Next Steps with Franklin High School

We have heard it over and over again.

“I don’t know where to look for volunteering”

Our answer up until now has been to have students tell us their interests and then we sift through all of the volunteering opportunities available until we find something that matches – almost like the eHarmony of volunteering. There are many problems with this approach though. In searching for opportunities, we use large amounts of time and resources. Time and resources that only allow us to reach a small population of students. On top of that, it may take multiple iterations of volunteering for us to find the right one for a student. Students lose motivation while waiting for us to find something that fits.

The largest problem of all is that it does not encourage a habit of volunteering. We end up being the crutch for students and once they graduate or leave the city, they don’t know where to look for the opportunities we found for them.

This is why it is imperative that we help students understand what resources they have at their fingertips, how to use them, and why knowing and using them is pertinent to their lives.

Here is an easy comparison with which we all can associate:

By giving a man to fish, we feed him for a day. By teaching a man to fish, we feed him for a lifetime.

In order to make this a sustainable model, we must add another step.

By teaching a man how best to teach others how to fish, we feed the community for generations.

The fall Xplore and Ignite program will have students teaching other students how to use their resources. Then, to use these resources and actually volunteer. Next, to understand what skills and capabilities were enabled through volunteering applying them to their resume. The final step is the most important, though.

Why? Why is all of it important? We will reflect on the entire experience and knowing what it means to have gone through the program and how it can apply to each student’s future. With excitement, we take our first steps into this fall Xplore and Ignite program with Franklin High School.


Libby Peierls’ Inspiration

I was in boy scouts and was required to volunteer throughout grade school. I enjoyed being around my friends, but I didn’t understand why I was volunteering. My parents volunteered in numerous capacities and tried to impress upon me the importance of giving back. I rarely volunteered with opportunities that matched my passions, nor did I actively search for them. Even though volunteering was important to my family, it wasn’t a high priority for me at the time.

My parents were talking in our kitchen nook one day and in the middle of conversation, my mom collapsed. Thankfully my dad was there and caught her, but he soon realized she had become victim to a seizure. He remembered what they were from when he was a child and his dad had seizures. It turned out that my mother was exhibiting symptoms based on the cancer that had been growing in her brain.

Everything changed. Our eating habits. Our interactions. Our extracurricular activities. Even how our friends acted toward us. I remember meal after meal was brought to our house by family friends, and neighbors, and people we had never met. I know there were a few families behind the scenes coordinating everything and I am thankful for everything they did, despite me not remembering who they were.

What really stood out to me was this. It was because of my mom that those families wanted to help us. It was my mom who showed all of them love and gave her time in effort for nothing in return. She created a community who cared about one another and I cherish her ability to do so.

On June 28, 2005, after 2 and half years of fighting brain cancer, in and out of remission, my mom, Elizabeth Peierls, passed away. Again, friends stopped by with their blessings and food. Others with words of reflection about my mom.

What I gathered was that my mother was a sun. She attracted others in an orbital fashion while giving off love and heat to nurture their souls. With bright red hair, she stood out among most and laughed like no one I have ever heard before, or since. Her ability to bring others together in hope and inspiration, especially in the times of need and grief, was her gift.

It has been 10 years since her passing and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. More importantly, I have made the effort to understand how she would have raised me and what kind of values she would have passed on. Based on the combination of hers and my dad’s guidance, I began to mold myself the way I believed best.

I traveled to 4 continents in the fall of 2013, with the expectation that I would push my comfort zone. What I didn’t realize was that each environment that absorbed me expanded my definitions of need, want, and privilege more than I could myself. I saw similar needs in many countries relating to poor health sanitation, lack of education and medicine, and close proximity living quarters made from trash. I also witnessed the need for equality and understanding, the absence of inspiration, and the desire to be happy. I’m not saying that everything I saw was bad, and in fact, many of my best memories today originated from that trip. What I am saying is that I had never seen the need for action in my life more than I saw it then.

I knew that when I returned I wanted to sell my belongings and purchase a van to travel the country. I wanted to volunteer. A lot. And I got really into filming my adventures. Then it hit me. I could volunteer, film the volunteering, and encourage college students to volunteer! That might be something my parents would do.

I returned home – complete in a hazy state of culture shock. I knew what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t do it alone. I approached my friend Brad Burns, who I have known since we attended Camp Champions back when we were 10. “You want to travel the country, volunteer, and film it all?”.

