A Check Off the List

At the end of last summer, I completed a personal milestone (and no, it wasn’t turning 25…yuck).

I finished my term of AmeriCorps!

Let’s take a peek at the numbers, shall we?

6000. Approximate amount of scholarship.

1700. Hours of community service completed.

42. Number of kids served.

6. Number of families I feel I impacted.

9. Lasting friendships made with other AmeriCorps.

4. People I can count on for a great recommendation.

12. Months of service.

1. Child I continue to mentor.

2. Bitter relationships left over.

1,560. Approximate number of life lessons learned.

Everything else can’t be broken down into numbers. I learned a lot last year–about myself, and about others. Were these the lessons I thought I would learn? Not even close.

At the beginning of the year, we wrote ourselves a letter detailing what we expected from the next twelve months.

It was a depressing letter because everything I wrote about had in fact, not happened. I wasn’t staying another year in AmeriCorps as I had assumed, the Boyfriend and I were not ready to be engaged (and still aren’t) and I’m still uncertain how much of an impact I had on the kids.

However, I did learn how to be professional, even if I’m brawling or bawling inside.

I did learn bucket loads about the systems here in the United States: the immigration system, the health care system, the education system.

I learned how to get over my fear of public speaking.

I learned how to network.

I learned how to quiet down a class of middle-schoolers and gain their (temporary) respect.

I learned how to make my hair look semi-professional on a regular basis.

I learned how to go to a 9-6 job every day, and make it there (mostly) on time.

I learned how to live with a boy.

I learned how to survive a commute and drive in the big city.

Most of all, I learned that life rarely follows a plan, and that it’s really hard to let go of the plan you wanted to have.

Although it’s cliche, John Lennon said it best: “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

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Chances


I heard an interview once, one of the few times I was (accidentally) listening to a sports interview with Kurt Warner, an NFL player. The interviewer asked him this:

“How did you go from bagging groceries and stocking shelves at a grocery store, to a Superbowl winning quarterback, and future Hall of Famer?”

And Kurt’s answer? This: “All I needed was for someone to give me an opportunity.”

That kind of sums up my life.

About three years ago, I hit rock bottom. The Boyfriend and I had called it quits, officially, and since all of my other friends had boyfriends at the time (The Bozeman Curse…nobody there ever seems to be single…unless you’re a guy) and the group of friends I’d usually hung out with had chosen sides in the “Divorce,” I had no social life. I lived basically alone in my apartment as my roommate was so busy, and I was not. I had no one to be accountable to buy myself.

I stopped going to class, stopped talking to most of my friends, and even though most of my professors honestly tried to give me another chance, I couldn’t find it in myself to care.

I gave up on school, failed out of most of my classes, and tried to move on from the Boyfriend by attaching myself to random boys I met at the few parties I attended.

That summer, I accepted a position as a Night Auditor in a tiny Montana town. I mean tiny–as in a gas station. And a bar. (Of course).

Instead of making new friends like I had imagined, (I was on an opposite schedule from everyone else) I slept in my little cabin all day and read all night at my job.

The thing is, I didn’t feel unhappy.

I went back to school the next fall, but it was disappointing, as I was supposed to spend that year in Turkey, studying abroad, but that plan had been stymied by my poor grades.

So that Spring, on impulse or some other feeling, I signed up for Spanish classes in Peru and used up my savings on that semester.

While it was an incredible, difficult experience, I came back to find that…nothing had changed. There, I learned the hardest lesson of all–you can’t escape your mistakes, no matter how far you go. Maybe if I had never come back, but that really wasn’t an option in my broke-and-desperately-homesick state.

I came back and eventually continued my studies. None of my professors had any faith left in me, and my University let me back in because that is the rule. I took a full load of classes against much advice, determined to finish that year after watching most of my friends graduate that previous May.

It was a long, hard year full of books and studying, all in a blur. But, I did it. I guess what I needed most at that time was for so few people to believe in me. I guess I needed that so I could prove myself–so I could prove all the nay-sayers wrong.

An interesting life philosophy, I know.

When I F.I.N.A.L.L.Y. graduated, all I wanted to do was travel more, and write. So I traveled to Southeast Asia and began applying to creative writing schools.

During the application process, I began to realize graduate school might be a far-fetched idea, with my grades. I recieved many an denial letter that immediately dismissed me due to my G.P.A.

Yet, this year, I applied again.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for punishment.

It did happen again–some programs immediately rejected me when they saw my G.P.A.

But all I needed–just like Mr. Warner in the quote above–was for one person to give me a chance, to give me an opportunity.

I guess this time, I really did need for a perfect stranger to believe in me.

That is one of the most important things I’ve learned this year: the value of chances.

