Saturday, December 14, 2013

Volunteer Jackpot!

What a blur! We're already midway through December (more or less) with Christmas and New Year's breathing down the necks of panicking consumers looking to score that one gift or stunning outfit for the festivities. While others are gearing up for the holidays, we in AmeriCorps keep ourselves busy with service project after service project. Here's the recap of the past two weekends:

December 6-7: Camp Treasure

I once again had the awesome opportunity to participate in Camp Treasure, a two-day overnight camp hosted by the American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY). Last year's experience definitely helped get me ready for what to expect this year. Despite some staffing changes, camp went over really well. It is always exciting to see these kids have the chance to be kids and not have to worry about taking care of a loved one for a weekend. They do so much for their families; two days off is the least that can be given to them!

December 7: EdVenture Charter School Holiday Party

While this actually doesn't count as a service project, EdVenture had their annual holiday party at a local sports bar, Bru's Room. Kevin, Leah, and I made an appearance at the bash. It was nice to be able to socialize with everyone that we serve with in a more informal setting. The night was filled with free food (the best kind), karaoke, and enough college football to keep any sports fan happy.

December 8: Palm Beach Marathon

Being functional before the sunrises is never a thrilling task. It's especially a daunting one coming off of a long couple of days chasing children around a campsite, making sure they stayed safe and didn't hurt each other. But, lo and behold, as 4:45 am rolled around, I found myself standing in line to check in and receive my assignment for the 10th Annual Palm Beach Marathon. I was placed at water station D with DeShaun, which was an awesome pairing! After being dropped off at our station, we helped set up and fill cups with water and Gatorade. The theme of our placement was the North Pole. We were given elf gear by the people in charge of the station and prepared for the runners and cyclists to come our way. We were one of the earlier water stations, so the runners were still pretty clumped together when they came our way. At one point, there were mobs of runners on both sides of our table. It was a bit chaotic to say the least, but by 8:30 am, all of the runners had passed and we were headed back to the finish line! We ended up helping hand out water to the finishers as well. All in all, despite the early start, it was a great project and helped re-light my personal fire to complete a half marathon before I leave Florida!

December 8: AmeriCorps Holiday Party

So following a long day of handing out water, we were rewarded with a nice holiday dinner down in Boca Raton at a upscale Italian restaurant called Maggiano's. We had our holiday dinner here last year as well and it didn't disappoint. Between the great food, grab bag gifts, and Target gift cards, the night was a great way to cap off a long day of service.

December 13: Mandel Public Library Polar Express

This weekend was filled with holiday themed service projects. The first one that we participated in was at the Mandel Public Library, a site that two members serve at, working with adults, teens, and youth in various areas, including computer literacy and homework help. The pavilion outside of the library was transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with Santa, his reindeer, elves, and a multitude of crafts and activities to keep the more than 1500 participants busy for multiple hours! Hallie, Jordan, Cassie, and I took on the role of Santa's little helpers and assisted children in the making of a small wooden train (and by assisting, I mean helping them color a train engine with paint pens). Our station was swamped with children and parents vying for one of the those coveted little trains from the start of the event. The constant waves kept us busy and helped the time fly by!

 December 14: Adopt-A-Family Santa's Workshop

Today marked the end of the tirade of projects over the last few weeks. Adopt-A-Family hosted their annual Santa's Workshop event, in which families that are associated with this non-profit have the opportunity to come and get some gifts for the holiday season. Not only did we help kids pick out gifts for their families, we also assisted in the wrapping of these gifts, and helped man various activity stations. Kids went home with not only some things to put under their trees at home, but also a brand new picture frame, reindeer antlers, candy cane ornament, and enough holiday cheer to get them through the next couple of weeks!

Even though the multitude of service projects is starting to wind down, life in general is still going at full speed. This upcoming week if the last one before the holiday break starts. Some members from last year (Sara, Kevin, and Erin) are making their ways down here to South Florida to visit. It'll be nice to see some familiar faces from last year before we all head our separate ways to celebrate the holidays. For me, that means heading back to the blustery, chilly conditions of Iowa to see friends and family for a week before heading to Savannah to ring in the new year! 6 more days till a much deserved break! Can't wait!!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Celebrating, Running, and Feasting!

A month long hiatus is inexcusable, I know and apologies are in order. However, the past month of November has been a hectic one filled with tons of gatherings, events, and projects. Here's the much awaited for recap:

- The month of November was littered with numerous birthdays, especially during the first week! These hectic seven days witnessed 5 members gain another year of life - yours truly included! Year number 27 was ushered in with a Day of the Dead (or Dia de los Muertos for my Spanish speaking peeps) party. I had the pleasure of sharing this joyous day with Melissa. It was followed up by birthday's for Andrea, Sam, and Cait - all before the 7th of the month! Quite the way to jump start the month!