“Sure!” So we started with this idea.

I bought an RV, which Brad’s brother creatively gave the name Harvey. Turned out that all of the planning that we had been doing toward the east coast, across the northern part of the country, and wrapping up in Alaska, was for naught. We had to cancel all of our tour dates with nearly 20 nonprofits because our friend Patrick’s mom discovered mold in Harvey.

For the next 4 months, we tore Harvey wall from wall rebuilding his insides and outsides. Meanwhile, Brad’s uncle brought up the idea of applying for 501(c)3 Public Charity status and altering the idea a little. We incorporated, formed a Board of Directors, and Passion Impact was born. The original mission was to help college students build a long-term habit of volunteering.

It took us 4 and a half months after leaving on June 15, 2014, to reach and get secured in Portland. Harvey broke down a lot. Over 10 times with the first being only 20 minutes from our original embarkation point. Throughout that time, we volunteered with multiple organizations in each city that we stayed and continued to build the framework for our vision. Granted, we had not made it to Portland or even thought about it as a home base at that time. We still wanted to travel and film.

For each person we met on our trip, I channeled my mom and her ability to listen. I was genuinely interested in each of their stories and experiences. You could say that I looked for the sun in each of them. We began to notice that the more we passed through towns and cities and the less we stayed in them, the less of a chance we had at actually changing the behavior of students. So, we set our eyes on Portland for the long haul.

Once reaching Portland, we all secured part-time jobs and began our work. The plan that we had originally put together melted away as we soon figured out what life would actually be like in the PNW. Despite all of our separate calendars, we found a way to grow Passion Impact slowly over the next 7 months.

I quit my part time job at the end of April and as of May 1, began working full time for Passion Impact. With this time, we have been able to design Xplore and Ignite: Adventuring, Understanding, and Building Community. In designing this program, I thought heavily on the past two years of my life and how what I had done allowed me to give to others. Referring back to the importance of giving that my mom and dad had taught me while growing up, I see a possibility for this program to thrive.

Xplore and Ignite High school program is designed to help students explore their city, it’s needs, and their passions to understand how they can better their community. This means meeting with nonprofits in their community and volunteering; reflecting on these experiences and why these organizations exist to give back; talking with community members about the problems they see and experience; and then designing projects as a team that take everything they learn and put it into a plan that students can choose to take on if they would like.

Xplore and Ignite 18+ Program will be meeting for 10 Sunday evenings to enjoy genuine and intelligent discussion over a FREE dinner in order to create something beautiful for the community with new friends.

Considering these are pilot programs, we have no clue if this first iteration will work. But then again, it is an adventure in and of itself. As we persist with our mission, we will eventually reach the point where we continually help students can volunteer their passions, love their community, and grow into happy and engaged community members.

Students deserve to chase something they are passionate about and to love it thoroughly. We want to help them get there and believe that this program is the first step.

This is something I could see my mom doing. This is dedicated to you Libby.

-Stefan


The Farm Life

Sometimes I would wake up to sun shining in the windows, but more often than not, the fog would caress the hill behind the house. I woke up from one dream in another. The farm started early, so we did too.

Circling the spiral staircase downstairs, I would hear the thumping of Burma’s tail on the wall. Give me some love!  She’d stretch out her Burmese Mountain dog legs and roll onto her back in anticipation for a belly rub. She is the size of a teenager and has the spirit of a crafty child.

DSC_0601 The farm was more than a place to help; it was a place to think. So much time away from civilization. So much freedom for the mind. We arrived on September 28th, and the weather was still warm — surprising for Oregon.

When the back door was opened, we were told to make sure not to let the Box-alders in. Never having been introduced to them before, I was skeptical about their intentions. If one was to land on me, would it bite me? Sting me, even? Am I its food? No, not at all. They were absolutely harmless and because of their naiveté, they never really had any direction to their lives. I thought on their purpose every time I opened a window and hundreds would drop from between the screen and the glass. As they fell, the sound reminded me of my mom pouring coffee beans into a grinder when I was a child. I opened the windows every day, just to hear the noise.

As the days became colder, the swarms of happy and healthy box-alders dwindled. The lucky ones that had made it in the house were given names and were watched over with grace. I remember one night as I was working at the table, a shadow kept appearing and disappearing on the ceiling. Having a tendency to climb on thin ridges, Tom (one of our favorites) had found his way to the top of a lamp shade and continued to walk in circles for hours. Why was he doing this? At least he wasn’t going for the light, I thought at the time. But what was he doing? He did this many more nights throughout the next couple of weeks and would change directions periodically.

