Today, the Mythbusters team got right to work at Haven, and split up into different teams upon arrival. Some people worked on organizing and planning for the Gala, Haven’s largest annual fundraising event, by making phone calls to donors, or making center pieces for the event. Others worked in the shelter, organizing supply closets and other organizational tasks. I spent most of the day in Haven’s resource room, where I had been working with others for the past few days to create a library system for Haven’s clients by organizing, labeling, shelving, and creating an inventory of books that residents can easily locate and use as resources during their stay.

After we had completed our tasks for the day, the Mythbusters group moved into the residence area of Haven, where we had a pizza party with the current residents. We ate, played board games with the children, and got to know some of the people living in the shelter. For me, the most exciting part of the day was when our group got to join the shelter’s children in interacting and playing with service dogs that were brought into the shelter for the afternoon.

Today was probably my favorite day of service, as I got to finish the project I had been working on for the past few days, and got to see the residents we had been working with and how our contributions could positively impact their lives in the shelter. As today was our last day working in the shelter, we were sad to leave, but thankful for all of the education and accommodations Haven has provided for us over the week.

Service with Self-Enlightenment

Today was probably one of my favorite days of service so far. We started off at Haven discussing intersexuality, privilege, gender based violence, and gender stereotypes. My favorite activity of the day was the gender stereotype list. We listed off stereotypical aspects of being a man or being a woman. We asked questions along the line of “what is a typical profession for a man/woman? What do men/woman usually drink? What sorts of hobbies do men/women enjoy? How are men/women supposed to act? What are the worst things you can call a man/woman?”

The two boards filled up within seconds of impulsive shouts from my team members. Whether we felt the need to speak or not, we all knew that these things were true to some extent–for everyone.

The past few days have been pretty rough on me emotionally (shout out to Jocelyn and Alex for cheering me up.) because I keep thinking of the greatness of the weight of the problem my group and I are trying to tackle. The mere fact that we were able to shout out these male/female stereotypes without even thinking really made me realize that this problem of sexual assault and how we perceive how men and women are supposed to be like. It’s incredibly easy to be afraid of the immensity of it all.

Another great part of our day today was talking about privilege. We talked about how every single person has some sort of sense of privilege, no matter how small the factor may be. We also talked about how it is the responsibility of those that do have more privilege than others to unpack notions of racism and other “isms” to other people. There is usefulness in meeting people where they’re at in terms of knowledge. I admit, I have had the tendency to not forwardly address people when they say generally awful things to/about others and myself (this stems from other more personal issues that are very prevalent in my life, I promise..haha.) I realize that passiveness and thoughts such as “What is the point in calling someone out? Obviously if they’re saying these hateful things they’re not intellectual enough to wrap their minds around what is right. Why even waste my breath and try to educate them?” are SERIOUSLY detrimental to this cause. Stopping gendered expectations–which then lead to rape culture and assault–begin with cutting the problem at the root–by taking the time to stand up and give a little lesson on why rape jokes aren’t funny. By being prepared to have a conversation. By challenging yourself as well as others. By just trying to say the right thing.

If there is one thing I learned on this trip, is that staying silent and thinking or watching from afar on my own comfy metaphorical little high horse won’t help anyone or any cause.

We ended our education session with a list of all the things we could possibly do to be proactive in the cause against sexual assault, rape culture, as well as gendered norms. We made a comprehensive list of things we could do at an individual scale, in our communities, for our government, as well as systemically/globally. We ended up with a pretty awesome list of you can see. Through this list and through my incredibly passionate and wonderful peers, I felt genuine solace in our confidence of the enormity of the possible.

Stay tuned for more Haven updates.

Thanks to everyone on this trip for being awesome.


SWAMPED Trip Day 2

Team SWAMPED had another successful day at the Nike Missile Base location of the Everglades. Yesterday was the last day at this location, working alongside Mava and her partner, John, who joined us as well. Our second half of service on Thursday and Friday will be at Biscayne National Park.

Our service included cutting down willow trees and spraying them with an herbicide that killed any future growth of these plants. The willow trees that we cut in this area were an invasive species. After the national park redirected the water source away from this area of the Everglades, this invasive plant began to grow and take over the plants that naturally grew here. To fix this problem, we removed these plants to allow for plants that were not invasive to grow in this area.

We also talked a lot about wilderness and what that meant. We decided that wilderness does not have to mean untouched by humans. The Everglades can be wilderness even though it has to be kept up by humans to ensure that invasive species do not take over.

