Back and Ready to Attack!

Our spring break trip has provided us with a unique opportunity to get to know some of New York City’s homeless and hungry populations and the organizations that help feed these people. The array of soup kitchens and food pantries allowed us to both evaluate what it means to be impoverished and to discover the best ways that we can help. Throughout the week, we all felt that we were helping on a small scale, adding positivity to someone’s day, but on a grand scale we knew these soup kitchens could have gone on without us. This eye-opening experience has inspired us to continue to work with the hungry population in Maine, especially through the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, and we now hope to share our experience with others at Colby.

Today everyone arrived back at campus, excited to see friends and refreshed from the week away. Brief interactions with many of my friends helped me realize that I now have so much more to share with them. There are so many untold stories of these homeless New Yorkers and our interactions with them that I hope to tell. From Shelley’s long talk with a woman struggling for a better job to Andy’s walk with a food pantry guest and a box full of food, we now have insight into a world far from Colby.

I won’t give anything away, but we now have plans to communicate our experience with Colby and continue learning from Waterville’s hungry and homeless population. Many thanks to all the people who helped us discover New York through the lens of poverty. We promise to keep exploring these issues and sharing what we find.

A new element to ASB this year was fundraising. Like last year, we wanted to have an alternative spring break trip that was cost free for participants, so that regardless of a student’s socio-economic status, he/she still has the opportunity to participate. Starting at $0, the group raised $3170 in a little over a month. Without the generous contributions of family and friends both on and off campus, we would not have been able to experience what we did over spring break.

While we did not live in poverty this week, by raising money and working with a limited budget, we were able to connect our experience outside of volunteering to the issues we were learning about while volunteering. As leaders, we spent time figuring out how to maximize our funds by buying cheap foods from low-cost sellers. During the week, we ate and reworked leftovers, regardless of how unappetizing they appeared. The places we went, the location where we stayed, and our means of transportation were all low-cost or free. And as we fundraised, every dollar made a difference; we started calculating in terms of how many brownies and cupcakes it would take us to meet our goal.

We were impressed with how flexible, dedicated and responsible each student was to the trip this week. As leaders, it was incredible and rewarding to see the discussions and thoughts unfold and shared throughout the trip. If it weren’t for the students and the supporters, ASB 2011 wouldn’t have materialized. We are so grateful for the greater Colby community and their faith in this project. Thank you.

Kelsey, Larissa, Madi (KLM)


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The Train of Thought

Maine to New York City: March 2011.

Our duty fulfilled a little after six pm, a newscaster’s voice was the last sound my fellow volunteers and I will associate with the memory of volunteering at Grand Central Community Center. As we left the Soup Kitchen, a crowded audience of New York City’s homeless was sitting in chairs, eyes fixed to the TV, all learning about the revolution in Libya and the earthquake in Japan. Our group of five Colby students exited the shelter and entered the streets of midtown Manhattan, to the shopping district of centralized wealth and consumerism. I stole a glance down the dusky Avenue and saw the ghost of the twin towers through the gray sprinkling mist before we descended into the submerged world of the New York subway. Below, a man was asking the crowd for a donation: his wife and kid were starving and had no money for dinner (“God bless you, have a blessed day”). Further along in the bustle of commuters, a gospel trio sat singing behind an offering hat, their song filling the air with the harmony of a Negro Spiritual: “It’s been a long time coming but I know change gon’ come.” Was this change a reference to something greater than the change jingling in my wallet? Before I could answer myself, the announcer shouted:

“Attention, righteous children of Creation! All Aboard! [The Train of Thought] , destined for departure.”

With no echo of beginning & no prospect for an end, these tracks will take you farther than your mind has ever been. (Stand clear of the closing doors please!)

…And welcome! How pleased we are to have you on this trip through space and time, to teach you of the Middle Way my medium is rhyme. Our consciousness is building now so don’t get left behind, as a people we are growing in the ways we all define: Responsibility, humanity, an educated mind. Our duty to ourselves now extends to humankind.

Reciprocal relationship: Self and Society. Learn more about yourself – the spirit and the Soul. Soon see us all grow cause the parts make up the whole…

May we all consider perspective gained through the empathy of new experience: acknowledge the lives of others by stepping into shoes, see our collective consciousness shaped by a myriad of views. Our very nature itself is an eternally evolving sphere of emotions and opinions.