 - Service Projects also littered the month. We assisted with the inventory at a non-profit that recycles and distributes medical equipment to needy patients called Clinics Can Help. A Jewish temple in Boca Raton had us helping out with a Mitzvah day in which members of the their congregation did good deeds to help those less fortunate in the community. The holidays brought ample opportunities to not only give back, but also enjoy delicious food. The Florence DeGeorge Boys and Girls Club and Vita Nova, a non-profit the helps foster youth who are about ready to age out of the foster care system stay on a productive path, enabled us the opportunity to chow down on some great food and carry on some lovely conversations.

- The month wouldn't be complete with some fun social activities either! Country night was enjoyed at Cowboys. Line dances, mechanical bulls, and cowboy hats littered the bar as old memories were revisited! Nick, Hallie, Zoe (Hallie's sister) and I all participated in the Electric Run, which was such an awesome experience! It was like the Color Run, only at night and minus the powder element. We raved, danced, and partied all night long like we just didn't care! Jordan, Leah, Cassie, Phetsada, Hallie, Zoe, Nick, and I also were able to attend a Miami Dolphins game. Even though they lost to the Carolina Panthers, the game was entertaining!

The month of December promises to be just as hectic and exciting! Numerous service projects dot the schedule. Visits from old friends from last year highlight the last week before break. A much desired and exciting trip home to Iowa helps wrap up the month! Stay tuned for more updates (and hopefully they'll be more frequent than last month!)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Shootout Shenanigans!

Hockey has never really interested me. I didn't understand the rules. The smashing of each other into the boards seemed a bit barbaric.The puck was so small and moved so fast that even the camera man had trouble following it sometimes. Also, being from Iowa, hockey isn't really a big deal. With no pro teams to root for or college teams that play it, hockey was always that obselete sporting event that no one really cared about. Let's just say that all of those sentiments of mine have changed over the course of the last year or so...

My roommate last year, Kevin, and his girlfriend, Erin, were both huge hockey fans. Being from Chicago, they worshiped the Chicago Blackhawks and followed their every move (even following them on Instagram and Twitter - obsessive, I know). So when the season was almost cancelled last year to do the lockout, I thought they were both going to lose it. I did my best to try and figure out who the players were, but really had no real interest/investment in the sport. However, once the playoffs began, my tune changed.

The Stanley Cup is one of the most electrifying championship series in sports today. Anything can happen. Lower seeded teams constantly upset the favorites. Games are won and lost by mere centimeters. The hits are harder and the fans are rowdier. A small group of us (Erin, Kevin, Phetsada, Cathy, Brad, and myself) started watching the games together. Hockey became our life blood. Every other night we were either at Bru's Room or Brad's house, taking in the games and watching the Blackhawks slowly make their way towards hoisting the Stanley Cup.

The final series was filled with nothing short of thrilling games. The first game went into 3 OTs, blood was spilled on the ice, and tempers flared. In the end, the Blackhawks took home the cup in dramatic fashion, scoring two goals 17 seconds apart from each other. Pandamonium rained down upon the 6 of us as the ultimate goal was finally achieved. My love for hockey had been officially solidified and I couldn't wait until the next season began!

With the beginning of October came the start of hockey season. The first thing that we did once the schedule was announced was see when the Blackhawks would be making a trip down to Miami to play the Florida Panthers. The fateful day ended up being Tuesday, October 22nd. Brad was able to score Phetsada, Cathy, and I awesome seats in the ADT suite (the same place that I watched my first hockey game earlier this year with the $1,000 seats). We weren't a complete 6, but Erin and Kevin were with us in spirit (and through SnapChat/Instagram/Facebook/Text Messaging). Gotta love that technology!

The game itself was a super exciting one. The Blackhawks were up 2-0 going into the third period, then allowed the Panthers to tie it up with two goals of their own. With the score knotted at 2 a piece, the game headed to overtime. No goals were scored, so this led to the always exciting shootout! The Blackhawks ended up winning the shootout 2-1, a result that sent the pro-Blackhawks crowd into a frenzy. It also sent the mom's of the players (who were sitting a couple of boxes over from us) home with high spirits and smiles on their faces.

It was great to finally see the Blackhawks play in person. The end result definitely was what we wanted and the game didn't disappoint. I'm super excited to see where the season goes and how far the Blackhawks can make it this year. So far, things are off to a good start and hopefully the boys will keep it up!

Next goal: watch the Blackhawks in Chicago in the United Center with Kevin and Erin. Bring it on!

The Super Six at graduation last year (Kevin, Phetsada, myself, Cathy, Erin, and Brad)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Zombies Invade Miami!

The Walking Dead. World War Z. Zombieland.

