Poetry from Harlan

After completing their third week of service in Harlan, KY, the Gap Semester students tapped into their creative side and created a poem to describe their experience.  Check it out below!

Harlan Poetry

On october 1st, to Harlan we went

A week that we know was very well spent

Katie joined Steve and the 15 of us

The new addition was definitely a plus

Learning about art, culture, and history

All things that before were once a mystery

Everyday miners search for black gold

Letting go of everything they hold

Wandering off to work in fear

Missing the ones they truly hold dear

Willing to put up the necessary fight

To make the horrific conditions right

Inhaling clouds of blackened dust

Thinking if this is really a must

Struggling just to put food on the table

Contemplating if he is even capable

Working each day towards a better life

Receiving in return nothing but strife

Sometimes even going on strike

Getting reprimanded to go take a hike

After the long cramped day is over and said

They can finally rest their weary heads

Harlan, Kentucky the coal mining sites

What struggles they had, they look to the lights.

Seeing young people struggling to flee

Wanting to rid themselves of the coal company that forbid them to be free

Her sad, grey eyes darkened by the coal dust

Still remembering the joy of years past

A day  in darkness for pay soon paid back

To men who are letting their lungs turn black

The mountaintops are being destroyed

While coal companies are overjoyed

Coal mining destroys the hearts of miners

But coal companies say they’re just whiners

Destroying the people’s home and land

Coal mining is something more people should understand

We did a lot of sight seeing and driving

To learn about those who were mining

Going to the community two-step

Blue grass music and a giant food fest

We went to a museum to learn about coal

Then went down to a mine and looked in a deep dark hole

Wiley’s Last Resort: the greatest place on earth

A beautiful  fire ring, to whom we gave birth

Playing basketball and bonding at night

Then helping Harlan to make it alright

Meeting people with a deep sense of pride

And Exploring new culture with wide open eyes

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Blogs from Saint Louis…

It is our first day on the City Seeds farm, and I am very excited to get going on another type of service. We did mostly weeding in the community gardens section, which wasn’t the most fun, but it had to be done. Today we were working with some of the clients of one of the partner organizations with City Seeds. The clients were U.S. veterans who were gaining experience in gardening and landscaping in order to get steady jobs in the field. While weeding, I had a very entertaining conversation with a couple of guys about baseball. One was a Cardinals fan, and the other a Cubs fan. For those of you that don’t follow baseball, these teams are big rivals. So while they didn’t actually get mad at each other, an entertaining argument ensued. I chimed in about my Phillies fan hood, but I was clearly the ester point in the argument.

 Working at Food Outreach was an eye-opening experience for me. Food Outreach is an organization that helps give people living with HIV/AIDS or Cancer meals that they would otherwise probably not have. I was really happy to be working there because the work we did there was meaningful and you could see firsthand that it was helping the clients. One of the women we met had HIV and Cancer. I helped wheel out her cart and she told me she had a kidney removed and a hernia. She was extremely positive and kept telling jokes to us. I found this very encouraging that she went through so much and is still living her life optimistically.

 I used to think that the best part about grocery shopping was picking out fun or delicious foods that you got to take home and eat yourself.  I was proved wrong this week when our group got to have a unique ‘grocery shopping’ experience at Food Outreach.  While half of our group was in the kitchen preparing meals for the clients (people suffering from HIV, AIDS, or cancer),  the other half was up front filling food orders as they were sent in.  We were all bustling about the food pantry with huge rolling carts, adding foods requested by the clients on their bi-weekly or monthly food list.  I enjoyed thinking about the meals they could prepare with the basic ingredients, as well as checking out all of the prepared meals that were in the freezer.  It was a much better feeling to know that I was picking out the foods to go to someone who obviously deserved to be provided with a nutritious meal for what they are going through in their  life, as opposed to thinking that they were just going into my pantry at home.  This was an important learning experience for me because I had never thought about how many  things are changed for people with diseases like the ones the clients that Food Outreach helps.  When I thought of cancer or HIV patients I thought about how difficult treatment and hospital time must be.  I never thought about all the other basic needs that become so much harder to fill from having these illnesses.  It was an eye opening experience to see how many things in their life are made so much more difficult, on top of having to deal with the disease that they have.  It is so great that an organization like Food Outreach is available  to these people to take a burden off of their shoulders for food bills and let them focus on other things in their life that they have to worry about. 

Working at Shaw Elementary was the most fun thing that we got to do all week. I love to work with little kids and working with them for a couple hours was really enjoyable. I was working on the vegetable beds and teaching them how to pick vegetables and how to weed. We had only learned how to weed that morning and we had no idea how to teach little kids how to, but we did the best we could, and had a lot of fun doing it. My favorite part was Sarah and I were talking to this 5th grader and she was asking us what our majors in college were and how we got into them, and if we were excited to live in dorms. It was really funny hearing her ask such adult questions at such a young age. It also portrayed that even though they lived in a bad neighborhood they are still getting a good education.

