1. When staying in a hostel over top a trendy brew pub featuring nightly live music, BRING EAR PLUGS!
  2. The store, Ingles, is pronounced “IN-GULLS” not “EEN-GLACE,” and it is a general – not a latino – grocery store!
  3. Baby wipes are an essential item to pack for any ASB trip – you never know when you’re going to be covered in mud or when you’re going to have to “go” along the side of a road!  HA!
  4. If you find your canoe headed for a tree, a rock, or a stream bank, it is absolutely the sternman’s (i.e., person in the back of the boat) fault…it is also her responsibility to correct the course of the boat!
  5. Although we traveled all the way to Asheville, NC to learn more about the environmental and human health impacts of coal ash, we discovered that Pennsylvania ranks #1 in the United States for coal ash generation and that there are 3 coal fired power plants with potentially dangerous coal ash disposal sites in Northampton County.
  6. Environmental justice is a profoundly anthropocentric ethic, meaning that human beings are the central moral concern.  However, I believe that, although “justice” is a human creation, there is a way to extend the definition of environmental justice to include non-human beings.  Animals, plants, and even mountains have intrinsic value and are owed ethical obligations.
  7. The most challenging aspect of any social or environmental movement is finding ways to drive the people of the community into a state of positive action – organizing the ambivalent majority into an engaged, committed, united and more forceful whole capable of making significant change.  As Sandra Diaz of Appalachian Voices put it, getting the community on board can be like trying to ignite a wet match – at times, success may seem hopeless but, with persistence and patience, you CAN make it happen.  This trip has shown me that, although mobilizing a community to achieve positive change is incredibly difficult, the most effective means of bringing people together are the simplest ones – community gatherings with food and fellowship (e.g., community gardens, picnics), communication through art (e.g., DeWayne’s Peace Garden, Jonathan Santos’ music), education (e.g., canvassing – examining public perception and providing accurate information about the issue), and providing green spaces and wildlife areas where members of the community can find peace, solitude, and their own personal relationship with nature (e.g., the campsite along the French Broad).
  8. Although anger, fear, and sorrow are generally considered negative human emotions, these feelings – when properly channeled – can be the catalyst for positive change.  Like the story of how Green Opportunities began in DeWayne’s backyard, we often decide to make a change when we are at our most uncomfortable.  I like the way M. Scott Peck put it in his book The Road Less Traveled, “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
  9. The Gilded Age was a period in American History after the Civil War characterized by enormous industrial and economic growth.  The term was coined (in part) by writer Mark Twain in a novel he wrote that satirized greed, materialism, and political corruption in public life.  We learned about the Gilded Age during our cultural day, but came to discover the deeper relationship between consumerism and environmentalism in the Peace Garden.  Shakespeare said it best: “to gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw perfume on the violet…is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”  For me, DeWayne’s artificial flowers symbolize this concept.
  10. The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy./ I awoke and saw that life was service./ I acted and behold, service was joy.”  Like so many of us, I get caught up in my own life and driven to acquire more knowledge, more honors, more respect, more things.  Self, self, self.  We think these “things” will bring us happiness, but, like the effect of a McDonald’s Happy Meal, we are briefly satisfied but left wanting more.  Being of service through ASB is a wonderful reminder that service IS joy – generosity, love, and compassion are sustainable forms of nourishment for the soul.  We only have what we give.
  11. I really appreciate all of the passionate people out there (especially my students) who are enthusiastic about environmental and social movements and motivated to change the world.  In an academic setting, we often have discussions about how the world could be a better place when communities, governments, and businesses change the way they do things.  However, the Peace Garden was a reminder that the first and most important step in creating positive change in the world is to take responsibility for and begin changing our own actions.  Jonathan Santos reminded us of this fact with his song, “Changing the World by Changing Me.”  DeWayne reminded us with all of the mirrors strategically placed throughout the garden, asking us to reflect on our own contribution to the changes we’d like to see, and the painted image of Mahatma Ghandi at the center of the garden reminded us that he said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

The internet was not working last night….