Tom’s repetitive actions reminded me of my walk in the Labyrinth in Santa Cruz. Tom reminded me to breathe and envision where I was going, without worrying about my actual next steps. He stayed warm by the heat of the lamp. I stayed focused on words written on rocks in the spiral. Breathe. Motivate. Smile.

The farm allowed for this same type of meditation. We had chores that we helped with and specific jobs that we were instructed to complete. One of those was to completely remove blackberry bushes from the side of a hill. This would allow for the owners to monitor the chickens in the orchard and to potentially do some terraced farming.

DSC_0828

If you have ever waged war on blackberry bushes, you already know what was ahead of us. Even though my father had hacked away at them when I was a child, I forgot about their ferocity and, without much preparation, went after them anyway. Dressed in shorts and a tank-top, I was ready for the weather, but not for the bushes outreached thorns. After the first full day of working, we made a large dent in the bushed, but they had fought back vigorously. I soon was scratching my entire body and later found out, that somehow, I had been given the gift of poison ivy. It spread quickly and itched more than the thorn scratches hurt. It took 3 weeks for me to fully recover.

After we defeated the blackberry bushes, it was time to move onto our other jobs. These included cleaning the barn, weeding and spreading manure in the garden, removing grass from the base of trees in the orchard, spreading new gravel in potholes on the road and in the paddock, stabilizing the paddock fence, and continuing with the frequent animal chores.

At one point, Brad and Mel had left the barn as I went to fetch Willy, the horse, from the field. But when I returned, the goats had forced their pen gate open and were roaming the barn. Not only that, but they had forced the lid off of their food container. Six goats viciously surrounded it, butting each other for a better spot. I started rounding them up by pulling their ears toward their pen. After containing four of them, I chased the rest in circles around some shelving while shooing more from the food and clamping down the lid. As soon as I would grab another goat, the lid was off, and they would dive back in their food. It was hopeless. I grabbed the lid, closed the container, and sat down on top of it breathing heavily. One of the more aggressive goats head butted my leg and stared at me. I stared back and didn’t budge. I remembered being told that goats can eat themselves to death, meaning that if they had open access to a continuous food supply, their stomachs would burst. Thankfully, Mel walked back in to see what was taking me so long. She stood at the door and laughed.

DSC_0878

We reflected on our help with the animals more so than any other tasks on the farm. It was incredibly enriching to know that we were helping give the cows, the goats, the chickens, the cats, the dogs, and the horse vitality and love. We would walk down to the barn knowing that the animals were expecting us and were excited to see us. Willy became accustomed to our hugging his snout and the goats eventually enjoyed a scratch behind their ears. Even the three legged cat, named Horse, needed our help scratching his left ear, which was the side of his missing leg.

We had found a feeling of satisfaction like no other – that warm and fuzzy that flooded in because we knew our help was appreciated. This is our vision. One where students will have this same feeling as they volunteer their passions and better their communities.DSC_0635

Thank you Tom for you incessant adventures around the rim of the lamp. Thank you fog for your dreamy awakenings. Thank you McMinnville and the farm. Our time with all of you allowed for much valuable reflection.


Food Not Bombs

A rare breed indeed. From pants stitched entirely out of patches, to backgrounds bearing expansive travel, the random assortment of folks who volunteer at Food Not Bombs are one of a kind. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Food Not Bombs, it is a coalition of people who have formed chapters all over the world to provide food to the homeless and needy. Depending on the chapter, the food is sourced from either farmer’s markets, local grocery stores, farms, or local community gardens. We have volunteered at one of the eight Los Angeles Foot Not Bombs for nearly 2 months.

The specific chapter, to which we traveled weekly, has thrived for over 13 years. Faces became familiar while the food remained fantastic. We arrived between 3:30 and 4:30 every Sunday to help chop the vegetables for the stew. Having cooked veggie-stew in the past (because of my father’s healthy obsession), I was privy to the fact that potatoes, and other hard vegetables, needed to be thrown in first, in order for them to soften.