 Today I had one of the best days to date on this trip, mainly because of the service work we did in the afternoon. Leaving City Seeds after a few grueling hours of battling Bermuda grass (a weed with roots that go 2-3 feet deep), we drove to a community garden. We pulled up and were greeted by this little retired lady who used to run it. She expressed her thanks to us multiple times as we began spreading mulch on walkways, weeding garden beds, and cleaning up junk from around the property. The work we did was extremely rewarding, but not extremely hard. Our group dove into the project and pretty soon after had everything looking pristine. A woman in her twenties walked by us, then turned around and went to talk to some of us. I was not in that group, but I heard that she expressed interest in working in the garden now that she saw that other people were doing it, too. That interaction combined with the end product made that service site one of my favorites in St. Louis.

My time in St. Louis was absolutely amazing. It was such a new experience to me. One afternoon we did service at a community garden, and this garden used to be beautiful. But over the years it slowly started to fade away. We went there and met a woman who took care of the garden but was getting older so it was harder for her to keep the garden up. We started doing the basics, weeding small sections and mulching here and there. But as we kept working and she kept thanking and we seeing people in the communities appreciate our work, it made us work even harder. After a few hours, the garden looked completely new. We did a lot more than anyone would have expected. It was an amazing feeling to actually see that our work in the community was beneficial and that people really appreciated our work.

Today in St. Louis we went to a local farmer’s market. It was so fun and interesting to see all of the different products and vendors. Everyone was so pleasant and I enjoyed interacting with the various sellers. It was also great to see the people from City Seeds again too! They had their own booth and they were so happy to see me and a peer of mine. We talked for a while about our week and how we enjoyed each other’s company. While venturing around the market, spanish guitar music was played in the background. Some people were dancing and multiple people were sitting down, enjoying the music and life in general. The atmosphere of the market was cheery and pleasant. Everyone seemed so happy. Little children frolicked around, people ate gelato (my favorite!), and the smell of crepes filled the air. My caramel, chocolate coffee warmed my stomach as I strolled the park. I thoroughly enjoyed the farmer’s market and plan to visit more often to one’s in my area nearby!

 Today is our last day in St. Louis, and it was the perfect way to end off the week. We got to sleep in this morning (until 8 AM) before going to the Tower Grove Farmer’s Market. The Market was awesome, there were tons of fresh fruits and vegetables and a variety of delicious baked goods. We received a budget and were able to buy anything we wanted for breakfast and lunch. I got a cheese scone, an apple, a cup of the nation’s best apple cider, and some lemon sorbet. I also got to stop by the City Seeds stand and visit one of the clients we had been working with all week. It was really cool to see the final product of the work we had been doing all week.

On our last day in St. Louis we stopped by the local farmers market for lunch and breakfast.  There were many stands and tents set up but two of them really stuck out to me, the City Seeds one and a one selling chocolate.  The City Seeds tent was really neat because the people manning the tent selling their products were the same people I worked with on the garden just the previous day.  The last stand and the most visited stand by me was the chocolate one for many reasons.  First I really enjoy chocolate, and was curious to see what selection and variety the women offered.  Within a few minutes I walked away with a bag full of chocolate and a grin slowly growing on my face waiting to eat the chocolate. After making this amazing discovery I wanted to show others what an awesome stand it was.  Later on after I brought a half dozen people that bought a lot of chocolate to her stand I thought she jokingly said I should get a commission for bringing so many people to her store.  Staring at her for a few seconds I realized she was not kidding and she really wanted to offer me something.  I politely declined her offer but she persisted that I at least take a little bit of chocolate as a reward.  Free things are pretty rare and free chocolate is almost never offered so I then graciously accepted her offer of some small ginger bark chocolate.  That right there just made my day even if it was only at 10 o clock in the morning.  I mean what it better than free chocolate!?

Today we leave St. Louis and drive to Horse Cave Kentucky, a cave town. Certainly a change of pace from bustling St. Louis. Fall is showing itself slowly but surely around here, the drive should be pretty. While I’m looking forward to new things in KY, St. Louis has established itself as home for me as the rest of our homes have the past few weeks. I find that as I follow a routine in our residencies, I am able to settle in rapidly. I like that about this trip. Kentucky, here we come!

Blogs from Pine Ridge

While each day spent in Pine Ridge had its special qualities, my favorite day at Re-Member was the last work day on the reservation. I was in a group assigned to delivering the bunk beds that had been crafted and assembled by our group earlier in the week. Each stop we made was different from the rest, yet special in its own way. We had to bring in the supplies for the bunk bed in parts and drill and assemble it in the room chosen by the family we were helping. We had warm welcomes in each home and assistance in our set up in most as well. Our helpers ranged from a 5 year old boy excited about his first real bed, to a 15 year old boy happy to help us make up the bed for his younger brother and sister, to a dad that was so grateful that his two sons would have a new place to sleep. It didn’t matter who the bed was going to be for, the feeling that I got while setting it up was the same each time, and I know every one I was with shared this feeling as well. It was truly humbling to see how appreciative and happy these families could be- each having so much less than we, as college students with the ability and privilege to volunteer, are accustomed to. I left each house feeling so happy and accomplished with a concrete example of the difference, no matter how small, that we made. A bed is something I easily taken for granted and it takes an experience like the one we had on this day to stop and appreciate what simple gifts we all have and how much they mean.

