Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pink Painted Skies and the End of Round One

my team, green 7 at agua caliente park with our sponsors

Green 7 seized the moment.

Agua Caliente park is the only place I can count how many shooting stars I see in one night, spot Jupiter, and lay under the huge Milky Way every night. I'd never camped before and now I am sleeping outside, under the stars, among coyotes, scorpions, quails and bobcats.

Green 7 built memories.

Although, our projects at Camp Stevens and baking Christmas cookies in the Shelter Valley community were a blast the general consensus of our favorite independent service project thus far has been volunteering with 20 others on Thanksgiving at the Julian Town Hall, feeding 420 senior citizens, lower class and tourists who arrived with hungry bellies for a fresh cooked meal.

green 7 in julian, ca feeding the hungry on thanksgiving

By working and laughing together the team came a long way as a community of their own. I couldn't have asked for a better first project.

myself and lindsey laugh while we rock- line a hot springs stream

Green 7 built communication and leadership skills.

While planting over 100 palm trees and cacti, removing 750 pounds of invasive species, excavating 3,500 pounds of sand for soil erosion control, using the sand for trail work, rock-lining trail and streams, building horse corrals and clearing hiking trails, Green 7 learned the urgency of finishing projects in a short amount of time. Because we did so well at Agua Caliente, no other teams are needed this year!

kayla and jenna building horse corrals

myself, helping to extend a trail

It can be frustrating being within arms reach of ten other people at all times but I learned to love. Personally, I wasn't sure if I could endure 6 weeks of camping in the desert but it is funny how quickly my comfort level adjusted after just 5 days out in the dust bowl. The scenery is phenomenal in the Anza Borrego, whether it be sunrise, mid-day, or my favorite, sunset.

me, shauna and the beautiful pink sunset after a long day of service

Despite my crazy dreams of vacuuming it, I never thought I would sleep so well, in a tent, in the desert. I'm saddened to leave San Diego County but I leaving my footprints in the deep desert sands of Anza Borrego.

at camp stevens

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Half Moon, Half Full

It's nights like these when I can hear the frogs belching, feel the redness on my cheeks from the brisk breeze, and watch the half moon rest on it's back in the sky; Knowing I've only got two more nights in somewhere so beautiful that I'm reminded to ask myself, is my cup half empty, or half full?

My cup has always been half full.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

We Are All Right Where We Belong

I am right where I belong. It's the truest statement. I wrote it on the white board on the fridge as a motivation for the team. I'm really happy hear and I hope that can inspire people. With only 9 more days in the desert, I can actually say, I'm going to miss it here. I want to know where we are going next but I want to finish this project strong.

my team, green 7 high atop the anza borrego desert

I talk about Meme a lot but I'm sure she is enjoying watching what my team is accomplishing from above. I spoke about her to the team on Thanksgiving which started a sharing circle. It's nice that she has inspired my teammates in different ways during this first project. They even dedicated the project portfolio to her!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I Want To Be A Peregrine Falcon

The birds were incredible today! I've never been that close to a bald eagle before! The hawks were awesome and after watching the documentary, I want to be a peregrine falcon in my next life, just saying'.

After our tour of all the birds, we painted birds cages and did some landscaping. It was nice to escape the desert for a day, stand under some trees that tower over me.

simeon paints bird cage

The team had some great laughs on the ride home, you should hear Shauna belt out some Green Day! Who knew?! We the team dynamic is high, it's high. When it's low, it's low.

However, I am feeling more and more comfortable here as the days go on! It's beautiful! I enjoy doing physical training to the sound of howling coyotes, I'm learning the curves of the road, I'm still looking for that damn bobcat and  I actually said the words, "I can't wait to slip into my sleeping bag tonight and zip up my tent," the other day!

team physical training: 5am

Friday, November 18, 2011

Stone Hedge

The wind is so intense tonight. It's almost as if the team is standing around our tent trying to shake Simeon and myself out. In a way, the flapping tent is somewhat soothing.

Earlier, some of us sat outside and watched the RV's pull in for the weekend. Then we sat around the fire to listen to Michael read aloud and eat fire roasted skewered marshmallows, yellow peppers and garlic bread.