I have failed to blog during this trip for a combination of not finding the time and just emerging into this experience. On our last night, I am feeling so many emotions. But the one that is the most prominent is that of gratitude. I am truly blessed to have such a passionate and loving team. On site and in our daily reflections, I have witnessed a spark in each and every one of them. They are inspiring, courageous, funny and beautiful( even Taylor). They have been leaders here at the Boys and Girls Club and I trust the world in their hands. I also want to thank Exec and especially Amber for coordinating arranging such am experience. If it was for your logistical support and responsibilities, we would be displaced.
ASB is essential in creating socially aware and active citizens.
Thank you. ASB

Andrew We’re Still Waiting on that Board Stretcher…

Our group was at a house with a family  of five living in a one bedroom house. The little girl that lived there was four years old and absolutely adorable. She was so excited to have us there it was hard to keep her away from the construction site. The owner of the house had a husband who recently passed away and was in dire need of a bathroom renovation. There are no words to truly describe the state of this bathroom. To say the least the little girl was afraid to go in there before we started working on it because she thought she would fall through the floor. It was a mess, and as we began demo on the bathroom we realized that because the house was so old we couldn’t salvage anything and had to strip all of the old floors, walls, ceilings, shower, and toilet – all of it had to go. This job was quickly becoming more complex as we discovered more and more of the problems that were lying under the floor. After carrying all of the rubble we collected from ripping apart the bathroom, we began the renovation. We were crawling around the muddy  floors putting wood to support the new floor and laughing with the carpenters. It smelled awful in what was left of the bathroom but we still were having fun with our project. Perhaps the highlight of the day however, was when the carpenters decided to mess with Andrew. We were putting in support beams when the carpenter asked Andrew to go find something called a “board stretcher.” Andrew, who is clearly quite naive about construction work and tools, went looking for this thing for a good half an hour before asking for help from one of the other carpenters. Bob fortunately clued him in that no such object exists which then Andrew proceeded to realize that the carpenters and our group were getting a great laugh at his expense. He was a good sport about it however and we all laughed about it later that night. The other group’s day was boring compared to the things we encountered in our adventure today. I’m just kidding, their day was pretty sweet like pancakes. They built a house. Which is pretty cool I suppose…

Last Day!

Today was the final day of our stay in Asheville, NC, and our second day with the Western North Carolina Alliance (WNCA). The French Broad River is the body of water that is most affected by the coal ash pollution, and is also most cared about by the local community, as it is used for various aspects of recreation like swimming, fishing, boating and canoeing. Today we got to experience this by canoeing on the river. We set sail in the morning, headed towards the Little River Campsite, one of many campsites along the river. This ride was not just for our leisure, it was to carry a large amount of supplies over to the campsite which otherwise would have had to be carried there along a hike. These supplies were given to us by Hartwell Carson, the Riverkeeper from WNCA, and they included loppers, hoes, rakes and other tools that we used to remove Privet, an invasive plant species that had overgrown the campsite.

We spent a long afternoon ripping up these plants from the root in order to free the picnic table and other open spaces that make up this recreational area. This required a great deal of manpower (and in our team’s case, mostly womanpower), and being a large group, we were able to accomplish a lot during the time that we were there. These campsites are an important part of the community. The French Broad River is a greatly appreciated aspect of the community, and the campsites allow “Ashevillians” to use and develop a more intimate connection with the river.

This is why it is so important for coal ash pollution to be regulated better, so that these people do not lose this precious aspect of their lifestyle. This relates to us because the coal ash ponds existing in Northampton County affects us too, and this is a great way to learn about the issue and try to help others who  are more directly being affected by it.

Even just canoeing along the river for a short time today, I developed an appreciation for the river just because of it’s beauty as part of nature. It was saddening to think about the amount of toxic pollution that was seeping into and being discharged into it everyday, possibly destroying the ecosystem, as well as limiting its potential for recreational use. This was good inspiration for realizing that the cause we are fighting for with this movement beyond coal has a wide array of benefits concerning not only human health, but also conservation of natural areas.

After we finished our work at the campsite, we hopped back in the canoes and brought them further down the river where we could be picked up along the road by Hartwell. We ran into some difficulties removing the canoes from the river along the steep river banks, which forced us to use some physically intense teamwork that I believe ultimately brought the team closer, increasing our trust with each other.

