Thursday, June 20, 2013

Throwback Post: Suburban Camping

*Throwback Post #5*

I've never been one to make big, in-depth plans for Labor Day Weekend. It's always been an extended weekend filled with rest and the start of college football. This past weekend, though, I decided to do something different. I went camping...sort of.

About a week prior to Labor Day, I was approached by Jen (another AmeriCorps member from NY) about doing something Labor Day Weekend that got us out of our apartments and to a different part of the area. I instantly agreed and after some planning and asking around, we settled on camping.

As the weekend crept up on us, we researched various options. One of the places we came across was on an island and looked super sweet. However, upon further research, it was discovered that in order to get out to said island, it would cost around $600 for a boat - one way! New sites and plans were quickly made and executed!

We finally settled on the T.Y. Campground, which is located about 40 minutes south in Hollywood, FL. It was reasonably priced and had plenty of room. SOLD! It was even near a lake, pool, and small water park!
On Saturday, Jen Rebecca, Phetsada, Tavia, and myself piled into Jen's car. We stuffed all of our gear into her trunk (and back seat!) and headed off to WalMart for food and other necessary supplies. After our purchases had been made and the car was re-packed (thanks to the master Tetris skills of Tavia!), we headed off to find our campsite. The trip down was fairly quick and uneventful. The real fun began once we reached the park.

As we pulled into the entrance of the park, we quickly realized that we weren't going to be camping in the traditional sense. There were no woods, no real outdoorsy setting surrounding us. We were in the middle of the suburbs at a local city park. The interstate and neon lights surrounded us as we made our way to the campsite office to try and reserve a spot. Once we arrived there, we found out that this was a site designed for RV camping, not tent camping (despite the information that Jen had received when she called to inquire about the site).

We decided to go and check out the site to see if we wanted to stay or try to find somewhere else for the night. As we were driving around the park/campsite, we quickly noticed that were mainly the only white, Caucasian faces around. Being in the minority like that was definitely a new experience for most of us. When we arrived at the actual sites, we discovered that they were comprised of a slab of concrete and a small patch of grass. There weren't that many people there, so we decided to go ahead and stay and make the most of it.

Once our reservation had been secured (complete with some sideways glances and a little bit of attitude from the people at the front desk), we made our way back to our site (#20!), set up the tent, and got settled in. We sat down to play some cards and watch the sunset before starting up the grill and getting dinner started. Turkey burgers, corn-on-the-cob, and s'mores were all on the menu and ended up being a great meal and start to our night!

Following dinner, we played some games, engaged in some meaningful conversations, and just had an amazing time under the stars, full moon, and neon lights of the surrounding buildings. Many laughs and joyful tears were shared as we got to know each other more and were able to fully enjoy the company of new friends. Around midnight, we started to slowly trickle into the tent for a restful night's sleep. Or so we thought...

At about 4 a.m., the daily Florida showers rolled through (mind you these showers normally occur from 3-5 pm everyday - this one was just a tad ahead of schedule). Of course, we hadn't put on the rain guard on the top of the tent. Once the rain came, we felt it due to the mesh opening at the top of the tent. Tavia and Rebecca were running around outside trying to get the rain guard on while Jen, Phetsada, and myself tried to keep ourselves and our belongings dry. We weren't completely successful. Rebecca ended up sleeping in Jen's car, while the rest of us crammed into the middle part of the tent to avoid the puddles alone the perimeter of the tent.

In the morning (or about 5 hours later), we all rolled out of the stuffy, heat box that the tent had become overnight, shared a lovely breakfast of bananas and fruit snacks, packed up the tent and our stuff, and headed back to the apartments. Once we arrived back to Las Ventanas (the name of our apartment complex), we went down to the pool and partook in a BBQ that was being held with the other AmeriCorps members that are in the program. It was nice to be able to relax by the pool, enjoy some more food, and spend time with the other members.

Overall, it was an amazing weekend filled with tons of memories, stories, and great times. The next camping trip will hopefully be just as memorable, if not more!

Throwback Post: Lifetime Skills

*Throwback Post #4*

Last week signified my first official week at The Lord's Place (TLP)- and I couldn't be happier!

For the next year, I will be serving as a Job Ready Skills teacher and Employment Tutor for those that come into TLP and need help finding jobs, editing resumes, creating cover letters, etc. I've already experienced some of the teaching side of things and have helped a few people with the job application process. One of them even got an interview the next day!

To give everyone a little bit of background, TLP is an organization that aims at helping end the cycle of homelessness. They provide various services to those that find themselves without a steady place to call home. People needing these services come to TLP, where they are assessed and a plan of action is determined for how to best help them. Those that are deemed as needing help are referred to The Lewis Center, where they are placed in one of many different housing options, depending on their individual situation.

