Meet the Members: Jessica

Jessica aka “The Creator”

If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.

-John F. Kennedy

Jessica's Super Selfie

Hello, my name is Jessica. I’d like to introduce myself. Although I have blogged on occasion, I don’t believe that we have met. I am a 4th and final-term member on the last leg of my last term ever! Looking at the past four years of my life, I can’t believe it! I have been involved in community service for years. In high school, I was a member of the Key Club, a community based volunteering club. I was also crowned Miss Compassionate Crown, a local pageant system that recognizes individuals for their compassion towards those in their community. I decided that once again, I wanted to be involved in community service and was accepted to be an AmeriCorps member at the Children’s Home in 2009. I have a strong artistic background and I am able to utilize this in my service. Some highlights from past terms include entering clients’ artwork to the HOI and Illinois State Fair (where these contests earned ribbons). It was especially exciting to go with the clients to experience the fair, the food, and to see their work in a gallery. It gave these children the chance to experience the simple, yet wholesome, Americana event that is a local fair.
Voices for Children has selected Children’s Home to have a contest in which they wanted clients to create and design a non-denominational Christmas card that would be printed, sold, and created into an E card. A student I mentored and gave art lessons to was the one chosen to have her card published. I know that was a huge accomplishment for her. To recognize all of the contestants, Voices threw a huge pizza party with three enormous cakes- the clients loved them! I was very happy to work with them for two years to encourage them to go after their dreams and help instill a little confidence in their abilities.
During another term I had the opportunity to work with the individuals at EP!C, a local agency that serves people with developmental delays and/or physical limitations. My timing was perfect as the agency was working on building up their art program ( a project now known as EPICasso). Though I’ve studied to be a teacher, text books can never fully prepare you for what it is like to work with individual people. I learned about special brushes and tools that would allow people with different abilities to be able to create art. I watched a blind man paint something truly amazing. A client who is 94 years young always steals the show with her energy and artistic gifts. One of my favorite events to date was the art gallery showing client artwork. I got to see all the lessons and hard work that I contributed to, framed and displayed in a real gallery where clients and their families could attend. The show was beautifully named, “Kaleidoscope,” as the pieces of artwork were created by so many diverse individuals. I continue to help co-teach these art lessons as well as attend field trips to Camp Big Sky with clients (read the previous post for more about that).
In my past four years, my eyes and heart have been opened to so many people. I have been affiliated with EP!C, the Center For Prevention of Abuse, Peoria Friends of People with AIDS, the Special Olympics, the Sun Foundation, Youth Farm, East Bluff Build It Up, the Dirty Laundry Project, the Washington Tornado Relief Center, and Keepsacks for Kids. Outside of AmeriCorps, I volunteered in Kauai, Hawaii in Koke’e State Park and Waimea canyon where I worked in the rain forest to remove invasive plants and help repair hiking trails.
During my spare time, I enjoy reading, writing, photography, drawing and painting, and traveling. I have been working on a book about quirky things in Illinois and so I enjoy visiting different cities and getting the scoop for my side project. I am a full time mother to a wonderful seven year old boy. Although I am still figuring out my career path, I enjoy helping others reach their full human potential and include art in some fashion. I am currently studying to be an art teacher at Eureka College.

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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.

More on Keepsacks.

Keepsacks

As Becca said in yesterday’s post, our annual Keepsacks for Kids project is coming up quickly.  Now that we’ve started some of our new members (and brought back a few of our old ones) we’re gearing up for this awesome event. Since Becca explained the project already, I’ll just add our request for donations and help with hygiene kits.

Ideally, our hygiene kits will be specialized by age and sex. Our wish list for each hygiene kit includes shampoo/conditioner, liquid body wash, razors and shaving cream for adults, deodorant, hair brush/comb, lotion, face/body wipes, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, wash cloth or hand towel, bandages, antibiotic ointment, cotton balls, tissues, pads and tampons for adult women, and hand sanitizer. Since donations and money are scarce, we know that we should have realistic expectations.  Our most-needed items are listed in the graphic above, but we’ll happily accept any donations that come our way.  We ask that items be unopened or unused, especially if they are hotel-sized travel items.  Things that are individually packaged are best, but items in bulk that can’t be separated are always useful for large families or agencies that cater to many people.

 

We’d love for you to be a part in our Keepsacks for Kids project. On behalf of the hundreds of people who will receive a warm blanket and a hygiene kit this winter, THANK YOU!

A quote, and a challenge.