A common theme in today's media centers around zombies. People are creating action plans for what they would do is a zombie apocalypse were to occur. Supplies are being stocked up that would help sustain the population in case we were ever faced with these flesh eating monstrosities. Not only has this become an obsession that TV and movies have taken and run with, it's also being incorporated into other aspects of life. One such example of this was held last Saturday, October 19, 2013 in Miami.

The Zombie Rush 5K is an event that is sponsored by Ultimate Combatant and involves people dressing up as zombies chasing after participants, trying to pull flags that represent their lives. It's an event that I hadn't participated in prior to this event, so the anxiety levels were pretty high leading up to the actual race itself. I really had no idea what to expect. Personally, people/things jumping out of hidden places is not a favorite pasttime of mine - hence my dislike of haunted houses. Needless to say, the car ride down to Miami was a bit tense.

Once we got to the race location, Nick, Hallie, and I picked up our race packets, pinned on our numbers (some of us with greater ease than others - right Nick?), looped our flag belts around our waists, and started to amp ourselves up. We had about an hour before our heat took off, so we walked around for a bit and took in the sights and sounds. The race itself started in an old, "abandoned" storage unit that had been spray painted with warnings about upcoming zombies and dangers ahead on the course. It definitely helped to set the mood for the race.

Finally, 9:30 am rolled around and it was time for us to begin! We were greeted with piercing sirens and clouds of smoke as we emerged from the storage unit. Also waiting for us was the first round of zombies. Dodging through grasping, flag-grabbing hands and stumbling runners, I was able to make it through unscathed with all three of my flags still securely attached to my belt.

As the race progressed, obstacles that had been strewn throughout the course were encountered. Mud pits, ladders, walls, tiling tubes, and sand pits were amongst the various objects used to slow down and challenge us runners. Along with the obstacles, groups of zombies were spread throughout the run, which called for random bursts of speed in order to survive. I managed to make it through all of the obstacles without losing a flag (I donated one to Nick because he continually lost his flags due to his lack of elusive moves/stupidity). That is until we reached the last group of obstacles.

By the end of the race, we were all exhausted. Between the random sprinting, daunting physical tasks, and the Florida sun/heat/humidity, energy levels were low and a precious commodity. The end of the race was comprised of a pile of tires, sand pit, water slide, and mud crawl before finally reaching the finish line. As we approached the pile of tires, we were met faced with 4 zombies all between the ages of 8 and 14 (aka small-children-with-ample-amounts-of-energy-chasing-tired-runners-and-ruining-their-no-lives-lost-streak). My luck had finally run out.

As we crossed the finish line, thirst-quenching bottles of water were grabbed, the rinsing off of mud and grime commenced, surviror tags were handed out, and t-shirts were attained. The race itself was a lot of fun and not as stress inducing as I had pictured it to be. Following the race, we headed over to Nick's sister's house for a proper shower and clean-up. From there, we grabbed some lunch at an awesome sub shop and then headed to our hotel for the night. We were meeting our friends Cassie and Jordan that afternoon and heading to a beer festival in nearby Coconut Grove.

After checking in, Nick, Hallie, and I strolled around South Beach for a bit, scouting out a possible plan of attack for later that night. When Cassie and Jordan arrived, we hailed a cab and headed to Grovetoberfest! I went last year and had another great experience this year as well! We met up with our friends Ashley, Ali, and Jen and enjoyed the over 200 various craft beers and ciders that were available for sampling. Three hours and ample amounts of free samples later, we were all ready to head back to the hotel to prepare ourselves for a night out in Miami.

We finally made our way out of the hotel around 11 pm after taking in a couple hours of college football and fighting over covers to keep from turning into icicles in the hotel room. The night started at Wet Willie's with a round of slushies that never disappoint! We then met up with Phetsada, Vanessa, Javelle, and Ali at The Clevelander, where we made our way up to the rooftop. The sights of Miami at night provided a nice background to the thumping beats and dancing bodies that littered the rooftop. The night was capped off with some fantastic pizza. All in all it was a great way to end a long, fulfilling day!

*All pictures of zombie race signs are courtesy of Ultimate Combatant*

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Flying Solo

Teaching is one of those professions that is definitely not for everyone. Having qualities such as patience, organization, and the ability to multi-task are all vital aspects that many successful teachers possess. Being able to roll with the punches, so to speak, and utilize flexibility is another important thing that comes in handy quite a bit. Take my day today for example...

At EdVenture, I team teach with another teacher,Carly. She is the other Language Arts teacher and her and I get a long really well. We compliment each other very nicely and this helps make for a smooth day filled with lots of laughter and memorable moments. We tend to switch off classes and in turn end up teaching about three classes a day each. This helps to save our vocal cords and nerves as our students can be a bit trying at times. It's definitely a great trade off and I'm learning a lot every day.

