Friday, June 24, 2011

Shameless Plug!

I have been interviewing people I admire to see what principles they live, play, and work by. They will be collected contiguously on another blog, called Living and Learning.
For context's sake, I precede each list of life principles with a small descriptive passage about the person. Then it's just their words.
I highly recommend checking out what these people have to say. Your own life might be changed; I know mine has.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Never Lost.

Imagine yourself on a forest path you have traveled more times than you can count on both your hands and feet. You feel a certainty in your bones like the comfort of knowing you could pick up a conversation with an old friend after a year or two of absence; you could go down any of the offshoots of this path and be able to return again without trouble.

Then all of a sudden, your attention is drawn to the fact that you know nothing of the types of trees that surround you on this path, or of the history and the people that first walked this path, or even of the circumstances that made it possible for you to walk this path. You reel, an imbalance akin to the childhood memory of when you went to latch on to your mother's legs in the grocery store and found yourself looking into the face of a look-alike stranger instead.

In the midst of your newfound uncertainty, a soft voice covers your frantically pacing heart with the hand-knitted wool blanket of a poem that is "Lost" by David Wagoner.

Welcome to my life.


by David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you

Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,

Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,

I have made this place around you.

If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.

No two trees are the same to Raven.

No two branches are the same to Wren.

If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,

You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows

Where you are. You must let it find you.

-- David Wagoner


Thank you, Bobbi Patterson.

Monday, June 20, 2011

An Internship Update.

I am now entering the second full week of my internship (just starting with the tiny babies!) at the Frazer Center, and I already feel a strong sense of identity there.
The Frazer Center hosts a vast array of programs, arranged by age group, in order to serve children from early infancy to pre-k. They also have a program set in motion to equip mentally and physically disabled adults with life skills and job training.
In order for me to experience all that the Frazer Center is offering, my internship coordinator has arranged for me to rotate every week to a different age group/section.
My first week had me working in the summer day camp program that is partnered with the Marcus Autism Center. For the week I was there, four of the eight children (ages 4 through 9) had high-functioning autism and the other four were typically developing peer mentors.
I was completely in awe of the staff, who worked tirelessly and resourcefully to come up with games, crafts, books, and lessons that would encourage good social interaction skills like eye contact, personal space, and conversation skills. Through a system of tokens and stars, we offered external motivation for "good choices." This worked for some, but not for all of the children.

One thing I would like to repeat that was wisely spoken by my supervisor is this: If you have met one child with autism, you have met ONE child with autism.

It was truly inspiring to watch how the teachers would accept setbacks in cooperation with the mentality that it was not the child that was broken but the method. When I asked them about their methods, time and again they would tell me that every child is capable of improvement, it's just a matter of finding what will motivate them. I was impressed by how little they allowed any personal pride to interfere with the ultimate goal: to help every child be as successful as possible. It didn't matter if they had to change the method a thousand times, they were going to work until they achieved the results they were looking for-- and they did.
I won't elaborate on every detail of the camp (it was largely how you would expect a summer camp to be: making snow globes and coloring and playing hide and seek outside and having snack, etc.) but I will give an example of this trial and error mentality.
We had a child, who for the sake of privacy will be called Denice, who was not motivated at all by the token or the star system, in which collecting all five stars resulted in trip to the treasure box at the end of the day. Denice had little to no interest in the treasure box, and once she had lost one star, she would completely check out for the rest of the day. On Denice's worst day, she earned 0 out of 5 stars, choosing to pout at the table for close to seven hours. By the end of the day, the teachers had formed a sort of isolation room out of tables and napping mats and put Denice in it with one of the teachers to contain her outright resistance and nearly violent misbehavior.
The teachers decided they could not disrupt the class like this every day- and besides, even the negative reinforcement was providing the attention she craved. (I am reading a book on autism written by the director of psychiatric services at Marcus and it claims that the drive for attention in autistic children can be filled by either negative or positive attention. I think this is actually true of most typically developing children...and many people my age, as well.)
So they decided that for Denice, the stars would be a prerequisite for going on the nature walk outside, her favorite activity. They also said she could gain stars back later in the day with good behavior if she lost them.
The next day, I am here to bear witness that Denice was an entirely different person. She asked ME if she could help me clean up. She participated in all the games. She played, for the most part, nicely with her friends. And while Denice is still not the model child, (there may or may not have been an incident since then with contraband splatter painting that marked the ceiling, the tables, the chairs, and about 15 feet of the floor) the teachers found something that motivates her enough to work well most of the time.
I have to say, I really enjoyed working with summer camp. Working with children that age can be exhausting, but it's so rewarding to watch them catch on to concepts and develop personalities. They really are just little miniature versions of people.
Oh, and if you're ever feeling down on yourself, hang out with kids ages 4-9. You will be to them the coolest thing since sliced bread. Try playing hide-and-seek. If your experience is anything like mine, you will have a trail of fifteen children peeking out from behind the trunk of a tree because they all want to hide with you, and it will be one of the greatest boosts to the self-esteem you will have ever experienced. Totally defeats the purpose of the game, though.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day, Dad. Thank you.

