Books and Games

Today we went to Congress Heights Charter School. At this site we organized boxes upon boxes of books that the school had just received. Books ranged from Pre-K to 8th grade reading levels and our group had fun organizing and reminiscing about the favorite books of our own childhoods. The reading specialist, Ms.Brown conveyed her appreciation sincerely upon our completion of the daunting task. She explained that had we not volunteered our time, it would have taken her two weeks to organize the books alone. It was a productive indirect service and I think that our efforts went a long way. During reflection our group discussed that we felt very appreciated by both the reading assistant and the school principal. They went as far as to order lunch for us and bring us candy during the day. They really conveyed how much then appreciated our help.

This afternoon was our second and last afternoon at the Boys and Girls Club: Butler-Wyatt Clubhouse 2. We had more kids today and had a great time playing with them. We played with the parachute, pulse, and shake your booty. I think that the games really helped bridge gaps between kids and volunteers and helped everyone get to know each other in a fun environment. Something that really touched me at the Boys and Girls Club today was the fact that a few alumni visited. The fact that they chose to spend their free time volunteering shows what an influence the program had on their lives. I was glad to see them interacting with the younger kids and being positive role models for them.

Today was a great day of service and I look forward to tomorrow!

DC trip pictures

I tried to document through photos as much as I could during out trip while also trying to preserve the dignity and privacy of those we were serving, which is why there are no pictures of us interacting with patrons of organizations or students from J. O. Wilson Elementary School. However, I hope some of you enjoy the 86 pictures I felt were interesting enough to post to the site. I also posted these pictures in a set on my Flickr site for access to the high resolution versions of any of these pics.

  • Breakaway Retreat Fall 2008

Friday: Last day full of amazing experiences

Today was an amazing day for many reasons. First of all, we were all really enthusiastic and were ready to do our best  because we knew that it was our last day of service. We woke up early and headed to Thrive DC. This is a place much like Charlie’s place except for the fact that there were a lot more people there and they had the chance to do laundry and spend an hour in the computer lab with a partner who would show them different stuff on the computers. Five of us had to first help in the kitchen and then help with serving the food. The others had to set up the tables, help with laundry and sign in people. Here, Chelsea and Steph’s Spanish language skills were very helpful since most of the people that came were Hispanic. Mo, Jason and I were signing people in, and for me it was really incredible to see how people seemed blue when they came in, but once we said “Good morning” to them and smiled they would smile too and just look like they feel better even only for a while. It was amazing to see how the spaces for the computer lab were filled up really quickly and there was even one man who wanted to be a stand by, so he wrote his name and wrote stand by in brackets. Almost 150 people came in and they all ate together and seemed like they know each other. It was incredible to see some of  the people, that we saw during the Urban Plunge or at Charlie’s Place. This made us realize that they are all part of a community that we would probably never get to know if it wasn’t for this trip. All of these people were so appreciative and nice that they made us feel great about everything that we have been doing during this week. Some of them wanted to just talk to us, learn more about us and where we come from. Since my goal at the beginning was to show these people that someone really cares about them, I feel pretty sure that we accomplished this goal, because once we showed interest in them they would almost always do the same. I am glad we had the chance to do this, and trust me, the feeling, that we got once the people at the different places told us that we did a great job, was wonderful!

Another thing which made this day so special was that we went to a Vietnamese restaurant and the food was soooooooooooo good! We also had the chance to go to a Vietnamese bakery and try different stuff. We hope that Giang felt home for at least a while because it was definitely a nice experience.

Then we went to the Fishing School for the last time. At the beginning we didn’t know what to expect because today was supposed to be “Fun Friday”, so we were a bit scared how much fun it would really be. But, in fact, it really was fun! We didn’t do any homework today and we played with the kids outside. I think that all of us felt a lot younger even only for a couple of hours. The kids were excited to play with us and show us what they can do. We got to see them dancing “crunk” and it was awesome to see them dancing so well at such an early age! Unfortunately, we had to say “Bye” and we didn’t want to leave but we just hope that we did help them in some way, even though we were with them only for four days.

