Sowing the Seeds of Service Together

The Notre Dame Mission Volunteers yearly Mid-Year Conference was hosted February 18-21st in “Charm City”, also known as Baltimore. It was my first time visiting DC’s oft-disregarded neighbor, and I am pleased to report that I had an unforgettable experience. It was literally hundreds of NDA Americorps members from every city

around the country: Boston, Boulder, Seattle, Philadelphia, Watsonville, Atlanta, Chicago, Baltimore, Phoenix, Dayton, Apopka, Cincinnati, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. To encourage intermingling, each member was arranged to dine and enjoy the program with members from other teams. It was exciting, comprehensive, a learning experience, affirming, and rejuvenating. Although it was at the mid-way point of our 11 month term of service, I felt a sense of inner-weariness, as if I’ve been doing this job for an entire school year. This sense of exhaustion was acknowledged and accepted by the leaders of our organization, and that was extremely satisfying. Those 3 days went by in the blink of an eye, but if I were to break the extended weekend down into a series of easily accessible bullet points, I would choose the following.

Mid Year Swag

Mid-Year is…

  • Collaborative – Admittedly, I was initially leery of table assignment constraints – sure, meeting new Americorps peeps would be fun, but the majority of our scheduled activities were spent in the conference room. Would it really be necessary to sit with virtual strangers the entire time? Fortunately, I immediately knew that the people sitting at my table were meant to be there, we were meant to share our stories, discover our common ground, and forge friendships. There were questions on a piece of paper, intended to prompt dialogue about our individual experiences and incite critical thinking about our purpose as Americorps members. It struck me how so much of my table-mates’ perspectives resonated with my own: a sense of idealism, pleasure with the meaning of our tasks, frustration with the many unforeseen roadblocks and a persistent question – what’s next? Some of us have already applied to higher education, different jobs, or are making plans to do so. Others of us still don’t know what the future holds, but being able to share this uncertainty aloud and have others relate to you felt really good. Sometimes these conversations come up among the Seattle NDA team, but it is easy to only relate with your own microcosm and forget that there are many others who have similar doubts or unsurety. Not only that, but I enjoy meeting new people with fresh energies, perspectives, and points of view. I lucked out in that my table had a really great group dynamic with the loudest voices being the most energetic and uplifting. On the last night, we chanted “Table 28!” on the last day, had a group acapella of “I Believe I Can Fly” and had a group dougie session. The entire room was up dancing and reveling in the inclusive, and rare Americorps community.
  • Rejuvenating– Firstly, the NDA national office did a stand-up job of making sure their members were well-cared for whilst arising early to eat breakfast and participate in workshops. Not to mention the prvilege of staying in a nice hotel where people are literally paid to clean up after you. The ambiance of the conference gave me the sense that in exchange for our energy, passion, sleep, personal lives, daylight hours, and

    spare money, we were being treated to a well-deserved break, in gratitude. Since I work at a school all day, if there is a rare sunny day in Seattle, usually I am not lucky enough to see the sunshine. During one long break, a group of friends and I went down to the Inner Harbor and watched an impromptu magic show. It was a nice outside and I fully appreciated being able to not have a care in the world. Mid-Year is a respect for human limits that oppression and inequality simply do not regard. In our day-to-day we are usually so bogged down in everything that we haven’t done that there isn’t really time to respect the signs of exhaustion that our bodies send us in various ways: tight shoulders, slight headaches

    , lack of concentration, clenched jaws and many more. In the midst of activity, it isn’t necessarily apparent when are physically or mentally in “fight mode”. Once a state of relaxation disrupts this habit, the absence of tension is salient, and I certainly noticed the shift. However relaxing Mid-Year was, the rejuvenation piece was just as important because it isn’t over yet, we still needed to return to our normal routines.  Rejuvenation also came in the form of our keynote speakers, one per day.

  • The speaker with whom I most connected was Reverend William Lamar IV, the exceptionally gifted speaker who drew heavily upon the philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He talked about the incredible gift that we’re giving that is sometimes overlooked: our physical bodies. The amount of energy it takes to be at our sites everyday and actively engage with our youth with passion and full hearts takes quite a toll. He mentioned that the doctor who performed the autopsy on King claimed that although he was 39 years old at death, he had the heart of a person in their 60s or 70s. This work is relentless and it takes an incredible toll on our bodies. We make so many sacrifices because we “remember our destinies,” he said. We know that “the world as it is is not the world as it was intended. We work to build communities that are hopeful, helpful, imaginative and critical.” This was an invigorating speech because the emphasis wasn’t to do more than we already are or keep going until we can’t anymore – it took into account that we are already impassioned and caring, powerful, yet human. Remembrance of our motivations to do this work is what will carry us through the rest of the year.

    • Thought-provoking  

– There were four workshops that we elected to take that covered a myriad of various topics; everything from working with working with gay youth, to Tai Chi and the Emotional Lives of Students. These workshops were so important because they offered the opportunity to get valuable professional development to take back to our sites. At my “How to Develop Healthy Relationships with Students”, I realized that I was blurring the line between friendship and authority with my students. I felt the best way to forge strong bonds with my teens was to show that them I wasn’t that different from them – even though I am 7 years their senior. That was in error, I am very different from them and I was given the proper tools on how to re-frame those relationships upon my return to work.
  • During the group meetings in the conference room, each team had the opportunity to share the story of their team, the communities they served and whatever else they wanted to portray to their fellow NDA members. The Seattle team went the humorous route – and to incredible reception. I suppose a silly mockumentary about preferring to walk dogs instead of work with kids provided levity to a job that can often feel so steeped in austerity. The work that we do is far from a joke, as I’ve said it’s exhausting and neverending and constantly calls for creativity and adaptation. Still, I appreciated the compliments and laughed right along with everyone else. Watching the other members’ “story telling” was nice because it gave us a sense of how diverse NDA is. The city of Watsonville in California, a majority Latino city, has a heavy emphasis on integrating the Latin culture with the work of the the members’. One of my table-mates serves in Watsonville and he uses Spanish with his parties every single day. I’ve lived in a foreign country twice and it is mentally and emotionally exhausting to speak in a different language all day. Yes, it is gratifying and sometimes exhilarating to see the ascension of your skills, but reasoning with adolescents in English is hard enough. For me, it gave me an understanding of the different sacrifices that we all make, separate and alike.

