Monday, April 22, 2013

Roughin' It and Ritzin' It

One thing that I have been able to take away from my service so far here at The Lord's Place is the fact that homelessness can strike anyone at anytime. Sometimes the reasons for ending up on the streets or someone's couch can be self-inflicted, but other times it can be either bad luck or poor timing. Homelessness has no real "face" or "poster child" to help define it. Despite all of the stereotypes out there regarding the homeless, no one is immune from it.

In an attempt to further raise awareness about the growing homeless population in and around Palm Beach County, The Lord's Place hosts an event called SleepOut annually. This event, held at the Meyer Ampitheater in West Palm Beach, challenges the community to create teams, raise funds, and experience a night of sleeping outside in not always the most ideal conditions. 

SleepOut 2013 was held this past weekend and it was a blast! As AmeriCorps members, we helped people unload their cars, register, and then find a spot within the ampitheater to set up shop for the night. The program that was put on featured various talents from around the community and staff members at The Lord's Place, along with testimonials from clients have utilized the services provided to better their lives. One of my favorite clients, Dorrie, spoke and did an phenomenal job! It was so cool to see someone that has gone through class with me get up in front of a couple of hundred people and share their own personal struggle with homelessness. The event was capped off by the showing of the movie The Little Red Wagon.

Four of the members (myself included) decided to rough it and spent the night in a tent. We remembered to attach the rain guard this time. Thank goodness we did! True to form, the fickleness of Florida's weather showed it's true colors by producing a monsoon of sorts around 2 AM. The event last year was cut short by an untimely downpour, so luckily this one occurred after the program had finished.

So after spending the entire night "roughin' it" in the park, Max, Cori, Cathy, and I were able to "ritz" it up a bit later Saturday night. My friend Andy, whom I worked with backstage at the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center during college, is currently on tour with the Broadway musical The Addams Family. They spent the past 2 weeks down in Fort Lauderdale and he was able to secure the four of us with comp tickets to see the show for free. So we dressed up to the nines and headed down to the show!

Our seats were amazing! We were about 12 rows from the stage, dead center. The music was fantastic! The cast was a great cohesive unit and it was an all-around enjoyable show! We even got a personal tour backstage! That definitely made me miss working at the theater.

It was quite an eventful weekend, full of inspiring stories and powerful performances!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

TurtleFest 2013

Loggerhead Marina is a rehabilitation center that helps sea turtles that have been injured by various elements (natural, human, boats, etc.) recover in a safe, controlled environment before being released back out into the wild. This marina also does a lot of work to raise awareness about sea turtles in general, which was the main premise of their event this past weekend, TurtleFest.

This festival was an all day event that included bounce houses, games, live entertainment, food, activities and crafts for the kids, and a chance for local vendors to display their artwork and other crafts to the community. It was attended by around 10,000 people! As AmeriCorps members, the majority of our members were placed in the Global Village tent, where we assisted with various arts and crafts, including mosaic turtles, shell necklaces, tissue flowers, decorating cloth bags (definitely the biggest hit of the day!), creating a turtle mural, and others.

Despite a brief rain shower in the middle of the day, the event was an amazing success! It was an absolute pleasure to help out Loggerhead after we were able to have one of our Friday meetings there a couple of months ago. Can't wait to help out with this event again next year!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Getting Muddy - Sort of...

Everyone's always looking for the biggest thrill, biggest challenge, or biggest obstacle to try and overcome and conquer. This drive has led to the creation of various races designed around this mentality. One of these races was held in Miami a couple of weeks ago and attended by my roommate Kevin and I. Unfortunately, the experience did not live up to the pre-race hype.

The race that we attended was the Mud Challenge 2013. It was described as a shorter version of the super popular Tough Mudder races that are held all over the country. Obstacles along the race course were supposed to include a quick sand pit, hatchet throwing, zip lining over a lake, and one final, physically demanding obstacle, all accumulating in a free beer, t-shirt, and medal at the finish line. Nothing really went according to plan...

Kevin and I had signed up to run the race in the 9:00 time slot and planned to get to the course around 8:00, allowing us plenty of time to get registered. Or so we thought. We ended up getting stuck in stand still traffic for a good 30-45 minutes and were not able to park until 9:00! Needless to say, we missed our assigned race time, which ended up being the least of our problems.

Following the parking debacle, we were then subjected to another two hour wait just to register! The line snaked around the park and ended up doubling back on itself! It was very apparent that something in the planning stage had gone incredibly wrong. After withstanding all of the rumblings and grumblings of everyone around us, we managed to get registered. Unfortunately, they had run out of bib numbers (still something that blows my mind to this day), so we ended up just writing our numbers on our arm with a sharpie. Felt a little like I was entering into a triathlon, not a mud run.

