My lovely girlfriend Ella wrote an email to the parents and kids of her youth group
Hello Everyone!The trip went unbelievably smoothly. Both sets of flights aligned beautifully, we picked up the van with no trouble, found the base with no trouble or wrong turns, and remembered who had what sheets with relatively little difficulty.
Wow. I really don't know where to begin in recapping a truly wonderful week. Matthew and I have just been gushing to everyone who asks how the trip was about how great you all were, how moved we were by your commitment to every aspect of the trip, how great the sun was, how fun the donkeys were. We can't shut up about you guys :)
On Monday, the trip started with serving lunch at The Source, a resource center for the homeless that also offers optional worship services throughout the day. In addition to serving meals, The Source also has a clothing closet that clients can access once a month and a food pantry that people can come to for groceries. The head of the kitchen talked to us for a while about what kinds of challenges the clients face, and what obstacles emerge as they try to get back on their feet. It was eye opening, and also inspired many of us with a desire to read the book Toxic Charity, about the need to reevaluate how we provide services to the disadvantaged in our communities. Unlike our service work at Preble Street, we actually ate lunch among the clients at The Source. We had some interesting conversations, and it was illuminating to hear where people had been before they ended up at a homelessness resource center in Vero Beach. I think we left with a greater appreciation for the humanity of the people we had served.
We did two half days at Redland's Migrant Community Association - a nursery and day care for the children of migrant workers. Our host told us that 98% of the kids who attend the school attend free of charge, and many come from homes that are somehow impovrished, broken, or struggling. Knowing that, it was stunning how quickly the kids warmed to us. This was some of our favorite volunteer work - we got to spend hours just loving kids who maybe aren't loved enough. We got good upper body workouts from twirling kids around, we played football and basket ball, got taken to "spas" (read Hannah and Kayleigh burried in mulch) or baked "cakes" (read Matthew and Jesse "eating" plates of Mulch), and engaged in games of tag and more nebulous games of chase-me-while-i-giggle-and-run. In the end, our work took some of the heat off of a very small staff, and also, hopefully, put more smiles on the faces of the kids.
We also did two half days at Gifford Community Center's after school program. The first visit we got split into different teams and sent to different classrooms. This was some of the most terrifying volunteering for me personally because I was faced with a fourth grade fraction worksheet. Truly daunting. :) Similarly to Redland, these kids too were incredibly receptive, immediately attaching themselves to the long haired girls in the group to do their hair, or dragging the boys off to play sports or steal their sunglasses and baseball hats.
Other missions included a half day of work projects and visits at Saint Francis retierment community where we helped them prep the grounds for a big fundraising event, a half day at both the Treasure Cove food pantry sorting and processing food donations and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore where we sorted, cleaned, and restocked their donations, and a half day of harvesting sweet potatos at Shining Light Garden, a vast farm that donates all that it produces. A bunch of great pictures of us at the garden can be found on their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ShiningLightGarden/photos_stream.
We got awesomely dirty working in the garden, and were totally jazzed about being covered in dirt and barefoot among the rows of potatoes.
In addition to all of this, we journaled for fifteen minutes every night, and closed each day with a Pow - a low point, or a moment when you felt defeated or small, Wow - a highlight, or a big positive, and How, a way in which you saw God working in your life or the lives of those we were with. Hows could be good or bad - sometimes the amount of food that the pantry has to throw away or the disparity between the people who donate the things that are then resold at habitat, and the people who habitat serves, were ways that we felt God moving in and among us. These times of evening reflection and conversation were powerful, and I can't thank everyone enough for their thoughts and engagement. Seriously. Even on the nights we talked your ears off, or made you do something that felt uncomfortable, you were right there with us.
Throughout the trip, Matthew and I took video and pictures, the first of which Matthew is working on editing and posting. As he posts, you can find the "Vlog" entries at https://www.youtube.com/user/matthewstuartjacksonor by going to his website at http://www.matthewstuartjackson.com/blog-lifes-a-laugh.html.
Thanks again for a marvelous week. I've missed you guys this week, and hope very much to see you all on Sunday.
With love, and much gratitude,
Christian Education and Youth Ministries
First Parish United Church of Christ