This morning, I woke up in my own bed, in a house that smells the same as the night before my first day of sixth grade when I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor of the living room because we hadn't even put my mattress on the bed frame yet.
My mother, my father and my dog meandered into my room minutes after I roused, as if tipped off by some signal. All with sleepy eyes, all with cowlicks, all looking for a spot on my bed, which of course they all found.
One father's day back rub, one father's day sermon, and one father's day nap later, I awoke again, this time in my parents' bed, to the sound of something rustling outside.
Out the window, I saw my father's hands peeking through the tree branches that line the railing of our back porch. On a day dedicated to whatever he wanted to do, my dad chose to make time for putting out food for the birds-- excuse me, "his friends," as he will always refer to them.
I am now back in the fraternity house that smells like a mixture of feet and my apples-and-cinnamon Glade air freshener. One father's day lunch, one father's day dessert, and countless father's day gifts later, I can't help but think that my father is the greatest gift of all.
Thanks, Dad.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New Experiences: A Running List

Be on the lookout for these. They are things that I have tried for (loosely speaking, in some cases) the first time this summer. I plan on having many. They will go back as far as the beginning of summer, and will run in relative chronological order, but not strictly.

1. Learned OIA Inductive Bible Study Method as training to be a small group leader with my best friend from college, Misha Sharp.
2. Jumped on a blob.
3. Spent 3 hours in silence.
4. Ziplined into a lake.
5. Talked with other MK's about life as an MK.
6. Made blueberry chocolate chip bran muffins.
7. Picked and found uses for loquats.
8. Sewed a dress from a pattern.
9. Cleaned out my closet.
10. Made refrigerator magnets
11. Watched a long string of chick flicks, including When Harry Met Sally, Sweet Home Alabama, PS I Love you, Notting Hill, Maid in Manhattan, and the like.
12. Drove both to and from Emory's campus in a day.
13. Watched the Princess and the Frog.
14. Got a mole removed without any moral support.
15. Sat next to the same random people on an airplane for both the going and the coming trip.
16. Visited my friends from Boston IN Boston!
17. Tried a black and white cookie, strawberry rhubarb cobbler, and lamb (not together).
18. Saw road rash.
19. Ate an entire jar of baby food (turkey&sweet potatoes).
20. Deactivated from Facebook.
21. Took/am taking daily herbal supplements.
22. Journaled every day.
23. Made garbanzo bean and avocado burgers, naan (assisted) , squash boats, and poppyseed chicken.
24. Cooked a meal for a group of 11 people.
25. Read the universal declaration of human rights.
26. Visited the King Center and the office for the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
27. Wrote a break up song.
28. Discovered a(nother) secret stairway on campus.
29. Took a historic tour of Emory.
30. Met Gary Hauk, VP of Emory.
31. Slept in a Frat House.
32. Put up a hammock.
33. Saw the tiniest praying mantis in the whole world.
34. Carried a five year old child up a long, steep nature trail.
35. Made a sock puppet, snow globe, pinwheel, and playdough.
36. Hid in the same spot 10 times in a row in hide and go seek.
37. Was abducted by children with hula hoops.
38. Conducted interviews with people I admire about what life principles they follow.
39. Played live with my brother's band, Flearoy.
40. Did Yoga from a Youtube video.
41. Debuted as a background vocalist in a song on iTunes for someone not blood-related.
42. Took the NYC subway by myself for an entire journey and seen subway rats.
43. Watched 2 siblings graduate within a month of each other.
44. Listened to the new Fleet Foxes album.
45. Shopped at Costco.
46. Spent over $40 on a concert ticket (Ray Lamontagne, you are worth it.)
47. Memorized a psalm other than 23.
48. Bought something at Last Chance thrift store.
49. Made sweet potato friends, apple chips, and a few trail mix concoctions.
50. Started a blog of my own volition!