We got our bags checked and headed to the starting line - at 11:00. Only two hours behind schedule, no big deal. The music was pumping, the adrenaline was flowing, and as the start horn blew, we were off. Here are the obstacles that we encountered along the course:

- Tires and high knees
- Scaling walls
- Bounding over planks of wood strewn across a pond (aka waiting in line for 20 minutes, then deciding to just swim instead of wait any longer)
- Swimming through the same lake a little further down and entering into a sewer drain (yeah, that was a joy!)
- Running under a tarp covering a dried out mud pit while avoiding random 2x4 planks of wood (was hoping to have to army crawl through a pit of wet, gooey mud)
- Completing a brainteaser or 10 push-ups if you answered wrong (Kev and I knocked that one out of the park!)
- Running through various bike trails with no real obstacles outside of the slight inclines of the natural course
- Wading through another lake while an air boat (one of those vessels that they use on Everglade tours) fan blew on us
- Making our way through a pit of ice cold water that was constantly being filled with ice cubes
- Taking in the sight of the last, monster obstacle that included rope climbing, balance beam action, rope swings, and climbing nets, but deciding to bypass all of that due to the hoards of people waiting for their chance as well
- Trekking through a final pit of mud (the only one on the course, which was definitely disappointing)
- Received our medals, t-shirt, and beer (the only thing that really went according to plan)

As you can see from the list of things that we actually did encounter, none of the obstacles that I listed above were included in the actual course itself. This was a bit disheartening as we had expected something a little bit better run and organized. However, last week, all of the participants received an email from the race organizer, apologizing for the dismal conditions and experiences that everyone had. He took full responsibility for the downfalls of the day and offered anyone that was interested free admission to the next race that they will be holding in the fall. This was a very admiral thing to do and I'm going to give them a second chance.
Hopefully the second time around will be more fulfilling than the first...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Retreating to the Keys

Being apart of a program that lasts a full year can be trying. You hit emotional highs and lows as things change and progress around you. The first few weeks are filled with new experiences and opportunities. By the time that you reach the middle months, you have been doing the same thing for a while and boredom and frustration can start to set in. Then as the end nears, you gear up for the next adventure life brings/creating as many memories as you can with those around you.

To help offset the feelings of monotony that creep up around the middle of our year, a staff retreat to Key Largo was just the remedy needed for the 40 members to help rejuvenate and re-energize ourselves as we hit the home stretch. Our supervisors, Brad and Audrey, rented out a small resort right by the water, complete with a couple of docks, kayaks, and beautiful sunsets. 

The highlight of the trip was definitely the 4 1/2 hour kayak trip that we were treated to. We adventured out to a small island that was ransacked by Seminoles back in 1840, paddled through the open water under the blazing sun, ate in the middle of mangrove trees, and trekked through a waterway reminiscent of something you would see on the Amazon River. By the end we were all a little bit tanner (or redder), a tad wet and sore, but overall, in great spirits!

Another highlight of the trip was following the kayak trip when we were able to put our supervisors on the hot seat! Anything and everything was fair game and to their credit, they were great sports and answered our questions openly and honestly. It was an amazing trip that allowed us as a group to continue to gel and work as a cohesive unit. 

This was a perfect way to wrap up my first spring break here in Florida!

Excited for our time in the Keys!
Beautiful sunsets!

Ready to hit the open water!
Thanks for the photo bomb Phetsada!

Lunch time!
Cathy and I in the mangroves

Friday, April 5, 2013

Big Easy Exploration

One of the nice things about the AmeriCorps program and having members in the school system is that our AmeriCalendar mirrors that of the school system. This means that we also get a spring break, despite the fact that we are no longer students. Quite the deal if I do say so myself! So naturally, because of my sense of adventure and inability to sit still for long, I took advantage of this opportunity to get out of Florida and see another city that has been on my list for a while: New Orleans!

Here are the highlights from the trip itself:

- Piling into my car at 5 AM on Friday with Phetsada, Ashley, Vanessa, and Andy, complete with food, drinks, and baggage

- Stopping at a rest stop outside of Orlando and being bombarded by my aunt and cousin on their way from West Liberty to DisneyWorld for the high school's band and chorus trip (total surprise and coincidence)!

- Rolling into New Orleans around 4:30 PM after making great time on the road and checking into our sketch, $60/night hotel

- Navigating around our neighborhood, trying to find the nearest trolley stop so that we could get downtown, while being whistle and cat-called at

- Meeting up with the other 4 (Kiara, Ali, Skeeter, and Max) that drove over on Thursday

- Attending a New Orleans Hornets basketball game with Phetsada, Skeeter, Andy, and Max and seeing them defeat one of the better teams in the league, the Memphis Grizzlies!

- Experiencing the nightlife that is Bourbon Street and being completely blown away by the masses stumbling their way through the street, throwing beads from the balconies, and avoiding the piles of "funness" that littered the street

- Tried the local cuisine, including jumbalaya, beignets, and po-boy sandwiches (all of which were delicious!)

- Enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells that New Orleans has to offer, including the French Market, the French Quarter, the New Orleans Cathedral, a Voo-Doo shop, Jackson Square, and the mighty Mississippi River

- Spent Saturday night at Harrah's, the local casino, and watched Max win $140 on the slots (while I lost $20)(it was totally his little lucky dance that helped him cash in the big bucks) and Andy cash in around $30, also on the slots (beginner's luck!)

- Enjoyed the company of great people in an amazing city that still has a lot of unexplored nooks and crannies yet to be discovered!

Until the next epic road trip...

Hornets basketball game
Outside the Superdome
Enjoying some good ol' Southern cuisine

Enjoying some beignets at Jackson Square
Waiting for the trolley pre-casino
The girls ready to win some big bucks
Po-Boy from Johnny's
Oldest cathedral in the contiguous USA
Mighty Mississippi River!
Andy, myself, and the Mississippi River
Phetsada and I enjoying some jazz music