Today was a definitely a fun way to finish up our service work in Asheville. I wish we had a few more days to stay, since we are coming closer as a group  and becoming more attached to the topic of our trip: environmental justice.

Newark – last day of service! :(

So today was our last day of service here in Newark!  It started off on an exciting note because the team that usually stays at the Girls and Boys Club was able to go to the United Way of Essex and West Hudson headquarters in the morning.  Most of us sorted clothing donations for an outdoor market tomorrow but I went with two other people to clean out the parking lot for the market.  It was nice to get out of the Club for a little bit and work on different service projects in the morning.  It was also great to see how much effort people put into sorting clothing for the market.  One of the things that has been stressed to me in life is service with respect, meaning that the people we work with deserve the opportunity to shop for clothes that have been sorted and organized to make it easier to find articles of clothing.  In the afternoon, we came back to the Boys and Girls Club and worked with the children one last time.  It was great to see how many children remembered us and ran up to us.  We had a wonderful afternoon that consisted of decorating bags for the egg hunt we planned for the children.

I had a particularly striking conversation with a 9 year-old girl today.  She was working on homework and labeling the capitols on a United States map.  I started talking with her about school and she told me that she loved math and that she learned her times tables when she was in first grade.  This blew me away, because everyone I’ve known didn’t start multiplication until third grade.  She told me she was advanced for her age and that her dream was to go to Harvard and study math.  To hear such ambitious goals from such a young girl was inspirational, and I pray to God that her circumstances will not hold her back.  Our team was reflecting later about how so many of the kids here are so smart and observant.  We wondered if maybe the person who could cure cancer one day was born in an area suffering from urban poverty and a failing education system.  These kids have so much potential but are unfairly being held back by circumstances beyond their control.  Working with the kids this week and hearing their stories really helped me understand the effects of urban poverty and why everyone needs to care about this social injustice.  Beyond the ethics of the situation, when one group of people is being subordinated, all of us suffer.

This week has been eye-opening, to say the least.  I am so proud of our team and the work we accomplished.  Everyone was so engaged with the kids and had multiple conversations throughout the day, everyday, about the causes and effects of urban poverty.  I am grateful to United Way and the Boys and Girls Club of Newark for making this experience possible and for my incredible team for being beautiful (this was suggested by Damilare).

ASB Newark, NJ 2013!

Hey all! It’s hard to believe it’s already the 5th evening of my ASB Jersey trip! Over the past few days, my team (“Team Rocket”) and I focused on doing demolition work at a church (and a bit at a house as well). It was a good learning experience for me, since I have never really done real physical work in my life. We were scraping dry wall off of walls, tearing down ceilings, ripping nails out of wood…I guess you might say we were beating up the building. It was a lot of fun once I got into it, and it was the kind of work where you got to see the results immediately after finishing it. The church and house we were working at had suffered significant damage during Hurricane Sandy, and I found it quite sad how even months after the incident they were still in shambles. However, it was good to know that we were making a difference by helping out. Of course, we wouldn’t have been able to get as much done as we did without having a great team! I never would have thought that so much work went into destruction!

Well, that’s just about it. Tomorrow we’re off to NYC for a free day, so the work of the trip is done. It has been great getting to know my teammates, as well as giving a   hand to the Sandy relief efforts (they were really able to benefit from our help!). I wanted to do “something different” this spring  break, and I’m glad that I signed up for ASB!


It’s our last day here with the kids. We’re going to NYC tomorrow to relax and chill out. Today was just plain chaotic, haha. I was going crazy! We went to help United Way organize and sort clothing in the morning and there about 40 boxes of clothing that needed to be sorted through by size and gender. We had so so SO many orange blazers and black jeans lol. It was ridiculous. I never folded so many clothes in my life before!!!

We did an Easter Hunt with the kids in the afternoon. They were really happy when they found their eggs :) We also gave them supplies to decorate their own Easter Bags to put their eggs in. I met a wonderful kid today. He plays the drums so so SO well! He’s going to be famous one day, haha. He’s such a nice and sweet kid too.

