Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Ameri-versary!

Eight years ago this week, Class VIII of NCCC Northeast Region completed our term of service.

It was the hardest thing I had ever done (only eclipsed by teaching later), and remains probably the best, most amazing thing I've ever done (more so than any trips because this was so much longer--ten months). My life would be totally different if not for my experiences with Fire 4!

Apparently I haven't mentioned AmeriCorps at length for several years, so if you're new or you've forgotten, let me catch you up.

AmeriCorps is part of the Corporation for National & Community Service. There are hundreds of programs on state and local levels (working with Habitat for Humanity, or after-school programs, for example), as well as two national programs-VISTA and NCCC. Vista is a year of (often office/administrative) service working for a nonprofit fighting poverty.

NCCC, based on the CCC of the Depression is the Road Rules of AmeriCorps. You work in a team of 8-12 people, traveling in a government van to different short-term projects (called a spike, usually 4-8 weeks) around your region. NCCC teams work for nonprofits organizations in fields of education, public safety, unmet human needs, environmental needs, and homeland security. They also are a huge partner with Red Cross disaster relief, because NCCC members can be deployed at a moment's notice.

My team, Fire 4, based out of Perry Point, MD, did our first round in a Baltimore primary school (good lord, those kids would be in high school now!); second round at Trailblazers, a decentralized in the woods of NW New Jersey; third round at a Girl Scout camp in New Hampshire and then on Cape Cod; and fourth round in Connecticut, first in Wallingford, then in Bridgeport with Habitat.

When you live and work with the same people 24/7 for months, shit starts getting real pretty fast. We cycled through the stages of group dynamics (norming, storming, forming, performing) several times. The team quickly becomes like a family, so you laugh, quarrel, get annoyed and love those damn people no matter what. (We always loved to look at that top photo and shake our heads--that was the day we all met each other for the first time as a team. We had no idea of all the adventure awaiting us!) We had some really difficult times, but of course the fun and rewarding times are the ones that stick with me the most.

I could go on for pages and pages about my AmeriCorps experience. And I think that I'll do a little reminiscing other days this week with more stories and photos.

I'm still so grateful to have those people in my life, even if I haven't seen half of them in years. One of my teammates was at my wedding this summer! Another teammate got married this year too. A third had a baby this year. Yet another one got her college degree. A fifth has been starting his own nonprofit. The others have been equally and impressively busy.

But for now, here's a great overview through the lens of our awesome Ameri-pants. I posted this FIVE years ago, so a) the chances that you've seen it are slim to none, and b) if you've been reading for that long, you won't remember anyway.


These are trousers that have put in time and effort all around the country. They are genuine, government-issued khaki BDUs (battle dress uniform) in men's size medium. (What, you don't think the Army would actually make clothes to fit women, do you?)

These pants bear the scars of their own, nonviolent battles. The marks are not listed in chronological order.

A spot of burgundy on each knee represents two full days spent crawling around on the ground, painting large, wooden wagon wheels. If you think it is easy to paint something round and full of crannies with a large, flat brush, well...you are mistaken. :) This was one of the projects at TrailBlazers in New Jersey.

The pants are marked in many places with pale blue paint. The number marks the place where a poorly-aimed roller rolled right off the plank I was painting. Oops. The planks were some weird, very heavy material for house siding, which we painted for our sponsors, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Bridgeport (Connecticut).

Spots of thick gray paint represent our short sojourn in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. For two weeks, we did almost nothing except paint. As a result, I dreamt of almost nothing but painting. It was so boring that I would not be able to stay asleep; I bored myself awake!
Anyway, the first thing we had to do was scrape off the old, gray, lead paint from the main lodge building. There had to be tarps (old bedsheets) underfoot at all times to catch the flaking chips. After the old stuff was off, we painted a layer of the thick, gray, oil-based paint. That shit does NOT come off easily. We all had to soak our hands in turpentine, and then scrub, to remove it. And even then there was a gray tinge left to the skin.

These markers in two places represent a project with Seattle Works. One marker is at a spot of yellow, in a clear imprint of the end of a paint roller, the other is at a streak of bright green dripping down the leg. There's also a small bit of purple on the other leg that I didn't mark.
This project involved painting the computer lab of a nonprofit. We painted using those three colors they had chosen: a two-foot-wide purple strip running horizontally along two walls, with green below and yellow above. Another whole wall was green, and the last whole wall was yellow. It was an odd combination, but it worked alright.

--Some of the white paint at the bottom is from painting the computer lab at the primary school where we tutored kids in Baltimore.

--Other white paint is from cutting in ceilings while working in Bridgeport.

Now, lest you think that I only did four things while wearing these pants, and they were all painting, oh, just you wait! These pants also bear invisible witness to all kinds of other projects:

--They helped me build things and haul things in all projects.

--The tough material soaked up river water and mud from the Quinnipiac River in Connecticut.

--It absorbed sweat while we built a labyrinth out of gravel and brick.

--It bounced off chips of paint being scraped from a dock and a basement at TrailBlazers.

--The pants kept me warm in the freezing cold of Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut. Often I layered sweatpants or leggings underneath.

--In the same vein, these pants became pajamas in New Jersey when it was too cold to undress. We slept in our uniforms, then worked all day in them, then slept in them, then worked, etc.

--These pants got washed a maximum of once a week. They really became part of me!

--They have protected me from nettles, thorns, and poison ivy while hiking the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey, canoeing the river in Connecticut, and pulling weeds at Magnuson Park in Seattle.

--They protected me from dust and insulation debris while climbing around basements and attics while volunteering with the East King County chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

--They protected me from needles and other scary human debris while cleaning a bird park and several city blocks of Baltimore.

--They kept me sweaty while doing disaster work in humid-ass Texas.

--The huge cargo pockets provided space for wallet, book, walkman, snacks, and camera, while traveling by van or by plane. When working, they held water, snacks, gloves, and camera. I loved those damn pockets.

What about the warm, humid summer months, you ask? Well, during that time, the Traveling Pants were replaced by the Traveling Shorts.

These shorts were acquired secondhand, as my issued pair were heavy winter weight material, and huge enough to slide off even fully buttoned and buckled (see the little tab at the upper right corner? that's for cinching them tighter if needed. all the pants and shorts have them).
They came pretty dirty, but I did my part in contributing even more scars of battle.

Our main jobs in New Hampshire and Cape Cod involving painting unit buildings around the camp. We always used the same dark brown paint. As you can see, I was quite often a messy painter; my shorts, shirt, and even bathing suit (what? it was really fucking hot in New Hampshire in July!) got a good coating of the ugly brown stuff.

This gray paint is from the Cape Cod oil painting.

--These shorts also kept me cool while running around doing other projects in New Hampshire, like walking horses, carrying hay, and doing outdoor programs with campers.

--These shorts absorbed sweat and mud in Delaware, when we planted 700 trees in one day at a charter school.

--They helped me gauge my weight: when tight, I knew I had been eating too much lately. When I could tighten the cinches, I knew I was on the slender side.

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