I’m not sure of my NDA future regarding another term, but Mid-Year was immensely satisfying. Our parting gift was a can full of sunflower seeds, a play on the wording of this year’s theme. I will plant those seeds come summer, and provided they grow, I will fondly think of the meaning of Mid-Year and how the seeds I’ve sown will carry on into my future. Thank you, NDA.

Mid Year Video








Two weeks ago the NDA team had a Team Friday training on Food Security from a member from Cooking Matters , an organization that educates families on how to eat healthy on a budget. When I heard that we were having a talk as well as a hands on food demonstration, I was excited, but not thrilled. Cooking is awesome, but I’m not very good at it and although I’m a pescatarian, a lot of what I eat isn’t very healthful.

Little did I know that that food training would put me on a trajectory of healthy, mindful eating. And this is not just a thing I’m trying, I’d like to implement these changes for the rest of my life. Whoah.

Here are some of the surprising and interesting things that we learned during our training.

  • Since 2008, more than 160,000 households in Washington state struggle with hunger. This means that at least 6.1% of households are food insecure.
  • Food security: Households that are so financially stretched that they cannot be certain that all household members will not go hungry.
  • The Children’s Alliance estimates that at least 1 in 4 children in Washington live in food insecure households. Perhaps even 1 in 4 children that we serve through our organizations. This is a scary high number.

Many families that are struggling to put food on the table do not have the time to make nutritious meals for their little ones. Cooking Matters provides cookbooks with simple and inexpensive recipes that are also healthy. Collectively, we made a Northwest Apple Salad, a healthy dessert, and a Barley and Lentil Soup, hearty and high in fiber.

Whilst we toiled with knives and onions, Janna, our Cooking Matters representative gave us a little chat about what healthy eating really means as opposed to the dominant discourse. The bane of food is primarily framed as being its caloric and fat content. However, sugar and artificial additives, such as partially hydrogenated oils [ie, margarine] take a much worse toll on our bodies.

The sugar part is what really got me – so it’s actually bad that I drink juice with every meal? And accompany every meal with some sugary snack? I’ve even been known to enjoy a tall glass of sugar, I mean apple cider, every now and again. But well, it really got to me because of what I know about Type 2 Diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes, can be on set because your pancreas stops producing insulin or your body stops reacting to insulin as it should. There seems to  be a lot of debate as to whether diabetes is caused by excessive sugar intake, but there is strong evidence that suggests that eating lots of sugar with every meal isn’t a good idea.

I don’t really know why, but that training scared me straight. Or sugarless. I examined the amount of sugar and lack of vegetables I consume on a typical days [around 30g of sugar with every meal , as much as in a cup of yogurt, and maybe 1 serving of veggies]. There are 4 grams of sugar in 1 sugar cube.

 I drank at least 1 of these per day. Sugarstacks provides the picture, as well as a lot of other titillating sugar and food visual calculations. That is hella sugar.

Peace out pyramid, according to the new USDA  “My Plate” diagram for healthy eating, it’s really pretty simple.

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains.
  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals ― and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks

Simple, eh?

Er, not really for someone who has spent her lifetime drinking juice and developing an unhealthy obsession for smoothies and ice cream, but I am sure going to try.

Last weekend I went healthy food shopping and most of what I purchased was fruit and vegetables. No juice, and no ice cream [a feat for me, really].

Here are the rules for what I eat, it’s slightly flexible, but not sugar wise.

  • I can drink the equivalent of 1 glass of juice per day – but half of it must be watered down. 
  • Half of every meal has to be fruits and vegetables. 
  • Absolutely no snacking on salty or sweet [candy-level sweet] snacks at work. 
  • I can have 1 serving of something ultra-sugary per day, but it has to be accompanied with some healthful OR at the end of the day, as a reward for being good. 

hummus, pita, blueberries, honeydew melon, pear, greek yogurt, celery with peanut butter and craisins.

it's sweetened with stevia, a natural sugar that does not elicit an insulin reaction

”]On Thursday I made a very delicious and healthy salad: romaine lettuce and spinach, cucumbers, apples, mushrooms,  tomatoes with goat cheese and viniagrette. tt was delicious. beverage was water, I also put granola and blueberries in the yogurt to sweeten it up.

I definitely notice that I am much calmer without sugar coursing through my veins at every minute, and I noticeably have less tolerance for sweet beverages, but I still have sugar cravings. Chocolate sings to me in grocery stores. However, I feel more hydrated and energized during the day since I am drinking about 64 oz. per day now. I also make sure to read the nutrition facts on the back of any food that I buy and I even requested this info at a Starbucks [to their chagrin]. While it is challenging for me to resist sugar temptations, it is rewarding in the extreme to make my own meals and find that I don’t need fish to feel full after a meal. Thank you, Janna!