Rainier Valley, zip code 98118—famed as the most diverse zip code in America according to the 2000 census. This neighborhood is often lauded for its diversity. Yet, diversity does not always entail peaceful coexistence. In fact, segregation organizes the restaurants, houses of worship, and living accommodations.
Every Wednesday morning, I go to the Rainier Valley Food Bank as a representative of Lettuce Link’s Seattle Community Farm. Every Wednesday, I witness racism, oppression, indignity, and condescension. The volunteers sneer at the food bank clients’ inability to speak English and accuse them of dishonesty. Verbal abuse is conversation.
“She doesn’t know how to speak English.”
“She only understands what she wants to understand.”
“You just said you didn’t want the chicken. You changed your mind. Fine, take it.”
“Stay back! I hate it when people get up all in my face like that.”
Wednesday at the Rainier Valley Food Bank is for the elderly and disabled. These volunteers are attacking one of the most vulnerable groups of people. Moreover, the volunteers are food bank clients themselves. Yet, rather than compassion of shared circumstance, there is bizarre cruelty.
This disrespect for humanity disturbed my most primal senses. After I left that first Wednesday, a thick disgust wrapped around my chest and strangled me. I needed to fix this. I needed humanity.
I had a beautiful, fatuous plan. I was going to visit other food banks and synthesize my observations into a proposal for a positive work environment and culturally sensitive volunteer orientation. This dream was crushed in its infantile stages. When I tried to start a dialogue with the food bank manager about the volunteer-client dynamic, the manager, understandably, did not appreciate my critical questions.
I can still write a proposal, get some practice writing a research paper, do things for my personal improvement, serve myself rather than the community. I can’t give my proposal to the Rainier Valley Food Bank. A college-aged stranger can’t tell this community how to act. I feel powerless, useless, insufficient.
Today was certainly not the average “day in the life” at Amara.
The workday started at 7:30, when one of my esteemed supervisors, Megan, picked me up to drive through the fog to the deserted and industrial SoDo district, where all that roamed the streets were hungry, lethargic dogs, and plastic bags tumbling in the wind. We silently pulled up to a nondescript warehouse, which appeared to belong to some sketchy sounding “construction company.” I was nervous. Megan stopped the car. I nervously got out…
What ensued may not be what you expected, but was the coolest, most creative day of work ever. For seven hours, in the most cutting-edge office space I’ve ever seen, a team of five of us from Amara listened to four of the foremost experts in the circus, yoga, marine biology, and gang violence prevention, respectively, discuss the critical concepts of (1) tracking, (2) survival vs. wellbeing, (3) attachment, and (4) recruitment. But this was only for the first two hours. In truth, what we did at work today warrants another blog post entirely, and I’m here really to talk about my weekend. So stay posted for more on today’s creative process later this week, and here we go..
At the beginning of the roundtable the group facilitator asked us to sum up our weekends with a metaphor. Mine came to my head quickly; for these past three days I have been one of those blow up figures on the top of warehouses as you go by on the highway, dancing and collapsing with the wind. Starting with work on Friday, and ending at eleven last night, I really learned to “go with it”, in so many contexts of the unexpected.
Interview with David*
For the past two weeks at work, my supervisor and I have been waiting to interview David for our blog. David is a man whose girlfriend’s daughter had a child many years ago. The birthmother was very high-risk behaviorally, and it was not a safe home for the child. He has since become almost like the adoptive grandfather of this little girl, who is now eleven years old. That little summary is all I knew about David’s story prior to the interview, so I had no idea what an emotional experience it would be. Laura and I called him, put him on speakerphone, and what followed was an hour of an unadulterated testament to the power of family and the love one feels for an adopted family. Hearing how much parenthood and family has meant to him was so unexpected, and his generosity in allowing us to use his story for our blog was such a gift. His now-granddaughter had a rough first couple of years under the care of her troubled mother, and he helped his girlfriend take the reins on her upbringing. He must have started tearing up four times in that interview; he was so moved by the profound impact she’d had on him as his granddaughter. After five weeks of development work, it had been easy to lose sight of the daily reality of the good we do at Amara, so David’s story really reinforced how much the power of family means to our world.
*Name has been changed for privacy.
