Monday, July 21, 2014

Personal Legends

Personal Legends

What is a personal legend and why does it matter? The idea of a personal legend is at the forefront of the allegorical tale penned by Paolo Coelho in The Alchemist. Santiago, a young shepherd, sets out on a quest to find treasure but in doing so is truly in search of his personal legend. A personal legend is someone’s destiny, the way in which they are to make their mark on the world.

When I first began to think about what I wanted to do for my community-building project, I had no idea. Before panic set in, it occurred to me that as an English major at Portland State one thing I do a lot of is read. When I partnered up with Janus Youth and their HOPE partnership at MacLaren correctional facility in Oregon, I thought it was a long shot but I suggested a book club. I was surprised, and heartened, by the knowledge that the young men there had wanted to do one for ages, and I would be able to at least get them started. After offering up a list of seventeen classic novels, we chose The Alchemist to begin our book club journey.

Over the course of this term I have met with, spoken to, and engaged with young men I probably never would have otherwise. It was easy to be nervous the first time I entered the facility, unsure of who I would meet, and what I could offer. It wasn’t that I was scared of them; I was more scared of my ability to connect, to have anything of worth to say. What I soon learned was that it didn’t matter what I had to say. It mattered what they had to say. These young men were engaging, they were interesting, and they wanted to make an impact on the world. I was honestly touched to hear about their plans for the future. As a middle-class, white, college student I was often cynical about the world and about my ability to make any changes. Go figure, these young men weren’t cynical at all. Many spoke of plans to leave MacLaren one day and create the safety nets they lacked themselves. The Oregon community will one day be lucky to have these young men in their midst.

It is easy as a society to turn our backs on those we think we can’t understand or have nothing in common with. The truth is that we are all part of the human community. We all have something to offer each other. Paul Loeb says, "Hope isn't an abstract theory about where human aspirations end and the impossible begins; it's a never-ending experiment, continually expanding the boundaries of the possible." I have to say this is the quote that perfectly summarizes my journey at MacLaren. In asking the young men to think of their personal legends, it was my own attempt at bringing in the possibility of hope, that never-ending experiment that says you never have to give up on anything you think can be achieved. This was truly an experiment for me, and I feel as if it was very successful. I had three hour-long conversations with the guys about the book and about their lives. The book club will continue on without me, and I’m so glad to have had a chance to participate at all.

Mobilizing Hope is a one of a kind Capstone opportunity presented by Portland State. I couldn’t have done it without my engaging classmates and their discussions, and Deb Arthur, our fearless leader. Thank you for facilitating what can only be described as a life changing experience. My cynicism ebbs and flows, but I know now that the experiment of hope is always worth trying. 
~Kylen McCudden, Spring 2014

Hope on 82nd

For an account of a student's work on the urgent issue of sex trafficking, please see: Hope on 82nd.

What Matters

What Matters

Winding along the path
Unsure of my direction
Open and aware, I keep my head up

Opportunities arise to show me even more
To see these young men contemplating the world
“Aren’t you nervous?” my friends ask, as if they are predators

I recognize that fear well
It is unnecessary, I know
Stereotypes are shattered, I cannot tell them apart from myself

“What is wrong with the world?” I ask them.
Disconnection, competition, hierarchy, we agree
Disconnected from one other, disconnected from our purpose

“What is right with the world?” I ask them.
Underneath the problems we have created, lie connection and unity
We are each a cell in the human body of humanity

But still social injustice is alive
The issues of our day, our responsibility
The great chasm between white and black

The empathy within me pricks at my deepest nerve
Telling me to pay attention
God made me for a purpose, a profound one I learn

Will I put my power to use?
Will I be courageous enough to use my gifts now that I can see them?
Will I recognize my responsibility to this world?

Openness brought me knowledge
Knowledge brought me awareness
Awareness has shown me the system needs to change

The power of one
I am concerned and eager
I am passionate and ready

I’ll keep listening and seeking
For clear direction, I am ever so grateful
Because these are the things that matter in life

~Amanda Strang, Spring 2014

Transformation through Equine Facilitated Learning

 “Transformation is possible, but it takes time.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh

Since I was a little girl I have always had a passion for and a gift for working with horses. When I was in High School I knew that I would have a career within the therapeutic field. As I grew older and did more research, I discovered that there was a way to combine these two fabulous categories; Equine Facilitated Therapy (AKA: Equine Facilitated Learning). There are different types of EFT but they all endorse the principle of helping people through the way of the horse regardless of what the person may be troubled by (psychological, physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.).

