Monday, July 30, 2012

Blogging from NYC, Day 6

We decided that this would be a sleep-in day.  Our flight wasn’t supposed to leave until 5:25, so the plan was to check out of the hostel, store our luggage, shop, eat, and meet back at the hostel at 2:00 to get to the airport. 

One group went to Dash and the other went to the Strand in Union Square.  I personally managed to spend my children’s inheritance (without feeling guilty), and our group also managed to be late getting back to the hostel.  There were no negative effects, and we got to the airport with plenty of time to spare.  The news that the flight was delayed by an hour wasn’t met with much concern, because it would give us time to eat before boarding.  But then the flight was canceled.  This wouldn’t have been too much concern, either, except that rebooking twelve people is much more difficult that rebooking one or two.  We got on the phone with the reservation agent (one strike against Delta:  Their Group Reservation desk is closed on weekends, meaning that a group can get no help from someone who knows what’s going on during the weekend) who couldn’t get all of us on another flight until 7:30pm on Saturday.  We offered to fly to Nashville, Memphis, Atlanta, with as many connections as needed, but no luck.

The next challenge was finding a place to stay.  When we called the hospitality group recommended by Delta, the message stated that New York was experiencing a citywide sellout.  Oops.  After a lot of trying, we finally called Expedia and asked the agent to help us find any hotel that had a shuttle to LaGuardia.  We found one that was right next to the airport and actually had three rooms available.  We congregated in one room to watch the Olympics and then went to sleep.

Blogging from NYC, Day 5

The last day.  The day to end all days.  The day built in to the trip so that we could do anything we wanted to do.  We started off by walking three blocks to Central Park.  We saw a guy doing yoga, and we got a sweet guy to take a picture of all of us.  Then we decided to hop a bus to go to the bottom of the park so that we could see Strawberry Fields. We walked quietly through the Strawberry Fields, took some photos and continued to the southeast corner of the park where New York suddenly became magical.  The Friends fountain, the Plaza Hotel, Tiffany, and everything else that makes New York famous. 

We headed down to South Street Seaport again to try to get show tickets.  The line was down the street so I got in line and sent everyone else to get drinks in the shade.  I stood behind a couple from Florida and they gave me the scoop on all the shows.  They had already seen Once and were in line for tickets to ClybournePark.  This was their third trip to New York in the past year to see shows.  I made it fairly close to the front of the line and alerted the girls that they needed to come make a decision about what show they wanted to see.  But the allure of the show had faded and the group decided to skip it.  We went to Red for lunch, but two other girls went with me to Brooklyn to meet with RobNadeau.  Rob is a friend of Jay’s from high school, and Jay had just seen him in January.  I wanted to meet him and see his studio, and a couple of the girls wanted to go too to check out the life on an artist.

It was a wonderful decision.  Rob was fascinating to all of us, and gave so generously of his time to talk to us about his life and work.  All of us had been so amazed by the cost of living in New York, and had been having casual conversations with people all week about how they live in he city given the expense.  Rob gave us yet another glimpse into city life, and gave us so many insights about living simply and being true to one’s calling.

Those who hadn’t gone to Rob’s house went shopping, and we met some of them at the Museum of Modern Art for Free Friday.  I never made it off the fifth floor.  I was a little surprised at the number of people who were taking photos of the paintings.  They didn’t stop to read or really look.  They just shot by and took photos.  It was a little strange. But the museum as a whole was beautiful and I’m so glad we went.

After MOMA we all went to Dylan’s Candy Bar, and I’m pretty sure everyone bought at least one thing.  I bought plush pillows for my children, and then we went down to Serendipity 3 for dinner and frozen hot chocolate.  Unfortunately, at 9:00 o’clock, the wait for dinner was still 2 ½ hours.  So we backtracked to California Pizza Kitchen for dinner and a debrief of the week.  Each of shared what we learned about God this week and what we learned about ourselves. Then we moseyed back to the hostel to pack up and go to bed.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Blogging from NYC, Day 4

We woke up ready for our last day and headed to St. Peter's Episcopal Love Kitchen in the Bronx. It was a long ride, but were glad to be in the train and not out in the rain.  We were greeted by Rosemarie who, it seems, runs the show.  Mother Joade, the rector, was in Israel learning Hebrew, so we didn't get to meet her.  We were shown downstairs to the dining area where we rolled silverware, prepared fruit cocktail bowls, and a few other tasks before the diners arrived.  We didn't  serve as many as they typically serve...the regular volunteers said that it was because of the rain.  But we enjoyed serving the guests at their seats, restaurant style, and making sure they had everything they needed.

