Sunday, October 19, 2014

Roanoke takes on St. Paul, Virginia, for the weekend!

St. Paul, Virginia, October 2nd-5th

Four current students and one of the abRC student leaders ventured to St. Paul, Virginia last weekend to work with Grace House on the Mountain. Roanoke visits Grace House around three times each year. This trip was over a weekend, although the participants wished it had lasted longer. Grace House is an organization that coordinates volunteer groups to do home repair projects for individuals in need in the St. Paul, Coeburn, and Dante area of Southwest Virginia. Grace House at times also assists families with utility or water bills if an emergency. 

The Roanoke group was tasked with talking down a temporary metal ramp and building a desk for the side door of a house. The gentleman, Pharrell, who lives in the home recently had life threatening health issues so the ramp was put in place so he could get into the house. However, he is doing much better so the ramp is going to be reused for another home and the group built a permanent 8x8 deck.  The work project was planned for two days but the first day was raining so the group was creative and visited a local museum in the neighboring town Dante. Dante used to be a bustling coal-mining town but the coal factory left around 15 years ago. With the loss of the factory, the town also lost population since there was little work so the town currently looks like a ghost town. This has been a trend among many of the smaller towns in the area.

With a lot of hard work, determination, and laughter, the group was able to remove the ramp and build the deck all in the second day! Pharrell and his wife were very grateful to the group for the new deck. The group left the work project with new skills and a better understanding of real life problems racing many individuals living in rural Southwest Virginia. 

-Haley Toresdahl 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Day 5: 

Today, we woke up at a well-deserved late time. We split into two groups. The first group proceeded to a little woman, Ruth. The other group proceeded to a woman named Evelyn. A huge farm welcomed our group. There were 12 dogs, a herd of cows, two horses, a tribe of goats, 3 peacocks, a plethora of chickens, and even some turkeys. The electricity was out, so we started the service by playing with the animals and conversing with Ruth, Raina, and Daryl. Raina was talking about starting college for nursing. She was very enthusiastic about becoming a nurse, and Ruth wanted to make sure she was not going to meet a man and sacrifice her education. After talking with Ruth and playing with the animals, we proceeded to paint the ceiling. Although a few of us were a bit too vertically challenged for the task, we teamed together to paint the washroom and kitchen.

The other group repaired the back porch to a trailer where Evelyn lives. The porch was very worn and unstable so the group replaced the deck boards and installed a ramp for Evelyn to get into her house easier. She has suffered from multiple strokes, which left her disabled and in use of a wheelchair.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Day 4

Today was an eventful day spent mostly in the car. We woke up at the crack of dawn to clean EVERYTHING.  We all split to clean up the kitchen, bathroom, and eating area.  After 3 hours of cleaning, we loaded the vans to do some hardcore grocery shopping. We even had a surprise visit from the Chaplin Paul! He was even matching our very own Haley! Jesse also met up with us to supply the necessary funds. He ended up eating (well, stuffing our faces) with us at Dynasty International Buffet!

And thus, the journey begins…  We began on the interstate and then reached the mountain. Oh, the mountain. Narrow roads up a mountain, death drops, and to many “slight rights.” When we say slight right, we mean 180 degrees, UPWARD. Finally, we arrived at Grace House. The cabins are quaint and brand new. We were excited about the memory foam. It was like a pillow of heaven compared to the floor.

More to come in the morning about our first full day of service here in St. Paul. We apologize for not posting more often but the wireless has been very limited. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Day 1:

What a full day. After many fun icebreakers, we finally departed for the long (20 min) journey to SE Roanoke where we will stay until Monday. We were greeted by Tim from REACH who helped set up service for us and has been our go to “expert” on the SE neighborhood and social issues in Roanoke. We plunged right into service (haha get it?!) by helping serve pizza to around 60 inner city kids who are brought into the Salvation Army during the summer for programming. We were running short on pizza so Mollie and Caitlin came to the rescue by picking up more (a little too much which was perfect for a late night snack or breakfast). Later in the night we created a mission for the group and Haley and Mollie introduced what being an “active citizen” is all about. The group headed to bed pretty quick after being exhausted from lots of transitions all in a few hours.

