us Salsa dancing next weekend, and cook for us.

Naomi and Joy clean up

Naomi and Joy clean up

Next week we get to start actually working on the Virginia Key. We will be removing invasive plant species and educating the local community about the harms of exotic plants.

Last weekend we exhausted to our house, and explored Miami. It is a beautful city, although there are parts (including the neighborhood we live in) that we are advised not to walk at night. We went to a night club and danced to reggaeton and I was reminded of Spain (shout out to my Spainers).

So now we are preparing for the arrival of hurricane Wilma which is currently a 5 off the coast of Cuba. We are waiting for official orders, but it looks as though we will be evacuated to south Georgia. If we aren’t evacuated, our house is pretty safe for hurricanes. We can board up the windows, and since it is a one story, flat roofed house, it is fairly safe for hurricanes. I will keep my parents informed about my whereabouts, and I will have my cell phone (but I may lose service due to the storm).

Meredith, Joy, and me in Miami Beach

Meredith, Joy, and me in Miami Beach

I feel safe and like I am in good hands, so don’t worry.

Keep writing, I love hearing from y'all

love,

Alena

So Soon!

Hey!

Wow, I cannot believe that in less than 24 hours I am leaving for Miami. Today we are doing the final prep for our project. Research, packing, room cleaning…etc…we leave 4:30 am tomorrow. While we are gone, my bathroom is going to be excavated because half the wing’s plumbing doesn’t work. Therefore I have to lock up everything in my closet to prepare. I am not alone in this, about 3/11 of the corps just happens to be on the wrong side of the building. At least the sewage didn’t back up into my room like what happened to my teammates’ room (this is the one perk about living on the 3rd floor).

This morning we had the corps race. It was 5K. I did alright, wasn’t soo pleased with my time. One thing I don’t understand is how marathoners drink water and run at the same time. I tried to drink the water they handed me, but I choked (and no, I don’t have a drinking problem…other corps members had the same issue).

For the next paragraph, I am going to try to use as many Americorps acronyms as I can (amerinyms):

So, for our SPIKE, each CM gets appointed to be a POC for something. I am PT POC. I am happy that my TL appointed me PT POC. My TM on G5 is Safety POC she needs to make sure we have our PPEs (SGs, Gs, EPs). My UL is named Leland, he is a nice SM. My STL is named Annie she is super cool. Marisa is our ATL for this project. CTI is almost done, we get inducted at 2:30 today. Which means that we are no longer on probation and are officially CMs. We will meet at 669 parking lot, maybe drive to 202, but then arrive at street.

So this is how people talk here. There are a lot more amerinyms, but I can’t think of them off the top of my head. They gave us a a sheet when we started CTI (corps training institute) to remember all the acronyms.

I miss everyone!!!!

Keep your emails coming….or…even better…actual snail mail!!! I really like to hear from everyone!

Have a nice fast and Yom Kippur to those to celebrate/atone!

love,

Alena

Happy New Year

I will begin this email like we begin most meetings, with the Americorps pledge:

I will get things done for America to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an Americorps member, and I will GET THINGS DONE!!! 
(the last part is said while pumping your fist in the air)

As I stated before, this pledge is said anytime the entire campus is together (meetings, PT, or shits and giggles). My team has adopted the last part of the pledge to use as motivation. For example, “I am an Americorps member, and I will hammer that nail, ” or “I am an Americorps member and I will stop asking Deanne (our team leader) where we are being sent for our first project,” or “I am an Americorps member and I will not fall asleep during disaster relief training. 

We also like to place Ameri in front of words to make them fit us better. Some examples are… 

  • Americest (relationships involving people on the same team)
  • Amerilove (relationships involving people on different teams)
  • Ameriswear (swearing while in the A(uniform) this is not allowed)

the list goes on but those are my favorites

Cool things about being down south:

  • Alligators: scary yet awesome
  • Tree frogs: they are all over houses
  • Lizards: sweet
  • Foxes: there are 2 that are basically our dorm pets, they hang out with us outside…names are Jamie and Sylvester
  • Lady’s nights: skating, karaoke, pretty much everything is cheaper for girls down here or just free
  • People are ridiculously friendly: People say “Hi” and greet people they don’t know. They are all super friendly and hospitable.

