Final Reflections

Bethany and I are officially home in Omaha, NE.  We completed our Live It! Project on Sunday, July 10 and now we are spending the rest of the summer with our families.  We are both sad to have left the Twin Cities but especially bummed not to have more time with all the wonderful people we met over the past two months at Clare Midtown.

It’s hard to describe the relationships we formed with the residents, but I like to think of them as father/daughter or uncle/niece relationships.  Our interactions were silly, sarcastic, honest, loving, and serious at the same time.  Even though we only spent two months with these people we felt like we had known them for years.  Everyone started calling us “the girls” and we hope they will remember us over the summer and until we return to Minnesota in January (after Fall semester abroad).

Here are some photos from our last events at Midtown.

The Live It! Grant gave us the chance to carry out an amazing project.  We watched relationships grow and residents become more open to activities.  They came to events in good moods and were more social with each other.  When we said goodbye to everyone they were extremely thankful for the work we did at Midtown and were sad to see us go.  We hope that volunteers and staff will continue the main events we started like movie nights, bingo night, bowling trips, Clare Cafe, and yoga class.  We encourage everyone to look at the three guidebooks we created for the IGC (specifically the IGC student council and members of the CEC).  One is specifically for the IGC and gives a section on “lessons learned” and a section on “how to create community”.  The second guidebook is a copy of the book we left for the residents at Clare Midtown, and the third guidebook is a copy of the staff/volunteer book.  We also left a CD containing all the pictures we took during our project.  Thank you IGC Student Council for giving us the opportunity to create community at Clare Midtown.

Recent Events at Midtown

Bethany and I have been taking a lot of pictures and we thought we’d share some!  The past few weeks having been going great at Midtown.  We are constantly receiving positive feedback from the residents.  Many often say, “You guys are lifting spirits.  You are bringing people out of their rooms.  I am more social now.  You guys are really doing a great thing here.”  It has taken over a month to get to the point where we can actually see interactions among residents changing.  New people continue coming to events and people don’t seem as shy or afraid to head down to the community room for events.  We see friendships slowly forming, which is one of the main goals of this project.  We initially provided events that drew people in, and now we can sit back and watch the community build on its own as relationships grow.

Here are some photos from our first bbq/potluck dinner last week.  While we were cooking in the kitchen (since we didn’t have an outdoor grill yet) we accidentally set off the smoke alarms throughout the entire building.  The fire department came to shut off the alarms, and we were slightly embarrassed at our lack of cooking skills.  However, many residents came downstairs to see if there was a real fire and ended up staying for the barbeque!

These are some pictures from both of our bowling outings to Bryant Lake bowl.  The residents really enjoyed themselves, especially the ones who hadn’t bowled in years.  The bowling events have been successful because they have given residents a chance to get out of Midtown and spend time together out in the community.  Plus, everyone enjoys getting a strike in bowling!

Here are a few pictures from bingo, game night, pet day, and flower art.

We only have a few weeks left with everyone at Midtown, but we realize that our work is nowhere near done.  We are constantly focusing on how to maintain sustainability and our goal this week is to start on the guidebooks.  We want residents to have a resource that will help them continue the events and activities we have set up when they want to.  Upcoming events…yoga, lasagna dinner, canoe trip, fishing, piano lessons, 4th of July bbq, salsa dance class, another bowling trip, and a finale talent show.  We are so excited and enthusiastic to continue forming connections with the residents.  We are continually surprised by the turnout at events and feel like proud parents as we watch people form connections and have real conversations with one another.  We also realize that the residents at Midtown are becoming our friends.  We are sad to think about going abroad for a semester and not seeing everyone at Midtown.  However, we are already thinking about the possibilities for spring semester.  (Now I’m getting a little ahead of myself!)

More pictures to come soon!  Also, for those of you in the Twin Cities–feel free to attend any of the events at Midtown.  Check the Daily Piper for details on upcoming events!

Follow up to Bethany’s Post

I would like to say that Bethany just summed up our experiences over the past few weeks so beautifully and honestly.  After every event we host, it seems that we go through a full spectrum of emotions.  First we are anxious awaiting the start of an event, then we are bummed when there isn’t a huge turnout, then we are excited to meet a new resident, then we question the role these events play in the culture at Clare Midtown, then we doubt our worth and contribution to the organization, then we somehow come full circle and feel proud of ourselves for being a presence and just trying.  Based on feedback from the residents we are slowly getting to know, it seems like our efforts are being appreciated.  Since we are here for such a short time, we realize that our project is simply the catalyst for what will happen throughout the rest of the summer and for years to come.  Our big challenge right now is deciding which events appeal to the largest number of residents, and which events we want to pass along to volunteers when we leave.  We are also working on getting items donated for Clare Cafe in order to ensure sustainability.  If anyone has ideas for coffee or food donations (we have already tried Dunn Bros, Breadsmith, and Kowalskis) please shoot us an email.  We really only need enough coffee and food for about 10 residents on Sunday mornings.

The bowling event we hosted on Sunday night was by far the best experience we have had at Midtown.  We spent the whole week getting excited for bowling because every time we passed the front desk at Midtown it seemed that more residents had signed up to bowl.  In the end, we had around twenty names of people who planned to attend.  However, we showed up to a community room of only three residents and our friend Debbie, the volunteer coordinator for Clare.  I went and knocked on many doors, checking to see if people had simply forgotten about bowling, but no one answered.  I soon realized that this small group actually contributed to the success of the event because it was a very manageable number.  Bethany and I were so excited to see a new resident eager to bowl with us.  We had never met this resident before and he said he had been looking forward to bowling all week.  With the smaller group, we were all able to ride the bus together and share one lane for bowling.  All of us had a blast taking pictures, getting to know each other, and improving our bowling techniques.  One resident probably got over four strikes.  Bethany and I realized that the event was so successful because the residents had a chance to leave Midtown, ride a bus, and bowl (something all of them hadn’t done for years) with friends.  We think that outings will be the most successful events because it allows residents to leave the quiet halls of Midtown and head out into the community.