We have an Independent Service Project coming up on Thanksgiving to serve dinner at Town Hall in Julian, California and I am stoked to see the birds at our Birds Of Prey service project tomorrow!

We have physically been overexerting ourselves and verbally working out frustrations on team dynamics. It seems like the team deconstructed itself a few nights ago instead of building a little community. Next week, we'll probably be digging through the same ruble trying to reconstruct the mysterious pyramids built by Green Team 7.

Somehow, we always end up standing at the foot of Stone Hedge, confused of how it got there but taking our steps in stride. We come out strong.

The longest 10 months of my life is well underway.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Italian Ice

Two words: Italian Ice.

It's the little things that I spent all week long thinking about in the desert heat that got me through our first work week. As the end of our first week of service in the desert ends, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited that there are only five more left. I'm pushing myself really far and am proud of my own hard work.

While I wear holes in my gloves by digging dirt, I can't help but think ahead about my post AmeriCorps NCCC plans but the simple thoughts are what got through week 1. Thoughts of italian ice.

I've been dreaming about my parents, their house, places in my home town and most importantly, my Grandmother lately. Meme was alway such a huge part of my life and it scares me to realize that she won't be there when I get back. 

In the dream I had last night of her, it was as if she never left however I knew that wasn't the case in reality. It hurt to see her, I looked away and I sobbed into someone's arms. I sobbed in my dream and I'm sure I was talking in my sleep.

I've finally begun to grieve in my sleep since I've hardly had time to grieve when I'm awake during the past two months!

Lately, I've been digging out hundreds of pounds of dirt for erosion control. I'm heaving wheelbarrows for five straight hours. I'm lugging logs across sandy lots to the log splitter to make firewood. I'm hacking away tall reeds of marshland grasses with axes, polanskis and mcclouds.

I know my guardian angels are proud of me.

i was proud of me when i climbed this rock wall camp mendocino 

Earlier this evening, I sat in the recreation room as my team mates caused chaos around me. I sat at my computer and put in my ear buds to block out not only Michael talking to himself but Kayla and Lindsey giggling in the corner, Nick, Shauna and Akina singing Disney theme songs and Britt and Jenna right outside the door cooking dinner.

I could block all of it out except the smell of dinner. Spicy chicken, parmesan couscous with onions & peppers and the mixed carrots, beans, zucchinis and squash lay roasting on the grill.

As my mouth salivated and the volume level rose, my team leader Cydne sit on a folding chair in the middle of the room, hunched over, sleeping mask on, ear buds in, legs up on the table… passed out cold.

Yeah, this is my team. This is my life. Simeon has the right idea of walking down to the wi-fi internet connection.

Now, as I lay in my tent, thoroughly enjoying my surprise cup of lemon italian ice, I listen to the owl that I finally spotted earlier, hoot in the distance.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


As I write this, I'm trying out a new location to write from. It's 8:30pm and while the team is in the hot springs, I'm in my tent. I can tell I'm getting comfortable with my surroundings because I'm sleeping without socks tonight. I'm listening to the coyotes in the near distance, call to one another from across the sands. They sound smaller and younger than the packs I've heard in Vermont from my Aunt's porch.

I'm nervous that there are scorpions hibernating under each of our tents since the rain fell.

A roadrunner, the first I've ever seen, followed me around the work site with a family of wild rabbits. I still need a name for my new road running friend. I tried to catch him (and I say "him" because I saw his little pecker… okay, bad bird joke) but my teammate, Nick reminded me of Wild E Coyote's unsuccessful attempts. 

The bobcats are cool to spot but mountain lions scare me. Ranger Mark says that they are always watching.

We have a fire pit and a propane grill to cook on. We eat a lot of granola, snack bars, trail mix and lately, chocolate covered coffee beans! We only make things that we can cook on the grill, like the quesadillas, burgers and dogs and tonight we made a really good chili. One big pot thrown right on the grill. We want to start using the fire pit soon!

Today, my team split up into  a couple groups and worked on different projects. By doing so, we all maintained a positive attitude, the day flew by and we got the perfect amount of work done. I planted 30 cacti and 1 tree! When you're digging cactus holes all day, you have a lot of time to think. We've got about 10 or more trees to plant tomorrow and already started digging massive holes for them to dwell. Another day of pulling thorns out of my hands and body lies ahead.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Steel Toed Boots

     First day of work. Lots of thorns. We planted 30 or so cacti today, pruned thorny desert shrubs and pulled desert mistletoe out of mesquite trees.