Permanence an illusion so epochal contribution is all that we can claim. The time is now for revolution, the time is now for change. The time is always moving and we never stay the same. Synapses rearrange as our energies exchange, scientists are talking evolution of the brain.

Suggestion: Self-contemplation, reflect on your perceptions. Become aware of your thinking and your thoughts from sense impressions. You get it? Connection. Ponder this ability unique to human beings. Through conscious understanding you will see a deeper meaning. You owe it to yourself, you owe it to your brothers. You owe it to your sisters and you owe it to your mothers, to your fathers, those you know, those you don’t and all the others.

“Personal growth mirrors the growth of society. And it is only through dedication to the full growth of all individuals who make it up that a society has any hope of being true to itself” – Nietzsche

…Attention, righteous children of Creation! [The Train of Thought] is now entering the station. I leave you with one decision as I conclude my train narration: Get off or keep on moving, know the train will never stop. All you have to do is be aware as we ride The Train of Thought.

Gordon Fischer

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Getting somewhat more cultured in NYC

I woke up at 6 in the morning to Arvia’s usual voice when she was trying to savor some last bits of sleep. Luckily today my group didn’t have to get up till 7 and Arvia’s voice was pretty pleasant and harmonious enough to put me back to sleep, I managed to enjoy some sweet dreams in that one last hour… =)

So, one of the goals that didn’t get written down of ASB2011 is getting somewhat more ‘cultured’ in NYC. I guess today, group B very successfully achieved this! I’ll tell you how =)

Firstly, cultured people always go to important and official place. For that reason, after our delicious breakfast, group B headed off to the subway to make a visit to the UN visitor centre. The weather wasn’t being supportive but we had a good walk from the subway station to the UN anyway. New York streets were no less lively in the rain!

I got to see two exhibitions in the UN after a pretty serious security check at the entrance.  One exhibition was about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the other one is about mine victims in some Latin American countries. I felt very connected to these two topics because I’m learning about the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in one of my classes at Colby, and I come from Vietnam – a country where the danger of unexploded mines is among the highest in the world.

Lincoln Neighborhood Center Dining Area

We had to swiftly leave the UN because we had a work shift at 11 at Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center (Cultured people are always on time, or even early). The moment I walked in the place, I felt a welcoming atmosphere from the smiles of the woman at the reception desk and the people working in the kitchen. It wasn’t a hard work shift as there were not many people eating at this place today (perhaps due to the rainy weather…). Our work included making salad, setting up the tables, serving and cleaning up. At this point in time I guess we have all reached the Asian efficiency in doing these tasks, especially in folding napkins!

Madison preparing salad dressing

The highlight of the day was probably the interesting conversation that Gordon, Madi and Annie had with Kathryn – a guest at the neighborhood center whom they were serving. (Yes, cultured people have fruitful conversation over lunch table!) She opened herself up to the group easily, despite her quite-looking appearance. She is probably in her mid-80s and has been living in the street for the most part of her life. Kathryn is perhaps one of the few people in New York who could witness the change of this vibrant city in such a long period of time and special circumstance. Having an opportunity to hear stories for people like Kathryn is definitely one of the best experiences in ASB!

After Lincoln Neighborhood Center, we headed off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (I bet you know this: Cultured people go to museum and they know how to appreciate art) This museum is definitely the most amazing one that I’ve been to. With three floors and probably approximately thirty different exhibitions ranging from ancient Greek sculptures to modern photography, it should take weeks for one to get a sense of all the museum has to offer.

After dinner tonight, we had an insightful discussion about the roles of urban public facilities like parks and museums, since we have visited quite a few of them. The group leaders did a great job in connecting this topic to the theme of the trip: Urban poverty. We discussed about how these facilities might not get exposed equally to every class in the society. We also had a debrief about the diversity of New York after four days of working and visiting different areas in the city. And the best part of tonight’s discussion was Madison’s amazing idea about a project we could do with the Mid-Maine homeless shelter when we come back to Colby: Interviewing the guests at this shelter to make a video to bring them closer to the Colby community, since the perception of “poverty” is so abstract that if one doesn’t have the chance to interact with the real people like we do, it is hard to conceptualize and make it a part of his/her common sense… (Cultured people like making plans ahead =) )

Sorry about this dry piece of writing but I couldn’t make it better since I’ve been walking all day and I haven’t taken EN115 yet… I guess I should head to bed now because group B has to wake at at 6 tomorrow for a long work shift in the food bank. Stay tuned for an awesome blog post from DJ Big Gee a.k.a Gordon tomorrow! I hope you readers have some sweat cultured dreams after reading my cultured blog post =)

Hieu (a.k.a Hugh or Huey..)