Tomorrow we will be headed to Biscayne National Park to do work regarding sea turtles!

Everglades Species Inventory

Below is an inventory of the species we encountered while in Everglades and Biscayne Bay National Park.

Plants and Algae


Brazilian pepper tree

Shrub morning glory


Coastal plain willow



Pickerel weed

Pond Apple

Coconut palm

Christmas palm

Bismarck palm

Red mangrove

Black mangrove

Turtle grass

Manatee grass

Bubble algae (one of the largest single-celled organisms)

Insects and other invertebrates

White peacock butterfly

Zebra longwing butterfly

Julia Heliconian butterfly

The dozens of species of mosquitoes known to occur in Florida


Barrel sponge

Hermit crab (not sure which species)

Speckled swimming crab


Florida gar


Honeycomb cowfish

Blacktip shark

Atlantic stingray


American alligator

Florida Cottonmouth

Florida red belly turtle

Diamondback rattlesnake

Green iguana

Black spinytail iguana


Turkey vulture

Black vulture


Great Blue Heron (also in white morph)


Great egret

Brown pelican

Double-crested cormorant



West Indian manatee

ASB TEAM: Please add any others that I’ve forgotten!

Knowledge is Responsibility

We began our service work early today at Biscayne Bay National Park, where 96% of the protected area is under water.  We worked with our learning partners, Arend and Kelsy, to remove trash and debris from sea turtle nesting habitat.  Today was a difficult day for me. I felt full of shame and dismay as I looked at long stretches of sandy beach and mangrove coastlines spoiled with our filth and debris. I even cried a little as we bagged soda bottles, flip flops, toothbrushes, fishing nets, tennis balls, light bulbs, seat cushions, plastic doll parts, hypodermic needles, ball point pens, buoys, and thousands of broken up pieces of plastic. Some of the plastic bits were so small that they couldn’t be separated from the sand grains, and I couldn’t help but wonder how all that microplastic was impacting the marine food chain. And the dozens of Mylar balloons we found wrapped around mangrove roots…we learned that sea turtles confuse them with jellyfish, ingest them, and die an agonizing death as a result starvation when the balloon blocks the passage of food.

But our ASB team diligently and reflectively continued to clean up the beach where sea turtles would be nesting in June until we’d managed to remove over 500 lbs of marine debris. The trash filled about 20 giant-sized trash bags, included a 150 lb drift fishing net, and covered the full stern of our boat on the return journey to the park office.

At reflection, some of the students found themselves wondering whether the work we’d done today was worth it, given that the beach would most likely be littered with trash soon after our departure. What could I say to assure them that our hard work was valuable? Honestly, I’d had the same thought multiple times today, but I also know that a defeatist attitude leads to hopelessness rather than productivity and progress. So, can we reframe and refocus our helpless feeling into one that is more empowering?

I believe we can. The truth is that this ASB experience has the power to transform us and to motivate each one of us to take positive action in our own lives. We can be reassured by people like Mava and Kelsy and all the scientists dedicating their lives to gathering data to help us find better solutions.  These people may be overworked and underfunded, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. There are other people out there who – like us – care about environmental issues. This also reminds me of a comment Dr. Hope Jahren once made in a blog about climate change. She said, “We are strong and lucky. The fact that we are a group of people with food, shelter, and clean water obligates us not to give up on the world that we have compromised. Knowledge is responsibility.” So, even as more plastic trash is drifting toward the beaches we left clean for the next generation of sea turtles, we look forward to our return journey home and the opportunity to spread the knowledge that we gained during this experience.

Jammy and Steve , two very newembers of the team

The day began like any other , just casually rolling out of bed at 5:30 in the morning and trying to stay awake for our very first daybon the job. We were pumped but that energy had yet to be awoken by “hotline bling”( I’ll explain that in a bit).We managed to make our way to the volunteer site for The St. Bernard Project (An organization which works to rebuild/repair homes for Katrina victims who had contractors just run off with their money(how can people be so heartless?) as well as provide subsidized homes in new Orleans for the less well off).  Annnnnyyyyways, we got to hear the story of a new orleanian,Mr Felix and how his life played out before and after katrina until his phone starts blaring ” YOU USED TO CALL ME ON MY CELLPHONE…. LATE NIGHT WHEN YOU ..” lol.

Soon after we were at the site of the house well be working on and were learning tools of the trade of builidng homes … mainly mudding and drilling. From Zack being offered mud to eat from our supervisor Jay to music blaring while we sang along, it was a phenomenal experience. It was also there that the big revelations of Jasmine’s nickname Jamie (prefers Jammy) came to light upon which Justin decided to make his long lived desire of being called Steve by everyone known.