We were joined in our efforts by a group from the public school down the street.  Their teacher told me that they are new to the school system and don't speak English, so her job is to work with them the summer prior to their enrollment so that they can be more prepared for school. They might not have spoken English but they definitely spoke Cute Girl as they ogled the young ladies in our group.  It was cute.  After we finished serving, we ate ourselves, and then got a tour of the church.  It was breathtaking.

We headed back to YSOP (from almost one end to the other on the 6 train) for our final debriefing time.  We said goodbye to our friends from MN, took some final photos, and I said a nearly-teary goodbye to Lisa, whom I love so dearly and was so happy to reconnect with.  Then we had a hunt to go on.

On our way back to YSOP we had seen trailers and signs to the filming of Law and Order: SVU.  Once we were done at YSOP, we followed the signs.  We never saw the actual set, but we did see Mariska Hargity's chair!  *Squeal!*

Our next stop was the TKTS office at South Street Seaport to see about show tickets for Friday.  It was 6:01pm when we got there. The office closed at 6:00.  Oops.  So we headed back in the direction whence we came in order to go to the 9/11 Memorial.  Note to anyone interested:  You have to have reservations to go to the memorial.  We spent awhile there, and Olivia found the name of the man whose family she'd been praying for since she was in the third grade.  We headed back to our own neighborhood and had a fantastic dinner at the Metro Diner.  Then we went home to get enough sleep for Friday.

Blogging from NYC, Day 3

Today we went to Brooklyn.  Our worksite was the Flatbush Reformed Church, the second oldest church in New York City.  We met Pastor Dan, and he sent half of us down to see Gary in the kitchen.  Gary clearly had things under control and found some things for us to do, and then we took a tour of the garden and composting center locating on the church grounds.  After we tooled around for awhile, it was finally time for us to go upstairs and serve food.  We had spaghetti, garlic bread, two kinds of salad, and desserts.  Flatbush Reformed serves a free, hot meal every Wednesday, and today we were joined by about 50 people for lunch.  We cleaned up, and then we headed back to the hostel to change clothes and get ready for dinner.

Dinner this evening was an unexpected treat.  Well, it was expected in that we knew we would be having dinner at YSOP with some special guests, but I'm not sure we expected to have as much fun as we did.  Tonight at 4:00 we gathered with our friends from MN and got our dinner assignments.  For each task, two Jackson youth paired with two MN youth. Four of them made mac and cheese, four decorated cupcakes, four made salad, and four prepared garlic bread.  The laughter from the kitchen almost drowned out the adult conversation in the next room.

Pretty soon five guests arrived from the Doe Fund.  You can read here to find out more about how it got its name.  Before I had a chance to even see what was happening, board games were out and conversation was deep.  A big group of guests and youth were playing Apples to Apples. Another was playing dominoes. There was a game of chess in one corner, and Anthony, the staff person who had brought the men, was holding court in one half of the room.  Anthony is a Doe Fund success story and motivational speaker.  And he was motivating those fortunate enough to be sitting with him.

Dinner was soon served and the conversation was animated and joyful.  The men we hosted were pretty amazing, and we loved being with them.  We ended with a circle of silence (this is a Quaker organization) and said goodbye with lots of hugs and well-wishes.

Once dinner was cleaned up, both groups headed to the Staten Island Ferry for an evening ride.   We introduced them to the joy of looking for rats in the subway, which thrilled their leaders, I'm sure. There was only one instance of only half the group getting on the ferry before the other half did, but they hugged a tree and we were easily reunited.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Blogging from NYC, Day 2 (When we didn't follow the Chinese lady down the stairs)

At YSOP, we were joined by Susan Nayowith, the Director of Office of Client Advocacy at the NYC Department of Homeless Services.  She told us that last Friday night, the city of New York sheltered over 43,000 individuals.  New York has a right-to-shelter law, which means that if you can prove you're homeless, the city will make sure that you have a place to stay.  A recent census showed that roughly 4,000-5,000 New Yorkers spend the night on the street regularly. Lisa told us at the beginning of the week that 40% of New Yorkers are hungry at any given time.  Those numbers were staggering. Susan was gregarious and passionate.  Most of all she was hopeless.  In the face of such overwhelming statistics, she doesn't give up advocating for the least of these in the city.

After Susan left, we headed to Chinatown.  When I was in Chinatown 20 years ago, all the fake stuff was right out on the sidewalks.  Fake bags, fake watches, fake whatever you could want.  Recently, however, the police have been cracking down on the counterfeit industry.  So now you have to stand around looking clueless and hope a Chinese lady comes to take you to her secret basement stash of counterfeits.  