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What Has Group 2 Been Up To? SOOOO MUCH!

Hello Followers!

Up until now, you’ve heard about the Monday and Tuesday adventures of one half of the group – but there is much to tell about what the other half of us have been up to. Yesterday, we started the day off by going downtown to the neighborhood of the Empire State Building. The building was so tall that the top was hidden behind clouds – literally! Then we headed over to Borders bookstore to relax at the cafe for a little while and some of us also explored Macy’s. That place is astounding in terms of size. While a couple of the girls were experiencing the expansive makeup section of the store, I rode the escalators all the way to the top, McDonald’s Shamrock Shake in hand (what else does one do in the largest department store in the world?). I didn’t actually do any shopping, nor did the others, but I think we all had fun exploring.

A little before noon, we arrived at Grand Central Neighborhood Services shelter to volunteer in the kitchen for lunchtime. We were disappointed to find out that a volunteer crew was already there and we were not needed at the time. They asked us if we could come back for dinner though – and we told them that we certainly could.

Okay, so after that we had about three hours to burn. And what does one do with three hours in the big city? Read, of course! Seriously, we all headed over to the famous Strand near Union Square and all five of us read for the next couple of hours. It was lovely.

At 3:30, we went back to the shelter and were able to volunteer for the dinner shift over the next couple of hours. The operation was a lot smaller than Francis Xavier, but I think that the intimacy was a positive change, allowing us to have a very different experience. For starters, we were able to communicate with the staff a lot more. We worked alongside a wonderful man named Carlos, who had only been working there for 1.5 weeks. It was incredible to note the pride he had in his new position – he was finally able to do something that clearly empowered him.

We were also able to communicate more with the clients of the shelter and other people being served at the kitchen. The vast majority of the people receiving food were very polite and grateful – which had a very positive effect on all of us. We were very happy to be there volunteering because we were able to perceive how our actions were definitely improving the days of those who stopped by. We were not able to engage in any extensive conversations with the clients there – as many of them took their food upstairs to eat. Those people who we did talk with, though, were very friendly. I had a great time volunteering.

Today, we were able to see a little more of the city. The entire group started off the day by traveling to the very peaceful and interesting Cloisters museum. I can safely say that the area up by the Cloisters is my favorite place in New York thus far. It was quiet up there and the view was stunning. Furthermore, there were many fuzzy, cute squirrels running around – and I am a sucker for the little devils. The museum itself was amazing. Some of the artwork in there was almost a millennium old. As a Religious Studies major, I found the Medieval Christian artwork very intriguing.

After viewing the beautiful religious artwork, our group underwent a great schism (hahaha…oh religious history jokes). But really, we broke off into our two groups again and took off in different directions. My group went to the Museum of Natural History. There were many different highlights for us at the museum. First, Arvia was absolutely enthralled by the dinosaur exhibit. Really, really enthralled. Like, unhealthily so. In fact, she is still talking about it right now. Second, a lot of us really liked some of the anthropological exhibits. The Asian, Pacific, and South American Peoples exhibits were specific favorites.

Our amazing trip to New York is now officially more than half over, but I am sure that our final two days of volunteering will be amazing. Some of us have a long day of volunteering tomorrow (8am-4pm), but I’m certain that we will enjoy every minute of it!

That’s all for now. Andy, signing out.

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A Day of Great Conversation

Team bonding on the way to the Cloisters.

Our third day in the big apple began the same way as yesterday–but with a lot more sunshine and less freezing rain. The walk to the Cloister Museum was much more pleasant as our views of the Hudson river and various gardens along the way were unobstructed by thick fog. The Museum held statues, tapestries, and pieces of buildings from earlier than the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

We arrived at Grand Central Neighborhood Center–our work site for the day–for the lunch shift, during which we served spaghetti, lasagna, ziti, and meatballs. Shelley made a point during our dinner discussion that the majority of food that we served over the past few days has been mostly carbs, which do not contain most nutrients necessary for optimal health. It was interesting to see yet another homeless shelter, and the dynamic between the volunteers and our guests was definitely different from the two other places we have worked. The small setup, while it provided a good opportunity for us to make conversation with the guests, also seemed to create a barrier between the volunteers at the serving counter and our guests, who were sitting just feet away. At some points, it was difficult to gauge whether the guests wanted to make conversation or not, and created an awkward environment. Shelley managed to sit down with a woman eating lunch at the shelter, and engaged in a fascinating conversation about the woman’s challenges in her life. It appeared that this was the first conversation she had had for a long time. Surprisingly, Leo, one of the kitchen employees, shooed her away after a while, saying that Shelley could ask questions, but was not allowed to have a conversation with this woman.