Capitol Hill Block Party
Block Party is an annual music festival in Seattle’s hippest neighborhood, CapHill. It lasts for three days, and this year featured acts such as The Flaming Lips, Girl Talk, the Dirty Projectors, and Purity Ring. Three of us girls bought tickets for Friday, and the festivities commenced around five o’clock. The major area of Capitol Hill was fenced off for Block Party, and four of us danced among the crowd for DJ Dillon Francis. I’m not usually one for concerts, but the experience was inspiring. With my hands swaying in the air, jumping up and down squashed between a sweaty frat guy with the Space Needle tattooed on his shoulder and Christine on my left, and smiling with the Seattle sun on my face, it was the first time that I really felt like part of this community. Later that evening, after lying in Cal Anderson Park and indulging in some gourmet artisan food trucks, Victoria and I stuck around to see STRFKR and Girl Talk, dancing and screaming to the overwhelmingly cool visuals and beats. I ran into several people that I have met in these past five weeks throughout the city, and the experience really opened my eyes to how loving, creative, and dynamic this city is, ultimately marking my transition from “visitor” to “Seattlelite”. And swaying and jumping like that, I totally looked like one of those blow-up dolls on a warehouse, but trust me, it was the cool thing to do.
On Saturday morning, we all headed out for Pack Forest near Mount Rainier. It was like driving back to camp…I was so excited about the rustic cabins and the hikes to be had. I knew we would only be there for a day, but the experience was so wonderful; from Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon, we weeded the forest trails, explored the old-growth forests, got very lost hiking, were almost chased by guard dogs, and played poker in the evening. It’s so easy to get in the pattern of checking our emails, planning out every hour of our Saturdays to fit in as much as possible, and using Googlemaps to get everywhere. At Pack Forest, so much went unexpectedly, but adapting to the circumstances and letting go of expectations was both freeing and fun.
Om Fusion Dance
My weekend ended with a spontaneous visit to the Center for Om Culture, a space right on the water by GasWorks Park. I was told about Om Fusion on Sunday nights during my Jet City Improv class, and was very intrigued. From what I’d googled, there seemed to be this nebulous cult-like following for these four hours on Sunday evenings. I went on a whim, as social dancing is one of my biggest fears. After a thirty-minute walk on the sunset-lit Burke Gilman Trail, I arrived at the “Center.” The space is expansive, with bean bags, candles, artwork, and tapestries throughout, with a backdrop of the downtown Seattle skyline. For $5 I watched the 7 o’clock intermediate class taught by instructors from Salsa con Todo, and at 8 I took the all-levels class on the Brazilian Zouk (youtube it…it’s so amazingly cool). And then at 8:30, probably thirty more people came in, and the DJ started playing The Weekend, Gotan Project, and then some Swing. For three hours Om Fusion’s dance floor is packed with people of all ages (and smells) doing dance improv…a fusion of traditional styles of tango and swing with newer moves. Everything you do is made up on the spot. It was one of the most terrifying but freeing experiences I’ve had in this city, and I really can’t put it into words…you have to try it to understand the sensation of “just letting go.” I’ll close with this: the highlight of the night was being asked do dance by a beautiful man in a black button down tucked into his high black slacks, which fell delicately over his (I’m not kidding) black alligator skin shoes. I tried to ask him his name while looking unfazed by his appearance and clear dance acumen, to which he literally tilted his chin up and pronounced loudly, “I am Zaaa.” There were no more words, and for the next three minutes I was a doll as he forcefully twirled me and dipped me to the sound of Shakira remixed with some electric guitar soloist. I promise this is not a joke.
So, in conclusion, there are three morals to this story: (a) I’m very uncomfortable writing blog posts, (b) getting out of my comfort zone and just “blowing in the wind” was the best part of the weekend, and (c) I never want to leave…ever.
It’s no secret that the Seattle program has amazing alumni involvement, and that we are so lucky to live in this wonderful city (in the summer), have placements that are engaging and meaningful, and, to top it all off, meet with alumni and associates at events throughout the summer. From a Sounders Game to walking through a farm at sunset, this experience has been wonderful. So to start, thank you, everyone involved, for making these first five weeks so educational and hilarious.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to grab coffee with Lisa Fitzhugh, the founder of CreativeGround and Duke alumna that spoke to us at YearUp Seattle during our second week here. As Heidi from One-by-One aptly put it earlier this week, there are just some people we find so admirable we’d “sweep their floors” if it meant the opportunity to just get a drop of their awesomeness and wisdom. Lisa is that kind of person for me.