Every single kid I work with might not have made it very far with the Colorado “I Have a Dream” Foundation. They still might not make it very far. But some will. Some will go so far they will be unrecognizable, except to people like me, who helped mentor them at at every step.

Sometimes, all we can do for these kids is give them one chance. And often, that’s all they need.

Sometimes it takes awhile to sink in, and sometimes it takes more than one chance.

But sometimes, all you need is one.

A New World

I’m not going to lie, sometimes my  job is so stressful I count down the hours until I can go home and sleep.

And then, there are the moments that make everything worth it. There are moments like with M and J, where you see a small shift in a child and hope it will seed in their brain and bloom later. These are the moments that make every moment of stress, every moment where I feel like I can’t do anything right (which is pretty much all the moments), every moment of planning-anxiety, every moment of let-down or heart-break, just worth it.

These moments happen every day, and they happen often on field trips. Often these are events I’ve always taken for granted–like going to see a ballet. I had several friends in the ballet growing up, and the Nutcracker was a holiday tradition. But when were able to procure tickets to see the Colorado Ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker, I realized what a treat it was for the girls we took to see it. One girl was so enthralled she told me she was “afraid to blink because she didn’t want to miss one thing.”

Today, we took 16 of our kids skiing/snowboarding at Keystone Resort. Skiing, as you know, is very much a hobby of the rich, and most of these kids have only been once or twice, through non-profits like ours. However, growing up in the fairly affluent town of Bozeman, I was lucky enough to both ski and snowboard regularly.

Dragging SIXTEEN middle-schoolers out of bed at 5 a.m. in the morning was not something I was looking forward too–and neither was dragging myself out of bed at 4 a.m.

I admit, I was grumpy on the ride up, sucking down my double-coffees and answering what seemed like inane questions from one particular boy, who also happens to be one of my unofficial favorites.

“Miss Amy, why is the rock that color?” (I don’t know anything about rocks. The best I could come up with was that the “lion-mane-colored rocks” were some sort of sandstone.)

“Miss Amy, are these the Rocky Mountains?”

“Miss Amy, is that mountain as tall as Mount Everest?”

“Why is it called Mount Everest instead of Mountain Everest?” (that was a fun one to explain.)

And so on down the line. When he finally asked me one question, I realized he was asking the endless questions because this was such a new and exciting experience for him: “Will we need oxygen tanks when we ski because it’s so high up?” (we had just finished discussing Everest and why his ears were popping in the altitude).

That’s when it hit me–not only has this kid had so little experience in the mountains, but that this upcoming ski experience was such an event for him that he wanted to soak up everything about it he could.

It helped suck the mundane out of my day, for sure.

And it was made all the better when this kid took up skiing like he was born to and talked about how it was his new favorite sport all the way home.

artistic, I know.

Sure, there were plenty of kids who whined, who fell, got yelled at for not listening to instructions, and one who even hit me so hard in the back rocketing down the hill that I couldn’t breathe for about ten minutes.

But that’s something else I need to remember–experiences that can seem dull and repetitive or not-special to me are a whole different ball game for these kids.  It pays to remember that when I’m annoyed because a certain kid won’t go home when program is over or after a field trip, it’s because home is miserable and this place is their sanctuary.

And even though I’m leaving at the end of this year and many of these kids may forget my name or even forget me and my co-workers may breathe a sigh of relief at my going, I will be forever grateful that I was part of creating a sanctuary for these kids.

Forever grateful that I simply had a place in creating a whole new world for this bunch of rambunctious, crazy, difficult, amazing kids.

And I’m pretty grateful for their part in making a whole new world for me, too.

INSPIRED.

So.

Sometimes, the kids drive me crazy. Sometimes, they hurt my soul. Sometimes, they flummox me so much my brain hurts.

And sometimes, they show me the way.

There is this one boy, a fairly newcomer to the Opportunity Center, who is always one of the highlights of my day. My boss mentioned how when he enters a room he just lights it up, and it’s true.

Several weeks ago, this boy, we’ll call him A., wrote a letter, out of nowhere, about Invisible Children.

A non-profit for a terrible situation that I had vaguely heard about, but really hadn’t looked into.

Then, I read A’s letter, and I felt the world shift a little under my feet. Here is a 12-year-old boy, a refugee from Africa himself, who is living in public housing with about a dozen other people in a tiny house, and HE is more concerned about this than I am.

And I claim to want to travel the world helping these folks.

So, now, I’m helping A find a way to help these people.

And you can too:

Just click here.

If A doesn’t inspire you, what will?

p.s. I know the video went viral today, but despite that, this is an important and real issue that A and other kids that I work with have firsthand knowledge of. I know it’s easy to scoff at the media and you should question before you give, but anything that draws attention to the plight of Africa is a good start.