However, things were thrown for a bit of a loop today when I got to school. I was informed upon my arrival that Carly was sick and was not going to be at school. A tiny bit of panic set in as I've never taught all day by myself yet, but luckily we had the entire week planned out (we're discussing personal hygiene and proper laundry technique - something I feel every high school student should learn about!), so I wasn't worried about the lesson itself. The thing that had me a bit worried was the students themselves.

Carly has been at the school for about 6 years now and has developed some close relationships with many of the students. I'm still rather new on the job (many of students are still learning my name, referring to me as "Sir" or "Mister" or "Dude over there") and am still getting to know the students and their tendencies. Also, new students are being added to classes daily and other changes are being made as well, so cohesiveness hasn't quite set in yet among all of the classes. So being in front of all the classes by myself caused a small spat of nerves to set in.

Since I'm an AmeriCorps member and not a salaried employee, I am not allowed to be alone in the classroom with the students at any time. Due to the nature of EdVenture, there really aren't substitutes that can be called on like the rest of the school district to fill in when a teacher is sick. To compensate for this, the other staff members will step in and provide coverage when needed. So I knew that I wasn't going to be the only one in the classroom - I just knew that I was going to be large and in charge.

Turns out the day ended up being one of the most successful and rewarding ones that I've had at the school to date. The students were amazingly receptive and participated in our class discussions and activity. I was expecting some of them to push boundaries because Carly wasn't there, but I was treated with a high level of respect that most of the time is lacking amongst our student population. Heck, I even made a few of the "hard and tough" kids laugh and smile. That is considered a win in my book!

I received multiple praises and thanks from other staff members for the job that I did today. For me, it wasn't the outside praise that mattered - it was the fact that I was able to make it through the day without wanting to pull my hair out (too bad). I also realized that I have made more progress with some of my students than I didn't thought I had to the point. Today's experience has further solidified the fact that being in front of a classroom full of students is where I'm meant to be. So in hindsight, Carly's absence, which could've been a negative, stress inducing experience, turned out to be a positive, confidence boosting one.

Let's just hope that she's at school tomorrow...

On a side note, I've realized that I never passed along the fact that my address has changed. I moved apartments and have just neglected to share my new place of residence. If you are in the mood to send me mail of any kind (care packages and hand written notes are always welcomed and appreciated!), they can be directed to the following address:

Michael Owen
377 E Woolbright Road
Boynton Beach, FL 33435

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Color Me AmeriCorps!!!

That picture above says it all...pretty much!

The Color Run was held this past weekend at the Homestead-Miami Speedway and you better believe that I was there, participating again in full force! It was once again an amazing experience that I can't wait to do again!

Saturday, 14 of us (Tasha, Kelsey, Krystle, Sam, Chris, Cait, Andrea, Hallie, Cassie, Ryan, Jessica, Courtney, Priscille, and myself) rolled out of the parking garage at Las Ventanas at the dark hour of 5 am and made our way south to Homestead. After the "eventful" 1 1/2 hour drive, we arrived at the Homestead-Miami Speedway before the sun had even peaked over the horizon. Having to still pick up our race day packets, we headed over to the check-in tent hoping to beat any lines. Turns out that we were the very first ones to check-in for the race! Once we picked up our packets, we headed back to the car to get all tatted up and ready to go.

Since we arrived so early, we had plenty of time to kill before the first heat of the race began. We strolled around the grounds, collecting free stuff left and right (backpacks, bandannas, wrist bands, food and drinks). We made multiple trips to the car to deposit our souvenirs and then made our way to the start line. With adrenaline pumping through our veins and music pulsated through our ear drums, we took our place in the first heat of runners, anticipating the start of what promised to be an awesome experience!

The tail end of the National Anthem was eventually replaced with a thundering countdown. Once "1" was yelled, the Color Run was on! One of the really awesome things about this event is the color aspect. Every kilometer of this 5K is marked by a different color zone. Kilometer One was yellow; Kilometer Two was pink; Kilometer Three was blue; Kilometer Four was orange; and Kilometer Five was the after party! We walked/ran/skipped our way through the course, taking in all of the sights and sounds that abounded around us.

Once we hit the finish line, we were greeted with a much needed and appreciated bottle of water and many smiling, colorful faces. Being that we were in the very first heat, we were one of the first ones done, which meant front and center access to the best part of the entire experience - the after party! This mosh pit type gathering involved many free giveaways, including frisbees, socks, sweatshirts, t-shirts, and the most coveted item - packs of color. The makers of this race not only use colored powder on the race course, but they also use them after the race is done. This is where most of the "color" damage is done as every 15 minutes a color throw is executed. Color packs are opened, the powder inside is flung into the air, and mayhem ensues! The video below details what it's like inside a color throw...