When our Chinese lady approached we followed without much thought.  But when she opened to secret door to the basement I panicked.  I hollered for the girls to come back up, which really hacked off our would-be saleslady (and some of my girls), but I figure that if you can't do your business out in the open then I shouldn't do business with you. 

On the way to Chinatown we walked through the East Village and ate at Congee.  Not wanting to miss out on other ethnic flavors, and sad that we left without purses, we moved along to Little Italy and had dessert at Ferrara's.  It was a little pricey but did not disappoint.

The highlight of the day, after the purse disappointment, was the discovery of rats in the subway.  I'm sure they've been there every time we've ridden the train, but tonight was the first time we noticed them. And took pictures of them.  And yelled at them to get down when the train was coming.  But I'm sure no one knew we were tourists.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Blogging from NYC, Day 2...Wonder Women

Sister Mary Renee was clearly a no-nonsense kind of gal.  She moved quickly through the serving area and kitchen as she gave us instructions, and we made sure that at least one of us stuck to her like glue so that we could get the instructions and then pass them on to the rest of the group.  She clearly didn't have time to stop and spell it out for us.

Once the line got going, though, and in between phone calls, she was happy to talk to us.  We found out that she is French and that she's been in East Harlem for 35 years.  She thinks East Harlem is luxury compared to the neighborhood in Chicago where the Fraternite Notre Dame Mother House is located.  She and the other nuns live upstairs, and they spend just about every waking moment in service to the poor.

We served 271 meals, all of which were prepared by Sister Mary Renee herself.  We ran out of food and another tray would be in its place before we could turn around.  She's trilingual--as at home speaking Spanish to a family and she is speaking English and French.  Sister Renee is a force to be reckoned with.

Then there was Sister Mary Benedict.  She poured the juice as the patrons went through the line.  Half my size and wearing Converse All-Stars under her habit, we dubbed her "Pocket Nun" and decided that we really wanted to take her home with us.  When she wasn't pouring apple juice, she was quietly moving her hands along the rosary, praying.

The girls and I talked about what it must be like to be a nun.  To give up everything that society tells us is important.  One of them mentioned that they would be bitter at having to give up everything.  I wondered aloud if it made a difference that God had called Sister Mary Renee and Sister Mary Benedict to do the work that they do.  And if bitterness comes from not doing what God has clearly given us the gifts and graces to do.

I think that of all the experiences here in  NYC, my day with the Wonder Women of Fraternite Notre Dame might just have the greatest impact.

Here's a link to the website.  In the picture of the kids planting flowers, Sister Mary Renee is on the left.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Blogging from NYC, Day 2

On Tuesday morning, Team A got up and out the door mostly on time.  We headed for the M116 to East Harlem where we planned to work with Fraternite Notre Dame.  One of the neat things about YSOP is that you never really know what you're going to find or what you're going to do. Yesterday when we asked Lisa what we would be doing at Baby Buggy, she was happy to tell us, but yesterday was the only morning to be at YSOP before going to worksites.  So we're pretty much left to find out what we're doing when we get there.  Our bus ride was pretty painless, we got off at the right stop, and we headed to the address provided.

As we strolled right past the storefront soup kitchen, several friends of the soup kitchen let us know where we were supposed to be going.  We guessed that the bright blue YSOP shirts gave it away.  We went in and asked for our contact, Sister Mary Renee.  She gave us a liability release to sign and then disappeared, leaving us to make ourselves at home on two van bench seats sitting against one wall.  Our surroundings were unimpressive.  Two long tables were surrounded by 16 metal folding chairs.  A baker's rack full of huge bags of bread sat against the front window.  The room was dark and dreary.  And we surely felt a bit in the way, like Sister Mary Renee was going to have to work around us.

Our first job was to take all of the donated pastries and put them on baking trays, and then put the trays on the tray rack.  We made short work of it, putting the fancy cupcakes in a pattern and peeling the Dunkin' Donuts treats off the sides of the bins in which they had been delivered.  There was a little bit more busy work to do, and then we sat and visited with each other until 10:30 when the serving line opened.

Then we didn't even have time to breath.  We stood behind a tiny serving line together.  Sister Mary Renee wouldn't allow us in the dining area as she was concerned for our comfort and safety. The room was 94 degrees as we stood over warming pans scooping mashed potatoes, rice, sausages in a red gravy, and vegetables.  Mary Parker made sure every patron received their pastry of choice, and even provided a bonus donut hole.  The line kept going until 12:45.

We didn't look up long enough to figure out the seating system, but apparently the folks that didn't get a seat inside got sat outside on the sidewalk.  There were a couple of patron/helpers who ran plates out to folks who couldn't inside because of mobility issues or wheelchairs. Sister Mary Renee made sure we knew that the people could eat as much as they wanted.  No one was going to leave Fraternite Notre Dame hungry.  When the line closed, we cleaned up the dining area, bagged the leftover pastries, and headed back to YSOP.