After our short lunch-serving session, we ventured to the main attraction of the day:

Bathing beauties in Bryant Park.

Starbucks. Madi caused a lot of commotion by destroying a lamp hanging with her massive height. Fortunately, we didn’t have to pay for it, but she felt really bad for causing so much damage. The coffee stop provided a much-needed break for our tired feet, and we soon ventured outside again towards Bryant Park, where we took advantage of the shining rays

to bronze our sunlight-deprived Maine faces.

We went to the beautiful New York Public Library and happened to see Renzo–one of Madison’s COOTers–sitting behind his laptop in the wifi room.

Touring the M&M store.

Hieu experienced his first view of Times square, and was amazed by all of the brightly lit signs and television screens adorning the hundreds of buildings. We were lured in by the M&M and Hershey’s store, where we purchased the perfect dessert to compliment our taco dinner: Reeses, Chocolate, Heath, and Kit Kats.

The happy family. (Minus Hieu).

Sitting at the dinner table back at OSA with our feet rested, our hearts warm, and our bellies full of tacos and Vietnamese fried rice, we watched a TED talk by Majora Carter, who discussed the importance of social and enviornmental considerations when building a community. Her moving speech made us think about how top-down approaches to helping communities by governments aren’t always the most effective in creating sustainable changes. Majora has a unique situation in that she is a woman with money and power who also has experience and knowledge to change her community (the South Bronx).

As we pack our (carb-heavy, but cheap!) lunches for tomorrow and prepare our schedules for the next few days, we look forward to working in a food bank, seeing more of the city, and spending more bonding time with our happy, loving family.

xoxo until tomorrow!


Colby ASB 2011

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Rain, Hail, Snow and Tina Fey

Hi everyone!

Today we were quite busy running around the city. This morning we ran out the door into the everchanging mélange of rain, hail and snow, which we only braved in hopes of visiting the cloisters. Jeans soaked and faces dripping in the cold we approached the building after what Hieu described as “a long hike” up. We were so excited to see the inside and get warm, but the cloisters are apparently closed on Mondays! We were devastated but recovered quickly once we made it to the Museum of Natural History.

Entering through a side door connected to the subway, I was apathetic to the idea of the museum and shivering still from our wet clothes. As soon as we walked into the first exhibit, everyones’ outlooks changed! I learned that birds migrate because of magnetic particles in their heads that interact with the earth’s poles, telling them which way to fly. I learned about the destructive “cookie cutter shark” that latches on to its much bigger prey and, as the sign puts it, “rotates its head to cut a cookie cutter shaped plug of flesh” out. We walked through the rain forest, saw the awesomely large whale in the marine room, and checked out tigers, lions, bears…and a 3 foot long preserved Maine lobster! I could list about 300 more animal facts I learned but I think our limited readership would lose interest.

In the afternoon we volunteered at POTS (Part of the Solution) in the Bronx. When we arrived, Edwin, or “E” as the guests refer to him, greeted us and since we were early Diz, his supervisor, told us we could just chill for a bit. We played cards until Edwin wandered over and taught us to play the cardgame version of Mafia, in which he involved the other volunteers and we all ended up in fits of laughter until it was time to start prep for the dinner rush!

We plated and served, interacting with guests and the chef, Oliver, who enjoyed giving Annie a hard time, which I found entertaining as he cackled at his jokes and Annie simply could not understand what he was saying. From time to time I’d translate, but mostly one of the dishwashers and I just enjoyed their confused interactions. We were definitely great friends with Oliver by the time we left and Edwin said he wanted to see us back there. We told him another group would be by tomorrow!

My rose, bud, and thorn for the day:

Thorn: freezing in the rain

Rose: learning about marine life at the museum and interacting with Oliver

Bud: seeing what tomorrow brings us!