Once families or individuals have been placed, then they are eligible for the multitude of services and opportunities that TLP offers them. One of these is a Job Ready Skills class. In order to be accepted into this program, a client must be referred to the program, complete an entry exam/application, and be approved to join a class. Each class is 2 weeks long, 3 hours a day. During the course of the 30-hour class, students are taught basic computer skills, how to create an email account, how to create a resume, cover letter, and reference list, and interview skills. By the end of the class, students should be able to go out, apply for a job, go through an interview, and land a new job. This class has proven to be very successful and I can't wait to have a full class that I can see through from start to finish.

Last week, I joined in on a class already in session and was able to observe/interact with the students for the last half of the class. I can honestly say that I now have 7 new people that I'm pulling for as they look for jobs and try to turn their lives around. These classes are super diverse. In this past class, there were:

- someone who had been in federal prison for 12 years

- 2 others that had been convicted of a crime of some sort

- 3 people who had been laid off and lost their homes as a result

- 5 people who were living at halfway houses for various reasons

If you had lined these 7 individuals up before I started working with them and asked me to pick out who was struggling to find a job or didn't have a permanent roof over their head, I would not have picked any of these people. They were all so upbeat, friendly, and such a joy to be around. It has made going to work amazing and I look forward to getting to TLP everyday!

One of the individuals, who I'll call Barbara, especially tugged at my heart strings. Barbara is an older African-American woman who has never used a computer in her life. When she first started the class, she barely knew where the power button was, let alone how to create a document of any kind. One of my first duties when I started with this class was to help her one-on-one with her typing and overall computer skills. We're talking absolutely basic (i.e. "Which key do you press to create a new line to type on?", etc.). But through her perseverance and determination to get acquainted with the computer, she successfully completed a resume and reference list! She was so excited and proud of herself that she was on the verge of tears! I received a ginormous hug and kiss on the cheek for helping her out, but she was the one who did it. I was just her guide!

Today was their graduation ceremony. They are now equipped to go out and look for a job. I can't wait to see them progress, find employment, and continue to turn their lives around. I also know that this is only the beginning of these stories and I can't wait to continue adding onto my collection as the year goes on!

Throwback Post: Leaping Lizards

*Throwback Post #3*

So in Iowa, there is an abundance of squirrels. When I was at UNI (University of Northern Iowa), we actually had super friendly squirrels. They would come up to you, not dash off at the first sign of movement, and were genuinely very nice animals. 

Here in Florida, squirrels have been replaced with tiny little lizards. It's such a change and one that I'm slowly adapting to. I've continued running here and when I'm out and about, these little guys love to play daredevil with you. They'll wait until you're just about ready to put your foot down and decide to dart out from the grass where they had been hiding, planning their course of attack. I'm pretty sure that I've almost squished close to a dozen of these little guys.

So far, all have escaped with their lives...but they sure are playing quite the dangerous game.

Throwback Post: Irritable Issac

*Throwback Post #2*

This past weekend, I experienced a weather phenomenon that I had yet to encounter in my 25 years of life: a hurricane/tropical storm.

Tropical Storm Issac (now a category 1 hurricane) passed over the southern part of the Florida peninsula Saturday and Sunday, bringing tons of rain and strong winds, ranging in the 45-55 mph range. It was my first time being in a hurricane, but not my first water-born storm experience (while in Japan, we were exposed to two typhoons).

During this past weekend, I accomplished the following tasks:

- Watched multiple movies/sitcoms/dramas including
      ~ Season 1 of How I Met Your Mother (currently working on Season 2 with my roommate, Kevin)
      ~ 9 episodes of Season 1 of LOST
      ~ The Lorax
     ~ Love Actually
     ~ The Shawshank Redemption (about an hour or so)
     ~ Kevin Hart comedy skit
     ~ The Hunger Games
     ~ The Campaign (in theaters - took a trip out in the storm during a calm point)

- Hung up some more pictures on my wall (still have a ways to go, but I made some progress)

- Played multiple games of cards and Taboo and other random games

With a couple more tropical storm/hurricane type of storms churning in the Atlantic at the moment, I'm pretty sure that I'll have a few more hurricane experiences before September is up!

Throwback Post: A Year of Service Begins

In honor of the new trend, Throwback Thursday, I'm going to be re-posting earlier posts from my time here in Florida that I kept on my other blog that I had started at the beginning of my time down here. I'll post 4-5 each Thursday until I've successfully transferred them all over to this blog! Enjoy a chronicle of the first half of my year!

*Throwback Post #1*

So I'm now living in Florida, working with AmeriCorps and the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County. Despite the fact that Palm Beach County is one of the largest and richest counties in the nation, there is some severe poverty as well. This area has a lot of immigrants from Cuba, Haiti, Guatemala, and other countries around the world. The huge mansions line one side of the street, while just down the road people struggle to survive without running water and constant electricity.

With this in mind, there are tons of opportunities for service and help! The 40 members in the program will be spread throughout the county working as graduation coaches, reading tutors, teaching English to adults, among other areas. As for me, I'm going to be working with an organization called The Lord's Place. The goal of this organization is to help those that are homeless break their cycle of homelessness by providing them with the necessary resources to find a job, create a resume, learn how to use a computer, and others.

