Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reflections on Martin Luther King Day/National Day of Service, 2013

Hours before Summit 5 and Ocean 7 FEMA Corps teams ever arrived at a community center in the Rockaways, New York City, somebody laid down a massive plastic sheet and taped the edges to protect the floor from drops of off-white primer. 

Earlier then that, the various untouchables in the room--electrical outlets, door handles, bathroom signs--got their own coatings of protective tape. Earlier still, dozens of small cardboard boxes were transformed into breakfast kits, each with an orange, a muffin and a carton of orange juice. Orange T-shirts with catchy logos arrived at the center in plastic storage boxes. Cans of paint and primer that could stun a sasquatch arrived on-site, together with shiny black paintbrushes that had never seen paint. Rollers and paint tins were also in evidence and abundance. And somewhere in the distant past, a volunteer service coordinator got an email or a phone call from the Service Learning Initiators of two FEMA Corps teams, asking if we might be able to serve at their site on Martin Luther King Day, 2013.

Yes, we went out and did a hearty chunk of direct service on Monday. Yes, our crew of service members coated a room in primer in record time, and yes, it's a wonderfully reflection-inspiring and creative activity and what have you. But it would be a disservice not to include all the little things that had to happen so we could serve, both to the people who made them happen for us and to the spirit of a service day in and of itself. I would say that's true for any kind of service work, really, or even regular old volunteering. A good, solid admin and log department is what makes it possible for the grunts to go out and do what we're supposed to do, and as seamlessly as things have gone with Summit 5's volunteering stints, it's easy to forget that they very easily could not.

But they did, and it was quite fun. We rolled paint on walls and stood on chairs to reach the bits behind the water pipes, sang songs from Les Misérables and traded funny stories as we worked around the edges of padded pillars and door lintels. Physical service is always a nice change of pace from canvassing, even the targeted organization canvassing that we're doing nowadays, and it was fun to crack wise and get covered in paint and swap outrageous mustaches. Best of all, we got finished in record time, paving the way for celebratory ice cream and a Service Learning reflection back in our hotel rooms. 

There's plenty of deeper meaning to be mined from this day, but at least for my own part, I choose to hold my peace. We took time out from one method of service to perform another, this one deeply historical and patriotic, celebrating an American icon. The day afterwards, we hopped back into the van and cruised through the streets of Hampton Beach, looking for rental properties for disaster survivors to live in. Tomorrow will be the same thing; next week, or two weeks from now, who knows what craziness will be our daily jobs. That's life in the Corps, and it's a life of service in whatever form. Right now, that's enough for me.

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