Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Chemical Painters & The Dog That Does Community Service

Wow, I have so much to share with all of you. First things first, I know my permanent unit/team and I know my first project. I am in Earth Unit - Team 5 and am 1 of 9 members including our team leader Jess. I am very happy with my group, it seems to be a great, fun, diverse group of people and I think we will work well together. And for our project, get this; we will be working with Habitat For Humanity in Miami, Florida building houses in a large build off project. If you are unfamiliar with Habitat For Humanity, they build houses for lower income people who could not otherwise afford a house of their own. Houses are built for individual families and many times families help in the build and you get to know them well. Jimmy Carter founded the organization and it’s known as being one of the best run non profit organizations in the country. So I along with my team will be building houses for 6 weeks with other volunteers from across the country.

It is very special and infrequent that we would be selected for a project in Miami. Since our campus is in Denver, we usually cover the Midwest and the only work we do outside our project area is for disaster relief. But this is a special case, the build in Miami has been selected as the yearly build off, the largest build of the year, and it includes a contest in which teams compete in building as many houses as they can in a week. I think the record last year was 6 finished houses in a week, quite amazing. So we will be working alongside other volunteers and college students in this large event. That is pretty much all I know so far. I will be leaving in 2 weeks, it will take us 4-5 days to drive to Miami and we will be there for approximately 6 weeks.

Many people are quite jealous that we got such a great project, there has been talk the past couple weeks about a project in Miami and everyone wanted to go one this one. Only 2 out of the 35 teams got selected, and our team leader was lucky enough to draw the first choice pick. I am really excited! I think I will actually miss the Denver weather; it’s been so comfortable here, 55 in the day, 40 at night and 300 days of sun. I think I am the rarity, since everyone is going out to buy bathing suits and can’t wait to get into the heat.

In other news this week we had our first day project. Our whole unit was sent to a state park to cut down Russian Olive trees which have become over abundant and prevent other vegetation from growing in the area. The process basically consisted of us running around the forest tagging trees, then we would cut off the small branches and such with bow saws and clippers, then we would try to flag down team leaders with chain saws to cut them down. After all of this, we paint the stump with chemicals and pick up every small branch and twig off the ground and send them off to be burnt, so these damn trees die and don’t regenerate and multiply like starfish. Sometimes we took it upon ourselves to cut the whole things down with the small bow saws. Its quite fun to see a tree that you have been hacking at for like half an hour to finally come crashing down with a lot of cutting and few pushes and kicks. We had so much fun at the state park that me and a bunch of other people are going back tomorrow to do garbage cleanup and other work as part of our ISP hours (we are required to do 80 additional hours of independent community service on top of the work we do this our groups).

One armed Chris & Syesha chemical painting

And on a light note, last weekend I visited the Celestial Seasonings tea factory in Boulder. This was awesome, they had a real cool factory tour and you are able to sample over 100 different types of tea. I was also in Boulder today with my team, we went hiking at Chattanooga State Park, which was beautiful, it was nice to do some real mountain hiking with some beautiful views. While hiking I met this dog Krusty that does community service. He found 3 people still alive and trapped underneath World Trade Center wreckage. Afterwards we walked around the downtown area, which is fantastic, an awesome collection of eclectic shops and coffee shops. There are tons of street performers and the area is gorgeous. It reminded me a little of the East Village and Ann Arbor, but less congested and more beautiful. Now everyone wants to move to Boulder after the program is over, I don’t blame them, it’s a great place.

My hero Krusty

That covers it for now. I started to befriend some of the Japanese students on campus despite the fact that they don’t speak any English. Yesterday I sang a Zebrahead song with one of their bands.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

In Uniform

I am now official property of the US government. 100% Americorps NCCC employee, banking a little over $15 a day and loving every minute of it! I know this is my first letter, so much has already happened and I am not completely sure where to start. Ok, so I get
off the plane and I’m in Denver. I meet a bunch of people and we drive in these 15 car passenger vans to campus. Our campus is beautiful, a small college for Japanese students among other small groups, including a team of ninjas, that’s right ninjas, high school students and traveling sports teams. The college is a historical landmark in Denver, the highest location in the city. You can see the bell tower from downtown Denver, which makes it a really convenient landmark when you don’t know where you are going. The college was originally an old monastery so the campus is littered with religious statues of all sorts. There is a huge statue of the Virgin Mary outside the cafeteria. We have a beautiful view of the mountains, rolling hills, which turn into picturesque snow covered peaks.

So what have I been doing? I haven’t had all that much free time so far. Are days are pretty packed from 8-7. I get up at 7, get dressed, eat breakfast and we start our training day at 8. We have done a day of orientation, safety training, CPR, driving, I got certified to drive 15 seat passenger vans, which we drive across country. There are so many silly rules, like if we need to backup the vans we are required to have two people get out, put on orange vests and hand guide us out of a parking spot. It is really silly and we often get laughed at. Today, we had tool orientation. This was fun. We were introduced to using the weirdest array of prehistoric hand tools I’ve ever seen, spiky metal rakes with sharp flat backs. Log rollers, which are basically big fat baseball bats with a spiky top and a weird gripping mouth. Many projects are on reservations, or historical landmarks that require us to use hand tools in the place of power tools. We even have old long saws to cut trees and logs in half. This is not easy.

So let me tell you a little about Denver. Denver is not NYC, that’s for sure. We spent a day in Denver doing a scavenger hunt with our group to get to know the area. The city is pretty dead during the day, a little like Boston with less people. The city really picks up at night. Lots of bars, clubs and tons of people hanging out on the street, remember the weather is still pretty comfortable, 55 to 30 and sunny today. This past Sunday we went to this amazing coffee shop bar for an open mic and poetry reading. This place was on par with the coolest places in NYC. Really bohemian.

So Denver is fun, the campus is great, the people are incredibly interesting, although most people are from the eat coast, I’ve met people from Puerto Rico, Panama and Hawaii. I think the strangest thing so far is waking up everyday and putting on the same uniform, that and the altitude. The attitude has been a real killer. I guess that’s what you get for taking a Long Island boy and placing him a mile above sea level. So I think that will cover it for now. Peace.

Me with my the team Earth 5