Once the potatoes, squash, turnips, and beets were minced and dumped into the stew, it was on to the crying party! Onions galore. We cut these as quickly and as safely as possible. Then on to the red, yellow, green, and purple bell peppers; cucumber, zucchini, and green beens. Next we cut lettuce, tomatoes, plums, peaches, and strawberries for the salad. Each week was always a surprise of vegetables and fruits, which made cutting a continuous learning process. FNB Cuttin Strawberries

Meditation can be seen by some as a specific way to put your mind at ease, but it encompasses much more. As our muscles focused on dicing and chopping, our minds were carried away in the discussion of life, passions, personal pet peeves, and questions that would challenge each other’s beliefs. Mind you, there were new people each week, but it seemed as though the atmosphere was a constant.

Once everything was cooked, we loaded up and would drive to Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles. By the time we reached the square, there was already a line of at least 70 people while more would trickle in as we continued to set up. We each found a job that needed to be done whether it was handing out forks and napkins, serving rice, beans, stew, or salad, or just mingling with the regulars. There was always something to be done.

Passing Out Food

It was different at Food Not Bombs. We also ate the food that we served. We are all equal. I dig. Oh and the food was delicious.

Yea, there were the occasional crazy people. They need to eat too. There were also the intellectuals who you may never have guessed lived on the streets. I would sit and listen to them and their stories. About wars once fought, jobs once conquered, families once loved. Every time I sat and opened my ears, they would soon be filled with ideas that made me recognize my own privilege and respect for life. I have a constant question that I ask people, because it’s what I do: What was the best part of your day?

More frequent than not, the response I received from those at Pershing Square was, “When I woke up this morning.”

__

Find out how you can get involved with Food Not Bombs at www.foodnotbombs.net

 


Jumpstart

Thud thud.

Thud thud.

Thud thud.

There is a set of winding bridges in Norway that island-hop from town to town on the Norwegian Sea. Luscious green mounds of ocean toppers that protrude from the healthy blue sea. The sky forms itself in the waves that caress the edges of the islands making itself known to those who stare into it.

Your friend pulls the car over at the next restaurant. The gravel under the tires crunch as the car glides into a spot. You hold the restaurant’s door open as your friends thank you and walk in to the lively atmosphere. As you sit, a waitress brings menus and silverware to the table. She hands everything to you, smiles, then returns back to the bar. There’s a sound. It’s a scratching sound. Everyone is doing it. You are all scratching your heads looking disheveledly at the letters that seem to make up words on the menus. Norwegian words look similar to english, but don’t make complete sense.

You wake up and realize that your dreams have been feeling more and more real recently. You sit up and your stomach churns. It’s been a little while since you had some food. 6:00 AM is early enough for a visit to the diner down the street. Your parents are still asleep, but if they were up, it’s not like they would go with you anyways. The sun is barely surfacing over the mountains in the distance as you tilt your hat lower. School started last week, but there hasn’t been much joy there yet.

Thud thud.

Thud thud.

Thud thud.

Your skateboard clicks over the sidewalk toward the diner. The sun blinks at you through the tree branches in time to the whistles of the morning larks. You smile and slow to a stop outside the diner. An older gentleman approaches leaning on a cane with a tennis ball on the bottom. You hold the door for him as you pop your skateboard up on your shoe. He nods and creases his cheeks as the smile from behind his weathered lips appear.

“Thank you.”

You file in after him and sit at a table by yourself in the corner – skateboard sliding back and forth underneath your feet. The waitress is new this morning and she brings you a menu asking if you would like orange juice. You smile and nod at her as you unfold the menu. The letters that are so neatly arranged behind the plastic vale looking back at you tell a story of your potential full stomach. However, you do not understand what any of them mean.

De ja vu. It’s an instant translation back to your dream. Instead of Norway, it is your local diner. Instead of Norwegian, it is English. Shouldn’t you know how to read a language so prevalent in your society? You are almost in fifth grade. What happened?

The waitress returns and you tell her to surprise you with something under five dollars. It is delicious.

School comes and lingers like the clouds outside that are ready to unleash their loads of water on the gardens below. The bell rings and you sling your bag over your shoulder. Your skateboard resides in your other arm, steering you through the sea of students. The few remaining rays of sunshine beckon you toward the double door exit and a bright red shirt confronts you as you breach the grass outside. It squats down to your level and then a face becomes visible. She smiles and tells you her name is Leah.

She notices you staring at the stitched logo of the company that she represents and tells you it reads Jumpstart.

“We are here to work toward the day every child in America enters school prepared to succeed.” And then points at your chest as she winks. 

“I would love to help you learn how to read.”

