Wednesday, April 9, 2014

On the Road

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting before us, and it’s goodbye.  But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”  --Jack Kerouac

Jody's team reppin' the A at their
recyling center project
When I boarded a plane last October for Denver, CO, I had no idea what was ahead of me.  22 years old and a Bachelor’s degree in my pocket, I still felt as lost as a 5-year-old on the first day of kindergarten.  Every day that went by another person made it their personal duty to quiz me on what my plans for the next 50 years were.  Most of my friends had already chosen to spend more money on graduate school, and it felt as if the entire world was demanding that I settle down at a 9-5 job with health benefits.

And I wanted none of it.

All my life, I’ve had itchy feet and continents on my mind.  The one thing I knew for sure upon graduating college was that I needed to GO.  After 17 years of school, I wanted to finally stop sitting and start moving.  Where I would move to?  How I would do it?  No idea.  But the wanderlust inside me desperately needed to chase the horizon. 

On impulse, I applied to AmeriCorps NCCC and said yes.  It sounded like the best adventure possible: getting paid to travel around the country helping people. 

Jody's team, Earth 4
Upon my arrival in Denver, I quickly learned that common roots do not exist in NCCC.  Each person comes from a different place, background, and lifestyle.  For better or worse, 8-12 of these seemingly mismatched young people are then crammed into a 15 passenger van and sent off to assist communities across the nation.  For the next 10 months, these Corpsmembers will eat, live, work, sleep, and breathe together as a team.  Although this much contained diversity may sound like a disaster, common roots do not actually need to exist for NCCC teams to work.  All that is needed is a common purpose. 

And we have that. 

Jody and her 'roommate'
on spike in Austin, TX
Whether sleeping in tents, bunkhouses, church basements, cabins, or on gym floors.  Whether digging holes, installing drywall, helping a 5th grader with homework, picking up trash, or filing someone’s taxes.  Whether vegetarian or omnivore, country music or classic rock, driver or passenger.  No matter how many varieties there are in personality or work, our mission of service is clear: Strengthen Communities, Build Leaders, Make a Difference.
Since I joined NCCC five months ago, I have served at a food pantry in CO, a nature preserve in TX, and a Boys and Girls Club in NM.  Some days the work has flown by, and some days the stressful moments have made it hard to recognize the importance of what I am doing. There are mornings that snow chains have to be put on the van in -10 degrees and you got zero sleep last night because your roommate snores. There are times when your teammate uses up the last of the toilet paper, you get stuck cleaning up everyone else's mess in the kitchen, and your team leader feels like your babysitter.

Driving through New Mexico
Those are the days you just want to put your head down, cry like a baby, quit and go home.
But instead, I have to put things in perspective and remember that whereas I have a home, many of the people I am serving in disaster relief just lost theirs.  While I have family members that love and support me, the teammate I am frustrated with comes from a broken home.  And even though the work I am doing is exhausting and emotionally draining, I am privileged to be able to give back.

Jody and her team, Earth 4
So far, my time with NCCC has been an incredible adventure.  Traveling with a team of peers has taught me more than I ever expected about my own strengths and weaknesses.   I've lived in multiple places, made life-long friends, and grown passionate about service work.  It's a liberating feeling to know I'm where I need to be and doing what I need to do.

When people ask me, I still do not have any kind of plan for the next 50 years of my life. But I do have an answer for right now:  I’m leaning forward and chasing after that next crazy venture beneath the skies!

Jody and her team leader in Austin, TX

Brought to you by AmeriCorps NCCC, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
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