Day 2:

Mollie began the day by turning on the light to the girl’s room to make sure everyone was up but many complaints were made. The first service we did was at the food pantry only 3 blocks from the Salvation Army where we are staying. The food pantry is only open for one hour beginning at 10:30 so even when we arrived at 8:30 a line was already beginning to form. The group helped organize the food donations in order to be ready for the clients to arrive. The food pantry works almost like shopping where the individuals go through the line and choose what they want. So, the group organized the various donations so that the line would go smoothly when the pantry opened. The group was eager to work and work alongside other volunteers at the pantry that morning. Each member of the group was assigned a box of food or section to supervisor and hand out when the pantry opened. This service gave the group an opportunity to see the individuals receiving the food and to also engage in conversation. We served around 100 individuals that morning.

After we ate our packed lunches we headed to a community garden that is being developed by the Roanoke Community Garden Association. Projects that were worked on by the group included building boxes for garden beds, digging a handicap accessible path to the water source, and leveling the pathway to garden plots. The group worked along with other volunteers from around the Roanoke area. The crew building the boxes for the garden beds struggled to put in the screws so they had to work together to figure out a method that was actually effective for screwing the wooden boards together. Mark, the director of the Garden Association, even admitted hard difficult the boards were so we know the group worked very hard! Mark also had pizza for volunteers from Benny’s downtown (the pizza is 28”) which he gave to our group when we left (the group will be pizzaed out by the end of the week from all the free pizza at work sites) so that was a happy end to the service day.

Day 3:

We started our morning a little earlier than yesterday to go to the rescue mission (the homeless shelter a few blocks from the Salvation Army) for breakfast. We had intended to go through the line with others; however, the kitchen was in need of help so they got some of the group to help work on the food line of the cafeteria. The rest of the group interacted with some of the locals.

Later in the morning the group was split into two. One group went with Bear and Alyssa to paint an addition in one of the Rebuilding Together Roanoke renovation houses. This group assisted them in priming/painting baseboards, door thresholds, and trim. Jenn, Sarah, Mollie, Cameron, and Taylor worked diligently while climbing over donated goods and children’s toys. Haley supervised the other group as they deconstructed bunk beds for REACH. When they were done, they went to meet up with the painters to see what they had been up to.

Next, everyone had lunch at the Salvation Army before going to help Alyssa organize the storage room at the Rebuilding Together office. The girls worked together to get an extremely long ladder on top of a high shelf while Wes moved wood from the storage room into a truck. Everyone then went to a nearby dumpster and helped move heavy lumber and cement from the truck to the dumpster. Due to the teamwork and support, we completed the tasks for Rebuilding Together in record time. Result of that? Much needed rest!

We all are enjoying ourselves thoroughly and everyone cannot wait for the next days to further grow and learn together.

 Talk to you soon! More pictures to come

Safe and sound,
Haley, Mollie and Plungers

Friday, March 8, 2013

Day 8: So Begins the Withdrawal

Day 8: It's Over / It's Not Over

Quote of the Day
"Dammit, who took my breathing machine?! Idiots."
- Hank Highfill

The whole groups (sans CSCHabitat staff)

First, happy birthday to Habitat-er Rachel Glick! This was her first trip with RC Habitat, and we hoped she loved it as much as we did.

Second, today marked our return to the Roanoke campus. We left the camp at 7:00 (okay, 7:05, but that's only because I firmly believe in showering and thereby not smelling like crap before traveling), drove a few hours, hit up McDonald's for breakfast*, and then drove the remainder of the way. We were back on campus by 1:00.
* As our future Habitat trips are being planned, I insist that every tradition remain the same except our McDonald's breakfasts and Wendy's lunches. Every time, we have them. And usually they're not... good. (Especially after a week of delicious food.)

And so ends our spring break Habitat trip. The pictures are slowly making their way to Facebook. Liesl has shared a small sampling of hilarious quotes from the week (also on Facebook). Those of us that save our nametags have added them to our wall-bound collections (including, for me at least, an honorary "Thingamadoohikey" tag that stands for the nametag theme that we never used). Showers have (hopefully) been taken (though that darn concrete is still not coming off). Laundry is being washed and stripped of the smells of sweat and sawdust.

As the physical reminders of this week get brushed to the side, it's important not to forget the real reason behind what we do. While we were returning today, the house that Roanoke College sponsored for our fall break build as well as its neighboring house which we also worked on were dedicated. They're now in the hands of their homeowners, the adorable Andrise and Sheila. We all wish we could've been there (though with the amount of tears that have been shed this trip, I don't know if our tear ducts could've handled it). This makes for a wonderful reminder of the real reasoning behind Habitat: to provide housing, community, and hope for those in need. We didn't physically build a house this trip, but I hope we all remember that we've been a part of this mission. Andrise and Sheila are living proof of that.