One kid hugged me and cried today!! She didn’t want us to leave and she wouldn’t let me go…The kids here are so sweet and I hope that during the past few days, we made a difference in their lives. I’ll always remember my ASB NJ experience

Lastly, I love all my new friends and my ASB Lafayette Team! You guys are absolutely awesome and we better have reunions when we get back to Lafayette :)

Kiyah, Marisa, Mary, Kerri-Ann, Damilare, Taylor, Kelly, & Kate — <3 you all!!

ASB Newark

Today was my third (and final) day of working at the Boys and Girls Club of Newark, New Jersey, and I am not looking forward to leaving. On the first day of the trip, I was a bit apprehensive. I’ve always been shy and I was worried about bonding with my team and making friends with the other volunteers. I was also nervous that I wouldn’t know what to do with the kids, or that I wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation with any of them. After the first day, all of my fears were relieved. The kids were fantastic, and I already felt like I was bonding with my Lafayette ASB team and the other volunteers. My patience was tested in more ways than one, but overall, it was a learning experience and a fantastic day.

During my second day, I felt like I really bonded more with the children. I saw some familiar faces and met some new kids. Overall, I felt more comfortable then I did the day before. I had a better idea of what to expect and got the gist of how the program is run. I was able to hold meaningful conversations with a lot of the kids and give them reassurance and positive encouragement that they didn’t seem to be getting from many other people in their lives. I got to talk to more of the kids who I hadn’t gotten the chance to speak with the day before, and by the end of the day, I had a nickname…”2 Chainz.”  I got to play pool, paint in the art room, and get destroyed in multiple arcade games. I also felt more comfortable being myself and opening up to other volunteers, both from Lafayette and from other places.

Yesterday, I got the chance to do a different type of service. I spent the day on Staten Island doing Hurricane Sandy relief work through the organization Tunnels to Towers. The story behind the founding of this organization was truly inspirational. I spent the day putting up sheet rock for the walls of the home of an 82 year old woman whose home was completely destroyed by the storm. It was amazing to see the damage that was done. Windows were shattered, debris was still everywhere, and tops of miscellaneous houses were in others’ backyards. It was amazing to see the damage that was done and to hear stories about how little aid some families and individuals were offered. I’m very glad I got the chance to experience something a little bit different.

I am very sad that today was my last day of service. I absolutely loved this week. I’ve built so many relationships with people. I’m so glad I got to bond with the children and hear about their experiences. I’m also so happy that I got to know my ASB team so well and make friends with new people who I wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for this experience.

Boys and Girls Club

The children of Boys and Girls Club in Newark, New Jersey are beautiful! They are so vibrant, creative, and smart. For the majority of my trip I worked in the Art Room helping kids paint, draw, and create projects. Since the Boys and Girls Club is severely under funded, the kids don’t usually get to do individualized activities. For example, since there is one art teacher, the kids are not able to paint since one person can not handle 10 kids with paint. I worked with 3 other volunteers in the Art Room, which gave the children equal opportunity to have one of us assist and talk to them for awhile. I’m really humbled that I got to meet such great kids because despite the issues that there neighborhood is experiencing, they are so joyful. There are some kids, however, that do like to fight and are very shy due to the lack of affection and care they get at home. It was easier to bond with some kids than others for this reason. Overall, I the kids that I worked with made my day and changed my life; I can only hope that I did the same.

ASB Jersey

I love these kids. They are the cutest little creatures I have ever seen. From the day I met them I knew that Thursday evening would be one of the hardest days of my life because I was leaving them.

Thursday specifically, I felt so great about myself because I solved a conflict between a brother and a sister. Isiah, 9, secretly took his sisters’ Iyana’s ,8, diary and read it to a group of boys. Iyana was really upset with her brother and was walking around the club very sad. I simply asked her what was wrong and she told me all about it.

With techniques I used at home I got both of the of the kids to talk it out, to hug, and to apologize to each other. I felt very accomplished because earlier in the day, Isiah told me that he usually handles problems by fighting, and I had the ability and patience to show him and alternative way to solve issues.

Thursday was great thanks to Iyana and Isiah.