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.

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.

We’re Back!

After 6 months of hard work, we’ve officially closed the Washington Tornado Relief Center. It’s a bittersweet feeling; while we’re thrilled to see people back on their feet, we’ll also miss all the wonderful volunteers and neighbors we’ve met. There’s too much to say about this experience for one post, so for now I’ll stick to the facts:

1. The WTRC was open from November 18th, 2013- May 10th, 2014.

2. During those 6 months we had countless volunteers (and by “countless” I mean, “we’re still counting them!”) who logged over 5000 hours of service time.

3. There were days when we had over 100 people come to the store for help.

4. We worked with many local (and not-so-local) organizations to find, receive, coordinate, and give out thousands of donations.

5. We filled 3 stores at the Washington Plaza in Sunnyland, plus 4 or 5 warehouses, with donations.

6. People from as far away as North Carolina and New Jersey traveled to the WTRC to volunteer with us.

7. AmeriCorps St. Louis came to Washington immediately after the tornadoes to take over the phone/volunteer coordination for us–and they were fantastic!

8. The Salvation Army and Red Cross brought hot food and drinks to us so we could feed our volunteers (and ourselves!) for several days.  The Red Cross continued to bring us hot chocolate and coffee all through the record-breaking cold this winter.

9. There were lots of tears–at first, tears of sadness and shock; but then, tears of happiness and relief as people started to put their lives back together.

10. We celebrated 3 major holidays at the Center–Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. They might be some of the most memorable -and meaningful- holidays we’ll ever celebrate.

 

So, the WTRC is closed.  We’re still helping to make sure the remaining donations (mostly water, perfect for the hot summer coming up) gets to those in need, but we’re no longer in Washington daily.  The people we met, the stories we heard, and the volunteers who gave so much to help those in need will always stay with us, though.  They’ve become a part of our program, a part of our community, and a part of our lives.  And we’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to be part of their story.  We’re sure, no matter what, they’ll stay Washington Strong!

 

 

.Washington AmeriCorps

Views from the Conference

Some more pictures from the 2013 National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Washington DC.

Becca, Shaquita, and Kiona participating in a service project at the conference.

Becca, Shaquita, and Kiona participating in a service project at the conference.

Shaquita working hard.

Shaquita working hard.

A few of the supplies put together by the volunteers at the conference.

A few of the supplies put together by the volunteers at the conference.

Our fearless leader posing with the "AmeriCorpse."

Our fearless leader posing with the “AmeriCorpse.”

Meet the Members: Gerald

Time for another segment of Meet the Members.  Introducing…Gerald!

Gerald.

Gerald.

Hi my name is Gerald and I have been working with the AmeriCorps team for 9 or 10 months. We have been working on community projects and doing things to help the East Bluff neighborhood out with some of the projects. The AmeriCorps team is dedicated to help out the people that have been down and out or that live in houses that needed fixed up. We help out at the Dream Center, Neighborhood house, and a lot of non-profits in the Peoria area. AmeriCorps is a great opportunity for people to learn job skills and gain job experience for the jobs that they want to apply for in the future. It gives you knowledge on things that you want to know or haven’t learned yet for the people that don’t have jobs that want a job. The AmeriCorps team is happy to help the people that don’t have job because they offer a whole lot that I wouldn’t pass up and I would actually like to do it all again because it was a fun ride here with the AmeriCorps team. The people that I have worked with have good personalities. The person that I worked with the most while I was here would be Natalie and she is very good to get along with and when you’re having a bad you can always go to her and talk to her.  When you are feeling down she is the best person to go to that can cheer you up. It’s been one heck of a ride for me and I would like to do it over again.

Not quite ready for the shot.

Not quite ready for the shot.

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.