Sunday, March 20, 2011

New Beginnings with Jeremy

          What up everybody? I'm the new guy in the Elgin BVS house. I hail from small town Live Oak in northern California. Let me tell you now, I don't know how to surf and despite what you might think I have seen snow before. Now that that is out of the way, let me tell a little more about myself. I'm 21 years old. I was born in Upland California and raised in Pamona for the first four years of my life. My parents, not wanting to raise I and my two older brothers in the bad area we lived in, decided to move our family up north to Live Oak to live around my mom's family. I've been raised in a church of the Brethren all of my life.
           I attended Butte Community College for 2 and half years with no major declared and no diploma to show for my troubles. At the end of my fifth semester, I had no job, I hadn't signed up for any universities and I didn't know what I was going to do with myself. All I knew is that I didn't want to keep going to community college. This was about November of 2009. I was talking with my mom about what my next step in life would be. She suggested the Brethren Volunteer Service. My oldest brother, my grandma and grandpa and my aunt and uncle had all been in BVS before me so I was familiar with the program. I don't know how to describe it any differently than this but when my mom suggested BVS it felt like something clicked into place in my head. I researched the issue and it just so happened that there was a BVS orientation in January. And so it was that I became a part of BVS unit 287. 
         During my year of service, I volunteered with Brethren Disaster Ministries. I was sent to Hammond, Indiana in February 2010 where I and my fellow BDM volunteers remodeled houses that were damaged after flooding caused my Hurricane Ike. Here I learned some basics about construction and discovered how I fit in to the BDM leadership team. At the end of May, the project in Hammond  came to an end and I transferred to the Winamac, Indiana project which was about 100 miles south of Hammond. The Tippecanoe river around Winamac flooded 3 times in 2 years. Here we had to completely tear down damaged houses and completely rebuild the homes from the ground up. I was glad for the transfer. I got the opportunity to learn the more intricate parts of construction and because we completely rebuilt houses we got to spend more time with the home owners and really got to hear their stories and work alongside them. 
        During my 6 month retreat, I was asked to consider taking over as the BVS recruiter when my initial volunteer year ended. So that's what I'm doing in the Elgin BVS house now. I've been the new volunteer recruiter for a whole two weeks now. I'm incredibly excited about my time as the recruiter and I'm totally stoked about my roommates. They are a quality class of people and I'm looking forward to getting to spend time with them.
      So yeah, that's me.  Oh yeah, my name is Jeremy by the way. Nice to meet you all. You'll hear from me again in about four weeks.

-Jeremy McAvoy

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I'm a Thistle Farmer

Hey y'all. Clara here. I spent last week in Nashville, TN enjoying the company of volunteers, spring in the south, and some sweet tea. Above is the one and only picture I took while on this trip, displaying gorgeous a gorgeous blooming magnolia. (Unfortunately the picture was taken on my cell phone, and really isn't that great... but you get the point; it's spring in Tennessee!) I'm impatiently awaiting the blooms of spring here in Chicagoland. 

My reason for visiting Tennessee was to attend a Volunteers Exploring Vocation (VEV) event. This gathering was comprised of 50 volunteers from all over the US and representing Lutheran Volunteer Corps, Mission Year, Mennonite Volunteer Service, Episcopal Service Corps, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, PCUSA Young Adult Volunteer Service, Notre Dame Mission Volunteers, UCC Young Adult Service Communities, Catholic Volunteers, Christian Appalachian Project, L'Arche USA, and of course, Brethren Volunteer Service. I was unaware that there were this many volunteer organizations and was thrilled to meet other volunteers and share stories of community and service. 

During our week we heard talks from Vanderbilt's School of Divinity and from other mission leaders in the Nashville area. We had elective sessions on everything from the practice of praying in a labyrinth, to analyzing dreams as a spiritual practice, to learning about Tennesseans' Against the Death Penalty. We also had small group sessions to discuss some of the the ideas we had heard about and to discuss discernment as peers. 

Although the entire week was great, I took the most away from hearing the story of Becca Stevens. Becca is a Episcopal priest who founded Magdalene and Thistle Farms. 