Working on an Indian reservation was something I had never thought of doing since there are not many around my town.  But when I heard we were working on one as part of our service trip, I was ecstatic! Being assigned to work on the local radio station (KiliRadio) I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I arrived at the site, one side of the roof was pretty beat up and at an extreme angle so I figured we were working on the other side. I was wrong on that assumption. With only four ladders, a walkway and a few shovels we scraped down the remaining shingles.  All was going well then a man from inside the radio station called me in saying he wanted to ask me a few things.  Little did I know I was about to be interviewed for the local newspaper, their Facebook and even the radio! A few days after I found out we also made it onto the local TV station and I couldn’t believe how popular we got so quickly.  I really enjoyed working on the roof and I could tell the natives enjoyed seeing it!  Having minimal roofing experience I was surprised when a few people asked me how many times I have done roofs like that.  I couldn’t lie to them so I told them not much; they couldn’t believe that but it’s the truth.  Working on the roof was such a great experience and if I ever had the option to come back to Re-Member and work on another project, without hesitation I would say yes! I enjoyed the project and learned many things about myself.

Today on the reservation, Re-member hosted a craft fair. Numerous vendors came and displayed their jewelry, dream catchers, and other goodies. When going to one vendor, I sat and chatted with her as I closely eyed her jewlery. I had been waiting to get the perfect thing. The woman was very happy to be there and talk with me about life on the res and the meaning of the beads. She bought beads and made the jewlery herself and was very proud of her work. While looking through the selection and variety of beads, I saw turtle charms that I adored and asked of I could have a bracelet. They were small, turqouise beads shaped like turtles with little detailed designs on them. After 20 minutes of putting it together it was completed. It was so beautiful and held so much meaning. She told me turtle represented long life and well as women, and strength. The black beads that were also incorporated kept away evil. It was amazing to be able to see my bracelet made and have a connection with the person I bought it from.

Today at Re-Member was one of the most memorable of the whole week. I had the privilege of installing some bunk beds in the houses and trailers of those who needed them, and for the first time had the opportunity to talk with some locals. We even installed two bunk beds in the home of a woman whose pre-teen daughter had committed suicide the previous year. Doing things like I did today remind me of how selfish and stuck in a rut I am. I have my schedule, my friends and family, my food, and the rest of my life compartmentalized in a very particular way… You’d better watch out if you suggest any kind of change. The first thing I think of when I wake up is the most important person in my life- me. However, when I am given the time to serve others, I find it more easy to release all of my personal baggage and focus on someone else for a change. It also helps when that person is as gracious and loving as the people with whom I worked today. I am thankful to Elon, the Gap Semester, and Re-Member for providing a way out of “me world.” I can’t wait to continue onward.

Today, we arrived at re-member after traveling for a couple days. Its very different here than home. Everything is dry and barren. The people here live in houses that are barely being held together without indoor plumbing or electricity. In today’s world, we take that for granted. Everyone thinks that all US citizens have the opportunity to get these things if they work hard enough, but i don’t think the people living on the reservation have that chance. They seem like they are stuck in a rut that they cant get out of, no matter how hard they try. Also, now that water levels are so low from lack of rain, life is getting even more difficult, and you can see it simply by driving down the road and looking out of your window. I am excited to get to work soon and start helping people. They definitely need it and I am willing and able to help.

Tonight is already the last night on the Reservation! I cannot believe our time here went so fast. Tomorrow morning hopefully we will be able to finish our roofing project that my group has been so diligently working on all week. I am really proud of each one of them because of the effort we put into shingling it. It will be a great accomplishment once we finish the job. The roof is safe but very steep and I was one of the guys who would walk on the top walkway of the roof. It was a fantastic yet exhilarating view from being at such a high level.

Today I was fortunate enough to be one of the few students who got to deliver bunk beds to families on the Pine Ridge Reservation. At first I was nervous about how some of the families would react to the charity, because many of the staff members at Re-Member warned us that the Lakota people could be very proud and might not like white people coming into their homes and giving them things. However, we were very lucky to have such positive experiences. The living conditions were appalling; there would sometimes be 15 to 20 people living in an extremely small house, the floors cluttered with trash and dirt and the sinks full of unwashed dishes. One of the “bedrooms” that we constructed a bunk bed for was a cellar underneath the house. Insulation hung inches from the top bunk, and mold grew all over the ground and walls. It was devastating to see that people had to live in these conditions, but knowing that I was making it just a little bit more comfortable for them made it feel good. One of my favorite experiences was when we went to a house and were greeted by a woman and her son, who was probably around 13 years old. As soon as we got to the house, the boy asked us what he could do to help. He began taking supplies out of the truck with us and even helped with the construction of the bed. He had never used a power tool before, but was so excited to learn. Many of the speakers we had listened to earlier in the week had told us that the Lakota people had difficulty finding work because they were never taught trades, and this young boys ambition and willingness to learn gave me a lot of hope for him. As we were leaving, his mom gave every single one of us a hug. Not just one of those quick squeezes, a truly genuine hug where you can feel the love.