After experiencing about 4 of these color throws (and swallowing/choking on our fair share of powder), we decided to head out and find some food. We cleaned up to the best of our ability at the cars, piled all of our clothes into plastic bags, and left in search of food. Naturally, we ended up at the food court of a local mall. You can imagine the looks and stares that we received. 10 20-something-year-old's caked in multiple colors in line for food at random restaurants. It was quite a trip! We finally made it home again and took a much needed nap!

This Saturday we also had the opportunity to attend a BBQ hosted by the president of the Board of Directors at the Literacy Coalition, the parent organization for our AmeriCorps program. This is the first time that any of the AmeriCorps groups have ever had the privilege of being over to Mr. Bob Patterson's house and it definitely did not disappoint. His wife and him prepared a gorgeous meal, consisting of chicken, BBQ ribs, a multitude of salads, rolls, wine, beer, soda, and numerous desserts. It was such a generous offer and was thoroughly enjoyed by all of the members! Thanks definitely does not fully express our gratitude!

This upcoming weekend features the zombie run, Grovetoberfest, and a night out in Miami! Hopefully I'm able to survive being chased by zombies to enjoy some beer samples and Miami nightlife. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Off and Running...Again

Since coming home from Korea, lots of things have reverted back to how they were before taking a year off from life and living halfway around the world. My comfort foods consisting of cereal, mac 'n' cheese, and meaty hamburgers are back in my life. My favorite shows are available on TV once again (and when I miss them, Netflix and Hulu). I am able to get around by car again and don't have to use public transportation (even though I miss it quite a bit). However, one big change that I've made, especially this year, is that of exercising and running more consistently. It's definitely paying off!

One of the new members, Hallie, and I have been staying consistently active. We are out running at least three nights a week (if not four) and are currently training for a half-marathon in November. In the meantime, we have the following events to look forward to as well:

1. Color Run in Miami (Oct. 12) - I'm super excited to be participating in this awesome event once again this year! There are 13 of us going down and I can't wait to get dirty, sweaty, and color-fied!!

2. Zombie Run in Miami (Oct. 19) - This is just as it sounds - running from Zombies! Hallie, Nick, and I are going to be partaking in this 5K in an attempt to evade zombies that are after flags (not our flesh) before crossing the finish line, hopefully all in one piece!

3. Electric Run in Miami (Nov. 23) - Still haven't decided about this one yet, but this 5K takes place at night under black lights and other glow-in-the-dark apparatuses that promise to make this experience unforgettable!

4. Turkey Trot in West Palm Beach (Nov. 28) - I did this run last year with Kourtney and am planning on taking part in it once again this year on Thanksgiving Day. A low-key fun run around downtown West Palm, hopefully Zoey and Taz (our two canine roommate) will be joining us as well!

As you can see, I've got quite a few runs coming up to look forward to! I'm loving being active again and finding out that I can fit exercise into my busy daily routine! Yay for fitness!!

Friday, September 6, 2013

"Working" To Make A Difference

Being a second year Literacy AmeriCorps (LAC) member have many perks. The program and what to expect for the year is no longer a mystery. Getting around South Florida no longer gives you nightmares and makes you loose sleep. You're seen as a "veteran" and everyone wants to know what you know. However, the best benefit is the opportunity to pick the site that you want to serve at first before any interviews happen. It was through this advantage that I ended up serving at EdVenture Charter School for this year!

My service year at The Lord's Place (the site that I served at during my first year in LAC) was a fantastic opportunity that enabled me to make some pretty amazing networking connections. I was also exposed to a population of society that is constantly overlooked and under represented. However, I wanted a different experience for this service year that would allow me to teach and work with the same group of students for the entire year. Enter EdVenture Charter School!

EdVenture is a school that serves students between the ages of 15 and 22 that have behavioral, social, and/or academic issues and are not able to successfully function in the public school system. One of the really unique things about this school is the fact that there is also a vocational aspect built into the curriculum. Students that are apart of the EdVenture family have the ultimate goal of reaching the Green Card level. This level is achieved through earning an average number of points each week for 9 straight weeks. It is only after students reach Green Card and successfully complete close to 600 hours of employment that they can graduate from the school with an Option 2 Diploma.

I've been serving at the school for two weeks now and can already see that this is the perfect fit for me. The students can be a bit rough at times (I was recently called a "white cracker" by a disgruntled student the other day), but I've already made some pretty awesome connections with some of them. Some highlights include:

- One student telling me on the first day that I'm going to be his best friend by the end of the year and then letting me know that he already likes me better than last years AmeriCorps member (sorry Kayla!)

- One student in the GED prep class already giving me a nickname and greeting me when I get to school in the morning - all of this after 2 days at the school!