Magdalene is a recovery program designed to take women just out of jail, or off the streets who are prostitutes and addicts. The women stay at the home for two years, free of charge, and live by principles based on a loving community.Magdalene is named after Mary Magdalene, who anointed Jesus's feet with oil, who was one of the first to discover that the stone had been removed and that Jesus' body was gone, who was the first to preach the truth that Jesus had risen. 15 years after founding Magdalene, Becca's voice is still full of emotion and passion as she describes the importance of Mary Magdalene and the women of Magdalene to Jesus. 

Thistle Farms is run by the women in the Magdalene program. The women hand make body care products like lotion, lip balm, body butter and sell them as a non-profit business. One of the most renowned products is their Geranium Spray. Working through a partnership with abused women in Rwanda who collect the geranium oil, the women of Magdalene market the spray as a natural bug repellant. Thistle Farms also sells paper products made partially from the blossom of the thistle.

While in Nashville, we had the opportunity to visit the building that serves as the home of the Thistle Farms plant and store. Here we met some of the women of Magdalene and were fortunate to share in their opening devotion circle. We heard incredible stories of addiction and recovery and testimonies to the power of God. It was incredible to share our pains and sorrows with each other and to so intimately relate with these women. 

One of the reasons I was so struck by this mission was the image that it portrayed. While it seemed that most in my group had no particular feeling or affinity toward the thistle, seeing it as any old weed, I was different. I have experienced the thistle, and I despise it. I cannot count the hours I have spent under the hot summer sun with a machete in hand, chopping down thistles. Thistles are ever prolific weeds who find their way into my pastures and hayfields. In an effort to prevent the spread and continued growth of thistles on my farm, we spray an herbicide and and attempt to chop down all thistles before they bloom. Despite our efforts, the thistles always seem to prevail. So, why would an organization claim, and love such a plant?
       "Thistles grow on the streets and alleys where the women of Magdalene walked. Considered a weed, they have a deep root that can shoot through concrete and survive drought. And in spite, of their prickly appearance, their royal and soft purple center makes the thistle a mysterious and gorgeous flower. Being a Thistle Farmer means the world is our farm, and that we choose to love the parts of creation that others have forgotten or condemned." -

It is this image, of the thistle as a lost person waiting to be loved, that has changed my opinion of thistles forever. So, while I'm sure I will still be assigned the duty of chopping thistles out of the pasture, I will do it with the knowledge that the thistle is indeed beautiful and represents something much more, and my least favorite job will be done with a better understanding of love.

To learn more about Thistle Farms or to purchase some of the great products made by the women of Magdalene 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Traveling for a Week with Carol

So after Don talked about his week at Orientation, I thought that it might be fun to give a glimpse into a week with me on the road. During this particular week I am on the road to do some site visits for workcamps that I am leading this summer.

But before you can go on any trip, first you need to pack. Here are some of the things that I take on all my trips with me:
  • My large Beach Towel (it can be used as a towel, blanket, pillow, a sweater, a bag, and many other things)
  • Small Blanket (I get cold easily)
  • either my stuffed lamb or my duck - depending on how much space I have (which are kind of my security blanket).
  • My huge book bag (which has a ton of pockets and I can fit everything in)
  • Lap Top to write up reports on and check my work email
  • Business Cards (I feel cool carrying these around)
  • Cell Phone
  • A huge atlas (to try and not get lost)
  • A good book
  • MP3 Player (need some good tunes)
  • Playing cards
  • Flashlight
  • Good walking shoes
  • Notebook Paper
**So I hope that this list is helpful the next time you go on a trip :) **

My trip began on Saturday, I flew from O'Hare to BWI. Once I arrived in BWI I met up with a friend, who is actually directing the workcamp with me and we were on our way to Lancaster, PA. Housed in Lancaster is the Alpha and Omega congregation (for the Church of the Brethren), which is our home for the workcamp. This is also going to be where we are working for the week, they have an amazing community center.

On Sunday morning we were able to worship with the congregation. Upon walking in the door we were created by two men that instantly wanted to know us and were excited that we had chosen to worship with them. Other Church of the Brethren congregations can learn a lot from this congregation, it truly was about the people. This was an energetic contagious worship service, like I have never seen before. Yes, the service was entirely in Spanish and yes I only understood about every fifth word but there is something about music that takes away language barriers. During the singing the children of the church were at the front of the church singing, worshiping, and waving flags of various countries. In the background you could see a band full of energy with huge smiles on their faces as they played guitars, keyboard, and various drums. As soon as the singing began or the scripture was read everyone rose to their feet to worship our awesome God. My friend and I were given translation head-sets which helped a lot during the sermon time, so we could understand what was going on. The pastor who has been helping out with the camp then preached about the workcamp theme, which I thought was very cool.