Lisa’s work is all about merging the creative with the career-oriented. How those notions became polarized beats me, but that’s what she does, be it for high-level bankers or local government officials stuck in a rut of egos and red tape. After she spoke to us that first time, I couldn’t stop thinking about some of her insights, which included the following:
- Learn to surf the ocean of uncertainty, and not drown in it.
- The brighter the light, and closer you are to the mirror, the larger and darker the shadow. In essence, pay attention to the duality of yourself, and learn to integrate the positive and negative aspects of your personality.
- Everyone has a unique lens, and notices very different and distinct parts of the world.
- When you exercise one part of your mind, the other one automatically gets stronger.
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to get coffee with this inspiring woman at Roy Street Café, a great example of the serious Seattle “coffee culture” that evokes images of Professor Trelawney and CapHill moms on laptops. In the hour and a half that followed, I could ask her almost any question I wanted, and she told me more about her remarkable career journey. Ever since her first talk, I have taken this time in Seattle as an opportunity to explore my creative side, and so I was able to update her on my improve classes, tango class, painting, and photography. Lisa and I continued to talk about how the best of friendships are formed through “shared experience and shared levels of curiosity” and the importance of abolishing self-judgment when exploring creativity. Her insights, in combination with my own introspection that was induced by the values activity during last week’s reflection (my four are growth, creativity, mindfulness, and intimacy) have really enhanced my level of consciousness around the choices I make during my time here. For example, I would never have fallen in love with Mondays at Jet City Improv or gone to Om Fusion without her encouragement, and they have been unforgettable.
Kara told me to reach out to the adults we’ve interacted with on this trip, and I am so thankful I took her advice. Lisa passed on so much more wisdom than the aforementioned, and my brain feels like it’s had too much Tapatio ever since…in a wonderful, alive kind of way.
For those of you who are just tuning in, I’m Chris, an intern for Seattle Tilth, and I have a confession to make. Despite working for an organization that seeks “to safeguard our natural resources while building an equitable and sustainable local food system”, at the time I applied to Duke Engage, I really didn’t care all that much about the environment or about food issues. To me, environmental scientists were the people I always saw fooling around in the Nicholas School lobby as I made my way to my chemistry lab in the basement to do “real” work, and with the exception of a brief stint with vegetarianism (more as a test of will than for health or ideological reasons), I never paid too much attention to my food or where it was coming from. I got involved with Seattle Tilth’s Youth Garden Works program for the youth development aspect, having accepted that delving into environmental and food issues was the price I’d have to pay to get to work with the population I wanted to serve.
I’ve recently noticed some changes though, aside from my sweet farmers tan. I’m still more excited by youth development than food, but after five weeks of tending to the various plants on our farm, they’ve kind of grown on me (pun absolutely intended). I’m much more appreciative of their unique appearances and the special care that each different type requires. Those who have strolled through Wallingford with me have likely been (un)fortunate enough to witness me freaking out about the different varieties of kale planted in a homeowner’s garden or how beautifully their beets are coming in. I’ve never had anything against eating vegetables, but the cooking aspect of the Garden Works program has shown me just how good a meal prepared with nothing but fresh, organic veggies can be. More importantly, my work has also convinced me that that’s the kind of meal that everybody should have access to if they want it. I’ve added terms like food system, food desert, and food justice to my vocabulary.
I feel very lucky to have stumbled across a new area of interest. I’m curious to know if the other interns have either uncovered a new interest, reinforced an established one, or become less interested in something they previously found exciting.
A picture I took on the way up to Mt. Defiance.
Probably one of the most difficult hikes I have ever been on. The trail up to Mt. Defiance was 5 miles on an upward incline, and I have never felt more accomplished than when I finally reached the top. Looking over the mountains, I saw Mt. Rainier in the distance and realized the true beauty of Seattle. You have the excitement and bustle of the city but also the elegance and tranquility of the mountains. I can work downtown during the week and also enjoy the beauty of the Cascades on the weekends.
Lately, I have been hearing from Seattle locals that this is one of the best summers they have had in a long time. When I first arrived in Seattle, it was temperate with no humidity, then the first week it rained for about three days in a row. I thought to myself, "they really weren't joking about the rain!" But ever since then it has been gorgeous every single day, almost like clockwork. I can wake up, not even check the weather and bet on a beautiful day in Seattle.