__

If this piece helps you feel grateful for your ability to read or if you’re grateful for the services that Jumpstart provides, share this post with someone who you believe is already helping or is willing to help with this initiative.

To find out more about Jumpstart and how you can help, visit: www.jstart.org.

To view the bridges in Norway click here.


Apparently Harvey thought we weren’t finished in L.A.

Today, we left LA. Driving north on Fair Oaks Blvd from South Pasadena to Pasadena. We were in search of a fair gas station. The 76 gas station was behind us, so we turned around at the next available street. Harvey sounded so good. All we needed was gas and we would be on our way to Santa Barbara.
That pump on the end, next to the exit, was ours. The ticker started climbing as Harvey devoured a plethora of plus fuel. “Well, you sure are hungry”, I told him.

“Must be fun.” The woman on the other side of the pump said as admired Harvey.
“Excuse me?”
“All that freedom in an RV, it must be fun.”
“No strings attached, but it has its drawbacks.” I smiled and nodded my head.
“The gas?”
“Absolutely. We love him though.”

She was a teacher. High School Special Education. I thanked her for her service and hopped back in Harvey, turned the key, and heard the solenoid clink. The gas gauge rose with fervour. What a beautiful sight. I passed the $94 receipt back to Brad to log with the others and my eyes returned to the dash. The gas gauge had stopped at halfway. “What? This cannot be true…”

I remembered a similar problem in Phoenix and a mechanic told me how to fix it. Hopping down from the driver’s seat, I squatted behind Harvey’s rear tires. I scooted on my stomach to the back gas tank, passing under the shattered remains of what used to be our black water tank. For those of you who know very little about RVs (which was us only months ago), the black water tank retains all the shit. Quite literally.

I made it under the rear gas tank unscathed, but found that it would be much easier on my back to reach the electrical switch that I had been told about.
My father has always told me that my uncle and I got our broad shoulders from their father. So as I tried to turn over, you can imagine the discomfort that I soon found myself in. Stuck between a warm rear axle, a gas tank, and the hot cement with a sleeveless shirt, I pondered my predicament for about 10 seconds. I gave into my pestering thoughts of retreating to the side of the RV, past the black water tank. Quickly, I scooted and flipped over. I then returned to the gas tank and fiddled with the electrical connection. Scooting out, once again, I shuffled to the driver’s door. Clink. The solenoid. Now the gas gauge was at 0. I repeated this process four more times until I was satisfied with it reading only half. Let’s go to Santa Barbara.

Only a few turns and we were breaching Highway 134. This would soon turn into the 101, which we would take all the way to Santa Barbara. The onramp changed forms, becoming an upramp, which has always been a struggle for Harvey. I relived the terrifying moments that Brad and I had spent travelling 45 mph on I-10 West to reach Tucson and Phoenix. I recounted the chant that I recited to myself: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” We reached 40 mph. The top of the hill was close, sun beaming at us from the west. 43 mph. Two cars skirted around us and changed back into our lane. 45 mph. “I think I can, I think I can.” The gas pedal began to give out. Harvey sputtered as he approached his apparent max of 49 mph. Brad turned to me as I smiled and said, “That wasn’t me.”

“Is it doing it again?” Brad asked.
“I think.”

The gas gauge dropped to a quarter tank and our once galloping speed of 49 mph dwindled as we took the nearest exit.
“Can we take backroads to Santa Barbara?” Brad asked. I laughed because I knew he was being facetious to lighten the mood.

“We are only 5 miles from our last mechanic. We have to stay here.” I gently gripped the steering wheel as we turned across an overpass and through a light.
The road meandered through the neighborhood that lies directly east of the Rose Bowl. Large hills, green lawns, an abundance of bright red stop signs. Arroyo Seco came into view and I remembered exploring the street on my bike a week prior. We wandered the curves for a couple streets until a moderately inclined hill appeared to our right.

There was an incline. A stop sign. Then another incline. Then the top of the hill. I think I can.

25 mph to the stop sign. A lady in a purple SUV pulled up behind us. She would also have to go 25 mph. 5 mph across the intersection. 10 mph as we reached the second incline…and stop goes Harvey’s engine. I immediately pulled the hazard lights tab and slammed on the breaks. Harvey wouldn’t stop moving backward. I stood up on the brake pedal, rising out of the driver’s seat to apply more pressure. Slowly, the whining breaks brought him to a halt and my left foot locked in the emergency brake.