The rest of the day went by in a blur from playing pickup basketball (I really need to practice more :o ) to just chilling and playing “catch phrase” where I could swear Amanda, Ayari and Alyssa had this weird connection….suspicious …… But Jammy’s passion and vigorous participation bested the other team.

Last minute shout out to everyone on the team for being as amazing as they are and staying pumped especially those of  us not feeling well. Oh and thanks to Mr T(im) for staying up and letting me distract him from his reading.

Tile by Tile

The week had started off really well with the tour of all the campuses Monday. Since I want to become a social worker myself, I really enjoyed the tours and hearing from the leaders of the different campuses of Maryville Academy. However, I was really looking forward to meeting some of the children and adolescents in the Academy on Tuesday. When I found out we would be doing arts and crafts at the Madden home, I was very excited but also nervous. We had met some of the women living there the day before, and one did not seem to be very happy to see us at all.
The day came and our team was split up into two groups. One group did a beautiful job re-painting the walls of the dining room area. My group went into a different room and found out that we had the honor of contributing to the wall of tiles that had been started by the home. Each woman that gets to stay in this shelter gets to decorate a tile with whatever they want, usually an inspirational quote. Then their tile gets added to the growing tile wall, and it gives them a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.
The women that stay at this shelter are under 21 and have given birth to a child, one that was 15. There were two women with newborns and they were the most adorable things! However it took a while to engage the women to make a tile with us and talk. After we asked some questions they became comfortable with us and told us a bit about themselves. We had an great time and I think the girls did as well. In the afternoon we made Valentines Day decorations with one very energetic and funny girl named Juanna (“you-wanna”). She told us stories of how she wanted to be a nurse one day because the ones she had treated her badly. After that we disinfected a bunch of the babies toys, which were really gross. Marisa and I also got to help do research for the classes our community partner teaches about life and parenting skills. As we were leaving, Juanna asked if we were coming back, which made me sad and happy at the same time because I knew we wouldn’t be, but I was glad that we had given her a little bit of joy that day. I was proud of the work we did, and felt we made a difference and learned so much.

Farewell POW

Due to the impending blizzard, today was the last day of the Pards On Wheels ASB trip.  Early this morning we embarked on our last day of delivering meals to homebound seniors we had gotten used to seeing each day.  Throughout the trip I felt like I gained a better understanding of the value of our service.  While at times the delivery schedule seemed routine, there were meaningful conversations and moments where some of the senior citizens needed help that highlighted the significance of our work.  Not only does this program provide necessary food, but it is a daily check in for many of the people we interacted with.   There were multiple times where I had to make calls because the seniors weren’t feeling well or needed help.  Also the gratitude from the service organization we worked with was very apparent.  The work we did was not easy or comfortable, and there must be volunteers who get up each day to lug the meal carts in the bitter cold.  I was so glad to give these people the break they deserved this week.

The POW ASB trip not only taught me about the different physical and economic issues that face the elderly, but introduced me to an extraordinary group of Lafayette students that I might not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet.  Being a freshman, this was my first experience with the ASB club and hopefully not my last.  Our team leader Matt Ackerman, did such a great job organizing and uniting this group of students who came from many different parts of the Lafayette campus, but had the common interest in learning more about different communities.  As a result we were able to have very insightful conversations and reflections about our social issue while still able to poke fun and make jokes with each other.  Ultimately, I am very thankful for the opportunity to participate in this ASB trip and the people who made the experience worthwhile.

A conversation for the books

Katy and Stacy: Howdy! Its Katy and Stacy here, reporting from POW!

Katy: This morning started early for me. I got up at 7am, and was out the door at 8 with Kathleen Parrish, one of our learning partners, to get coffee from Dunkin. It’s become my staple in this trip, having a coffee in hand.

Stacy:  Meanwhile, I was in bed watching youtube videos from 730-930 am…….life is empty when you’re finally done with your applications but your body decides to refuse to sleep in the one day you can sleep in. Geez. I can’t believe it’s Wednesday already!

Katy: Yeah! Time sure flies when you’re having fun….and when you’re distracted by all the  pain from walking for so long in the bitter cold. But, all of that was worth delivering food to senior citizens who aren’t able to face the cold themselves.

Stacy:  But actually! I honestly couldn’t imagine them having to go through that. I have so much respect for those volunteers who do this everyday. How did your deliveries go today?