It's strange how this change in weather has been parallel to my experience working at the Austin Foundation. With the unexpected passing of the founder, Anna and I have been piecing together information, resources, and faculty members. The first week was very daunting in that we were basically thrown into the program with very little background and were given the responsibility of running the summer program. Anna and I were scrambling to deal with the youth, while also managing the 5 or 6 coworkers at the foundation. The first couple days were very frustrating, but just as the rain stopped and the sun came out, our service work began to improve. Anna and I developed a reliable system that allowed for the days to run smoothly and really helped the youth to focus and learn the concepts associated with health and fitness.
As the days continue to get warmer and brighter, the relationships with our youth continue just the same. I was talking with one of our junior trainers (Eugene) about college and was happy to hear about his ambitions and excitement to eventually attend Hawaii University. Eugene talked about his love for surfing and how he has family in Hawaii he often visits. These are the conversations and moments that make all the frustration and work completely worth it. I hope in the last couple weeks I am able to improve these relationships and have some lasting impact on the youth at the Austin Foundation.
Duke Student '15
Let's start with something many people can agree on. Politics is frustrating, inaccessible,
and not worth the time or effort.
I held such a sentiment coming into the Washington Bus. I was disillusioned, and had not engaged with politics in the two years since I’d been at Duke. And given our school culture, I was never put in situations where I had to. Who should I vote for? Where can I get accurate information? What policies should I support? It was a messy and frustrating cacophony of voices that I wanted nothing to do with. I had nothing to add. Yet I still knew I should I be an engaged citizen. I voted, but it was not an educated vote. I wanted to learn, and to be a part of the process. I wanted something to to cut through the stream of information and move to something a little more resembling knowledge. By data, by experience, by interaction. Enter the Bus.
At the Bus I've made an unexpected discovery - Local politics are fun, engaging, and exciting. They are interpersonal - built on relationships and interactions between people, relevant - the policies we’re working for directly affect the community, and effective - we can see the change we’re creating. At the most basic level, your vote matters, and by extension our work getting people to vote matters. We interact with policymakers. We shuck and jive with the community. We learn what needs to be changed, and do something about it. We are a voice for the community. Local politics are alive with possibility.
I can't say the same about federal politics at this point, but I've come to hold certain principles for our great nation that apply to all levels. We’re certainly not here yet - far from it - but it’s worth working for. I did not come up with these - I took them from other, wiser people along the way.
● The more people that vote, the better policy we will get.
● The goal of a policymaker is to work himself or herself out of a job. To create such effective policy that he or she is no longer needed.
● We have freedom, with responsibility.
● Opportunity, with personal initiative.
● Community above self.
● Contribution over consumption.
● Stewardship, not exploitation.
● Leadership by example.
● Pragmatism tied to principle.
● A fair shot for all.
● America is exceptional in our promise to kindle the flame of a freedom worth having. America represents hope.
● Responsibility for the common good.
● Equality of opportunity.
● Capitalism as a tool for the nation to harness economic power to national goals.
● A mutual obligation of what we owe one another as members of the same great community.
● Service to country.
But above all, a simple idea has come to consume me. We can make a difference. Not me - we. The above ideas are convictions I can strive for. A vision of a nation to hope for and work for, one small but evident step at a time. And for that, I’m willing to wade through the mess of politics. The Bus’s work matters, if only that it demonstrates that change is okay. That it’s more than okay - it’s good, and needed, and attainable. We don’t have to settle for what currently is. A small group of passionate, young rabble-rousers can inspire positive policy changes in an entire community. They can lead that community to believe that they can create the city in which they want to live. They can hold their representatives accountable to the people.
We can too. We have a say in our future. We are not powerless.
DukeEngage students serving at Northwest Harvest Kent warehouse
“We require that Northwest Harvest food be given freely to anyone hungry enough to ask, respecting their dignity while serving their need.”
- Northwest Harvest website
“We believe that no one lives in dignity until everyone can live in dignity.”
- Habitat for Humanity website
Many think of service as a form of charity, as if we are doing a kind favor for those who need it. But my time working with Disability Rights Washington (DRW) has led me to view such services from a different perspective. Most work conducted at DRW is aimed at empowering the disability community: filing lawsuits on behalf of disabled individuals, increasing disability awareness, and providing education to children with disabilities. The organization is not focused on giving handouts; instead, it is focused on ensuring that a group of individuals can live in our society with a sense of self-determination and dignity.
