13 April 2012

Reintroducing the Service Programs Office Blog

One might typically hear a commotion at the Service Programs Office; it is the sound of the crew, working relentlessly - brains smoldering, limbs flailing. We work constantly. And we love our jobs.

Service is a third of the Triad. Everyone knows this, but comparatively fewer people understand why service is important beyond a requirement for graduation. There’s more to it than that, and I’d like to help illustrate that point.

I’d bet that most students are unaware that the Service Program has a blog (I didn’t even know at first). Well, we do, and it is currently under heavy renovation. I need the help of Warren Wilson students, staff, and faculty to bring it to life. The blog will provide a space for folks to share their experiences in service, from total failures to absolute successes (and everything in between). The blog will additionally contain updates on crewmembers and resources for finding service opportunities.

This chunk of the Triad is constantly changing. I hope that a fancy new blog, along with your involvement, can help us all to better understand and interpret the Service Program. Let’s at least create a fun website to reflect and shed light on service, that elusive, misunderstood third of our school’s operating system.

For more information on the blog, or if you’d like to submit something, feel free to contact Collin Hoban at choban@warren-wilson.edu.

12 September 2011

Finding a New Home: Service Day at Warren Wilson College, by Christina Lynch

Service Day at Warren Wilson allowed me to not only connect to my new place in North Carolina, a few hours from my native Kentucky, but also to the strangers I now call my friends. What makes a college experience memorable is not just what you learn in a classroom, but also the connections, that’s what makes a new place feel like home. There is a bond that is formed through work that is unlike any other kind of relationship.
I volunteered, along with my First Year Seminar peers, at the Black Mountain Community Garden. I was thrilled when our teacher said we would be returning to the garden throughout the semester. In the past, I have volunteered for a day, never to see what happens to the new place where I have committed a small portion of my time. We have visited the site again with my class and it was amazing to see even the smallest changes. The compost had piled up a little higher, some tomatoes on a private plot had been picked and enjoyed, and the constant movement felt only in a garden made me stop to soak in my surroundings. There is no other place where life seems to envelop you, almost reminding you that you are a part of the system too, that you belong there.
I was responsible for building compost piles and weeding an area designated for an educational herb garden for endangered plants specific to Western North Carolina. It was incredible to see what we could do as a class in just one day of work. The makeup worn on the faces of women, for first impressions, was long gone as everyone tied back their hair and got down and played in the dirt. (There’s nothing better!) I learned how to build compost piles, a task new to me. It was powerful to see the contrasts in the garden between the dead and the living. The compost is necessary in making new life grow, even though too many of us simply throw it away and claim it is useless.
Weeding the herb garden, however, was the most powerful part of my experience. We were introduced to the space as we were led down a path beside an overgrown mess of weeds. We were to turn this into a garden for herbs to someday flourish in their natural environment, untouched. The herbs will take several years to flower, meaning if they do not have time to grow and develop they could die and not reproduce. A team of about 4 or 5 students cleared the area in about an hour. We mixed compost and manure into the untouched soil, providing a healthy growing environment for the herbs. After just one day, we created an ideal living environment for the herbs, educating visitors to the garden. I could tell that everyone involved shared the feelings I felt that day. They respected what we had done, the place we had worked, and most importantly, one another.
During my experience, there were more than 25 other groups serving in different places around the Black Mountain area. Some worked at elementary schools, other gardens, food banks, and veterans quarters, just to name a few. As a new student of Warren Wilson, I can already feel myself becoming a part of the surroundings, and I feel like serving this community is the only way to truly feel at home. When we make the choice to continue our education, we are able to choose our home for the first time in our lives. It is not simply the place where we were born or where our parents settled down. It is a place where our contribution is an integral part of the system. Our service includes anyone in need of a helping hand, and also plants a seed, in more ways than one, in the minds of students like myself.

31 March 2011

Break Trip by Freesia

I’ve been lucky enough to participate in a Break Trip every year I’ve attended Warren Wilson—first to Pine Ridge Reservation to look at hunger issues and cultural preservation my first year, then a local trip in Asheville working with arts organizations when I was a sophomore. This year, I applied to travel to Detroit to work with organizations that grow food in the city’s urban and economic context.
It seems that a lot of non-Detroiters see the city as a sort of lost cause—that Detroit is somehow so abandoned or crime-ridden or jobless that it’s a throwaway place. Our group’s experience, though, was one of vibrant, thriving community—not a blank slate city, not a forsaken urban skeleton. Working with several organizations through the course of the week began to illuminate the network of individuals and organizations partnering to strengthen the proud and growing city. Greening Detroit is reforesting a city that used to be famous for its trees. Emily at Hostel Detroit, where we stayed, is working to open a space for visitors and volunteers. The Jeanne Wiley House continues to establish intentional community in a neighborhood with a historic Catholic Worker presence. Earthworks distributes seedlings and seeds to community and family gardeners. Catherine Ferguson Academy, a public high school for pregnant and parenting teenagers, teaches science through experiential learning on a farm connected to the school that sells its own produce.
Throughout the week, we had a lot of discussions about what it means for us to work in a community that is not our own. What does our vision of community development count for in spaces where it isn’t our place to lead, but to listen? How do questions of class and race and education play out? Is gentrification ever altered by good intention, or does it always yield the same negative result?
None of the questions have simple answers—addressing power and privilege requires constant vigilance—but we did come up with some steps when thinking about equity. Listening and humility were two qualities essential to being in community in an appropriate way. Conscious and responsible tourism was another answer for us as visitors to another city.
At the end of the week, we visited the Detroit Institute of Art. It’s a lovely, large museum, and its prime claim to fame is a room of fresco murals painted by Diego Rivera in 1932 and 1933. The museum was a grounding way to end the week, to be surrounded by larger-than-life depictions of the automobile industry.
The museum pulled it together for me. The marbled, echoing, colorful room that holds the murals is a space that invites reflection. I realized there that the biggest significance the trip held for me was the way it made me reconsider my own place in community development. I was born and lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin until coming to Warren Wilson three years ago. The fact that Detroit had that uniquely urban Midwestern quality of a presence both unassuming and grand reminded me of own my home city, a place with which my relationship is ambivalent but loyal. The Break Trip was an opportunity for many of us to reach that reflection, a chance to go to another locale to consider our own.