Not so cool things

  • Fire ants: hurt a lot, invade people’s beds, nests are EVERYWHERE
  • Sexism: girls are supposed to have babies, and any heavy lifting might prevent us from having babies. For example, we were working at a heart walk, and were asked to go over help unload a truck. My teammate Jen and I went over to help. This is the conversation:

Man: “ummm…I’m going to need some guys” 
Us: “Let us try to lift it, I think we can do it” 
Man: “Well…I know I shouldn’t be saying this…but I really need some guys, where are they at? ” 
Us: “Well you only have us two right now, let us try” 
Man: “Be my guest, but don’t say I didn’t warn you… ” 
Jen and I proceed to lift the tank and carry it to the designated area, ignoring the man’s stuttering. (yes, I am aware that it is because of sexism that there are lady’s nights…but…I’d give them up).
  • Heat: It’s getting cooler, but it’s still gross
  • Smell: paper mill mixed with salt fishy water, mixed with sewage segregation: it is ridiculous.

We are almost done with training, and we leave for our first project on Oct 13. We still don’t know what it is, but there is a big chance that I will find out tomorrow night.

We finally finished disaster relief training. Let me describe the class…blah blah blah blah (in a droning voice) blah paperwork paperwork paperwork blah blah blah crappy video blah blah blah …oh wait, I just had a realization…everything they are telling us is either common sense or is written in the papers they handed out…I think I’ll play I spy with Joy…yet this training was 32 hours long!!!!!!!!

That’s how I feel about lots of our training, it could be summed up in about 1/4 of the time. But I guess its better to be safe then sorry.

Ok, so off to team volleyball game. The entire corps is in the tournament…too bad none of us have ever played volleyball…we could have won something.

Happy new year to those who celebrate.

Happy birthday Katya and Maggie…Maggie's was yesterday, and Katya’s is tomorrow…everyone wish them a happy birthday!!!!!

Love,

Alena

No Sweat

Hey hey,

Naomi and me looking super tough in our AmeriWear and PPE

Naomi and me looking super tough in our AmeriWear and PPE

So, let me tell you about my day Friday. I awoke at 5 in the morning and dragged myself out of bed after much prodding from my roommate. We changed into our workout cloths and trudged our way down stairs and out into the parking lot for PT (physical training). We did our group announcements, the Americorps pledge, sung happy birthday to my teammate Adam, stretched then divided into our work out groups. My group consists of all the other team fives from different units. Although it is still dark, it is about 90 degrees and everyone is already sweating. We then find out today that we are doing the long distance 40 min run (5 miles). So we set off into the dark, running on the crumbling road, perspiring gloriously. We run along this road that leads through the marsh. It is pitch black, and the only thing that motivates you to keep going is the fear that you will be left behind in the marsh and be eaten by the swamp monster. The lovely smell of salt water mixed with sewage wafts through our noses and we recall the warning of a team leader “Welcome to Charleston, breath through your mouth.” we complete the run, thoroughly exhausted and then move into upper body exercises and ab torture. PT ends at 6:30 and we have 30 min to get into our uniforms because our van is leaving at 7:00 to take us to the final day of our habitat for humanity project.

Janney and Jen doing the same

Janney and Jen doing the same

We pile into the van, already sweaty from the workout. This sweat is mixed with the stench of our uniforms that we have worn for 3 days straight without washing. These uniforms have been worn while we have been sweating in the afternoon sun, hammering/building a house. We arrive at the site and have the morning prayer (optional, so many of us step out of the circle), then divide to our project sites. Most groups were painting, but my team got to actually build a house basically from scratch. We nailed the walls, put up the roof, got to climb around in the roof (my personal favorite), and nail more nails then I thought I ever could (it turns out I’m an ambi-hammerer…holla). We wrap up the project and head home. It was amazing to see what we were able to accomplish in 3 days. Even though it was exhausting, and sometimes frustrating, the result made it worthwhile. Plus, we learned about the family whose house this was going to be, and they were incredibly deserving.

David, Joy, and Meredith in the van on the way back to base

David, Joy, and Meredith in the van on the way back to base

We got back to the dorms, showered (finally…I honestly don’t think I’ve ever smelled that badly in my life!), and went out for Adam’s birthday. we went to a fun park and played mini golf and raced go carts ( I was being passed my 10 year olds). We got back early, then crashed ïcause we had to wake up at 5 the next morning to help set of a walk to raise money for heart conditions.