Last but not least important, we went to Ben’s Chili Bowl, where we had traditional American food, complemented by incredible chili and interesting stories about the place. It is very popular and even president Obama visited it in 2008. A lot of famous people go there just to try the secret chili recipe. This place is actually very speacial because of all the things that it has outlived. It has been there for more than 50 years and it still hasn’t changed because people love it the way it is.

At last, really this time, I have to say that we had a lot of fun today and we regret the fact that we have to leave tomorrow. We are going to miss it and miss being together because I believe that we did create some strong bonds this week!

Charlie’s Place, Martha’s Table and Fishing School (day 2)

The alarm went off at 5 A.M on Wednesday. None of us wanted to wake up for our morning shift at Charlie’s Place, a place that serves breakfast for homeless people 3 days a week. We got to Charlie’s Place at 6 in the morning and were assigned to three different group, one in the kitchen, one outside setting up and serving food and one organizing the clothes to give out to homeless people.  Steph, Cara and myself helped setting up the tables and prepare to serve hot tea, coffee and pastry before the breakfast program began. Meanwhile, Monica, Plamena and Caroline were in the kitchen making cinnamon buttered toast. Our whole team was surprised by how good the toast tasted and took back to CSM most of the leftover toasts of the day and finished them that night. The rest of our team, Jason, Nicole and Chelsea arranged the clothing Charlie’s Place had so that they could easily hand out the clothes later when people come in. Each person were able to receive three items of their choice, in addition to some vitamins, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoos, etc. While serving food, the DuPont plunging team were very surprised to see one of the people they talked to during Urban Plunge at Charlie’s Place, however he did not seem to recognize them. When breakfast was over, most of the homeless people helped us clean up, mop the floor, etc. The director of the place, Paul said that these men come everyday, they sit at the same place everytime and read their newspaper, then they help him clean up the place.

We finish at Charlie’s Place around 8 A.M. However, we were no longer tired. We all enjoyed the homey feeling of Charlie’s Place so much we got excited to head to Martha’s Table. We expected to do something similar to Charlie’s Palec at Martha’s Table. However, our expectations were wrong. We packed bags of canned food, pasta, vegetable for families that can provide food for them for a whole month. We could see our accomplishments here by looking at the amount of brown bags we packed stacked around the room we were working. We packed more than 100 bags of food that day.

We had lunch around 11 A.M after Martha’s Table. After that we prepared ourselves for day 2 of the fishing school. Some of us were a little worried because of such an exhausting experience the day before. However, we all loved the kids at the school that day! They were all so cooperative and actually got most of their work done. We had dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. The food was very different than anything most of us had ever tried. There was no silverware and we ate everything with our hands

Three days of pictures from DC

I’m well behind posting pictures from our trip because we’ve had limited wireless access, but tonight our trip coordinator brought us to Tropicana Eatery–she’s taken us to a different ethnic restaurant each night–that has free wi-fi. Thankfully, I had a few days in the queue ready to post, though they’re not all captioned…yet.

Monday pics

We started the day at the senior daycare center, Downtown Cluster’s Geriatric Day Care Center, and finished the day in an”urban plunge.” Thankfully, Monica posted a group reflection for us a few days ago.

Tuesday pics

We visited Food and Friends and The Fishing School along with a brief stop to lunch at the Basilica – The National Shrine. Thanks to Steph for posting our group reflection.

Wednesday pics

We worked rather hard today at Charlie’s Place, a breakfast serving place for the homeless, and at Martha’s Table, a place that provides food and clothing to families. Two amazing places.

“If you give a man a fish, you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will feed himself for a lifetime.”