The Trials and Tribulations of Residing in a Frat House.

When I check in by the front door of A.E.Pi, the assistant (AKA my friend Tim) hands me a set of building keys and a parking pass, which may at this point be monetarily worth more than my life. As an after thought, Tim hands me a bottle of Febreze "in case your room still smells like feet," he advises with an apologetic smile.
Upon unlocking my door, which I fortunately learn early on locks automatically upon closing, I discover I have somehow managed to land the largest room. It is roughly the size of my room and bathroom from home combined, large enough to merit two air conditioners, neither one of which are working at this point in time.
Two lofted beds stand out from the wall, I note to myself, but there is only one ladder and one closet. As I do not have a roommate, I do not fret over the logistics of this arrangement. The beds are anchored in to provide only two and a half feet of room between the mattress and the ceiling, which I cannot help but think might be strategic deterrence, but I choose instead to fixate on the fact that there are glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to the ceiling directly above the pillow spot. I silently thank whichever frat star lived here last. Then I venture to walk under the bed. After a couple of somber minutes of reading fraternity "poetry," I revoke my gratitude.
I move the rest of my things in, actively choosing to ignore the suspicious stains on the chair that props open my door. I make use of the extra space and stretch a hammock from one side of the room to the other, hanging by the chains that support the bed. The dead roach I find beside my desk is flat enough that it seems to have been dead for while and therefore probably does not have a family, I tell myself as I slide it onto a spare scrap of paper and fling it into the trashcan.

We spend the afternoon at Andretti, the world of go-karts, ropes courses, and arcade games. Three details only on this:
1. I am surprisingly a speed demon at go-karting, coming in second in the first race and forfeiting the second because of a defective vehicle.
2. Walking a tightrope is every bit as thrilling as you would imagine it to be, even with a harness and a rope to hold onto.
3. The people you see winning massive amounts of tickets in arcades are not plants, as I always assumed they were. It's just that persistence sometimes pays off, as I learn on my 8th game of skeeball. I get the high score and win 469 tickets in one go round. We compile all our tickets and get a board game for the house.