- Connecting with one student that has attendance issues by giving him my lanyard from last year and making a deal that in order for him to continue possessing it he had to show up to school at least three days a week (I'm gonna bump that up to four days in a bit - gotta start small)

I'm can't wait to see what the rest of the year is going to bring and what type of experiences I'm going to have. This will definitely be a year of growth and I'm looking forward to seeing the growth of my students!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Round 2 - Still Getting Things Done!!

So I'm back in South Florida! In the middle of last year, I decided that I wanted to do a second year with the Literacy AmeriCorps program down here. It was a difficult decision, as I ended up turning down an opportunity to serve with the Peace Corps, but there was just something about this program that made me come back. So far, it seems to be the right decision!

The new members started moving down and into their new homes in Las Ventanas at the beginning of August. After slowly meeting them a couple of days before training started, it was determined that this is going to be a pretty good group. Two weeks of orientation came and went. A lot of the trainings were the same as last year, so that was a bit of a drag, but we made it through.

One of the highlights of the training was definitely the a version of the reality show The Amazing Race that I had conjured up at the end of last year. I am a huge reality show fan and The Amazing Race is definitely one of my favorites of all time!! The new members were divided up into 8 teams of 4 and raced around the Boynton Beach and Delray Beach area, completing various tasks at some spots that could become popular hangouts over the course of the year. Congrats once again to the Yellow Team (Sara S., James, Priscille, and Brittany P.) for a great job in coming in first!

The wrap-up of orientation signaled the start at our sites for this year! I'm so excited to be serving at EdVenture Charter School for this year! This school serves students between the ages of 15 and 22 that have behavioral, academic, and/or social issues and have not been able to find success in the regular public school system. I work with another teacher in a Language Arts classroom and am helping low level readers improve their confidence in reading. We also have two small classes of students that are on track to take the GED and Carly (my co-teacher) and I are working with to help get them ready for the Language Arts portion. (I'm going to write a more in-depth post about my site in a few days)

So far everything is off to a great start! The new members are adjusting to life in Florida. The returning members are readjusting to having a routine again and getting to know everyone in the group. I'm pumped to see where this year will take me! To another great year with a new AmeriFam!!

The Literacy AmeriCorps group for 2013-2014!!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

AmeriTrip: Pididdle, Mind Snacks, and Slug Bugs

Spending hours upon hours in a car can be super taxing. Legs cramp. Ears bleed from countless replays of the same 7 songs on the radio. Eyes blur at the sight of countless white lines. Finding ways to stay entertained can be a challenge. Luckily, Cathy and I found multiple things to help make the drives a bit more bearable.

1. Pididdle: A game played at night in which players pick out cars that have a head light out. Once a vehicle with an odd number of headlights is sighted, players yell "PIDIDDLE!" and are awarded points depending on the type of vehicle that was spotted. If a car in front has a tail light out, players can yell "ELDDIDIP!" and are awarded double points depending on the vehicle. This game induces lots of yelling matches.

2. Mind Snacks: The iPad is an amazing device that provides plenty of entertainment for hours upon hours. Mind Snacks is an app that helps people learn languages that are not native to themselves. There are tons of games that can be played to help learn vocabulary and basic grammar structure. Spelling games and word matching provides a great way to learn another language.

3. Slug Bug: Volkswagen has been making Beetles for a long, long time. These domed cars rule the road and allow participants the opportunity to slug each other when they see one of these vehicles. Each slug is accompanied by the color of the vehicle. If a false slug is called, a penalty of two return slugs is given back. Bruises and yelps are to be expected.

All three of these games were used to help pass our time on the road for the last bit of our road trip. The last week of our trip took us to Brick, New Jersey, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia.

Brick, New Jersey

After we left Cory's house, we headed south to Brick, which is near the shoreline and was an area that was hit pretty hard by Super Storm Sandy back in October. The area is still rebounding from this devastating storm and lots of rebuilding is still going on. We stayed with Cathy's Aunt Lori, but arrived to a locked house and barking dogs. We ended up being locked out for an hour and a half as the spare key that he aunt guided us to was actually for her shed, not the house. After batting away countless bugs and squashing other wildlife, her aunt came home from work. We ended up going down along the coast to a restaurant that was having a re-opening celebration. It was there that I meant Aunt Lulu and played half of a round of mini-golf.

The next day (Sunday), we headed to Lulu's house for a riveting game of cornhole (or bags for those non-Midwesterners) and an amazing lunch of hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, chips and pretzels, among other dishes. It was a lot of fun and a relaxing way to spend the day. Monday morning we attempted to go to the beach, but due to traffic constraints, we were unable to make it. So Cathy and I hit the road and made our way to Charlotte, North Carolina!