And so begins the Habitat withdrawal.

But before we go about the business of everyday life, some things to remember:
  • In 14 days, on March 23rd, the R-House from orientation 2012 will be dedicated.
  • In approx. 168 days, in late August, we will begin construction on our eighth R-House.
  • In 217 days, in mid-October, fall break hits again. (Columbia, beware.)
 (If anyone would like to officially keep the countdown for number of days until these begin, let me know. Usually I would but I'll be spending 70some-odd of those days in Zambia and would likely lose count. Alas.)

Thank you, once again, to our CSCHabitat family for a wonderful week.

Andrew Dittmar
RC Serve blogger
[Mollie took tonight off, too, but she still sends her love.]

P.S. This will be the last blog post in here for awhile, but if you're still interested in reading my musings, I operate another blog which I would gladly share with you if you ask. :)

Bloggers & friends (R-L): Andrew Dittmar, Katie Larrivee, Mollie Gleason, Haley Toresdahl

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Day 7: It's About People

Day 7: It's About People

Quotes of the Day
"Farts & Freckles: That should be a poem!"
- Kashif Malik

"Why are those old men taking our shirts...?"
- Haley Toresdahl

"Nicotine grabs you by the balls!"
- Jennifer Henrickson
 (she doesn't want credit for that)

Today's blog post is going to run a little bit differently, because as it's the last day of work, it's also the day I become the most personally reflective.

Today began a little bit later than usual (Steve, Matt, and Talisha met at Rockgate around 7:30, which... urghdglzgkjskgllksjfk), so by the time we reached our worksite it was about 10:30. For the second day in a row, our sights were on the rehabilitation of a home for a handicapped WWII widow. We were tagging along on a project that was being headed by a coalition of military men (who, quite frankly, were in a little over their heads).

A lot can (and has) been said about the organization of this site, but, honestly, everything we did over the last two days was a series of guesses-and-checks on basically everyone's end. 

Due to an underestimated amount of concrete being delivered to work on the driveway, we started off our morning by trying to pad the remaining sections of driveway pre-concrete with dirt. (The goal was for the concrete to run about 3.5-4 inches deep. At different points, to keep the drive level, we would have needed somewhere in the vicinity of 8 inches.) We anticipated a concrete delivery around 11, so we tried to high-tail some dirt in those crevices ASAP.


11:30 rolled around. Nothing.

We called the delivery place.

Turns out they were planning on 12:30 arrival? Miscommunication on many ends here.

To pass the time, a bunch of sod had been delivered to lay out the yard, so we started on that. Sod became a drifting project - when we had nothing to do, we drifted toward the sod.

Also during this time, Jill discovered a rope swing in a tree in the center of the driveway. (The driveway is circular, with a small island in the middle.) She attempted to climb the tree but ultimately it was Nathan that pulled the rope down. That rope led to literally hours of enjoyment - spinning, seeing how close we could get to the tree without crashing, going higher and higher, trying not the break the [somewhat sketchy] branch it was hanging from. By the end of the day, just about everyone (including Rev. Paul's wife Jen) had had a turn.

For lunch today, we had hotdogs and (for some reason) Bojangles' biscuits. Virginia Commonwealth came to the site to join us, where they remained for the remainder of the day. (They spent their morning painting with Talisha. After lunch, Talisha took a small group of RoCo-ers back to touch up and clean up.)

Okay, so the concrete finally arrived at around 1:30. And while we weren't quite a well-oiled machine, I think the combined efforts of RoCo-ers and some of the bolder VCU-ers made solid work. Our first concrete truck carried enough to cover all but about a quarter of the remaining space (our dirt cover-up worked surprisingly well to maximize the yards of concrete). A little later, a second truck arrived to deliver the rest of the concrete. Enough was left to pave the the sidewalk leading to the house.

For the record, concrete hurts. I fell in it, cut my knee on the rocks it contains, and then got a stinging sensation that hasn't yet subsided. Concrete isn't that hard, but it can be painful if not done properly. Love, someone learning the hard way.

We closed up shop at around 4:30, and said our goodbyes to Matt and Steve. As they said, they'll be there at R-House whether or not they're invited. (Goodbye is always difficult, but it never means for very long.)

Two minutes after departing the site, Hank's van realized he had rolled over a screw and had a flight tire. CALL IN THE EL DIABLO TEAM! The gentlemen who were forced to give up on the dilapidated old truck were able to show their true capabilities by rescuing Hank's van and changing the tire. As a result: All missions for the week? Complete.