     The days are warm, the nights are cold and windy as hell!

     If I'm not use to these steel toed boots by the end of 6 weeks, they may end up being the death of me.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lemon Honey, Hot Springs and Coyotes

     I'm just sipping on some lemon honey tea. The drive here was so long. Two days of being crammed in the van. Thank god my team rides in the van together well. Most of us just sleep until we get our second wind. My teammate, Lindsey is my favorite "safety," the person who rides shot gun in the 15 passenger van. Even though we never know where the hell we're going, we are both from the same area in MA so we chat about our favorite restaurants and laugh about the concerts we've been to.

     It rained our first night at camp Agua Caliente. It was a relatively quick storm and made the desert smell like licorice. I went to bed while the rest of the team went to the hot springs.

     The hot springs, by the way, are two out door pools and an indoor 30 person jacuzzi. All three are "naturally fed" by the natural hot springs but are all chlorinated. I find the natural hot springs intriguing but I'm not a huge fan of jacuzzis. Its a bit too much like a human stew. Supposedly though, the showers we use in the pool room are naturally fed by the springs too! 

     On our day off yesterday, we went into town early for errands and didn't get back until 10pm. Some of the girls went straight to bed but most of us stayed up around the camp fire and told scary real life stories. A few of my teammates have been sleeping outside by the fire. I however, will not be doing that. We heard the coyotes around 4am this morning in the near distance.

our tents

     I just can't wait to start working tomorrow! Dad told me to take it day by day. I'll soon acclimate and feel more comfortable living in the desert. It's great that we have the recreation room to use for storage, hangout and a kitchenette! We got a propane grill tonight too. I think we're trying to make quesadillas. 

     My Team Leader, Cydne praised me for my positive attitude and leadership role today. She encouraged me to become a team leader.

     I hear we're weeding around pools and planting cactus tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Deep, Desert Sands of Agua Caliente

Excerpt from Green 7 press release…

  A newly formed AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) team are serving in Anza Borrego Desert's Agua Caliente campgrounds, enhancing San Diego County's Department of Parks and Recreation by preserving the desert's mineral hot springs and natural and cultural resources. The team assist the community of Agua Caliente and it's surrounding campgrounds by increasing resources to maintain and enhance the quality of life that provides protection for the regionally important natural hot springs and the deep, desert sand lands of the Anza Borrego desert.

The team removes invasive vegetation around the mineral pools into which the Park's hot springs feed. The Corps Members duties also include brush, branch and dead tree removal, erosion control, cleaning drainage areas, installing horse corrals, realigning rocks and grading campgrounds sites around Agua Caliente. Furthermore, they have been removing mistletoe that suffocates Mesquite Trees in nearby Camp Vallencito. The team assists the community of Agua Caliente and it's surrounds campgrounds by increasing resources to maintain and enhance the quality of life that provides protection for the regionally important natural hot springs and the deep, desert sand lands of the Anza Borrego desert.

Lindsey Roland, a Corps Member, expresses her enthusiasm for Round One by saying, "I am excited to experience desert life, day in and day out for our six weeks in Anza Borrego. Also, I'm excited to learn about the various tasks it takes to run a park successfully and thirdly, I am most eager to see our team in action!"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


     It's only day 12 in Sacrament and I feel like I've been here for about three months already! I've been averaging 6.5 hours of sleep a night, which is not enough and each day I've been here feels like the longest day of my life.

     The Corps Members have a lot of trainings. CPR, First Aide, Natural Disaster, Save The Children, Driver's Ed, American Red Cross Shelter, Seminars, games, team building, team meetings or team whatever. I love it, I hate it. I'm learning, I'm living. I'm serving and hopefully I leave this program a better version of myself. What an experience.

