It’s funny to me to think that even though I’ve been here for two months now and have tried to blog steadily over the last few weeks, you probably have no idea what I do or how my life looks. So far, I’ve written about the things that stand out to me and the unique experiences I have had. Of course, my whole year here in Ashland, working as a Jesuit Volunteer, is a unique experience. So, now that I have had a chance to settle into my placement and my work schedule, let me describe a typical day (of course, remember no two days are alike) in my life as a JV working in the dorms.
8:30AM - 12:00PM: I wake up
Earlier in the year I was doing a lot of overnight shifts in the Middle School wing because St. Labre had not yet hired an overnight attendant. When the Dorm quickly filled to near-capacity at 78 students, my supervisor could justify the need for an additional staff member on payroll. But until that attendant came on board, the rest of us were sharing the load and I regularly worked 1 to 2 nights a week for a month or so.
This involved getting the dorm residents to bed at a reasonable hour (its lights out at 10:15) and making sure they don’t stay up late talking, listening to their iPods or fooling around and then getting them up early the next morning (usually 6:15AM, but sometimes 5:30AM if a student “needs” to do laundry because they have run out of clean clothing. There is one particular student who has made this early morning task a routine- I think it is more his desire not to waste his afternoon free time than out of a real lack of clean clothes.) and making sure they do their chore.
While working the additional time gave me an extra opportunity to get to know the kids, it also really disrupted my sleep cycle, and thankfully that time is over. Whereas before, I might get 4-5 hours of sleep at the Dorm plus a few more back at home just in time to wake up at noon to get ready to go back to the Dorms, I am now getting a comfortable 8-9 hours of sleep every night.
10:00AM - 3:00PM: Feeding and reading, blogging, logging, running and funning (I made that up-it means to have fun), preening, cleaning, lounging and scrounging, and much more…
Working the afternoon shift is foreign to me; my day starts afterschool when all the Dorm students return from school, so my mornings are open for however I choose to fill them. After 4 years of working hard and “never having the time” to read for pleasure, I have thoroughly enjoyed creating a big stack of books and making my way through their pages. I’ve been able to read a number of Sherman Alexie books that have really enlightened my experiences and broadened my perspective on the experiences of Indians living on reservations. I’ve also read a great book about Custer, Crazy Horse and the circumstances that led to the creation of the reservations (check out the side bar!), plus a number of purely pleasure reads: Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Stilmarillion (the first Tolkien precursor to LOTR), Tattoos on the Heart, In the Shadow of Denali, The Amateurs (about four Olympic rower hopefuls) and I have a sizable stack waiting to be read. It really has been a pleasure to have the time to sit down and read, something that is quite a luxury.
After a few weeks, though, these pleasant mornings became too routine for me and I found myself wanting a little more fulfillment in my day. So, I began to seek out other things to do, both around the house and in the community. As we just moved into this house this year, it has been nice to have some time to clean up the year and garage and throw out some junk. On the one hand, I feel that having less clutter around the house makes for a simpler life where you can enjoy the things you do have, and personally, cleaning releases my own mental burdens.
On the other hand, however, the house was filled with a lot of garbage and broken items that cannot be reused. (We have given much away to the St. Labre Clothing Room, where things are recycled in the community for 25 cents apiece! It’s a great place to find cheap clothes that in pretty good shape.) In a rural community where recycling is not available, I know much of this will go to the landfill. This saddens me and causes me to reflect on the consequences of our material culture. Our society is built on this notion that the more things we have, the happier we will be. Instead, I think this mindset leads to stress and clutter-filled lives that damage our relationships with other people and with God. I believe it is the relationships with those close to us that give us real, long-lasting fulfillment.
Besides, the more things you have, the less time you have to use them and enjoy them! I also think it highlights the importance of following the 3 R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle. Many times, we just think to recycle, but if we first reduce our use of the Earth’s resources and our consumption we will not have to recycle or trash as much later. Then, we should try to reuse what we can, and lastly recycle the things that can be streamed back into production. Ok, enough of my ranting…
I’ve also tried to broaden my outreach in the community and have found real joy in those experiences. I have particularly enjoyed going to mass with the kids every other week at the school, less for the spiritual fulfillment (I find the Sunday mass and sweats are very enriching) and more to spend time with the kids outside of my normal role in the dorms. It is important to me to show the students and the community that I am really invested in Ashland and St. Labre and that I care about what is going on here, whether at the school, in town, or at the Heritage Living Center.