Upon re-arrival to the house, we discover that the air conditioning is still not functioning anywhere in the house. This makes for an uncomfortable meeting on chairs and couches whose legitimacy is already in question from the stains and graphic drawings on the cushions. As we sit through two hours of Freedom Riders, we are conflicted between fascination with the movie and discomfort of the surroundings. I assure myself that I am sticking to the cushions because of the mugginess and not the prior state of the couch.
I decide a cool shower is just the ticket to surviving the end of a day so hot it left a macabre exhibition of worms roasting on the sidewalk. Not even the sight of the urinals grimacing at me from the back wall of the bathroom can dampen my mood as I march into the shower area.
Along the wall of shower heads in the bathroom hang four plastic partitions. They're not exactly fortresses of solitude, but they get the job done most of the time. Shower shoes donned, I venture into the back left corner, stepping over the hair-laced drain in the middle of the floor and opting to rest my shower caddy on the bench next to the shower. As I turn on the water, I reach back out of the makeshift cubicle for my bar of soap. The plastic curtain wraps around my body with a sickening "thwap." I gag, utterly repulsed at the thought of who else this may have happened to over the years with this very curtain, and try not to entertain the question of how many times they might clean these partitions. I think my memory blocked all traces of the next few minutes of vigorous scrubbing. My only indicative clues to its occurrence are my newly raw limbs and torso, which is enough to keep me from scheduling a clinical health examination.
You'll be happy to know they fixed the air conditioning that night. It was worth waking to a hypothermic state in an icebox just to know it was possible to remove my rings from my previously heat-swollen hands.
After the first day, I pretty much settled in. There are a few things I'm still getting used to. The fact that our rooms always sound like someone is in the shower right next to us, even when the bathroom is empty, for example. Or the battlefield of broken hinges on every cabinet and drawer, victims of multiple horseplay standoffs. Or the presence of a strobe light downstairs but the absence of any recycling bins. Or the compulsion to wear house shoes at every minute of every day. Or the internal conflict of getting dressed and undressed in a frat room, something I told myself I would never do (these circumstances, however, are exceptional).
But the truth of the matter is, it's all part of the experience, and so far, I've loved every minute of it.
Of course, my apples and cinnamon Glade plug-in helps a little.

The Little Internship that Could.

Once I decided I would apply for SAS, I began looking at where my placement might be for an internship if I were to be accepted.
As I am looking into occupational therapy as a career and must have at least 30 observation hours before I apply to any graduate program, I did what any sensible person would do: I googled "occupational therapy non-profit atlanta" and hoped for the best.
The first place that came up was the Atlanta Speech School. I don't need to go into all the details, the name is pretty much self-explanatory. I saved the link as a tab on my bookmarks bar and began to get hyped up over the idea of working there. Naively assuming that since I was free labor, I could probably just work anywhere, I stopped looking after that.
A few months, rough drafts, and kind-hearted peer editing sessions later, I submitted my application for SAS.
I found out about a month later I had been selected.
I was ecstatic. I manipulated the details of the program and the internship into a formal proposal, got in contact with a couple of different people at the Atlanta Speech School, and sent it in.
Two weeks later...
Strike one. I was devastated when the coordinator called to let me know they would not be able to provide me with enough work to fulfill my hours.
Slightly daunted but motivated by a pending deadline of informing my program director where I would be placed, I tweaked my proposal into a more heart-wrenching plea and submitted it to the Shepherd Center, where my brother was treated after a severe brain injury.
One week later...
Strike Two. I tried bargaining as the HR representative informed me that internships like this required a year's notice in advance. A year in advance, I had not even known where I was going to college, let alone what I would be doing that summer. I asked if I could just be considered a volunteer. I could, she told me, if I was willing to only work 3 hours every other week. That, unfortunately, was not in green zone for SAS. I thanked her for her time.
I called Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
Eternity later...
Strike three. Still have not received a call back, even three months later. I'm not holding my breath on that one.
By that point, I was getting nervous. By the rules of baseball, I would have been out by now. Both fortunately and unfortunately, this was the real world, and I had to find an internship, no matter how many tries it took. I had a week to inform my supervisor.
I asked a friend whose father works in non profits, and she gave me the contact information for a Curt Amstrong, director of the first, soon-to-be-opened L'Arche house of Atlanta, an inclusive learning community for adults with developmental abilities and typically developing adults to live together. It wasn't quite occupational therapy, but at this point I would have been happy with a waste management job if it meant something secure. Of course, this was not even near there and I was excited at the prospect of working there. Curt was very receptive to the idea, but said he'd have to get back with me because he was going to be out of town a lot this summer.
I passed the deadline with my supervisor. I was given an extension, probably for good effort. Nice to know that still counts for something sometimes in the "real world".
When I returned from a week long camp at the end of the semester, I had strike four waiting for me in my gmail inbox. Curt would not be in town enough of the time to supervise me. I forwarded the email to my supervisor with the subject title:
Fortunately, however, Curt had provided me with a couple of contacts for directors of similar nonprofits to his work.
One of these contacts was Trace Haythorn, newly appointed director of the Frazer Center. Spoiler Alert: This is where I ended up working.
The Frazer Center is an inclusive learning community where people at all levels of ability and disability gather, learn, and flourish together.
They have two main branches:
First, the children's wing, which is the inclusive part. Children from ages 6 months to 5 years old and who function at every range of the spectrum of ability learn together in classrooms with people their own age. During the summer, there is a summer camp that functions similarly.
Second, the adult's wing. The adults all have some form of developmental or physical disability, such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down syndrome, sickle cell anemia, autism spectrum disorders, and other genetic anomalies.
They regularly work with physical, speech, and occupational therapists and have many connections to community members and organizations involved in such work. I REPEAT: THEY NEARLY SPECIALIZE IN WHAT I AM LOOKING TO DO IN LIFE.
I'm sorry. I know this is long, but I just had to show how God loves to laugh at me as I tap my watch and pace the room over things he's had in store for, well, who knows how long. What's that verse about God working in the 11th hour? ;)
Anyways, that is the background of how I came to be involved in what I consider one of the most perfect fits of my life. And I pretty much had absolutely nothing to do with it. Funny how this stuff works out.