Hello, readers. It’s mid-summer, and since things are (kind of) quiet around here, I figured I’d give you something to do.  First, I’d like to share a quote I recently came across from Jane Addams’ Twenty Years at Hull House.

I dreamed night after night that every one in the world was dead excepting myself, and that upon me rested the responsibility of making a wagon wheel. The village street remained as usual, the village blacksmith shop was “all there,” even a glowing fire upon the forge and the anvil in its customary place near the door, but no human being was within sight…

I always stood in the same spot in the blacksmith shop, darkly pondering as to how to begin, and never once did I know how, although I fully realized that the affairs of the world could not be resumed until at least one wheel should be made and something started. Every victim of nightmare is, I imagine, overwhelmed by an excessive sense of responsibility and the consciousness of a fearful handicap in the effort to perform what is required…

Jane Addams, looking dapper and philosophical.

Jane Addams, looking dapper and philosophical.

Something about this particular quote stood out to me (though the entire book, and anything by or about Jane Addams, is definitely worth a read).  I think it resonated particularly clearly because I, and I’m sure anyone who has ever done service work, know that feeling well.  The feeling of sensing just how large the task before you is, and having not a clue how to go about solving it.  It can be overwhelming to look at something like poverty, or hunger, and feel that you could never hope to be more than a ‘drop in the ocean’ against it.

Even a small project can feel daunting when you’re staring it in the face.  Last weekend, a member and I showed up at an East Bluff home armed with a plastic trowel, a rake, and a pair of gloves between the two of us,  having been unable to round up any other members or tools.  The yard we were scheduled to work in was overgrown, with weeds, saplings, rogue flowers, overhanging tree limbs, thorny plants…and me with a Dollar Store trowel. I felt a lot like Addams described above: overwhelmed, under-prepared, but heavy with the knowledge that it was up to me to get this done–alone.

Luckily for us, we weren’t alone.  A community member had answered our call, and she walked over with tools and (more importantly) first-hand experience with gardening.  Then, another member brought more tools and more knowledge, and with some teamwork we were able to fill two bins, four yard waste bags, and several bundles.  We cleared the yard, pruned the bushes, transplanted flowers, cut down invasive plants, and even took down a tree limb or two.  Together, we were able to complete the task that had been so overwhelming to one or two members.  And together, even the big problems like hunger and poverty can be solved.

I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in service work to reach out.  Talk to your friends and family, join a group (like AmeriCorps), or start your own service group…or, hey, start a blog! The important thing is not to get overwhelmed by the big problems, and one of the best ways to do that is to take them on little by little, and together.

On that note, I came across a local initiative to recognize and encourage service in Peoria: WWCT’s Neighborhood Heroes campaign.  You can nominate someone who does work in and around Peoria who will be recognized by the radio station and Central Illinois Bank.  It’s always nice to be recognized.  If you see someone doing good things, reach out.  Whether through a nomination or a simple “thank you,” it’s another way we can work together to Get Things Done.

An East Bluff update.

Here’s a local news station’s coverage of the projects we’ve been working on in the East Bluff. Check it out!

 

AmeriCorps and YouthBuild, working together to better our neighborhoods!

AmeriCorps and YouthBuild, working together to better our neighborhoods!

Meet Another Member: Alisha!

Alisha, with our unofficial office mascot.

Alisha, with our unofficial office mascot.

Hi everyone I’m Alisha. I’m 20 years old and I’ve been with AmeriCorps for a little over a year. In that time I’ve worked on many projects, a few of them being: helping at the Midwest Food Bank, volunteering at the March Madness Access the Experience, and doing various preschool projects. At the Midwest Food Bank we packaged Tender Mercies to be shipped to disasters areas. The March Madness Access the Experience Field Trip Day, is a day where they change the games for people with disabilities so that they are able to play them too. The game I helped at was called Driveway Knockout. At our most recent trip to the Urban League Preschool we read the book How Full is Your Bucket for kids and then helped the kids do a craft that I designed. The craft was to fill origami buckets with paper water droplets that had stickers of things that made the kids happy. Before we went to the preschool I had to teach all of the AmeriCorps members and Natalie how to make the buckets. My favorite thing about AmeriCorps is all the opportunities to go out into the community and help people. I also like that it gives us a chance to grow as people. I personally have seen changes in myself since joining AmeriCorps. In my free time (wait what free time?) I like to read, hang out with friends, and on rare occasions go horseback riding. My future career plans are to go into the social work field but I’m not sure what part of it. Well that’s me.

Group photo.

This isn't our whole group, but it's a lot of us.

Group photo at the Midwest Food Bank, January 2013.