A few weeks ago, I spent a really nice Friday with Richard Tallbull. He took me into Lame Deer, showed me around the town, the fully accredited, two year Chief Dull Knife College and much of the local history and culture. We capped it off with a meal at the local casino. Whatever your views on gambling, for better or worse, the casino is a part of the community fabric here on the reservation. While we did not gamble, I appreciated Richard taking me out to eat. Various opportunities have come up to spend time with other members of the community, having lunch, helping with yard work or bigger projects. I really enjoy using my hands and working outside, so it has been doubly nice to help out in the community this way.
I also hope to start subbing in the school soon. Many of you know that Medical School is one possible destination for me, and I do plan to study for and take the MCATs this winter when we become more confined to our home. However, I find my working with the kids to be very fulfilling. I really enjoy hanging out with the kids and building relationships with them-whether that is on the basketball court, talking about their day, through some activity on a JV night, or even working through homework in study hall. I enjoy encouraging these kids, giving them advice, even redirecting them when they might need help. I see myself as a mentor, an older brother figure.
When we first arrived two of the dorm attendants took me aside and told me the kids don’t need another friend, they need someone to look up to. I can really relate to this-I’ve had numerous individuals (siblings, coaches, teachers, mentors) throughout my life that have helped me become the person I am today. During this year, I am trying to give these kids what I have received from others. And, I see education as a possible way to do this in the long run, and something that I may really enjoy (coaching too!). For now, while Medicine is still on the horizon, Education is another route I could see myself taking, and I thinking subbing here at St. Labre is a great place to start.
3:15PM - 9:30PM: Work; staff meeting, study hall, dinner, additional study hall, gym time, pool and ping pong, JV nights, Coffee Talk and just hanging out…
Every work day starts with a staff meeting at 3:15 and the students show up around 4:00 after school gets out. The first part of the afternoon is routine-study hall for most students (dependent on their GPA) where Kathryn (the other Dorm JV) and I tutor and offer homework help, followed by dinner at 5:30. After that, some kids may have another study hour (or athletes who missed the first study hall may have one) while other kids get free time. This might be filled with TV, pool or ping pong at the dorms but most often kids head to the school gym where they can play basketball.
Everyone tells us that “Basketball is King here.” It certainly reflects in how time the kids spend on the court and it will be very interesting come basketball season. Apparently schools even schedule days off around tournaments so players and fans can more easily travel. It’s been fun to get involved in some basketball games. It’s a fast-break game and seeing as I only played a few years of organized ball in elementary school I find myself pushed. But, I enjoy the challenge-it gives me one more thing to focus on improving while I’m here and it’s still fun just to be on the court.
Some nights, Kathryn and I organize “JV Nights.” These might simply be a night filled with organized games or other times we discuss more serious issues, like the power of words or relating to members of the opposite sex. This topic we covered at a Coffee House night, where we brought a ton of snacks and then we gave the kids turns to ask members of the opposite sex a question while we moderated.
Over the course of this year I hope to help build community in the Dorm. Part of this comes from putting on game nights for everyone to hang out together and spend time together in a fun, but relaxed setting. I think it’s in these settings where kids are more likely to hang out with other kids who don’t share their same interests. I see the other part of my role as a person who will listen to these kids. They have a lot of intense and complicated experiences to share, and they often don’t have an outlet for processing those experiences. Kathryn and I are working to create an environment where these kids feel comfortable to share.
9:30PM - 12:00PM
After our night is over at the Dorms, we head back to the house. Towards the beginning of the year we made the mile and a half journey walk back to Tall White Man, but lately it has gotten very cold, so we are driving now. One of the hardest parts about the JV experience in Ashland, is that all of my housemates have such different schedules. Two JVs work at the school on a normal 9-5 shift, while four of us work afterschool and the seventh works three 12 hour shifts and a 4 hour shift. This makes time together as a community rare, and the late evening hours are some of the only ones we have together.
Often, we sit around and talk about our days, though sometimes we have an organized spirituality night that one person will lead. The 4 JVC values are: community, simplicity, social justice and spirituality. So, as part of this shared commitment, we discuss topics ranging from gratitude to faith journeys to food justice and more…
I hope this wasn’t too much of a boring, drawn out description. I just wanted to give you a better picture of my life as an Ashland JV.