     I'm going to the Red Woods for 4 day's of team building at Camp Mendocino with all 7 teams in my unit. My team is so diverse. Half of us are gay, one girl is from Jamaica, another is from the Virgin Islands and we all have short fuses.

my team, akina, nick, michael, shauna, me, jenna, lindsey, simeon, kayla and britt

     Living with 11 other people will bare it's challenges but living with 300 other people on campus is interesting, for sure! Though I have met amazing people who have the same passions as I do. The first three days were crucial for meeting people and I went in there as open and raw as I could be. Some new friends and I have explored downtown Sacramento, and ate at some really good restaurants!

some close freinds, cody, elise, nina, me and elaine

     Yesterday was our first community project. My team served at the oldest and biggest cemetery in town! We did a lot of fall cleaning landscaping. I was all up in 2 rose bushes, pruning away. I'm totally sliced up from thorns. Still have thorns in my sweatshirt. But getting away from campus felt great and it was amazing to get things done for my new community.

rose garden cemetery

Friday, September 30, 2011

Georgia, You Know That You've Been On My Mind...

       Before I left Asheville, North Carolina, Rachael took me to her favorite coffee bar, "The Dripolator." We sat on the bench outside the shoppe and chatted before she had to go to work.  I would love to spend more time in Asheville at some point to be able to soak up more of it's culture. The people in town seemed diverse and laid back and the surrounding mountains towered.

I checked my oil, filled my gas tank and I crossed the border into South Carolina. The Carolinas are truly beautiful. I learned that the Blue Ridge Mountains run for hundreds of miles along the ridge of the Appalachian Mountain Range from North Carolina to Virginia, from the Smokey Mountains Park to Shenandoah Park. I've been to the Blue Ridge Mountains years ago when I visited Greenville, South Carolina with my Aunt and cousins and will have to revisit those photos.

South Carolina smelled of wild woods, unless that was just the dump truck full of bark mulch in front of me. On the wings of flight, I saw a mother hawk teach her young'ins how to soar over the highway and into the trees and back out to find food. Food sounded like a good idea and I saw a sign for Chick-Fil-A, a fast food restaurant I had never been to but have only heard good things. I figured I'd give it a shot as fast-food is the cheapest way to eat, when crossing the country. My cousin, Chelsea and I  ate at Dairy Queens across the nation as the DQ in my neck of the woods only sells ice-cream. This time, at Chick-Fil-A, I tried Deluxe Chicken Sandwich with waffle fries. I'm no longer a virgin to their meals and it was a heavenly "first time." However, their lemonade was not nearly as good as the limonada in Juarez, Mexico.

Welcome to the cult.

I also saw my first Palm Trees of my travels in South Carolina.

I hugged the border of Georgia and tried to gaze through the clusters of tall, skinny trees that separated the highway. After an eight hour drive, I arrived in Bluffton, South Carolina at my friend Angela's gorgeous apartment that she has been building bookcases for in each room. I met her neighbor Mary, originally from Chicago, who let me in and left the key for me, since Angela was moving the rest of her belongings from New York City to the South. I fed and watered her blind bunny, Greta and later on that night gave her, her eye drops. Greta was an angel.

Deciding to take the drive into Georgia for a quick visit, I past Coosawhatchie, SC. A town? River? Both? Either way, I neared Savannah, Georgia where restaurants with names like "Chicken Lickin'" existed. In the tall grasses, the clicks and chitters of Southern bugs grew louder into the evening and I kept thinking it was my car making funny noises.

This is the Eugene Talmadge Bridge, that crosses over the Savannah River into Savannah, Georgia. The state line is midway across.

Savannah, Georgia!

It was so nice getting into Bluffton, South Carolina early to have the time to go explore Savannah, Georgia for an hour or so. I've waited my whole life to see Georgian trees. Tall, ancient looking, sturdy and covered with moss that hangs from each branch. A cluster of these trees make any town quaint.

        And Check out what you can actually buy in a store down South! Due to it's racial innuendoes, you don't find this in very many stores up North. However, it remains a classic Disney period piece, for sure!

         "Zippity-doo-dah! Zippity-day! My, oh my, what a wonderful day!"

       One quarter in the parking meter gave me almost a full hour to walk around downtown and head down to The Port Of Savannah Georgia. I saw City Hall, The Cotton Exchange, Savannah Tours and Russ Russ even made a friend along the way!

City Hall.

The Cotton Exchange.

Going down to the water.

Georgia Queen River Boat and the Eugene Talmadge Bridge in the background.

Along the Port Of Savannah.