Charlotte, North Carolina

The eleven hour trip to North Carolina was a bit tedious at times, but overall flew by pretty quickly. We hit some stupid construction traffic about 20 minutes from our friend Cori's house. Mind you, this was after having been in the car for like 10 hours! We were going crazy! But we successfully made it to Cori's house, got settled in, watched Tangled, and then passed out.

On Tuesday, we started off our day by meeting our friend JaRon, another AmeriCorps alum who did the program last year, at Bojangles. Ever since Cathy and I met Cori, she has told us that we had to try Bojangles. This desire was fulfilled and it didn't disappoint! We then headed downtown and stopped by a ginormous children's library called the Imaginon and it was a super awesome place! The three story building offered a little bit for everyone and it was fun to just walk around and take it all in. Needless to say, Cathy was going crazy imagining what it would be like to serve/work here! We then walked around downtown, which was a really nice, quaint area.

Following our tour, we headed out to a butterfly garden and bird sanctuary in the middle of a residential neighborhood. It was neat to see some natural nature in the middle of the city and experience a bit of Charlotte history. After our tour was over, we headed back to Cori's house to relax and watch a few movies. That night, JaRon came over and we had a cookout in her backyard. We finally met the famous Haleigh, Cori's 2 year old niece. She was adorable, but refused to look or acknowledge my presence for the entire night. Guess I can't please everyone!

It was great to see Cori and JaRon again and catch up to see what they are up to. Cori is heading out to Seattle this week to start another AmeriCorps program with her boyfriend Max, while JaRon is going to be attending grad school for special education. I'm looking forward to seeing how the next year treats them! Best of luck guys with everything!

Atlanta, Georgia

The last stop of our trip brought us to Atlanta, Georgia and our friend Phestada's house. We got in, unpacked the car for the last time, and just sat around and played games on my iPad and caught up. It was great to see her after 3 weeks away. Familiar faces are always a great thing! The next day (Thursday), we headed downtown to meet up with her friend Jennifer, who just recently moved into Atlanta. We went downtown to Centennial Park and watched a fun little fountain show, then headed to the CNN Center and looked around a bit. It was a pretty chill, relaxed day that ended with my first ever trip to IKEA! I want everything in that store! I now understand why it's so addicting for people! The rest of the day was spent prepping ourselves for the long drive back to Boynton the next day with some movies and plenty of laughs!

Our three road trip ended with another long drive (about 9 hours) back down to Boynton. We made it back to Las Ventanas, got our keys, and unloaded my car for the LAST time! It was great to be back in Florida and not on the road anymore. Now it's time to get ready for the second round of AmeriCorps! Coming up will be a post detailing how things have been going so far!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

AmeriTrip: Fires, Hiking, and the City

Driving for long stretches of time can be tiring. The white lines blur together. Brake lights blind you. Car horns pierce your ear drums. Being able to settle down in one place for an extended period of time is always welcomed. Luckily, this past week was spent in the lovely state of Pennsylvania and allowed Cathy and I a chance to rest, re-cooperate, and re-connect with friends and family (well for Cathy at least).

We rolled into PA Thursday night (July 25), saw Cathy's friend Annie, had some scrumptious tacos and ice cream, and then headed over to her sister's, our home base for the week. Throughout the course of the week we saw (and I met) people and saw some pretty cool sites. Highlights of the trip include:

- Meeting some of Cathy's childhood and college friends (all of which were super awesome!) The main reason for us going back to PA was to see Cathy's friend Lizzy, who is currently pregnant. Unfortunately, she did not have the baby while we were in PA, but it was great to meet her and learn more about Cathy's childhood. We also hung out with her friends Annie, Cory, Dave, her sister and her husband Steve, along with a few of their friends. New friendships were formed and I'm excited to see them all again in the near future.

- Hiking through the woods with Lizzy (while imitating mating calls of various animals) and hoping that Lizzy didn't pop while on the trail

- Experiencing the greatness that is a Pennsylvania diner

- Driving through the battlefields at Gettysburg National Park and seeing one of the sites that I've wanted to see for a long time

- Getting my fill of card and board games for the next couple of months. Scrabble, Phase 10, Bananagrams, Peg Leg, Monopoly Deal, and Skip-Bo were all played multiple times. I felt like I was 10 again and playing games with my family. This was a perfect way to wrap up every night.

- Received a personal tour of De Sales University, the school that Cathy went to for four years. It was definitely a lot smaller than UNI, as their student population is only about 2,000 students - TOTAL! However, for a small school, the campus is very spread out which provided for lots of walking and green grass.

We had a great trip back to Cathy's home state. It was really neat to see where she grew up, went to school, and worked with. We were treated to an amazing week by some pretty cool people!