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High-line Park, 1300 trays, and (Free) Macaroons

Caution: This post is not for the faint of heart; this post contains graphic details concerning near-death experiences and macaroons so terrifyingly delicious your world will never be the same again.

Hello again! Today our post will be co-authored by Arvia Sutandi and Kelsey Naruse 🙂 Note: All text in italics are composed by Kelsey

Today was our first day working in St. Francis Xavier’s soup kitchen. How was your experience, Kelsey?
Well, Arvia, let me tell you.  First of all, I was actually excited to wake up at 7:30am this morning to a chorus of 6 or 7 different alarms; my favorite one was Annie’s Taylor Swift ring tone.  Fast-forwarding through breakfast and traveling via subway and the fastest walking I’ve ever done, we finally found the church.  It was amazing.  What was also amazing was the size and length of the line of people restlessly waiting outside the church; there are a lot of hungry people here in NYC.

Yeah I actually got a chance to talk to some of those people – they’re super chatty! I had this fantastic conversation with two men who insisted that I had never truly lived life until I experienced NY during the 4th of July. They were so friendly & we talked about everything from the temperature in Maine to my dream grad school. One thing I noticed, however, was that they got pretty embarrassed when I asked them if they came to the soup kitchen often. They were definitely aware of the stigma that is unfortunately associated with needing assistance from a soup kitchen. Conversely, some of the other guests were completely comfortable with frequenting soup kitchens – one of them even refused to let Gordon take her tray because she had her personal favorite “tray-smasher.”
It was actually pretty interesting how we all worked together as a group, but still had distinct jobs that separated us.  I was a tray drier with Annie, and even though we were standing right next to Madi and Ashley, who were washing the trays, we hardly ever spoke to them because we were so intent on keeping up with the onslaught of trays coming at us.  Nevertheless, it was a great job and as we worked, we tried to do some quick mental math, calculating how many trays passed through our hands – approximately 1,300 trays had been given our personal love and care.

Working hard at the soup kitchen

Andy is pumped for tray-washing!

Whoa! Go team 🙂 That’s pretty impressive. On another note, I might just be traumatized for life haha. Not from the intense tray-cleaning, but from a harrowing experience with a street performance at Union Square. (In retrospect, probably more hilarious than terrifying)
So there are these three dancers in Union Square and the leader is trying to find some hapless soul to jump over for one of his gimmicks.
Dancer Guy: YOU! (coming straight at me) I NEED A LITTLE ASIAN PERSUASION! (grabs my hand and tries to drag me up)
Me: Noonononoo I don’t want to diiie =[
Everyone else in the ASB group: GO ARVIA GO! We’ll miss you!
^ (Thanks guys. Nice to know that you have my back.)
I tried to get Kelsey to trade with me because he just needed a little Asian but apparently I was “The Chosen One.” But needless to say, I did not die (yay!!!) and he did indeed jump over me and four other people, one of which was a very robust man. Kudos.

All in all, I thought today was a great success (despite Arvia’s trauma and her constant Koala-like tendencies).  Today was the culmination of months of planning and hard work.  We also got to enjoy ourselves a bit – we visited highline park before working.  Highline is a highline railroad that has been converted into a recreational park and historical site.  It was refreshing to view NYC from a different perspective, up on the highline as opposed to down below in the streets.

One of the public art pieces at the High Line; this display is intended to align with the buildings in the backdrop & incorporate the planes of the NY skyscrapers

There were definitely some incredible art pieces. My favorite was “A Bell For Every Minute,” which is a sound installation that plays recordings of bells all over NY (everything from bike bells to the New York Stock Exchange bell). At the top of the hour, a chorus of all the bells are played – we got there just as it turned 10 so we were treated to the complete bell-apalooza 🙂 It was so cool! It kind of felt like destiny.

ALSO, WE GOT FREE MACAROONS TODAY ❤ After an arduous journey through the NY subways and streets, we finally arrived at JacquesTorres Chocolate Shop – only to be told that they had run out of macaroons! But I suppose we looked so devastated and lost that they took pity on us and gave us a secret stash of macaroons anyways 🙂 Thanks, JacquesTorres!!! The delicacies tasted like a “crunchy cloud,” according to Shelley.

Anyways, that’s our day in a nutshell! Stay tuned for more updates

Arvia and Kelsey

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