I know this doesn’t sound fun for most of you, but I am loving every minute of it!

Today I’m going though peer helper training (we each get selected to have a specific job on the team, and I was selected to be peer helper), I’ll let you know how the rest of the training goes.

I need to get back to training, but it’s been great hearing from everyone!

My address is:

Alena Rosen ClassXII/ Gold 5 
Americorps NCCC 
2231 South Hobson Ave. 
Charleston SC 29405

Love,

Alena

Team

Hey Everyone!

My team after the scavenger hunt Top : Joy, Adam Middle: Marisa, Meredith, Deanne, Naomi, Me (yes, I am wearing shorts) Bottom: Shay, Jen, and David

My team after the scavenger hunt

Top : Joy, Adam

Middle: Marisa, Meredith, Deanne, Naomi, Me (yes, I am wearing shorts)

Bottom: Shay, Jen, and David

So here are a some answers to all the questions I have been receiving. I am based at an ex-naval base, which we share with the coast guard, Taiwanese navy, and the Department of Homeland Security. Americorps is divided into 4 units for organizational purposes. Red, Blue, Silver, and Gold. I am on the Gold Unit (G-unit) on team 5. When we have gold unit meeting we have to start off by yelling “g-g-g-g-uuunit!” (yeah, I know you’re jealous).

The base itself is very run down and ugly. The rooms are moldy and depressing, but we make do ’cause all of us are soo cool we just brighten up the place. The base is located in a more dangerous part of Charleston (bars on store windows, prostitution, gangs), but the base itself is safe. We often go into downtown Charleston during the weekends, which is beautiful. However, it was kind of shocking how segregated it is down here. Our team had to participate in a scavenger hunt competing with other G-Unit teams. We walked around Chuck town in the 105 degree weather and went to all the historical sights. The highlights were dancing in the fountain, and frolicking in the park (we had to document each of these events on camera, along with the 12 other tasks…I think we looked a little strange in our uniforms dancing in the fountain…So far we’ve been trained in media, first aide, CPR, and the first part of disaster relief training.

FountainDance.jpg

Saturday nights have been spent at the local bars or at clubs (where they wear cowboy hats and ride the mechanical bull). On Sundays we have off so we usually go to the beach. Last Sunday we were there and a surfer was eaten by a shark, which was quite scary even though we did not see it. A helicopter kept flying overhead to look for it. This Sunday we were all a little apprehensive about going to the beach, but we ended up going and had a great time.

Today I got to work at a food warehouse responsible for distributing food to hurricane Katrina. Tomorrow I start training for a 3 day Habitat for Humanity project. The only complaints I have are the heat and the fire ants (accidentally sat on a nest…not as much fun as its cracked up to be). Keep in touch, I want to hear from Y’all (seee…I fit in!). You can call me anytime (617) 694-3595. Next email I’ll send you the mailing address.

Love,

Alena

p.s They do not have spell check on these computers, and as you all well know, it probably wouldn’t even make that much of a difference. Anyway, please no more comments, it makes me self conscious…lol

Uniform Disappointment

Hey all!!!!!

AlenaUni.jpg

So now it is mandatory to always wear your uniform during service hours and to the Galley (the eating place that we share with the coast guard). Let me tell you, these uniforms are the MOST attractive things that you have ever seen. First off, we have the lovely khaki pants and the lovely khaki shorts. These are all men’s clothing, so they don’t fit any of us girls that well (my shorts go down past my knees). Then we have our lovely gray T shirts and long sleeve shirts that are also men’s sizes and huge. They ran out of smalls so half the girls don’t have T shirts yet, which you can imagine is alot of fun in the heat. It is kinda bizarre that the corps is 70% women, yet they are all men sizing. We are required to always have our shirts tucked in and be wearing a belt. Then, here is my favorite part of the uniform (although only required at work sites and special occasions), STEEL TOED BLACK BOOOTS!!!!!!!!!!! These boots are awesome, they look sorta like neo Nazi boots, but are not … however, they do give me a strong urge to kick something just to prove that I won’t hurt my toes.

