Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Strangers on the Train

It seems as if I want to accomplish everything that the cast of Real World, who are currently filming in town, are NOT accomplishing. Though, they seem to run a lot and that is more cardio than I have achieved since I arrived. While I'm here in Portland, I want to have fun but I am continuing my fight to make this world a better place. It is simply amazing how a simple "hello" can put a smile on someone's face.

I tried it, once I could breathe again, on the way down from a hike up Multnomah Falls with my roommates a couple weekends ago. I greeted those I passed with a "hello," a compliment, a word of endearment, a smile and a glimmer in my eye. I even made some folks laugh. Each reaction I received was a positive one. I also love doing this in the grocery store, recently making snide remarks about the price of frozen fish at Safeway.

Now, I wouldn't necessarily consider Portland an extremely diverse city but as I watch the different cultures in my Gresham neighborhood converge, I love it. Even though it's a rough neighborhood, I want to serve my communities, volunteer as much as I can and immerse myself into what different cultures there are, here in Gresham as well as Portland.

I want wave to children as I walk down the street and I want to make eye contact with strangers on the train. I want to be someone's Angel of the Day, everyday, like I find in people around me. I'm not perfect by any means and I may not always be the brightest star in the sky but I try to make people feel happy. I'm a team motivator, dammit all.

The other evening's ride home from the Q Center on the Tri Met, I sat in the middle of a circle of "real life."

To my right, a black man shouting the term "revolution!" and the phrase "I'm a deviant!"
In front of me, a mexican man tried to calm the passenger down.
To my left sat a half-spanish-half-white woman with two young boys. Hers?
A few rows even further in front of me, a guy, comparable to my age and race called The Deviant out for his lack of respect for the (assuming) mother's two sons. This instigated a comment about freedom of speech.
Suddenly, the attention was upon the young boys playing their old school Gameboys. I can't even remember what the crazy man was saying but I wondered if I should just exit the train on the next stop and wait the 20 minutes for another ride. Then, I realized that I was the only thing in between the kids and The Deviant. And for whatever reason, that made me stay aboard.

The Deviant stood up to go reek havoc at the other end of the train car and the Mexican man "secret-hand-shaked" me and apologized on behalf of The Deviant. I wondered if they were together. He switched seats to distract the boys from the craziness and made stupid jokes.

By this point, my music playing in my earbuds had ended but I pretended to bob my head to some non-existing tunes. When I did this, I actually heard the Mexican man, who I had previous felt like I understood the most, tell the children that The Deviant was the devil and to go home and to love their Mom and themselves because God is in their hearts. He actually then reached out and put his hand on the older brother's chest. If none of the above crossed the line, I felt like that gesture had.

They were more angry tones exchanged between the two original men I had sat down next to. I guess they weren't traveling together.

As we got closer to my stop and the cast of characters exited one by one, I was left sitting with The "Mother" to my left. I took out both earbuds and mouthed the words "are you okay?" hoping to bring some sanity to her train ride.

Her eye lids fluttered, she looked down and back into my eyes and lipped a simple, "yeah."

When I stepped on the train, upon first assessment of the situation, I had to bite my tongue from laughing. But by the time I got to my neighborhood stop, I was trying to make sense of it all, confused and kind of sad. Even now, I'm still not sure why what I had witnessed struck at my heart strings. It was a very "real" moment that I was a part of with strangers on the train and the way all walks of life are connected. I can only hope that I will eventually realize what instances like these are suppose to mean. Or maybe these moments are just for me to observe and to not understand.

After the ride though, I strolled through my rough little South East Gresham neighborhood to my house. I smiled at the old Russian woman who was watching her grandbaby play in the driveway and I waved to the spanish kids playing on the street.

With all this love in my heart, I just want to feel connected to people. I should be careful what I wish for next time.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


I arrived at the Q Center last Sunday morning to receive training from another, much older than I, volunteer. Mr. Devine, as I'll call him in this blog, sat behind the front desk with his stalky torso planted in the office chair and his legs rooted to the ground. His long grey beard covered his neck and his mustache just barely draped his top lip. Within the first 20 minutes of our conversation, I learned that Mr. Devine was in his early 60's, retired, gay, in a monogamous relationship for the past eight years and was originally from Ohio. He had moved to Portland two years prior and began volunteering the reception desk at the Q around the same time.

The Q Center is Portland's LGBTQ community center. For those of you who don't know, "LGBTQ" stands for "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Transexual, Queer and Questioning." It serves as a safe resource center, a support center and also hosts ones of the countries largest Queer libraries. Walking through it's front doors can be a big step for someone who is coming out, seeking help, needing support or showing that they are a friend or ally.

The Q also provides space for Alcoholics Anonymous and sex addicts meetings, bi, lesbian and trans support groups and special community events like holiday parties and even a wedding once. The main auditorium is rented out for special events as well as office space for an insurance company and The Portland Gay Yellow Pages.

If it wasn't for volunteers who run the reception desk, the center wouldn't be able to unlock their doors. Paid staff and fundraising are key components to keep the non-profit running but the volunteers keep it operating. Along with new volunteers come fresh ideas, a few of which I am currently cultivating myself. I'm thinking about restarting their Open Mike Night, a Youth Arts & Crafts Afternoon and something that has never been done before, "Christmas at the Q!" I would be there to unlock the doors for a community gathering of LGBTQ's and friends of, who don't have families or who like myself, can not afford to travel home for the holiday.

Mr. Devine showed me how the building operates, how to lock and unlock the doors, control the heat, lights and entertainment center and told me about what he has encountered at the center. However, what I found most intriguing were his stories about spending a year in New York City when he was 21 in the 1970's before going back to The Buckeye State where he had previously lived and continued to live after.