After recharging with our week in PA, we headed across the border into New Jersey to spend a few days with Cory, one of her best friends from college. We enjoyed a couple of late nights by the pool (aka me "accidentally" falling into an above ground pool - that takes talent!), engaged in the awesomeness that is fire (and Cathy didn't burn anyone this time!), and I learned quite a bit about college Cathy. Yesterday, we spent a few hours in The Big Apple. It's been about 3 years since I've been back, so it was cool to walk around and see the sights of the city. Today, we're heading down the road a bit to see Cathy' aunt before heading onto the last two stops of our trip, Charlotte and Atlanta!

Friday, July 26, 2013

AmeriTrip: Washingtimoria

Washington D.C. will forever hold a special place in my life. Not only is it our nation's capital, it was also my birthplace and home for the first 5 years of my life. Any time that I get an opportunity to visit not only the city but the people that I still know there, it's a special moment and time.With our road trip taking us right through the nation's capital, I wasn't going to pass up an opportunity to stop and visit!

After leaving Columbia, SC on Tuesday, Cathy and I headed back on the road for the 7 hour journey to DC. The drive itself really wasn't as bad as anticipated and we didn't really hit traffic until we got to DC. Granted the traffic we did encounter was fairly tame compared to what it could've been. We were able to successfully find our hostel, got checked in, and then jumped on the metro to start our exploration of this grand city.

We took the metro down to the National Mall and walked around for about 3 1/2 hours, taking in as much of the city as we could. The Washington Monument is currently under construction due to the effects of the earthquake that hit Virginia in 2011, so we weren't able to go up into that. However, I personally think that the scaffolding adds a bit to the monument, especially when it's lit up at night. Abraham Lincoln was visited and his famous speeches were reread. The Korean War, Marin Luther King, Jr., Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson Memorials were also visited and checked off our list. We ended the night by taking in the White House while listening to some teenagers discuss the making of the movie "White House Down" and how amazed they were that the White House was still in tact.

The next day, we boarded the metro bright and early and continued our assault. The Vietnam War Memorial, National Holocaust Memorial Museum, Natural History Museum, and Air and Space Museum were all visited, absorbed, and appreciated by noon. We then headed back to our hostel to go and meet up with my former babysitter, Rosa, and her family for lunch. It was so great to see her, Maria, Jose, Stewart and the new family additions (Jose's wife Sylvia and their baby girl Isabelle). I haven't seen them since I was in high school, so the catch-up time was definitely appreciated and welcomed. Rosa made empanadas, which were delicious as always! Following lunch, Cathy and I headed back to see Arlington National Cemetery, Ford's Theater, and the Iwo Jima Memorial. By the time we got back to our hostel, we were both beat and passed out immediately!

Thursday, we departed from DC with Pennsylvania as our final destination! Along the way, we made a few pit stops - one in Baltimore, MD and the other in Philadelphia, PA. These stops were filled with scenic overlooks, historic sites, and one hilarious encounter at a souvenir shop...

One of the things that I collect whenever I travel is shot glasses. I have over 40 shot glasses from all over the world. Of course, this trip is no different. While in Philadelphia, we stopped at a souvenir shop so I could purchase my Philadelphia addition. While checking out, the following conversation occurred:

Worker (who happens to be Chinese): Are you Asian?
Worker: Are you sure? You eyes look Asian - maybe Chinese?
Me: Nope - pretty sure that I'm German and not any bit Asian
Worker: think you Chinese once
Me: Well I'm not quite sure how to take that, but I'm definitely a descendant from Europe.

This conversation continued on for another 15 minutes, in which she offered Cathy and I about 10 maps of Philly, suggestions of what to see (including the lady that sewed the flag's house), where to get the best Philly Cheese Steak in town, directions on how to get to the Rocky Steps and Statue, an attempt to get me to purchase a Rocky shirt, and other things. All I wanted was a shot glass - I ended up with a whole lot more!

Now this story is especially funny because this year I helped put together the yearbook for our AmeriCorps year. One of the things that we asked the members to send in was baby pictures. The baby picture that I submitted is below:

As you can see, I was not only a bit of a clunker as a child, but I also had some Asian similarities (I blame the hat). Phetsada, the only true Asian in our group this past year, loved this picture and assured me that people would think that this was her. At our informal graduation, that theory was proven true as almost all of our members thought this was her baby picture. Needless to say there were a few shocked faces when it turned out to actually be me! So the fact that 26 years later I'm still being asked if I'm Asian or not makes me wonder if this picture has somehow gotten out and about!

We ended up making it Easton, PA around 5:30 and went and saw one of Cathy's friends, Annie. She treated us out to tacos and ice cream. I'm excited to meet family and friends of Cathy's and see where she grew up. We'll be in PA for a week, which will also be a nice break from the constant road time. Who really knows what the course of the next week will hold for us! Stay tuned and find out!