Once the service was over, we headed back to the airport. After dropping off my friend at the airport, I drove to Virginia to spend some time with my cousin who lives there. Upon arriving, my cousin told me that I needed to help take care of the animals, he lives on a farm. Carol, never living on a farm was unsure what to expect but agreed none the less. It was really fun to play with the dog, who is my new best friend, the horses, and seeing the calves that vary in age from 1 day to 3 weeks. They were pretty cute, and I am hoping to take some pictures of them.

Isn't it pretty!

My favorite cousin and his dog.
The next morning I woke up and drove to Broadway, Virginia where we are having another workcamp at the John Kline Homestead. Once in Broadway I was able to meet with the director and get a tour of the homestead and we sat down and discussed the workcamp this summer. This was a great opportunity for me to learn about what the Church of the Brethren did during Civil War and the impact that one man, had in Virginia. This man was John Kline, who cared about ALL people. I am looking forward to teaching the workcampers about their history this summer in the Shenandoah Valley.

While I was so close, I also decided to travel down to Bridgewater and see my Grandma who is living in the retirement home. It was great to see her, since it had been two years since I last saw her, and now she is 91 years old. This was a great opportunity for me to hang out with my aunt, while working. We also stopped at a museum that we were thinking about taking the workcampers to this summer and also stop by the Church of the Brethren camp in the area, which we are also planning on using during the workcamp.

I was also able to schedule myself to have a free day, to spend with my cousin before moving on to my last stop on the trip. This is my favorite cousin on my dad's side of the family, and anytime we get together, we know that it is going to be a fun trip.

Now I should preface the next story by telling you that I have never lived on a farm. Upon arriving in Virginia at my cousin’s house, he thought that it would be a good idea if I went out and helped him with his farm chores; this was also a good way for me to get to hang out with my favorite cousin, due to his busy schedule. These farm chores included feeding and counting the beef cattle, grooming and feeding the horses, feeding the cats, and playing with the dog (that was my favorite part). I do, however, have to admit that it was pretty fun riding a round hay bale out to the field.

I helped out with the farm work every day that I was there. I had an opportunity to walk around his beautiful property that looked out over the mountains. I also had a great opportunity to see the calves; I took some great pictures of these amazing animals.

I was doing pretty well on the farm chores thing until the last day. By this point my feet were not my biggest fans do to the fact that I had been wearing my aunt’s boots that were 2 sizes too small. So by the end I had some pretty nice blisters on my heels. It was on my last day there that I was riding on the tractor and did not fall off but fell down and got some pretty nice bruises on my legs. Oh well, now I have proof that I was working.

Then after a nice drive to Roanoke I was ready for my last stop on the trip. I was reunited with an old friend and we were able to reminisce about a trip that we made together several years ago. I was also able to meet several people that attend her church that are willing to help out with the workcamp this summer, which is always exciting. While working our way through the list of activities that the workcampers will be doing this summer, we ended up at the Cascades. We had a beautiful hike up a mountain on a twisting and rocky two mile hike to a beautiful cascading waterfall. Then we had a two mile hike back to our car on an access trail that was straight down hill.

The Beautiful Cascades!

It had been a really nice trip and I thought that that would be the end, but to my surprise it was only the beginning. Upon arriving at the airport on Saturday I got on my first plane from Roanoke to Charlotte (North Carolina) to which I needed to sprint across the airport to get on a plane from Charlotte to Louisville. It was only then that I could finally get on a plane to Chicago. Well that is at least what I thought would happen to my surprise my flight kept getting delayed and was eventually canceled. This was a fun adventure, after spending 5 hours in the Louisville airport I was finally on a shuttle to a hotel (that the airlines provided).

I then had a good four hours worth of sleep before getting up at 4 am to get to the airport by 6 to fly to Atlanta to finally fly back to Chicago. After an extra 12 hours I finally arrived home.
Please help us Welcome our newest housemate, Jeremy!!
I will let him introduce himself soon.