        It has been a few years since I have seen Angela and boy, how I have missed her. I'm grateful that I was able to stay in her clean abode, relax a bit while listening to the new Indigo Girls album, Beauty Queen Sister, streaming online before it's release date of October 4th! I even contemplated a bath. I wish I could have stuck around a little longer to see Angela, though! I would have helped her move her large furniture, much like I had done for cousin Tom and Danielle right before I left Massachusetts but onward I must go.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hey, Virginia!

        I packed my car with family and friends and they saw me off as I started my journey. Jersey bound. I'm taking the long way to California to see all the land I can and to meet up with life long friends along the way. I'm enriching and acclimating myself before I start my ten month long service commitment with AmeriCorps. A panda sat in the window and counted the trees that past. The sunset over Hartford, Connecticut shined it's erie light over the highway, tinting my skin a pinkish hue.

Capturing life goes the distance as mystique darkness crawled across New York City. I searched for Lady Liberty who stood tall watching over her inhabitants, looking towards the sky for a sign. Ten years later, yet I can't tell if she is filled with hope or filled with fear. Atop the George Washington Bridge, the Hudson River breathed it's muggy fish breath in my face but suddenly, Jersey strangely but welcomely smelled like some sort of a popcorn festival.

Steam billowed from tall buildings and airplanes took off from Newark, New Jersey over the city lights. In Linden, darkness had fallen. Heads rested on shoulders and hands were held during a stroll down a lover's lane. It's always a slow crawl through Roselle, New Jersey but I got to "Aunt" Pat's with no problems.

Rocky and Patch always crave extra love and it's always easy to spoil the "dog-people."

After a night's rest, "Aunt" Pat made me a Jersey treat: an egg, cheese and pork roll breakfast sandwich.

Now ready for day two, I sipped my Red Bull and smiled back at the phantom toll booth lady, bearing black skin, a nose piercing and dreadlocks. Cinnamon stains on the Jersey Turnpike. Delaware came and went with red flashes and outside Baltimore, Maryland, a disgruntle customer caused a commotion at the gas station. The silver springs in my car bounced to a happy country tune in the perfect 85 degree weather. Puffy clouds and blue sky hovered over Fairfax, Virginia. I drove and drove and drove. Who knew Virginia was so huge?! Orange sheet metal rolls up the front lawn and I pull off the highway in Marshal, Virginia to gas-up at the La Palmita station across the street from this Marshal Methodist Church.

Cattle to the left and sheep to the right. Farmlands. Black sheep, white sheep. I thought about what it feels like to stick out like a black sheep. I found them inspiring. More farmlands. I drove through Virginia and thought,  she's got a lot to offer… if you're a farmer.

The day turned to pre-dusk and I nodded a thought at a rest stop but I gained my second wind from the beauty of Shenandoah. Endless caverns. Acres and acres of nature.

I heard my first Southern accent at a Citgo that night and couldn't help but wonder what the Southland was like in the Autumntime. Soon enough. I got my third wind by the time I passed the exit for Virginia Tech and finally, after hours and hours, I crossed the State Line. I thought she'd never end, Virginia.

Tennessee however, brought rain. He brought lightening to my left and darkness to my right. I could smell wet hay and freshly cut grass. Darkened, starless skies feel like empty arms and white knuckles.

I drove into North Carolina in the dark, surrounded by tall, black shadows the whole way into Asheville. Mountains. Mountains I hadn't seen before. Mountains I still haven't seen… in daylight. It took me twelve hours that day to get to Rachael in Asheville, North Carolina but I made it and still had energy to catch up on our busy summers and learn Asheville has the best beer in the country.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Your Tree

Your Tree

A friend once told me that possibly, for every one person,
there is a tree.
A tree that grew with you,
not against you.
Existence throws tiny veiny leaves,
swirling and pushing and pulling.
But this one tree,
is you.
Burly and Brawny.
It grows with you,
by which she meant,
with every day, every triumph, or gain
-     a twig would sprout
and for every loss, or tribune
     -     a branch would evolve
for every discovery and rebirth
-     a leaf would bloom
and with the dealt of death,
that leaf would fall.
But with every grain of soil that stirs
and for every cloud of dust that forms and sticks to the bark, shows
youve done it.
Lived it.
Been there.
Limbs may grow old,
stuck frozen in time,
upon mid-descent.
Hurricane winds may be determined and fierce,
striping blossoms from vines,
splitting dried branches from the trunk,
dropping their heavy baggage onto our ground,
onto what ever lies below.
 But be strong,
Your Tree will stand.
She added,
Even though youll never see it, your tree is out there,
for someone else to notice and gain inspiration from.
Some people believe in guardian angels,
She believed in trees.
When she is gone…
Her tree will die.
When I am gone…
My tree will die.
But when we live…
We must be strong.
Like trees.