Deborah Arthur and her Capstone Course at Portland State University, “Mobilizing Hope”, has given me the opportunity to further explore my interest in EFT through working with HOPE Equestrian in Central Point, Oregon.
As you can see, while there are only two certified instructors and one executive director, there are countless volunteers ready to help and learn. The staff was phenomenal in their communication skills, willingness to help volunteers with things they may not have encountered before, and most of all, were more than incredible with the students. This particular program sees a wide multitude of diagnoses as well as physically and/or mentally impaired and has made leaps and bounds of improvement with their students. What I found the most rewarding and fun was connecting with the students. Especially when you could connect with and help someone who experiences a completely different reality than you do. Even after this course has ended, I still plan on volunteering in the future.

The books that were assigned this course also contributed to my learning experience: The Impossible Will Take a Little While by Paul Loeb, Living Faith by Curtis Paul DeYoung,, and Mobilizing Hope by Adam Taylor. They spoke of mystic activists who fought for what they believed in even if they had to do some things or act in ways they were not the most happy about. Some of the amazing stories and hardships we read about were off Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dalai Lama, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and many others. One of the most important points that really resonated with me this term was that it takes small steps to make monumental changes; just as I have felt within my experience at HOPE Equestrian. Small moments spent with the students there created a ripple effect of positive change within their lives. We must never forget that no matter how great or how small, every moment, intention, thought, and action makes a powerful difference. 

Brandy Stromme, Spring 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hope and Faith

I can hardly remember back when I was in middle school, but if I remember correctly, we didn’t have the same pressures as kids do these days. The advances of society can be part of the blame. We encourage growth in the world today and with that growth there comes a responsibility for us to grow and mature with society.  Well middle school students today are forced to meet these advances head on and some with no direction on which way to go. For some students advancing is not always just that easy. Some students do not have the tools to keep up with their peers, whether it is in the academic or social arena, some just fall behind.  Most of us parents send our kids to school without even thinking twice that they may not be at the same academic level of most of the kids in their classes. We assume you are in sixth grade, so you should know sixth grade material right? The previous school said they were ready so we trust in what the professionals tell us.
I had the wonderful opportunity to do my community based learning at a local middle school. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked this type of volunteer work, especially because middle school kids, at least eighth graders, are one step from high school, so having them listen to you could prove to be difficult. As I receive my first assignment in the volunteer world, I was met by the science teacher and was told that he needed me to encourage one of the kids to participate with his group so he can be included in the group work. From what I was told the student is withdrawn from the rest of the class and usually just sits there by himself during class and group time. The teacher had his hands full with the rather large class size of kids as she was demonstrating how to perform a science project. I sat next to the student, introduced myself and eventually helped him engage with his group. When I went back the next week my volunteer time, I was assigned the science class again and the same student looked eager to see me, and this time he willing went with his group and participated. Seeing this student go outside his normal comfort zone was confirmation for me that by giving kids the extra support and showing them they have hope, they can accomplish anything. I know this was just a small fraction of help or assistance that some of the students that feel left out need, but it is a big step forward for one kid that now has the confidence he needs to be successful. You see this student was probably going to get a bad grade in the class due to him not participating in group sessions.  Now he will be graded accordingly from his input and knowledge of the class.

I am currently reading a book title “The Hope” by Andrew Harvey. The book talks about stories ordinary people have had and how they persevered through having faith and hope. Some of the stories were about giving back to the community in the capacity of giving someone else hope. In one of the stories a man’s father is on his last days and leans over to tell his son “All that will matter when you lie dying, as I am now, is knowing that you gave what you could to help others and that you are loved, not for what you have and not even for what you have done, but for what you are” (Harvey).  I truly believe in these words as helping others should be from the kindness of your heart and not in return of anything. Helping others and giving back to your community is what will allow hope to be sustainable. I am sharing this book with three of my children so they will understand and know what a great gift of giving is and to always have faith because without faith it is hard to have hope.