The Scholars and Service Program (SAS)

In October 2010, I attended the fall retreat for the Emory Scholars program. I was expecting a good lecture on how to make Turkish food, some chilly cabins, a few new friendships, and a campfire with some marshmallows. I was not disappointed; all of these things were incorporated into the schedule. (Although I will say that the campfire was a little tame for me. I am used to instigating blazing furnaces in the backwoods of middle Georgia, not squirting some lighter fluid onto a pile of sticks in a stone fire pit. It's fine, I'm on the planning committee for next year. We'll fix it.) However, there were some unexpected joys, some of the most favorable in my memory being:
-goading the program coordinator, Daphne Norton into slipping off her brown clogs and tucking in her shirt to play Twister with us, though I did not win
-being goaded into playing Settlers of Catan, which I did win thanks to the help of a plethora of of ore and wheat, and the prowess of my friend Justin Groot
-and finally, learning about the Scholars and Service program, or SAS for short.

SAS is an orchestrated summer experience run through the Emory Scholars program that is meant to instill a sense of community in the participants both with fellow scholars and with the greater Atlanta community. Applicants submit answers to a formal short answer application explaining why they want to be involved in the community and what they hope to gain from the summer. Those chosen (usually anywhere from 10 to 15 people) live together for eight weeks during the summer in a fraternity house (which, happily, has been cleansed for the most part in the interim period between the end of school and the beginning of the program in June). During the working hours of the week, they work an unpaid internship at a non-profit in the greater Atlanta area, which they are compensated for by a stipend from Emory.
Monday nights the pre-designated cooking team makes dinner for the whole house and usually a guest speaker, who will speak on topics related to the program-assigned readings or Emory history of some sort.
Friday mornings and afternoons are set aside for field trips that promote social consciousness about issues like race, sustainability, and (of course) community.
Use of all other hours is generally up to the discretion of the people living in the house, with the understanding that the focus should be around building community amongst themselves. This is accomplished through cooking (food expenses are covered by a budget), game playing, self-designed social events, errand running, etc. Basically learning to live life together.
To ensure that everything runs smoothly, there are two "cruise directors", upperclassmen who have completed the program in past summers. They teach the ropes, encourage dialogue, and are generally helpful for questions like "How do I access our membership at Costco?" or "Who can I call if I locked myself out of my room ((by accident))?"
The overall program coordinator is one of the heads of the scholars program, but she works more with the formal gatherings (field trips, speakers, etc.). So the students in the program end up doing mostly independent (of adults) learning.

At the retreat, I was advised to do SAS as early as possible to form bonds that would last me all the way through college. So that is what I decided to do.