Gibbons.jpg

Yesterday, while half our team was getting trained in how to drive the van, the other half went to a day long project with another team. It was soo cool. We got to go to a gibbon conservation place. Basically, this woman travels around the world destroying the bush meat trade and animal smugglers. She then rescues the animals from mistreatment and labs and has a place for them down in SC. We got to clean their cages, which was a lot of fun. The gibbons have really long arms, and if you are not careful, will reach out and steal hats, gloves, goggles, glasses, or just hit you on the head to see a reaction. My teammate Jen had just finished cleaning out a cage…the gibbon looked at her…looked at the ground…then pooped and laughed. The workers there said this was one of the pranks the gibbons play on newcomers. I also got to build a swing, and plant trees. This was hard because the ground was dried up clay and we had to switch off between a shovel and a pulaski (sorta like a pick axe) just to dig the holes.

This morning I had to wake up at 5:00 in the morning to go exercise…oh joy. We did a “Norwegian ski team workout” which consisted of us doing a lot of leg strengthening exercises then ab work out. I guess I’m kinda glad we do this in the morning ’cause otherwise the heat would be horrible. However, the Taiwanese navy runs at 3 in the afternoon, but they are a lot tougher then us (their uniform is blue jump suits and hard hats…they always wear hard hats…).

So training has now officially started, and I’m soooo ready! My team is awesome, and we get along really well even if this one guy is really awkward/funny/never talks…

We are waiting on the arrival of hurricane Ophelia (sp?) but it looks as though it will miss us for the most part!

I hope everyone is healthy and happy. I love to hear from all of you even if I can’t reply directly!

Love,

Alena

Arriving in South Carolina

Hey everyone!

Dorm Room

Dorm Room

So I just arrived in SC yesterday. It is hot, and sticky, but so far that is only the real negative. On the plane ride over I met a lot of really nice people because it turned out about 20 people on our plane ride over were doing Americorps. We arrived at the base which is kinda ugly and run down in most parts, but the dorms and dinning hall are nice even though they are far apart.

My rommate Janney (sans mohawk)

My rommate Janney (sans mohawk)

When I arived I checked into the welcome station then met my team leader named Deanne, who is really nice. Actually everyone here is really nice and friendly. I then moved into my room which turns out to be a suite. This means that my roommate and I share a bathroom with two other girls (we are connected by the bathroom). The dorm rooms are pretty spacious with a lot of places to put your things. However, they are hideous. One wall is poop brown, and the others are this garish off-white color that makes you feel liek you are in a sick ward…the mentally sick kind. I unpacked my stuff then awaited the arrival of my roommate. She finally arrived and her name is Janette but prefers Janney. She is from Idaho (represent…) and has red hair and a mohawk. She is obsessed with hiking and the outdoors, which is good I guess, but can’t seem to really talk about anything else.

I get along better with my suitemates. Quin from South Dakota, and Stephanie from Arizona. We decided the bathroom was way too depressing, so we took a Target run and bought a bright green shower mat and a polka dotted shower curtain…now I won’t feel depressed while I deficate!!!!!! I still need to cover the walls of the room some how, so I think I’ll go buy posters!

So now onto my team. The first night we all met in the parking lot, and we had to find our team by putting together a puzzle. Everyone is friendly and nice…however seem really shy and don’t talk much, I seem to be doing a lot of the talking, which surpises me cause as you know I’m generally shy and awkward when I frist meet people. But I figure, I’m spending the next 10 months with these people so I better talk. There are 10 of us all together…I’m still not straight on all names, but I’ve been spending the most time with Whitney from Kentucky, and Joy from Michigan (cause they are on my hall, not because I don’t like the other people) There is also, Marissa, Jen, David, Adam, Shay, some other M name, and Naimi.

It looks as though we are definitely going to New Orleans at some piont in the next year, and probably some other disaster area as well. We haven’t started training yet, basically we’ve just been going through a ton of paper work and the hot humid heat…but we were told that if “we can’t handle heat…then Americorps is not for you”…everyone groaned, the room was 105 at least.

I have to go get fitted for the uniforms now, oh joy, let me tell you, they are soooooo attractive…

I hope evryone is happpy and healthy!

love,

Alena