When I got pied a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to be the educational partner for an Alternative Spring Break, but I don't think I clearly explained all that, since I still got questions. (Either that, or everyone I am friends with on Facebook doesn't actually read my very important blog, and that's just crazy talk, right?) For those who missed the explanation, an alternative break trip is a week where students go to another city and perform service rather than going to the beach or on a cruise or whatever else it is that people do during spring break. My role was basically to represent the university in case anything terrible happened, but since nothing terrible happened because our trip leaders had every minute planned out and perfectly executed, my role basically consisted of participating, going to bed early while all of the kids stayed up really late, supervising dinner preparations a few times, and having fun.
This is by no means a full account of our week, and there aren't many photos of actual service sites because we were too busy doing service to take pictures, we wanted to be respectful to the people we were serving, and one of the rules that we set for ourselves was to be present in the experience: no phones and no cameras (for the most part). Over the course of five days we performed service at eight different sites, doing everything from moving furniture to food prep to donation sorting to basic cleaning to yardwork to flyering and publicity to just sitting and talking with people.
We did manage to squeeze in two afternoon sightseeing trips, but before we get to that, basic things that I either learned or already knew and had reaffirmed this week:
1) "The poor", "the homeless", "the 47%", or whatever else you choose to call them are not a faceless mass. They are individual people with individual stories of how they got to where they are. They are you and me, separated only by a few bad decisions or bad circumstances or just a run of bad luck. They are people who have fallen down, and need a hand getting back up again.
2) Our society has failed so many of our veterans. These are people who fought for our country, who stepped up when they were asked, and who had every expectation that they would be taken care of. The idea that they fought for us but that we have not fought for them continues to disappoint me.
3) Volunteer organizations, charities, and non-profits need donations, but they also need your time. Several of us spent parts of this week cleaning walls, bathrooms, hallways, baseboards, doorframes, stoves (leading to a hilarious moment at one place when I was like, "Oh, shit, my glove is melting. My hand's in there!" that really was funnier than it sounds), blinds, and other areas because the service organizations were so understaffed and so busy that they didn't have an extra person to clean dust off of a ceiling fan because they needed that person to prepare and serve fourty breakfasts instead. No matter where you live, there is some group somewhere that needs your help.
4) Our team doesn't know the meaning of the word "no". Every member of our group did anything that was asked of them, myself included, whether it was something we wanted to do or liked doing. We might have complained later (or might not have), but we were there to serve and we served wherever and however we were needed. I am so proud of them.
We were generously hosted this week by the First Baptist Church of Alexandria, who gave us room to sleep, a huge kitchen, and showers. We had an incredible experience working with the following organizations this week: A Wider Circle, Food and Friends, the Capital Area Food Bank (which some of our team thought was the Capillary Food Bank due to rapidly slurred pronounciation), Rachael's Women's Center, Thrive DC, SOME (So Others Might Eat), Manna, and Washington Parks and People. If you live in the DC area, any of them could use your donations or your help.
And now, I'd like to share some photos and some stories from the week.
Before we learned much else about each other, we learned that Eric really, really likes ketchup:
We also learned that the motorpool doesn't put all-weather wipers on the 12-passenger vans, which kind of sucked when six hours of our drive and our first day of service looked like this:
Our first day of service went well:
and on the way back to the church we took a quick detour to the nearby Marine Corps War Memorial:
which I had not seen before.
Our second day of service involved a team from another school who were also on an alternative break trip and a morning in hairnets:
and the afternoon involved a lot of sorting of donated goods:
By the way, canned-good donators: IT IS NOT OK TO DONATE THINGS THAT ARE EXPIRED. IT IS ESPECIALLY NOT OK IF THEY EXPIRED OVER A YEAR AGO.
Just, you know, FYI.
By our third morning, we had figured out that nineteen people trying to grab breakfast at the same time is happy chaos:
and we learned all about DC's alternating days of street sweeping and no parking as we walked to our service site:
after poor Jessica had to drop us off and then drive for another half hour to find a legal parking space.
After we finished service that morning (the only time during the trip when our team was split between two service sites):
we took the team to the National Mall for surprise sightseeing, eating lunch at the Boy Scout Monument:
which we tried to make sense of.
Why are his parents naked? And if those aren't his parents, who are they? And, again, why are they naked?
Our questions unanswered, we walked past the White House:
and headed for the World War II Memorial, where we milled around:
and took a team photo by the Tennessee marker:
After that we walked along the reflecting pool to the Lincoln Memorial, stopping along the way to feed some ducks:
and also to reprimand someone's child.
OK, that last one wasn't the team, it was me. I realized that a few of us had fallen way behind the main group when we stopped to feed the ducks, so I was trying to hurry them along when this family stopped us and asked if we would take their photo with the Lincoln Memorial in the background. We said yes and took the photo, but then they decided that they also wanted one in the other direction, with the Washington Monument in the background. When the family turned, their daughter, who seemed old enough to know better, started to wander off instead of being in the photo, and her mom started being an ineffective "friend mom" instead of a disciplinarian.
"Marissa! Marissa, don't run away! Marissa! Marissa, come back so we can take the picture! Marissa, don't go that way! Marissa, honey, please come back!"
Marissa, like our group far ahead of us, was drifting further and further away as we stood holding that family's camera, so I decided to resolve the situation.
"MARISSA!" She jerked to an immediate stop, eyes wide, and I said in a very gentle tone, "Your mother is talking to you."
Marissa fled to her mom in terror, and the family thanked us for taking their picture before shuffling away.
Memories that will last a lifetime (of therapy).
We caught up with the team at the Lincoln Memorial:
and then went to the Armed Services Memorial:
and the Korean War Memorial (where I inexplicably didn't take any photos) before going to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which I had not been to before:
After that, we went to the FDR Memorial, which I had also not visited before:
and which is the only presidential memorial to feature a depiction of a First Lady:
After that, we were kind of tired, having fit a day's worth of sightseeing (if not more) into a three hour block of time, so we stopped by the Jefferson Memorial:
and then called it a day.
In the morning, we served breakfast and lunch to a few hundred people:
and then in the afternoon flyered in a few locations around town for Manna. While doing so, Summer and I saw this sign:
and wondered if they meant "eyes lash" or "eye slash". One sounds much less painful than the other, but both remind us that grammar is important.
The next morning we did a lot of yardwork in Marvin Gaye Park:
and then after lunch spent a couple of hours at the Museum Of American History:
I saw Julia Child's kitchen:
and a display of 7-11 Slurpee cups from the 1970's that's rather similar to the display of them in my non-famous kitchen:
except that my cups, from 1973, are all of Legion of Superheroes characters while the ones pictured above at the museum are all Marvel heroes.
I also saw Michelle Obama's inauguration gown:
and a few of my favorite people in the world:
before having dinner out with some of my other favorite people in the world:
Today I'm still tired, and I have a bunch of laundry to do, but it really was a fantastic experience, and I'm very proud of my team.