Well I hope you enjoyed our trip.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

To the ends of the Earth

It is rather apparent to me that my job pushes me towards schizophrenia. Over half of the time, I lead a normal life (for a BVSer). I go to work in the morning, sit at a desk, eat lunch with coworkers, then go home eventually. At times it can be depressing, especially in Winter when the sun sets around noon and you're forced to hole up inside all evening. Even as a volunteer, it's easy to feel stuck in the rat-race.

Salvation to the South

Orientation, my friends, is the freedom I am given from the cubicle I sit at right at this moment. It is a rolling green field, it is a dock on a small lake, it is a porch swing to read a good book on. By the way, it was winter in Elgin.  

Sunny days were spent kayaking on Fischer Lake or reading
Working with Habitat in Miami
In my last post, I glossed over what happens at orientation. There is simply too much happening, and I'm in the middle of it all. Many of the group discussions, speakers, games, and activities are the same for every orientation. What makes each one different is the people that participate. It is hard to compare anything with how much weight personality has at orientation. They are like snowflakes: no two are the same, so don't compare. And, as it alights on your hand, it melts away quickly. Many people will say that three weeks is a long period of time to be so involved in a group, but the time will always fly. I promised to say what makes unit 292 special, and I will stay true to my word. For fun, I think I'll also mention the good old reliable fact of orientation; the things that never cease to amaze me.

Come to the Table

this space intentionally left blank.Tried-and-true292!
Food GroupsGroups usually struggle with providing solid meals. While there are some snacks available, generally there is no supplement to dinner.On the first night, a volunteer shared cookies that she made for everyone. She didn't even know us yet, and she made us cookies! On the downside, each successive meal would be deemed a failure due to lack of cookies.
Urban WeekendA time to see a different setting, mix things up a bit, and spend five hours in the car with people who hate your taste in music.Spending "Urban" Weekend camping, making it actually more rough and country than the rest of the three weeks. Groups cooked by a campfire, though we did have dinner at El Tropico, a fine Cuban restaurant, on Friday.
CelebrationThe last session before everyone departs, included awards for each person. There were snacks and music, which led to much rejoicing.Each award was handmade by Julie and Sue, and each was hilarious. See below.
Ping PongWhen available, we waste all of our free time playing ping pong.OK, nothing special about this one, we just played a lot of ping pong. Enough that I needed to mention it.
PotluckEach orientation, BVS holds a potluck and invites former volunteers, supporters, and friends, to share a meal with the current unit.Camp Ithiel is already special when it comes to potlucks, because they hold a Contra Dance after dinner (think line-dancing meets baroque meets cha-cha slide... maybe not that last one). What made this potluck special was a guest! None other than Unit 291's Britta! She hitched a ride from someone at the Palms and caught up with the staff, and even did a little contra dancing!
Ice CreamAs a treat, after everyone has had their placement interview with Dan, we usually take the group out for ice cream. We're not all business all the time!This time, things were different. One word: sprinkles.
Packing and leavingIt's inevitable. At the end of orientation, we have to load up and go. Volunteers go to the airport or the train station, and we drive back to Elgin. This time around, there were a few caveats. One volunteer was headed to Su Casa in Chicago, so he would ride back with me. Another didn't have a flight until Saturday, which meant staying an extra day with me. Because time was of the essence, we decided to take two volunteers to the train station on the way out of town. Dana was also headed to the airport, after helping load the van.
All in all, we loaded the van with everything it came with, plus six people's luggage, and then those six people. Kevin didn't have any leg room, and Nico was a little squished in the back, but we made it. And we saved about 30 minutes driving time - just don't ask how long it took us to get everything packed.
"Best Hair" award. According to Julie, the moustache was needed to
distinguish it as a man. A very thoughtful, solemn man. I can speak from
experience that even a beard is not enough to distinguish me as a man.
Sunday, in the store, a salesman asked "How we doing, ladies?"

Meeting the Silly Photo Quota

Here you can see Britta and I guffawing at something the eldest
Neff child said during the potluck. Good camera work, Sue!


I have to give mention (shout-outs, props to my homies) to Luke Matheny from Wilmington, DE, who won an Oscar for the short film God of Love. Probably the most famous person since Joe Biden to come from Delaware. And that, well that's something, folks.