Colin Progen 2004/2011

          It always amazes me how long winter on the East Coast can last. The harsh cold surrounds the snow up until the bitter end. Then I spend all of April preparing for Spring (and my birthday) and once May comes, I’m ready for the beach. However, my Tiger Lilies come and my Tiger Lilies go. The summer sun flowers arrive but by the end of September, hang their heads in mourning for the farewell wave of Summer's weather. With just a snap of the fingers, Summer has drawn back it's heat, releasing our lungs from its grip and “flu season” bares its crooked teeth around the chilly New England corner. The weather begins to encourage sweatshirts, scarecrows emerge, retail stores set their Halloween candy planograms and pumpkins begin to sprout from their vines. Things start to become festive as the leaves slowly start to change color, from green into deep reds, oranges and yellows. Eventually gourds will be available at every florist, grocery store and market. It's the season of death, yet after hibernation, new life transpires.
           As September comes to an end and I start my four-wheeled-journey across our vast country, I say a quiet prayer, for no other month, to be as crazy as September 2011 has been. I'm a big ball of magnetic energy, like when you hold two magnets together. The push and the pull curves up and down, and jolts back to front. Like an invisible rubber dodgeball that is pulsing in midair. I can push people away and I can draw people close. Its seems that people always come into our lives, or leave our presence at the strangest time. I've always believed everything happens for a reason, though that belief has been most recently challenged. I know that I can't lose my faith and I realize, I couldn't be happier that I have reconciled differences this season. I hung my own head in mourning for the grand exit and the memories of the ones I won't be lucky enough to see again but welcomed the ones still here, who mean the most.
          I love my family, my cousins are my siblings and I am grateful for everyone who still stands as tall as their trees. Life works in strange ways and I have no idea what the next year has in store for me. I will continue to learn the lessons that life offers and I will grow, much like my tree, which is a Buckeye; more specific to New England, A Horse Chestnut Tree.

         With dried cheeks and contained energy, I'm hitting the road now. First stop, New Jersey. See ya'll there!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Family Values

                             [most all of] My Family


Wednesday, September 21, 2011


         During the summer of 2010, Andrew and I were given the opportunity to join All Saints' Parish from Peterborough, New Hampshire, on their fifth annual, mission trip to Juarez, Mexico to build a Boy's Dorm. What an experience we had! Sixteen students, four adults and Andrew and I built the structure of the dormitory, helped build a bathroom in a local house and also did manual labor at the facility where we lived for the week.  Before we left, I had invited all my closest friends to attend a fundraising party where I raised $700.00 to donate to Central Victoria, the Church and home to many children saved from the streets by Pastor Joel. Along with the invitation, I sent an essay I wrote about my upcoming trip. I later used an edited version of that essay as my Motivational Statement for my AmeriCorps application.

        My meme, at the time of my arrival home, was finishing up her college credit writing course and for one of her final stories, she interviewed me, used pieces of my original essay, added her own words and together, her article, "Hope For Juarez, Mexico" by, Doris Progen" was published over at the beginning of this year!

         I have yet to finish a follow-up but I wanted to share with you for now, those who haven't read it, my essay that I originally wrote, dealing with the fears of violence and hopes of changing the world before I headed South of the border into Juarez, Mexico, one of the dangerous cities on Earth.

                                Written: January, 2010

Other than declared war zones, Juarez, Mexico is one of the fastest growing, most dangerous cities in the world. Its population climbs higher each year and, with that, so does its poverty and murderous crime rate. Juarez leaves hundreds of children homeless, sick and on the streets each day. Boys are brought into gangs and girls are often left to lives of prostitution. This June, I am flying over the border, landing with my best foot on the ground and making the time to help these children.