We learn something new every day at Midtown–from residents, staff, or through our extensive reflection.  We are looking forward to the events planned this week.  On Saturday night we are having a potluck dinner with some form of music (maybe a sing-along type of thing).  We will keep you posted on how it goes!

Do residents want community?

Over the past two weeks, Bethany and I have been immersed in the culture of Clare Housing.  We have met many staff members, shared our project ideas, and now feel comfortable at Clare Midtown.  Last week we had the chance to go door-to-door passing out information booklets previously made by a girl scout.  The booklets are guides of resources around the Twin Cities (nearby banks, taxi services, bus routes, grocery stores, etc.)  For the residents who answered their doors, we had a chance to hand them a booklet, introduce ourselves, and briefly explain our summer project.  Many residents seemed excited to meet us and willing participate in activities.  They helped us brainstorm ideas of events they wanted to see at Midtown.  One resident really wanted a bowling night, so we ended up planning one for Sunday, June 5.  We placed a sign up sheet on the front desk at Midtown, and within three days, over ten people had signed up.  Now we just have to wait and see if all of them actually show up on Sunday.  After hosting three events, we are beginning to change our definition of success.  Is an event a success if four people participate?  Ten people?  We hosted a cookie baking event last week, and only resident helped bake the cookies.  At first we were disappointed–we wanted a large turnout because that would indicate that our community building strategies were working.  However, upon reflection and discussion, we realized that we did affect one resident.  This was a chance for his voice to be heard and for him to feel welcome in a community space.

Our biggest challenge is figuring out how to meet the needs of the population with which we are working.  We realize that we do not come from the same background or share exactly the same experiences as someone who is HIV positive.  I often find myself wondering if residents would prefer to be left alone, and simply don’t care that they don’t know their neighbors.  Since this is apartment-style living, every resident has the right to privacy.  We are still trying to find a balance of reaching out to residents while respecting their personal space.  However, I believe that there are residents who would love to feel like part of a community and just need someone to schedule events that will make them feel comfortable in new social situations.


Global Citizenship

Before applying for the Live It! grant I never had a clear definition of global citizenship.  I assumed it had something to do with the expectation to serve others, the importance of being aware of global issues, and having the motivation to act when necessary.  However, throughout this process I realize that there are many definitions for global citizenship and there are many characteristics of a global citizen.  Dean Samatar explained four themes of global citizenship in our session:  Peace/War; Freedom; Economic Inequality; and Environment.  Through his explanation of global citizenship, I realized that my project is very complex and will serve the community on many levels. First, Bethany and I will raise awareness about the importance of building a community in a space that does not currently have a very strong one.  Second, we will listen to the residents and give them the freedom to decide which activities they want.  These activities, over time, will build friendship and a sense of community among the residents.  Third, we will set up sustainable programs that can be continued by residents of Clare Midtown once we leave.  Fourth, we will encourage the surrounding neighborhoods to get involved with Clare Midtown, which will spread awareness and help form a larger community.  And fifth, we will compile our reflections and experiences in a guidebook that will be given to Clare Midtown.  Clare Midtown can choose to distribute this guidebook to other facilities if they choose, as a way to share our gained knowledge with others in order to replicate our project in the future.  This last part really fits under the definition of global citizenship, because we are not only thinking on the very specific, community scale, but also on a much broader scale.  If our project is a success, it will be an example for other people in the future.  We will be open to change and transformation in our project, and will remain mindful of the impacts we are having locally as well as globally.

Service and Reflection

Service, to me, means seeing need and figuring out the most efficient way to address that need.  I think that service is only successful when the second party welcomes what I provide, participates in the project, or is somehow engaged in the work I’m doing.  I never want to make assumptions about what someone needs; instead I want to ask them if they need anything and discover how I can use my skills to help.  This mindset fuelled the idea for our Live IT project.  After leading a Christmas party sing-along at Clare Housing, the volunteer coordinator emailed us saying how much she loved our performance and how it truly touched the residents present.  She also briefly commented on how she is constantly trying to bring more residents to events and even though 25 of them say they plan to attend, only seven will actually show.  When I heard this, a light bulb went on–the volunteer coordinator needed help.  Bethany and I decided that this was the project calling us and this is where our skills could be used to serve others.
The first few weeks of our project will be spent having casual one-on-one conversations with the 45 residents of Clare Midtown.  These conversations will be used to 1. get to know the residents and allow them to understand who we are and the details of our project, and 2.  figure out what community means to each of them.  We will ask questions to discover ways to better build a community in Clare Midtown.  Through these conversations, I know that will we learn an overwhelming amount of information.  Not only will we learn how the residents want to build a community, we will also begin to understand them as people.  Forming relationships will be an incredible experience that will teach us how to interact with all different kinds of people.

Most of our learning will happen when we process the information we gather and when we consciously reflect on the progress of our project.  Bethany and I plan to reflect daily on our experiences at Clare Housing.  We also plan to be in regular contact with Eily in order to keep her updated on our project and receive her feedback.  Our reflections can be used as a tool to teach others about the successes/failures we experience and how we deal with them.  We are hoping to use our project as a model for the future on “how to build a community.”  Ideally, this could be repeated in many settings–retirement homes, hospitals, schools, etc.