I was awestruck. I mean, I've heard stories. I've read books and seen documentaries on the NYC sex shops, book stores, bath houses, gay bars, night life, Fire Island, AIDs and Stonewall but never have I ever met someone who lived that life style, in that time, in the city. Gay Rights were booming in the 60's and 70's in New York City, where culture was already diverse to the extreme, I can only imagine throwing the gays and their glitter into the mix. Along with (lots of) sex, (mixing) drugs and (dancing in leather to) Rock and Roll, hah, who am I kidding… it was Disco, straight up Disco, with the feather boas, lots of skin, mirror balls and strobe lights added to the setting, I would have died to be a fly on the wall for just one night… a fly, mainly because I wouldn't want to know why my boots were sticking to the floor.

I'm not sure if I'll ever hear more stories like the ones Mr. Devine shared. Some, I can't even share because I don't know who exactly reads this blog. But being interviewed, orientated, acclimated and trained, ready to volunteer at the PDX Q Center for 16 hours a month, for the next 10 months, I'm sure I will hear my fair share.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Great Day

"Good morning and thank you for coming to volunteer with Habitat! Come on in the trailer, grab some coffee and let's get you checked in!"
That is how I've been starting my morning off. Well, I usually start my morning off by checking my email and on occasion, the news on my iPhone and wasting at least 15 minutes of time, in and out of consciousness, trying to wake up in bed.

Then I throw on my dirty jeans, brew my coffee, make a lunch and walk across my whole neighborhood to get to Division and 171st, the biggest Habitat for Humanity construction site in all of Oregon. 45 homes in two years.

All the houses on the site are in different stages. Some are flat foundations, others bare frames and a few completely finished! But when I walk up to the site and see the Habitat logo on posters of family portraits of soon to be first-time homeowners, I know I am right where I belong. I may not know what the heck I'm doing half the time but I'm learning and it's where I feel I'm suppose to be. I may not know much about construction, or what the heck I'm doing half the time but I'm learning lots and I am right where I feel I'm suppose to be!

It is my job now to educate my volunteers, my peers, family and those I meet on the street about how important Habitat for Humanity is.

It was the morning of the Hopebuild 2012 fundraising breakfast for Habitat PDX last Spring when I realized I had a passion for the organization. Two families were focused on at Portland Convention Center that morning. Pam had recently started caring for her grandson and feared how she could make do with what space she had when Pam had given up her own bed room and was sleeping on the couch. At the event, she spoke about  the moment she got the call from Habitat saying she had been selected as she drove to pick her grandson up at school. She had to pull over. She was going to own her first home. Pam also painted a picture of their first night in their new home. He almost bounced off the walls exclaiming "This is ours? This is ours! Look in the cabinets grandma!"

Of course, as Pam talked, my tears started to collect. I had painted her porch.

The Lund Family had also been recently selected for homeownership the beginning of the year. Ann is a single mother of two boys and one girl. Her daughter has Rett Syndrome, a neurodevelopment disorder and needs constant care. The astonishing part about this story is that not only does her daughter's not fit through the front door of their current apartment but can not even maneuver around the apartment itself!

I wanted to work closely with the families and hear more of their stories, so I wrote my first cover letter, improved my resume and was called for a phone interview. Then an in-person interview. Luckily, the timing was perfect as I was in town for my second Portland project in AmeriCorps NCCC.

I wasn't selected for that position; however, I was informed I had impressed and was encouraged to have a second phone interview, this time for Construction Site Crew Leader. A week later, while I was picking up sticks in San Bernardino Mountains, I received the call that I was chosen to serve as one of the 5 crew leaders to build homes and lead volunteers for the next year. What an honor!

So now, I'm teaching volunteers what I may have just learned that morning but I'm upfront with my amount (or lack of) knowledge and tell my volunteers...

"Thank you so much for coming out. If it wasn't for you, THIS wouldn't be here! From our regulars to our newbies, any way you help out today is a perfect way and we thank you. Today is going to be a Great Day!"

When I say, today is going to be a Great Day, I truly mean it. For you, for me, for everyone we are helping. A Great Day in deed.

Portland Youth Build house

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Portland Bound

My flight leaves in 8 hours! I'm a fiery ball of nervous energy as I finish packing and situate all 4 of my bags. I spent today saying goodbye to the important people. I got a visitor from the White Mountains. I drove from Gram's to Gail's. Had a farewell dinner out at Singapore restaurant with my parents and Andrew. Visited a campfire to smooch the baby and say goodbye to some close friends and then I found myself with an audience as I frantically ran around my bedroom counting how many pairs of shoes I'm bringing, bitching about the price of toiletries, getting tangled up in electronics and heaving a very large suitcase onto a teeny tiny scale to double check the poundage of my wardrobe. 43.5 lbs. 

And yes, I'm bringing my dumbbells and packing a bag of dirty clothes that I never got around washing.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time home but staying productive made my 5 week New England summer feel just like moments in time. I cleaned the house, cleaned the basement, and helped empty out Gram's house. I helped plan and host a Progen Hootenanny. I saw Batman, Our Lady Peace, visited Portsmouth, swam in the pool, mowed the lawn and most importantly, spent time with my family. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time home and can't help but to prepare for my return in a year. Too soon, I know.

From Cali to Mass back to PDX, I am ready for my next year facing a new job with Habitat for Humanity, living in my own house, learning hands on skills, improving leadership skills and preparing for a better future.

Rain gear: Check
Umbrella: Check
Cute boots: TBD

I'll see all y'all in Portland.