Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Fire 4 is born: AmeriCorps, Chapter 3

So all eighteen teams were newly assembled in the gym. Our team leader was a pixieish blonde from Georgia named Ashley. The other ten of us corps members introduced ourselves. We had six girls and four boys. Three people from Washington, three people from Iowa, two people from Texas, one person from Arizona, and one person from Nebraska. Ages ranged from 18 to 24.

As an icebreaker, we played some kind of body-contact, Twister-type game. That was pretty interesting. Meeting strangers and then joining shins or backsides.

We did not have much time to shoot the shit; we had to sit down for a working lunch. There was a seminar-type thing about banks or loans or some such. We tried to keep getting to know each other while the lady was talking.

Either that day or the next, our team traveled--in our fifteen-passenger van, which we eventually christened Ghetto Booty--across the river to Havre de Grace. There's a lighthouse and park with some historical significance right there. We sat in a circle and shared and 'a-ha' moments and stories. Then we exchanged beads and put them on our ID badge chains. We were still strangers, we were still all quiet and unsure of ourselves, no one knew anyone's name...compared to what we became, that group might as well have been different people altogether. If that makes any sense.

That was the site of our first team picture, in front of the Havre de Grace lighthouse, us all awkward.

This isn't about the team, but let's not forget our first trip grocery shopping. Even something as mundane as getting groceries is an adventure in AmeriCorps! Because our campus is the only one with individual housing, we got special government, non-tax vouchers each week, around thirty-seven dollars a week per person. One or two representatives from each house would ride to the local Klein's grocery store, and then make the rounds with lists and calculators in hand. We could not go over the voucher amount even one penny, so calculators, pen and paper were a must.

The first trip, I was the only one from my house at the store. It was tough shopping for people that have normal food tastes, because I only eat a few things. For example, my roommates requested mayonnaise, and I got miracle whip, because I don't know the difference. Oops. Anyway, my cart was completely full and very heavy, but the seven-person-house teams had two full carts. Yeesh. We all did our own thing in the store, and it was kind of fun to run into new friends in the aisles, comparing prices and products, and getting ideas for what to get. As we checked out, the team leaders (who had to quickly do their own shopping, too) distributed the vouchers and then got vans ready. It was always fun to meet and chat with other corps members and team leaders. We would compare stories about whatever, and just generally relax.

Back to Fire 4: Our first sponsored team-bonding opportunity took place in the next week or so. All the teams gathered on a lawn behind the administrative building. It was cold, we were all bundled up and still a bit awkward with each other. Each team had a wooden pallet, a hammer, crowbar, three nails, and two rubber bands. Our task was to build something with it, in an hour.

We discussed what to do. No one really agreed on one thing or another, so one person just decided to make a bench, because he knew how to. I remember being irritated that there was no attempt at consensus or agreement or anything, and I tried to voice that. (After AmeriCorps is when I finally realized what a pain in the ass I could be and thus calmed down my argumentative side. I was rather a bitch to my team at times.) But after rolling my eyes and crossing my arms, I tried to pitch in what I could. Some of the girls were hanging back and not talking or anything (you two know who you are! shy pretenders!), but the group encouraged everyone to help out and contribute.

Needless to say, it was rather a tough task. We started by taking apart the pallet, separating the boards and salvaging as many of the bent, rusty nails as possible. Not having enough nails was our real problem. I believe we decided to use some kind of lever mechanism. No, that's not right. A hinge? Something where a single nail held two crossed boards together, so that they formed a triangle with each other and the ground. The gravity held it together and down, so it was decidedly unsturdy. The rubber bands were used to hold other pieces down.

We finished in time, and of course by then I was fully psyched about our work. We made a bench! Out of a pallet and rubber bands! It was awesome. We were all proud of our first project, and it sat faithfully on Seth's porch the rest of the year.

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