The purple SUV began to creep up the second incline, but slowed to mirror our position on the street. The woman rolled down her passenger window with an expression of concern. After all, what would you think if you witnessed a 28’ RV suddenly turn on its emergency lights while attempting to climb a moderately sized hill?

She began to say, “Would you like some h–.” Before the word “help” could flow from her lips, a very impatient mercedes honked its horn. I told the woman “Thank you, but we’ll be fine.” She smiled and continued on, and as the mercedes drove by, I peered into the eyes of the driver. She was wearing all white in her white Mercedes with black headphones in and a stern look of entitlement across her brow. I imagined her scoffing at us for blocking ‘her’ lane. It was not evident that she was in a rush either. She wanted life to remain convenient for her. Both Brad and I sat in awe.

After some thinking, deliberation, and a call to the mechanic, we decided it was best to back down the hill into the intersection and then continue backing up on the driver’s side of the perpendicular street. Brad suited up with our Passion Impact vest (conveniently a neon yellow reflective worker’s vest). We waited until there were no cars and we hopped on the opportunity. 3 mph, 5 mph, 7 mph, 3 mph, stop. We were now in the middle of the intersection. I applied the brakes too soon and our back left tires rolled into a divot in the road.
Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 4.32.35 PM
For the next 20 minutes, over 100 cars drove through the intersection as we pushed, pulled, turned, inspected and danced with Harvey. To our amazement, only one other car asked if we needed help. Even a runner who jogged by readjusted his headphones to make certain that we were not to disturb him. We weren’t soliciting help, but could have definitely used it. I thought about those 20 minutes all day. What about the flipped version of that scenario where I drive up next to a car or an RV that is obviously struggling?

While still in Austin, Brad, Mel, and I helped fix a man’s tire after seeing him and his friends in need on a side street. But now we were in the middle of an intersection, in need of the same assistance. Yet, barely anyone took action to help. I ask my next question merely to focus on the behavior and motivation of the passing individuals and not to bring about a self-pity party (Brad and I still had fun, after all):

Why didn’t anyone help strangers clearly in need?


Phoenix Renews

When we finally made it into Phoenix, we knew we needed to find some places to volunteer. So we started asking around. The answer came sooner than we thought. When we asked the guy we were staying with, Zac told us about a group he had worked with in the past: a community garden called Phoenix Renews.

We got in contact with one of the lead organizers and found out there was an event that Saturday! So we called as many people as we knew in Phoenix and invited them all to come out with us and volunteer.

When Stefan, Zac, and I got out there, we must have been a bit early because there was no one around from the group. So we decided to explore a bit on our own and walked around the magnificent area. There were countless hand-built plots. Most of them were full of all kinds of vegetables and flowers. There were benches and small covered areas and even a temporary house (the rule was no permanent structures). Many of the plots were painted and decorated. There was just life and creativity everywhere. It was an amazing place to walk around, and I felt myself getting excited to be a part of it.

After nearly 20 minutes of exploring this magical place, we saw some new people arrive. And low and behold, they were the ones we had been waiting for. We were approached by two volunteers, Krystal and Katie, and two volunteer leaders, Cindy and Katie (yes, two Katies). We greeted everyone and after a short conversation marveling at the garden around us, leader-Katie explained what she would have us doing that day.

Dust is a big problem in Phoenix, and cars stir up a lot of it, causing the dust to settle everywhere and sap much needed water from the crops. So we were tasked with drawing out and lining a parking area to consolidate the dust clouds to one area. We began by moving large pieces of crushed asphalt out to the site in wheelbarrows.

Just a few chunks of asphalt could get heavy quick, and more than once, gravity won out over balance, tipping the wheelbarrows over and dumping their contents. We got used to the weight however, and in less than half an hour, the lot was created.

After we finished the work so quickly, Katie had us start driving signposts around the area. It was hard work and the sun was definitely getting to us at this point. She insisted that we take breaks every fifteen minutes or so. Probably a smart idea. After the main areas were all designated, we took some time to walk around some areas we hadn’t seen before.

Toward the back, there was a stone garden with spirals and structures made of river ricks. There was also a cool social area under a large tree. There were cut stumps for chairs in a circle in the shade. After our final exploration, we invited everyone back to Zac’s place for lunch and swimming.

All in all, a pretty excellent day.

Bradley


Zac and Smart Roots Global

I met a guy by the name of Zac Ziebarth on Semester at Sea. His low commentator voice makes you feel automatically at ease and in awe, especially when his stories draw maps in your mind creating a vision of his experiences.