After dinner at the camp, we all gathered around for a Habitat tradition: toasts. We all sit around and toast one another. Each person is assigned a toastee (based on random selection) in the morning and toasts them that evening. Everyone gets a chance, and then we all get the opportunity to toast each other open season. Tonight's toasts included: multiple poems, a song, some awkward stories, a really bad craft project, and a whole slew of gratitude and love towards each other. There were some wonderful toasts. And sitting around the toasting tables is always an awesome way to remember your own personal worth as a part of this team, this family, the family that is RC Habitat.

Paul was the undisputed center of toasting: for his various involvements in all of our lives, for the number of times he's ventured with students with Habitat, for the way he takes us all under his wing, meets us where we are, and helps us move along. And then he spoke. He spoke about how, for him, it's all about people. It's not about personal gratification, it's about trying to connect with people. And we are all his people - Habitat is just how he's connecting with us.

Now, I'm not good at public speaking, particularly when it comes to something so personal and poignant as this. So here's me trying to write something down. (For the record, there is absolutely no lip-service here. This is truth. All of it.)

There is a marker board in my dorm that sits right about my bed. In the beginning, it was to be used as a weekly planner. That plan blew up in my face, because, the more I realized it, the more I realized that my own anal-retentive over-planning was causing me to lose sight of bigger pictures. So I scrapped the big marker planning board and instead put two big questions on the board:

1. Why are you here?
2. Who are you heroes? Why?

If you don't know me all that well, you should know that I've struggled with that first question a lot. I'm still not sure what I'm majoring in, let alone sure in what I want to do with my life. The way I see my life is basically as a giant question mark. And that seriously scares the crap out of me.... but enough of that.

I use that second one as a gauge. Who do I look up to? Why do I look up to them? I listed them on the board. Whose on this list? Well, my parents, a few of my high school teachers, one pastor I encountered... all of those have had their moments where I laid out and shared exactly what they mean to me. And then there's a handful of others, who I guess are going to get my first attempt at laying out exactly what they've meant to me to end up on that list.

Matt & Steve: I've mentioned earlier in the week that, in our Habitat family, Matt is the cool older brother and Steve is the father. I use those terms because, in my own head, that's how I think of them: Matt as an older brother and Steve as a second father. These two are some of the best examples of how to turn a skill into a passion, and use that passion to change people's lives. They have this remarkable zest for what they do and the people they encounter. I'm nowhere near the most technically skilled RC Habitat-er, nor am I the most dynamic personality of our group. And yet, whenever I'm here, I feel like I belong here. Matt and Steve go out of their ways to make sure that we get the best experience we can, and in doing so, I always feel like there is a place for me here. And the zest they have for what they do is so infectious. Before my first Habitat trip, I didn't think of construction as a way to make dreams come true. And yet, when you work side-by-side with these men and hear their stories - the people who have never been able to have something to call home who get just that - it's an amazing feeling to know that, for even just a week, we're apart of these dreams. And however much hoopla we give ourselves about what we do, we're really just the supporting act for these two. They exemplify what servant leadership is through what they do every day. 

And on a completely different level, their zest for people continues when they work with us. Steve is unarguably one of the youngest fifty-five-year-olds I've ever met, and between him and Matt, we play games, tell jokes, make blatant fun of one another (all in good fun), and basically turn a construction site into a glorified playground. Matt and Steve have helped me redefine exactly what how I view what it is to be a man. It's not about who you are; it's about what you make of the world around you. It's not about sacrificing fun, it's about making what you do your passion, and making your passion what you love doing. In a college environment, I think we get these static views about what exactly is the definition of success. When I'm around Matt and Steve, I see success as be able to utilize your passions to make a difference in people's lives.

It's amazing to think that, if we speak in terms of numbers, I've known Matt and Steve for...five weeks. That's the amount of time I've spent on worksites with the two of them. And yet, when I think of them, I think of a whole lifetime's worth of lessons that I feel privileged to be able to experience. I'm so blessed to count these two as friends (or, if we get more specific, as an older brother and a second father). 

And that's why they're listed on my marker board under "My Heroes".