This leads me to the Saturdays we spend at Northwest Harvest and Habitat for Humanity. Both organizations are aimed at preserving the dignity of those they serve, as indicated on their respective websites. While asking for food is a potentially humbling or even humiliating action, Northwest Harvest tries to make the process as dignifying as possible by maintaining a “no questions asked” policy. Habitat for Humanity offers people the dignity of living under a safe roof. We should think of service as giving people what they deserve, as human beings. We just ensure that our actions, no matter how well intentioned they are, must be respectful to the dignity of others.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go to Bite of Seattle at the City Center. The weather was gorgeous, which means that everyone in Seattle (and their dogs, of course!), trekked into the city to get a bite at the festival. There were vendors for ages, bands playing live music, and children splashing in the fountain.
Wandering among the booths, there was never a smooth traffic flow. It was similar to the stop-and-go perils of 5:00 traffic in Seattle. I had to weave throughout people and avoid strollers while still taking in the exciting sights and smells of a festival.
In the world of volunteerism, you can have many opportunities thrown at you at once- my best example is during the holiday months of November and December. However, during the summer months, we enjoy relaxing and vacation, and service can sometimes slip our minds.
In my traffic analogy, I think of Seattle Works as the traffic light for volunteers in Seattle. We work to make sure that young professionals can always have the opportunity to give back. Even throughout the summer months, we offer programming for those who want to volunteer in a one-time commitment and separate programs for those who want to sample different organizations over a four-month period.
This may be a stretch, but In addition to acting as a traffic light, Seattle Works is the radio playing in your car as you travel throughout the city. Volunteering should always be a good time, and I hope that everyone who gives back thoroughly enjoys the experience.
Duke Student '16
(with the Fellows in front of our actual bus!)
For the past four weeks, I've been working with the Washington Bus. It's been an amazing experience and I feel like I've already grown so much. As a small non-profit (they only have 12.5 full time staff member!), we work in a studio apartment turned office. It's a very open environment and i feel very comfortable there. The organizational structure is not very rigid, which makes it even more amazing the amount of tasks they get done. Everyone is extremely dedicated, which leads to a certain amount of trust between all the staff members.
Part of my job requires that I go out to Seattle fairs, festivals and activities to register voters. This is something that I had never done before and challenged me greatly. Rather, I was always the person hurrying along by people with clipboards and flyers, averting my eyes and becoming suddenly very interested in my cellphone. Now the tables are turned. It's difficult not just because I have to talk to disinterested strangers, but because some of them don't believe in voting, or are just plain rude. I don't really know how to respond to people who tell me that they don't believe in voting and furthermore I don't really know how I can actually start to enjoy and be good at registering voters.
Essentially, I still have lots to learn about people's different ideologies and how to reconcile my own views with those of others. The Washington Bus is great in that perspective in getting me out of my comfort zone and getting to know more about the world.
Duke Student '16
Last week marks the end of our first month here in Seattle. After a month's exploration, I feel I am becoming an integral part of the city!
My work at Washington Environmental Council (WEC) has been going quite well. The trainings that we are developing for the aquatic reserves are taking good shape. I have moved from collating potential partners' list to actually connecting with them. I also drafted a post-training survey for evaluating the effective of the trainings and presented it to my colleagues during the planning meeting.
More excitingly, I started two new projects. The first one is a contact contest within the organization that aims to motivate all of our staff to gather more new/updated contact information to enrich our Salesforce database. This is a brilliant idea brought up two years ago that effectively maximizes everybody's contribution to the database and I am very proud to be the main organizer of this contest this year. The second one is a data analysis project within the Voters Education Program (VEP). This is a great opportunity to utilize my analytical skills to improve the efficiency of WEC's outreach processes. I have just started to familiarize myself with another database system: the Voter's File and I already felt super excited about the upcoming analysis task.
For non-work stuff, I LOVE the two group events we had this week!!!!
Candidate Survivor: it was very interesting to meet the candidates for Seattle Mayer and watch them being questioned by younger voters in both serious and quirky way. And I loved the talent show a lot!
Sounders' Game: my FIRST Soccer game watched in a stadium. The crowd was amazing and the marching band was incredible!!! Though it was a tie in the end, I had a great time cheering and jumping around!
I can not believe there is only less than a month before we have to leave! T.T Emotional.....
Qi Dong (Tracy)
Duke Student '15