Blogging from NYC, Day 1, Part 2

All of us (both church groups) shared nachos and shared stories from our days.  The other half of the FUMC group did laundry at CAMBA, and the group from MN worked at soup kitchens.  Then we had to decide on dinner.  Showers were in order.  Even though my group had been inside, we were definitely hot and tired.  So we all headed back to the hostel to amp up the cute factor before heading to Luigi's for pizza.  Five of us split an extra-large basil, tomato, and mozzarella pizza and it was truly the best pizza I've ever eaten.  I helped another group finish off their pepperoni and it just wasn't the same.  There was something totally magic about that pizza.

Then we headed to Times Square.  In the rain.  I know that I was there in 1990, but nothing looked familiar enough for me to definitively pick a spot where I had stood.  It was just input overload.  We spent an hour in Forever 21 (I sat on a bench), but my favorite was simply standing and taking it all in (Times Square.  Not Forever 21).  It was massive and amazing.  We made it back pretty late, but not late enough that Ben and Jerry's was closed.  So we indulged and headed back to the hostel for some rest.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Blogging from NYC, Day 1

First of all, let me say that I have never had a particularly good sense of direction.  Despite this, I have learned to navigate public transportation in two major American cities to the point that I could provide directions to out-of-towners without having to stop and think.  Today proved that I have been out of the city for far too long.  The trip that should have taken 30 minutes ended up taking 90.  And I take full responsibility.  I relied far too heavily on technology that, in my particular situation, does not work underground. And I should know better.  I am married to a man who will memorize all of the particulars of a subway system before ever walking out the door.  But I failed.  Admittedly, the newsstand man was partly to blame.  He did provide abjectly wrong directions, but I shouldn't have had to ask in the first place.

We arrived 30 minutes late, but all was not lost.  The other group serving this week was already there and orientation had begun, but there were still plenty of bagels.  God is good.

After learning about YSOP, about the week, and about our assignments for the day, we were ready to go.  Team A, the team I am leading, headed downtown to Baby Buggy.  The address didn't mean much to us when we first saw it, but when we got off at Times Square and walked through the Fashion District, we were pretty excited.  Baby Buggy is located on the eighth floor of a relatively nondescript building.  They don't provide direct service, so it's pretty much a storage area.  Baby Buggy was started by Jessica Seinfeld and is essentially a clearinghouse for corporate donations of baby clothes and gear to go to service agencies that help families in need.

We started out by patching clothes.  When places like Children's Place donate clothes, they mark them with a small cut or notch to prevent resale.  So, armed with irons, clothes, and Bondex, we repaired two bins full of clothes and sorted them.  Then we started uncrating baby supplies and separating them into bins so that volunteers could bundle them and send them out.  Agencies served by Baby Buggy put in orders at the beginning of the month, letting Baby Buggy know what they will need for their clients.  Then volunteers get those orders together to be shipped out.  We were impressed to learn that the sippy cups we were sorting would be in the home of a family by next week.

We were impressively efficient, and our volunteer coordinator let us go early.  We made a few stops on the way back to YSOP, and were thrilled to find warm nachos and salsa waiting for us when we got back.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Blogging from NYC

Way back in the Fall, I started looking for a mission trip for the senior high students.  To the person, they wanted to go to New York City, so I started looking for a suitable trip.  I wanted an opportunity that provided a good foundation for understanding homelessness, hunger, and poverty. I checked the UMVIM website to find our mission partners in New York City and found Youth Service Opportunities Project.  I gave them a call and found out that one of the people I loved most from seminary just happened to be the program director.  Figuring that this was an obvious sign from the almighty, and over the moon that I reconnected with an amazing woman, I began the process of planning the trip.  Flying was cheaper than taking a charter bus, a hostel seemed the perfect opportunity for getting a real feel for the city, and everything fell into place.  Mostly.

Sunday was chaotic, as one might expect.  I spent Saturday on the phone with Delta trying to get them to honor the contract that stated explicitly that I was allowed to change the names of up to 50% of my passengers up to 24 hours prior to the outbound flight.  One of our adult leaders had to bow out at the last minute due to health issues in her family, and we were able to find someone to go in her place at the last minute.  Once that was resolved, all was well.  I met our new mission team member for the first time on Sunday morning, the team was commissioned in both services, and we left after lunch to get to the airport in Nashville.

All was well.  Our flight was a bit late, but it landed at the time it was scheduled to land.  We waited for 45 minutes for the M60, but finally made it to the hostel and to our beds by a little after midnight, ready to start our adventure the next morning. Early.