Consisting of several Monadnock area youth and four adults, our team will travel to the impoverished community in Juarez, Mexico for the fifth consecutive year. This will be my first time. The mission of our group, led by and sponsored by All Saints’ Church in Peterborough, NH, is to spend a week under the desert heat in this underprivileged city, to lend our hard-working hands to Pastor Joel Cortez Ramirez.

Pastor Joel Cortez Ramirez is a religious man who has lived in Juarez, Mexico for over twenty years. He has a beautiful family and is the founder of Centro Victoria, a ministry of God for the people of Mexico. Pastor Joel was an only child born into a broken marriage, raised in Mexico by his aunts who lied to him and abused him. At the age of six, Pastor Joel was saved by “Hogar Victoria” (Victory Home), a place where children could go to receive a better life. Upon his admission, life was indeed improved, but by his early teens, he had harbored so much angst he could no longer deal with it. His angst turned to addiction and thievery. Since Juarez is one of the 14 cities along the southern border of the United States, Pastor Joel set out from Mexico City en route to Juarez to cross into prosperous land. Soon after, sitting on a bench near death, he was recruited by Christian rehabilitation and embraced into the arms of his God.

Today, Pastor Joel encourages trust and faith in God and also instills personal confidence, good character and integrity. These qualities were never taught to the children in Juarez before this time, but now, they are receiving education in their own schoolhouses that make up the elementary and junior high classes at Centro Victoria. Pastor Joel is persistent in reaching young girls who have been physically and mentally abused, or who come from dysfunctional families or the streets. Centro Victoria fills a crucial gap in a country whose government is broken and overburdened. In addition to housing these lost children, Centro Victoria provides medical attention, clothing, food, counseling, education on drug prevention, and space to discover what moves them spiritually, leaving room to heal, live, love, read the Bible and find security in a chance at a better life focused on community, social and family integration.

Each child given shelter at Centro Victoria costs Pastor Joel nearly $2,500 a year. Unfortunately, due to the difficulty of promotion, his mission is not supported much by outside sources. Small churches, like All Saints’ in Peterborough, who hear of the dire needs of the area, try to send financial support and youth groups to lend a hand. It is still not enough. Additionally, the economic crisis has also diminished the sparse support and the media, filled with negative reports from Mexico, generates a fear of Juarez. Yet through all the bad, Pastor Joel continues his work and relentlessly takes action to further his mission. His dream is to one day house one hundred children.

In previous years, Peterborough’s All Saints’ Church group has helped build houses and schools, mix cement for walls to surround the area, dig foundations, mortar cinder blocks and construct community centers for the children, all without the aid of machinery.

The full cost of the trip is $1,100 per person. Thanks to dedication and fundraising, the out-of-pocket cost per person is reduced to $400 per plane ticket. Mine is paid for; however, since I am not a high school student in the Monadnock area, I will not be involved in every fundraising event. I will, nonetheless, be participating in a wine-tasting benefit party and a spring clean-up raffle, though I know in my heart, I can raise more money for tools and extra donations for Centro Victoria.

Therefore, I am planning a fundraising party, inviting all my close friends and family to my house! What a way to celebrate with each other how fortunate we really are! Together we can make a difference in the world. Even if you can give only a little, all contributions are greatly appreciated. Every single penny adds up. Each dollar adjoined generates a huge contribution of help that is significantly valued. Without the security of the walls of Centro Victoria, children would fall victim to homelessness, gangs, drugs and prostitution. I plead for help and I express ample amounts of overflowing appreciation and exploding thanks.

I feel lucky to be a part of this group. I am grateful for the chance to work in the community of a different country, help make a difference and to enhance the well-being of the people of Juarez. I feel that this is just the beginning of a string of life-changing service events I will engage in that will be most rewarding. I strive to continue my quest of community service and my pursuit to someday soon, serve in the United States Americorps in their mission to reinforce community and expand leadership skills through team-based service projects. For now, this summer, I will swan-dive into these polluted waters to save schools of children and present them with crystal clear seas. How sweet it would be for these precious Mexican children to wake up in secure arms and benefit from our donations, which created what lies within the cement walls of Centro Victoria in Juarez, Mexico.

The team and children in front of the roofless structure of the three-room, boy's dorm on the last day.