Coming Full Circle: the road to recovery.

On February 9th, at 2:30 pm, I woke up in my car. I had blacked out on impact from an automobile accident while driving my son home from sledding. That day I woke up to a completely different world—a world that was not accessible. Three vertebrae in my neck had been damaged, a disc in my back was bulged, my femur was broken, and my acetabulum (what holds the ball of my hip in place) was broken all the way through. My son suffered wounds to his face from the broken windshield. All I could do was be still—I couldn’t even put weight on the left side of my body. Everything had changed.

I was confined to a wheelchair. My son and I moved back into my mother’s. It was hard to not be able to take care of my son, to bathe or cook for him, but it was being unable to keep up with him that was heartbreaking. I missed his Valentine’s Day party at school, which would have been fun for both of us (I’m studying to be a teacher, and practicing teaching craft lessons with the kids is good for my career goals). That was one of the many things I missed out on while recovering. I also lost a semester of school because hardly any buildings on my campus are handicap accessible.

As the weather got nicer, my son wanted to be outside more. We tried to take walks around the block. I wouldn’t think that rolling around the block would be difficult, but I was wrong. Tree roots, uneven sidewalks, and missing ramps made it nearly impossible to get around. It was very painful to try to navigate around a once-familiar neighborhood. Aside from the terrible pain I felt in my arms from trying to move the wheels, I felt the struggle of trying to keep up with my son.

It made me think about my experiences from Summer when I went with clients of PARC (now known as EP!C) and how wonderful it was to have a place that allowed individuals with disabilities to access nature. For 11 years, Camp Big Sky, a nonprofit organization, has been providing opportunities like fishing tournaments and camping.

On a Thursday morning, Phoebe Johnson brought the bus around and the two of us worked together to board three individuals from EP!C. Every other Thursday clients from EP!C get a chance to go visit Camp Big Sky. After seat belts were fastened and a walker was secure, we took off to Fairview, IL, to enjoy an afternoon of boating and hay rack riding. Sometimes, dependent upon the client, weather, and timeframe, clients would drop a cane pole into the water in the hopes of catching one of the bluegill that linger around the dock.

The route to camp cuts through memories of my childhood. We pass through Farmington, IL, on the main drag in which takes you downtown. I saw the Wareco gas station that I would visit for a cool drink or sugary snack, now all tattered and closed to the public. Right across the street was the doctor’s office I went to throughout my childhood. After we passed downtown, the terrain gets very hilly and you’d think we had found a portal to Vermont. However, we just found a place that the glaciers haven’t completely flattened when the terrain in Illinois was being formed. Clients looked at me, unsure of the shaking and the dips we experienced and I smiled with reassurance and clapped, pretending we were on a wooden coaster at Six Flags. In turn, they smiled and cheered back.

The view is very pleasant seeing ancient blue International Harvester corn bins, big red barns, Swedish quilt-like crests on buildings, and bodies of water. Phoebe made the final turn onto the white gravel road meeting the gate with a bleached bone white cow skull and sign declaring that this was Camp Big Sky. Our bus cleared a drastic hill to the top to where all the volunteers were waiting.

The fun began there. After unloading and slabbing on sunblock, we enjoyed a beautiful day at camp. A red-wing blackbird sang in a barren tree with a glimpse of the moon behind it. Aboard the pontoon, clients were thrilled to see a herd of cows run down to the strip mine lake and playfully moo and swim. We were joined by volunteers who attended a ten week training program, some of them clients from EP!C. One of the volunteer playfully suggested that the craft be dubbed the Burger Barge.

Seated on the hydraulic hay rack ride, I felt like I was transferred back into a time where Illinois hadn’t been settled. Long grass and clovers waved in the wind. An aerial view of the lake could be seen from our seats. Dragonflies of multiple colors could be spotted. The skies really were big and Kool Aid blue. Although bumpy and jolting, we all could have been seated in a covered wagon discovering the ground of the Camp for the first time. I think we all felt as free as the hawk that was flying high above these plains that day.

Although I am no longer in a wheel chair, I appreciate this place and am happy for its existence. I am happy that the client that is in a wheel chair could stroll with me in the tall prairie grass by means of a hayrack ride. I think of how difficult it was for me to go around my mother’s neighborhood and how I was alienated from my own school, and yet there is a place designated for all people to experience nature at no cost to them. I think of all the different people that the camp encompasses and the smiles and memories that come from pulling up a cane pole with a fish on it, or coasting down the lake by the breeze. I intend to take my son out there to enjoy its healing qualities that come from being out there. He is on the autistic spectrum and the owner has invited me to bring him out.

Camp Big Sky is open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (with additional days if needed). American Veterans are also welcome to experience the healing quality that recreation and nature can bring. More about the camp can be found at http://www.campbigsky.org.

 

The Lee's Landing dock at Bruce Lake.

The Lee’s Landing dock at Bruce Lake.

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Keepsacks for Kids

In roughly four months, the biggest event for Fostering Transitions: AmeriCorps takes place and everyone is already gearing up!  Fleece has been bought, scissors are being sharpened, and hundred of donation letters and event flyers are being made.  What exactly is Keepsacks for Kids?  It is an annual project that collects fleece and hygiene supplies to then make blankets and hygiene kits for all the local shelters.  Unfortunately, there is a huge need and we make hundreds upon hundreds of blankets and over a thousand hygiene kits.  This is where the community comes in.  We need donations.  And a lot of them.  We need fleece, hygiene supplies, scissors, bags, socks, and even gift cards can be very very helpful!  We have gotten pretty creative with how we go about getting our help and this year we’re thinking about having groups sponsor a blanket.  You can get together a group of your friends, your family, your coworkers, neighbors, and school mates, each chip a few dollars and make a no-sew blanket that can then go to someone in need. 