...and the rest of  my Habitat family: It's pretty typical, I think, to say how much you love your friends, but on a Habitat trip, friendship goes so much deeper. And I'm not going to limit this to the people on this trip (because, honestly, I didn't know half of the people here when I wrote that marker board). But to Aaron, Brandon, Brendan, Bridget, Dasha, Dylan, Elizabeth, Emily, Haley, Jill, Kadie, Kashif, Katie, Kelsey, Laura, Liesl, Marc, Mollie, Nathan, Phillip, Rachel, Roxanne, Sam, Sarah, Shannon, and Ted, who all made this trip the personality fest that it was, I'm so thankful to have been here with you. To Marc, specifically, as the only senior whose said goodbye this trip, you really are a "Beast"-ly bad-ass. I wish you nothing but the best. To Brendan and Katie, six trips in a row with no end in sight - I'm so glad to have had you two with me every step of the way. To Hank (who was described by his toast-er tonight as "bad-ass") and Jen (Mama Habitat), who bore the impossible task of accompanying us on this trip, I'm so glad I've been able to get to know you. To Talisha and Emily, I'm pretty sure you guys are the glue that holds CSCHabitat together and help to make every trip go successfully. (Talisha, you were one of the first people I met at Roanoke and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that, without you, I don't think I would've been exposed to any of this and I'm so glad you're sticking with service.) And to those I've been able to share time with on past trips - people like Talisha, Jennie, Alyssa, Tim, Kayla, Ryan, Daniel, Charlie, Kelli, Kris, Amanda, Danielle, Graham, Kim, Kaitlin, Sarah... this list continues for awhile - you all have been integral in making every part of my Habitat journey thus far what it has been.

I'm blessed to call those in my Habitat family some of my closest friends, and I'm so grateful to have shared these experiences with them.

And that's why they're listed on my marker board under "My Heroes".

and last but most certainly not least...  
Rev. Paul: (I never actually call him that, so from here on out, he's Paul.) I'm not going to lie and try and eloquently sum up the effect that Paul has had on my experience at Roanoke College, so instead, here is some random sputterings that I'm probably going to need all of his last two months to try and put together into something coherent: Paul is unarguably one of the most genuine people that I've ever met. He's willing to share so much of himself with you, regardless of how well he knows you, or frankly how much you're willing to receive him. He'll make fun of you and laugh with you but he's not scared to ask the hard questions, the ones that challenge you and make you think about what you stand for and why you stand for it.

I wouldn't hesitate to say that Paul knows me better than I know myself sometimes. One of his weekly programs is called Discernment Group (or D-Group) and the purpose is trying to decipher your God-given call from what you plan to do with your life. (As someone who doesn't know what he's doing with his life... well, I need this.) Paul asks the tough questions - from "Why are you here?" and "When are you most alive?" to "How would you rate your faithfulness?" These aren't simple questions. And yet, whenever he asks me these, I know he's got a response to them in mind. Sometimes I have to think about what he tells me. And yet I think he's basically always right. (That last question, about rating your faithfulness, sticks out in my mind specifically.) In a certain sense, Paul can hit nerves like no one else I know. But however uncomfortable those nerves might be, it's like a shot: you need it, even if you don't want it.

Paul's key focus, like he said tonight, is people. It doesn't matter how well he knows you, he'll still high-five you. It doesn't matter how much you adhere to religious life, he still wants to know you. And he reaches out in so many ways. One of these ways has been Habitat.

I've encountered Paul on many lines - everything from funerals to meals to to ATV riding to Bible study programs three times a week to skeet shooting to canoeing. My experiences with him have been a mixed bag of lifetime experience. And regardless, he's a rock. He stands firm. He never loses his personality. And he'll never say no because something sounds impossible. He really is a rock, to me, and to everyone else that comes into contact with him.

I know a lot of us are still looking for the silver lining in regards to his impending retirement. But all I can say is that I'm blessed to call him friend, and I'm blessed to have had him as an instrumental part of my college experience. I also fully intend on borderline-stalking his house next year. (That sounds creepier than I mean.)

And that's why he's listed on my marker board under "My Heroes".

I really don't know how else to end this blog, other than be reiterating one thing: I'm blessed. I'm blessed to have been here. I'm blessed to have known these people. I'm blessed to have encountered all of these people in a matter of a week. And I'm blessed that I still have two more years of trips and experiences and memories to make. (Because all y'all be assured - if we have to pile everyone in my two-door Ford Focus and camp next to the road, we WILL be here for fall break.)

So, until next time, thank you Central South Carolina Habitat for an amazing experience, from all of us at Roanoke.

Andrew Dittmar

RC Serve blogger
[Mollie took the night off. She sends her love, too.]