Harvey, Andrew (2009-08-01). The Hope (p. 48). Hay House. Kindle Edition.

~Melvin Smith, March 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

Together We Dance

Together We Dance

Rosa Sanchez, March 2014

learning from Mosi

Mosi was finally focusing on the essay worksheet I had placed in front of him. His distraction was understandable – the community room that held Homework Club was filled to the brim with the boisterous voices of his fellow students and neighbors at Kateri Park. Children of all ages and ethnicities were talking, singing, chatting, laughing, teasing, and most importantly, studying. The adult and teenage volunteers, most of them from Portland State University and surrounding high schools, were seated one or two to a table. Each volunteer had their head bent over a student’s homework, offering the child encouragement and support.
I turned back to Mosi and his essay about a friendly giant.

Mosi was only in the second grade, but he was large for his age, possessing a deep voice and a commanding presence. Mosi seemed to feel that his calling in life was to be ringleader to the rest of the children, so it was challenging to move his attention away from the conversation and homework of his fellow students and back towards the business at hand.

Just as Mosi was finishing up his brainstorming, a teasing little hand tried to snatch his pencil away. It belonged to the tiny and mischievous Abasi, whose innocent face hid a true prankster. Both boys were Somali Bantu. Mosi spoke sharply to Abasi in their mother tongue and received an impertinent reply in return. Though I didn’t understand the language, I could see that the conversation was about to get heated. I made an effort to turn Mosi’s attention back to me.

“Is that Swahili you’re speaking?” I asked. Mosi shrugged his shoulders.

“It’s what we speak at home.”

As an Applied Linguistics student, I had been drawn to Kateri Park because of its immigrant and refugee population. Ten different ethnicities were represented here, Somali Bantu being the majority, along with Ethiopian, Nepali, Burmese Karen, Nicaraguan, Cuban, Russian, Vietnamese and others.

“I think it’s so great that you speak more than one language,” I told Mosi, “I wish I could too.”

“Mmm,” said Mosi, gazing around the room with a neutral expression.

The linguist in me nudged again. “Do you think you’ll want to speak only English when you get older? Do you think you’ll forget your other language?”

Mosi turned to look straight at me, for the first time. “I will never forget.” His young face was suddenly very serious. “I remember everything from before.”

I wanted to ask him if he meant before this family came to the United States, but I reminded myself that I wasn’t here as a linguistics student, but as a tutor, and we returned to his essay.

            Homework Club serves the children living at Kateri Park, a community of cheerfully painted apartments in Southeast Portland developed by Catholic Charities. Homework Club is organized and run by Elisabeth Gern, Kateri Park’s Resident Services Coordinator since 2006.

Homework Club in its current form could not exist without the cheerful and energetic presence of Elisabeth, whose relationship with the children is a marvel to behold. While the volunteer tutors occasionally struggle to keep the children seated and quiet, Elisabeth, though a small woman, will plow into the fray and put the room in order with a tongue that is both firm and good humored. She knows each child by name and can knowledgeably speak of their personality, schoolwork, and family life. Elisabeth’s affection for the children is contagious, as is her belief in each child’s academic success and personal worth.

Although Elisabeth is the heart of Homework Club, she is vocal about the necessity of volunteers, who act as the backbone: “It’s been going on for some time that we’ve got this solid core of people who we can count on twice a week. So every Homework Club day there’s a crew of people who I know are going to be there, supplemented by high school students and community helpers. But the core of it is the capstones. It makes a huge difference. So from being chaotic and unmanageable, it became sustainable. It’s an asset to everybody, to the kids and to the community, and you know, it’s also a really interesting capstone partnership.”

            And indeed it is. My experience with visiting Homework Club and Kateri Park twice a week has been both enjoyable and fascinating. After a few weeks of tutoring, I began to see the value of what we were accomplishing with Homework Club – helping the children with their schoolwork was of course essential, but more importantly it was the act of creating a space in which our time and attention was completely at the disposal of the children. You could tell how much they relished all that focus – despite all their complaining about schoolwork, every day they formed a line outside the door and argued over who got to be the first one to go into Homework Club. 
~ Mary Paleo, March 2014