Katy: It went really well! Today, Khulganaa and I were assigned to a new route, so we got to learn our way around some more of the west side. One apartment that sticks out in my memory was a hybrid hotel/apartment where I met Danielle and her cat Luis.

Stacy: Haha, you also met her cat?

Katy: Yeah! Danielle invited us inside to her apartment to meet her cat Luis. She told us that it was hard for her to get around since she is in a wheelchair, and that she loves meeting new people. She had just gotten off the phone with one of her friends in the apartment when we got there, who just informed her that we were on the way. I have noticed that the meal recipients are very thankful that they get to see our faces, and chat for a little bit. Danielle was especially talkative. She had so much to tell us about her life, and bestowed some wisdom to us about making it in the big city. And her cat was adorable! How did your deliveries go today, Stacy?

Stacy:  You know, the usual. Just countless hours of getting lost and aching feet….just kidding…. Since we had done this route before, it went rather smoothly. Actually, we met this rather interesting lady on our last stop who was, get this, a neuroscientist, but also a vocal coach. In fact, she offered to give us singing lessons right there at her door!

Katy:  Really?? Did you take it?

Stacy: Katy, we had like five minutes! We still had 10 meals to deliver. But I mean, she ended up telling us about the mechanics behind singing so I guess we ended up getting  a lesson anyway. Oh! Also, she told us that one of her students had like 20 cds (she wasn’t counting…. or so she said) and that her brother had 2 grammys! But she wouldn’t name drop so we have no way if this is even true.

Katy: Wow, that’s really cool. I think it’s really amazing that these elderly folks that we meet have led really interesting lives and we can learn a lot from their experiences.

Stacy: Yeah! And apparently they can still  bust a move. Remember the dance party that we walked into back at the community center? Emily and I heard the music from the elevators when we got back from delivering the meals and I got sooooo excited when I saw them all dancing. I jumped onto the dance floor before i even put my coats down and left poor emily to deal with the carts and extra meals we had left.

Katy: Oh yeah I remember that. Taha was having such a good time, if ya know what I mean. The older ladies really loved him. This one woman asked him to dance would not let him leave the dance floor.

Stacy: hahaha yeah!! that was hilarious to watch. Man, these ladies really know how to go after what they want! It was so funny watching all the boys getting snatched up. Definitely the highlight of my day. But I also really enjoyed the forum we went to about mental health at Columbia at night. It was so cool seeing all the knowledge that i had from my neuroscience classes being enacted in the real world.

Katy: Yeah, it was really cool to see what research is doing to help the treatment of mental health. I didn’t know their was a stigma associated with mental health within the african and latino community and how that prevents A LOT of people from seeking the help they need to feel better. But hands down the most entertaining moment was when he asked us to tell a partner what animal we would have sex with.

Stacy: OMG I COULDN’T TAKE THAT MOMENT!!  But hey, great conversations ensued from that hahaha.

Katy: hahah that’s true….Wow that was a long day!! And we still had to get dinner!!

Stacy: yeah i’m surprised you didn’t knock out during dinner. It was waaayyy past your bed time!!

Katy: Oh yeah, don’t get me started on that! When we did get back to the hostel, I went to bed immediately, I’m sure you couldn’t see how fast I ran up to my room!

Stacy:  I was way ahead of you girl. I knocked out in negative 0 seconds.

Katy and Stacy: Well, that’s all we have for now. We’re signing out. See you on the outside!

Fostering Hope, Positivity and Happiness

Looking back on the past few days I know that my first time in Chicago will be an experience that I will never forget. I had little to no understanding about how the foster care system work and it was though this trip I saw the various facets that involve foster care. One thing remained constant throughout my experience, positivity. Talking directly to mothers that had just given birth, making art with them, and socializing in general I always felt a constant sense of positivity.

Our team was divided into two groups; one was responsible for working the warehouse and thrift store while the other was responsible for playing basketball with the kid. I was fortunate enough to be able to work with the kids and always felt a constant sense of happiness as we were playing with them and giving them the attention and love that they need.

As we did drills and played games, I could see the growing interest of the kids and the positivity throughout the gym. Even if it was a brief moment for them it was great knowing that they had fun and was excited to have us there. I can only imagine what they have gone through and still are going through, but I feel Maryville Academy (our community partner) does an incredible job at fostering hope amongst the kids and generating happiness as well as positivity.

Our trip ends in one day and I am very sad to leave the kids, but I am glad how much more informed about the social issue I became through each day. Hopefully I will keep what I learn in mind and constantly seek to find ways to address the social issue.

-Sicheng Weng