The day prior to leaving Austin, I had called Zac to surprise him with the news that we would be passing through Phoenix. Ironically enough, he was on his way to Austin to surprise me. It even turned out that the day we left, he rolled into town for a day. Gah! I was frustrated! So close to seeing such a great friend, but yet so far.

Then we broke down and spent some time in El Paso, which gave Zac time to return to Phoenix. Another surprise call to him was all we needed – he offered his place and a shower. Seriously, more than we could have asked. Aside from enjoying his air conditioning and clean water, we were compelled by the synergy that was created in his home. Zac is in the process of ramping up his organization, Smart Roots Global, which provided grounds for countless questions about both of our organizations and what possibilities lie ahead.

Smart Roots believes educated students possess the solutions to create a sustainable world. They will empower students with sustainability education by providing teachers with the resources, curriculum, and training resulting in a more sustainable world. He has a lot of obstacles in front of him with many people doubting his idea, but from our visit, his passion was evident. Zac is on his way to bettering the world. 

His goal is to implement his kits in classrooms in Kenya and Ghana by January in hopes of gathering feedback to refine the program. I know he is Africa-bound and will surpass his dreams – keep an eye out for this guy! Reach out to help  him if you believe in what he is doing: zz@smartrootsglobal.org

 

Stefan


From El Paso to Phoenix

From where we parked on the University of Texas El Paso campus, we were right across I-10 from Mexico. We woke up from a nap ready to hit the road at 23:00 – it was time to move on to Phoenix.

Brad was driving the first stretch with the goal to switch every couple of hours. In a car, Phoenix would take about 6 hours, but in Harvey we had to give him time to love the road. As usual, semis continued to pass us. This time we jokingly noted their intense gasoline smells. Soon thereafter, we started to become quite drowsy – something wasn’t feeling right. The gasoline smell persisted and we thought it would be best to pull over in Las Cruces, NM.

We got out and rounded Harvey to find his rear gas tank to be overflowing with the cap still on! This was worrying. I think that I may have overfilled it earlier that day, but we still haven’t found a reasonable explanation as to why the pressure built up at night. I ventured into the gas station to grab some coffee and watched the cashier walk to the door to yell at a lady near the pump.

As Brad stood next to the pool of gasoline, a woman smoking a cigarillo approached him. He looked at her as if she were missing a few brain cells and pointed to the exposed gas laying feet from her. “Could you do that somewhere else?”

“Excuse me! Please smoke that away from the gas station!” yelled the cashier.

I hurried out and we left as soon as possible. We found a place to relax for a couple hours as we thought the problem would subside. Sure enough, after some midnight frisbee, we were back on the road.

We kept Harvey at about 55 mph passing through Arizona and missing a couple of opossums chilling in the fast lane – really? You can’t find a better place to spawn out?

I was driving when the clicking started again. We were extremely privy to this click, so we knew it had to be the exhaust manifold again. Thankfully we weren’t in the middle of a desert…

The hills that stood between us and the next city of Benson challenged Harvey to the point of 20 mph exhaustion. Brad directed us to the nearest Napa Auto Parts in Benson by about 5 in the morning. The heat had begun to creep through the windows as we napped for a few hours, but we were soon interrupted by the sweat that overtook us once again.

I went to open the shop door only to find that it was Sunday and that all Napa stores in Benson were closed. Brad and I deliberated for an hour. Was it worth it to attempt to drive to Tucson and maybe Phoenix? What was our opportunity cost?

Since we were already within 100 miles of Tucson, AAA could tow us there, but our real goal was to reach Phoenix since my friend Zac was willing to let us crash at his place. We didn’t want to quit being productive, but we also didn’t want to destroy Harvey.

We decided it would be best to take the risk.

There is a certain feeling that comes just before the drop on a roller coaster. You know what lies ahead – the impending drop. The unconscious moving of your stomach upward. The clenching of your butt-cheeks. The whitening of your knuckles on the bar that protects you from plummeting to your unfortunate death.

My hands gripped the steering wheel. My butt-cheeks pinched together making me rise in the driver’s seat. My stomach wound itself around my heart so that it would be reminded the blood was still pumping.

Left blinker clicked as we moved back onto the two-lane I-10 W going 40 mph. Here goes everything.