Hey everyone!
So we had a very busy day yesterday, and were unable to write up a blog post, so I’ll fill you in on some of the highlights of our day. We started off our morning at a site called Food and Friends, where meals/groceries are delivered to people with medical issues, such as HIV/AIDS. Half of our team worked in the kitchen and prepared meals and the other half delivered the meals. I was a part of the delivery team, which basically meant driving around D.C and going to the person’s house and knocking on their door and handing them their food. The people receiving the food were so appreciative of our services, and always said ‘thank you’ and ‘have a nice day.’ We finished our deliveries about an hour early, so while the other half of the team was still in the kitchen, the volunteer coordinator found another job for us (myself, Monica, Giang, Jason) to do…We made condom kits! That was a party….basically these little boxes that contained the items necessary to facilitate safe sex practices. Food and Friends distributes these kits at different events that they hold. We left Food and Friends around noon, and then it was time for lunch. We decided to eat our lunches outside on the steps of the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception because it was absolutely gorgeous outside! After lunch we headed over to the Fishing School to learn about the program that we would be volunteering with for the rest of the week. The Fishing School, as the website states, is “a nationally recognized youth development program…that provides children and families with academic and parental support through two community based centers in Wards 6 and 7 of D.C. The school got its name through the motto that “if you give a man a fish, you will feed him for a day…teach him how to fish, and he will feed himself for a lifetime.” It is basically an after school program that helps promote further learning and provides a safe environment for kids. It was actually recently featured on Extreme Makeover Home Edition if you want to check it out: So, after getting oriented at the Fishing School we headed over to an elementary school where the program was actually taking place. We worked with 3rd and 4th grade students, and helped with homework, or any problems that they needed assistance with. After the Fishing School, we were all pretty exhausted…kids are very energetic, as many of you know! So, we then headed over to the Old City Cafe for a delicious Middle Eastern dinner. After that we decided to drive back to the CSM site and have our reflection/dinner, where everyone seemed to have a lot to say in regards to our participation in the after-school program, in regards to social inequities in the education system. Overall, I would say it was a very enlightening/successful day!

The Urban Plunge

Today, we found ourselves at a senior center doing the cha cha slide….. yes, the cha cha slide.  The goal was to find a 45 minute activity that would entertain the seniors at Downtown Clusters.  This is a senior center that takes in the elderly population of DC for the day.  We met interesting individuals.  I a woman who suffered from Polio as a child.  During her time in confinement, she taught herself the piano by ear.  It was inspiring and admirable.

After lunch we embarked on an urban plunge in Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan.  We split into 2 separate groups. My group consisted of Chelsea, Caroline, Steph and of course, myself.  We found ourselves navigating the Metro from Star to Dupont.  Given $2 to buy dinner for ourselves and another homeless person, we found ourselves overwhelmed.  Upon walking to the circle, we met a homeless man in a basketball court throwing free throws.  He was calculating the percentage of free throws he had made during the day shot by shot, no calculator.  He had tied plastic bags on the fence to determine when the wind was blowing.  We suspected he had Asperger’s syndrome He was quite the basketball player for someone who seemed to be over his 70s.  He had been a college graduate who had majored in chemistry.  We met several other homeless men and women each with their own story.  They had been more than happy to answer our questions regarding what it is like in being homeless in Washington.

How did we get dinner?  We ended up pooling all of our money (totaling $10).  We found a supermarket, a rarity in the circle, and bought a loaf of bread, slices of bologna and salami.  Under normal conditions we couldn’t afford that.  We had to somewhat haggle the storekeeper.  We made 12 sandwiches.  Instead of eating them, we felt guilt and handed them out to whomever we could find that could use them.

Purposeful discomfort

We made it to DC after a check engine light and a wrong turn made in Reading, but with a little help from a parts store diagnostic kit and some GPS we were on our way without incident and still arrived before any of the other service groups.

After touring DC last night with our trip coordinator, Mo from Center for Student Missions, we met as a group to discuss our goals for the week. Interestingly enough, a shared goal by many of us is to break out of our comfort zone of living and working on College Hill so we experience for ourselves the perspective of those suffering from homelessness and hunger. Day one will provide us this exact opportunity with an afternoon “urban plunge” where we’ll break into groups to meet and share a meal with those living on the streets as well as simply share a conversation. I’m curious to know how we’ll be received by them. Will they appreciate the gesture or will they think we’re a bunch of over-the-top good deed doers who have no idea what it’s like to be them? To be perfectly honest, I’m a bit nervous to make the plunge, but that’s all part of the purposeful discomfort I’m seeking.

Our first night