My job title is that of an employment coach. I'll be working with two other teachers and will be running a 2 week employment skills class. There will be anywhere from 5-10 people in my classes each week, which will be quite the change from my classes in Seoul to say the least! I'm super stoked to work with a population that I haven't encountered yet. I know that the experiences, stories, and skills that I will gain from this experience will last for the rest of my life. I can't wait to get started and continue to grow as a person!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sweating and Sparkling in Savannah!

Traveling around the country is one of my favorite past times! As is pretty apparent, traveling, road trips, and random adventures really excite me! This past weekend, I was able to put this love to use! Needing a much needed break from Florida life, Phetsada, Cathy, and I headed up north to take in the sights and sounds of Savannah, GA!

The weekend was a smashing success! Outside of the three of us making the trip, we also met up with my friend Elizabeth and her roommate Victoria, along with Phetsada's friends Natalie, Jen, Billy, and Sonya. It felt a little bit like a wedding with so many different parties meeting up for the first time! We were able to score an amazing hotel right on the river (thanks again Sara and Ash!), which gave us great access to the city by foot. 

We started out our experience by grabbing some food at Spanky's, this really quirky food joint that had amazing chicken fingers! From there, we went back to the hotel, played some card games, and then headed back out for the night! The night life in Savannah is pretty hopping (especially compared to Boynton) and there were young 20-somethings out and about - this was definitely a welcome site! We mixed, mingled, and chowed down on some pizza before heading back to our hotel.

On Saturday, Elizabeth, Victoria, Cathy, and I explored more of the city. This historic town definitely has a lot to offer. Dodging the various trolley tours that patrol the streets, we saw where Forest Gump discussed his life philosophy, historic River Street, and quite a few little fun city squares that were in full bloom and teaming with activity. After having lost a good gallon of fluid through sweating and panting, we made our way back to the AC of our hotel and just chilled for the majority of the afternoon. Great movies like Happy Gilmore, Gnomeo and Juliet, and Monster's, Inc., definitely kept us great company!

As the afternoon turned into evening, we gathered the troops together and headed back out for another night on the town. We ate at a great restaurant (and even better, Phetsada, Cathy, and I were able to take in the Blackhawks hockey game - I've been converted to a hockey fan by my roommate Kevin, his girlfriend Erin, and my supervisor Brad) and made our way back to the City Market area. We witnessed a great Blackhawks victory on the side of a building, which helped catapult our night with a euphoric start! Another great night of drinking, dancing, and eating some more delicious pizza capped off the middle portion of our trip.

On Sunday, we headed back out to Tybee Island for lunch and some quality beach/sun time. It's always nice to be on the sand in other places that aren't Florida. The beach was pretty busy and the water felt great! After a a few hours of lounging around, we piled back into the car and headed home to good ol' Florida. We all quickly realized as we pulled into the parking garage at LV that future trips to Savannah would definitely be in store!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"Owen"-fying Miami!

I've been extremely lucky to have a set of parents that are amazingly supportive of anything that I've ever decided to do. All throughout my high school career, my parents never once missed a performance that I was involved in. Band concerts, choir competitions, speech performances - it didn't matter where or when it was, they found a way to get there an support me. This even continued into college when I decided to join the UNI Panther Marching Band. I always knew that I could count on them to be in the stands, cheering me on.

This support has held true even when my adventures have taken me outside of domestic borders. When I studied abroad in Spain, they came to visit for a week and a half, during which we explored Oviedo and the amazingly beautiful city of Valencia on the Mediterranean coast. Last year, while I was teaching in Seoul, they flew across the Pacific (13-hour plane ride and all) and stayed for another 10 days. During this time, we covered as much of Seoul as we could, along with Jeju Island. Needless to say, they are willing to use my experiences as an excuse to help them travel as well!

Now that I'm down here in South Florida, my parents saw another opportunity to get out of Iowa and take a bit of a vacation for themselves. They arrived here in Florida May 24th and returned back to Iowa yesterday morning (June 2nd). Highlights of their most recent 10 day excursion included:

- Going out to eat for lunch at Hurricane Alley with Cathy
- Exploring West Palm Beach and checking out my service site, The Lord's Place
- Zooming up to Jupiter and spending some time on the beach
- Grabbing some Thai cuisine at Rice with Skeeter, Erin, Kevin, and Phetsada
- Enjoying some froyo (frozen yogurt) for the first time (for the parents that is)
- Spending some time by the pool at their hotel, taking in some rays, and enjoying the water
- Watching The Great Gatsby on the big screen (very well done film!)
- The parentals taking advantage of the Cruise Capitol of the World and escaping to the Bahamas and Key West for a 5-day cruise
- Attending a Marlins baseball game (which they beat the Mets 5-1, making my Marlins record a perfect 2-0!)
- Taking a city bus tour of Miami and learning some pretty interesting facts about the South Beach area of Miami
- Visiting the Holocaust Memorial in Miami and being blown away with emotion

All in all, it was a great trip! It's always great to see my parents and know that they are continually behind me no matter what I do. Thanks for everything that you have done for me and will continue to do for me going forward!

Until the next vacation...