Right now, it’s hard to think about anyone needing a blanket.  The weather has been sweltering hot lately and all you want to do is sit in front of a fan.  I get it.  But just a couple of months ago, we were all bundled up in layers, still dealing with a polar vortex.  There are people without layers who need a little extra.  If this is something that you would like to be a part of, feel free to contact us on here.  We will be sure to keep everyone updated on what we having going on and will be hopefully starting an Instagram soon so that everyone can enjoy the process with us. 

Stay cool!

Getting Things Done

washington-tornado images

Devastation hit nearly a month ago in the Washington Area, a quick ten minutes from Peoria.  That Sunday we all knew we would be called into the office, but we had no idea what this would entail.  We had heard stories of AmeriCorps teams being part of the first responders to the Joplin and Moore Tornadoes in the past.  Would that be us?  Would be in the middle of the mess, picking up the pieces of people’s lives?  Could we handle that?  Our members are for the most part in schools, doing after school programs and tutoring.  We were not disaster relief specialists and honestly, I don’t think emotionally ready for what we could have been asked to do.  It was 8 AM Monday morning when members came in, current and past alike.  We were ready, up for the challenge.  We sorted everything we had in the basement that we could donate, hats, gloves,scarves, sleeping bags, hygiene items, and blankets.  Then… We waited.  We had to wait for the powers above us to give us the okay.  So we waited, ate some McDonald’s… and then waited some more.  We were almost disappointed!  We were supposed to be there!  Instead we were sitting in the office, eating McDonald’s, telling stories of how long we were without power, how windy it was, and how scared we all were for those who we knew who could have been effected.

Finally, we got the call.  We were going to Washington and setting up a donation center.  Not quite clean up, not quite right in the middle of it all, but the perfect spot for our loving and compassionate members who were in fact trained to take care of people.  We headed to Washington and started sorting.  We had tables and tables set up, Julie had helped take over for an exhausted Chamber of Commerce member who had be effected by the storm and was now in charge of donations, Natalie lead all of the sorting with some members, Andrew (an alum) photographed every bit of it, and Rebecca made phone calls.  We knew that this banquet center wouldn’t last long as a donation center.  We had trailer loads of things coming and there was no way that this could be what we needed it to be.  Two days later, we moved.  We went to an empty warehouse and filled the entire thing with shelves to put items on.  Three empty stores became Donation Centers, and that was only the beginning.

Now, nearly a month later, we are still going strong.  Three warehouses are filled to the ceilings with donations that are currently being sorted and then used to restock our shelves at Sunnyland Plaza.  AmeriCorps has completely taken over donations and will be there for the long run.  We were told to expect six months.  We never ever would have guessed that we would be there that long, holding victims hands as they pick up what they need, hugging them as they cry, and reassuring them that we are there for them and that this was all for them.  There have been some ups and downs and you’ll get that with anything like that.  But we have truly seen the best of people and have been so blessed to be able to be a part of this.

http://www.pjstar.com/article/20131211/NEWS/131219761

This is a newspaper article all about our donation center, and although no members, nor Natalie were interviewed, member Brenton is pictured.  For any information feel free to contact us here or on Facebook.

Fostering Transitions AmeriCorps (Facebook page)

AmeriCorps: Getting Things Done!

Devastation.

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November 17, 2013 has become a day that will not be easily forgotten by those who live in Central Illinois.  Around 10:30 to 11 a tornado ripped through multiple areas in the areas surrounding Peoria.  Washington getting the brunt of the storms which reached nearly 200 MPH winds while there were touchdowns in Pekin, East Peoria, Marquette Heights, and Roanoke.  Devastation is widespread.  There was luckily ONLY one fatality in Washington, but six throughout Illinois.  Governor Pat Quinn has been going throughout Illinois assessing damage and visiting with the communities effected the greatest, seeing what the needs are and trying to lift spirits as best as he can.  Volunteers are still being asked to stay out of the area, especially Washington, until they can determine what needs to be done and who can be of the most help.  Stay tuned to news and radio reports, FEMA reports, and reports from American Red Cross, as they are the sources you should be listening to.

What can I do to help?

As of right now, Red Cross is asking to go online and make monetary donations, selecting that the funds be sent directly to the tornado relief.  Although there will be needs in the next few days to weeks, once everything has been assessed the shelters will know exactly what they need.  Right now, the area has been flooded with donations of all kinds, which is wonderful, although there is no areas to store anything yet.  Again, stay tuned to see when they will be accepting donations and what they need.

What is AmeriCorps doing?

Today, our members gathered together at the Agency and put together everything we had including sleeping bags, blankets, hats, gloves, scarves, and hygiene items.  We haven’t sent them anywhere as we are still waiting to hear where there is a need.  We have also not been mobilized.  We are ready and we are on call for when we are needed but until all of the damage has been assessed, we will not be sent anywhere.  There are other AmeriCorps groups that are coming from Missouri and other states to help and once they have arrived, our AmeriCorps team will help them in whatever ways we can, be it lodging, transportation, or guidance as they are not familiar with the area.  We will later be put in charge of volunteer groups at emergency child care places that have been opened, or at shelters, or food pantries, or with animals.  Wherever we are needed we will be.

How can I stay updated and in the loop?

This website has everything that you need to know.  Who is involved, who needs what, where you can help, what you can donate, etc, etc.
Also feel free to contact us here at AmeriCorps: Fostering Transitions.
Coordinator Julie S: jsiebert@chail.org
Team Member Coach Natalie S: nsalawage@chail.org
AmeriCorps members: americorps@chail.org
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