Continue reading…


La Mujer Obrera Community Farm

When we arrived at Mujer Obrera for the first time, the gates were locked. We were told to arrive around 10am, but our friend Julian had to be at work soon after, so he dropped us off a bit early at a park down the street. We said our goodbyes and surveyed the beautiful park we were in. We took the extra time to reflect on our time with him, and we read a few passages out of the book he had given us: You Are The World. Good stuff. When it was time, we walked back to the locked gate, only to find it still locked. We called our contact Carolina and found out that the man in charge wouldn’t be there until 1pm that day. A bit of a problem considering our lack of transportation and lack of sunscreen.

Nonetheless, we walked the four and a half miles back to the NASA Service Center where Harvey was getting another hip replacement. Despite the intense heat, it was a fun walk. We were exploring a new city and, while exhausting, had an excitement to it. We made it back uneventfully and got to work on what we could do with our limited means. So after another day spent working on our laptops in the mechanic’s waiting area, we were more than eager to get our hands dirty the next day.

We had Harvey back from the shop with tentative assurances that he was road ready. So we drove him over to the garden around 10:30am the next day, and sure enough, the gates were open. As we walked in, we were greeted by a small group of would-be gardeners, all about our own age, working at re-potting Aloe Vera plants to be sold at a farmers market. We greeted Carolina and introduced ourselves to the rest of the group. They were friendly and welcoming, though it seemed clear they were not used to seeing new faces.

We asked Carolina to put us to work, and at first she seemed stumped. The head honcho was the one to ask about jobs for newbies, and he was otherwise engaged for the moment. So she showed us around the repurposed residential lot. It was much bigger than we would have guessed from the street, and they had a wide variety of crops already growing tall. The sunflowers stand out most in my mind, some of them almost as big as my head, and covered in a healthy drift of bees. Towards the back were also a huge stack of adobe bricks and more that were still drying in the sun. They would soon be used in the construction of an oven. We walked in a large circle and eventually made it back to the shaded bench with the now re-potted aloe plants.

Carolina put us to work temporarily clearing small clover and morning glory from an irrigation ditch that ran nearly half the length of the lot. The plants may have been small, but they were sprouting up all down the bottom and sides of the ditch, clogging and stealing the water; water that was already dangerously scarce. While Stefan carried out this task, I followed behind him, removing the loosened dirt that was left behind his carnage. But before too long, our host, Guillermo, emerged.

He wore a bandana on his forehead and a wide straw hat, and looked perfectly in place in this garden of toil and growth. He came out with tools and a sense of purpose I envied. Carolina introduced us, and I asked how I could be of use. After some pondering, he set me digging a hole to plant some citronella plants. They would help keep mosquitoes and other pests away from the garden. Most of the dirt I moved was dry and dead, although near the bottom there remained some life. We placed the plant and then filled the hole with a mixture of healthy soil and chicken poop.

With the plants in the ground, the next task was a relaxing one. The Dia de los Muertos festival would begin in November and for the flowers to be ready, they would have to be planted on the first of July. We all sat in chairs in a circle and began to break open dried flower pods. These were leftover from the previous year’s celebration and most were rich with seeds.

Sitting in the shade breaking open the seed pods, we had cooled considerably. The work could have been monotonous, but instead it was peaceful and satisfying. During this time, Guillermo had disappeared into his trailer and in a moment, he returned to us with a bounty of honeydew, strawberries, and papaya, most of which had been grown right here in La Mujer Obrera. He explained to us that papaya is very important in developing countries and is often considered holy. They are incredibly nutritious and fruit year-round. Even the leaves have healing properties and can be used to treat wounds. Eating the sacred fruit we were dirty and we were clean. We felt full and we felt happy.

After we ate and finished the flower seeds, Guillermo informed us that it was time for a blessing to Tlaloc, the Aztec God of Rain and fertility. We could participate if we wanted. The group followed Guillermo over to a small shrine tucked away in some trees. He lit some incense and individually he had us sweep some over our head and into our heart. We each gave a small blessing to the health and growth of the plants and food around us. Then we walked around the farm blessing each plot and the life that was growing there. We once again circled back to the benches and the shrine.

At this point there was little else planned for the day. We decided to go ahead and finish the remaining flower buds and talk. The hottest part of the day was approaching and the party was coming to an end. We thanked Guillermo for everything and promised him we would send love his way as well as more volunteers.

I can’t wait to return to El Paso and see my fellow farmers again.

Bradley