I have been in Savannah for a week and finally got around to starting my blog. It has been a crazy busy week and I'm very much enjoying sitting down and unwinding today. In case any of you haven't heard and are wondering why the heck I'm in Savannah, Georgia, I am spending the next year here as a member of the Mercy Volunteer Corps. I am serving as a community outreach coordinator with the St. Joseph Candler SOURCE Program here in Savannah. In a nutshell, SOURCE works for disabled and/or elderly people who are living independently or wish to live independently soon. This is an effort to keep these people a part of their community rather than confining them to a nursing home or group home unless it is absolutely necessary. So SOURCE makes sure that these people's needs are met, that they're seeing their doctors, taking their meds, getting enough food, etc. We also have an adult day center where SOURCE clients can come for the day to allow their care givers at home some time to work, run errands and take care of themselves. My job is to help each person that I work with connect with the community. I spend a good deal of time getting to know each person - their likes, dislikes, passions and desires. Then I try to find ways for them to experience a feeling of community with others who may have similar likes or passions, all while making sure their needs are met. I starting to learn that this process is going to look very different with each person. I might help some people find a job, learn how to ride the bus, write a blog, or just be around as someone to listen to them and make sure they know they're not forgotten.
I started work on Wednesday, and I've already seen things I've never seen before and been challenged in new ways. I learned that one of my clients is deaf, and that I will be learning sign language. After learning that she was unable to procure any food for the remainder of the month due to financial misunderstandings, I was able to get together some food for her with the help of my community member Linda who works at the food pantry. When I went to drop off the food, I was met with the warmest smile and the most sincere gratitude I have ever seen. She couldn't talk to tell me how much she appreciated it but I could see it in her eyes. That's enough to make any day a good day. I'm also progressing in sign language! I know the alphabet and some other basic signs. I'll have classes starting next week, too. I also met one of my clients who has had a unbelievably hard life. She kept asking me if I was quitting soon, if I was going to leave her. It made me so sad to realize that she was used to that and came to expect it. Anyone who comes around and seems nice will soon leave and forget about you. Then I went out into the country, rural Georgia. I saw poverty like I hadn't seen before. I don't mean worse, but different. I've seen extreme poverty in the city and homelessness. Not to detract from those peoples' sufferings in the least, but there are some resources to help them in the cities - shelters, food banks, hospitals. Out here there was nothing but dirt roads and the occasional vulture flying by. I got the feeling that my boss and I were the first visitors in quite some time. My first stop was at a seemingly half deserted trailer park in the middle of nowhere with a very isolated community. There was a history of inbreeding with this community, dating back a couple of centuries. The result is the current population, most of whom have severe physical and mental disabilities. One woman I met was very short, maybe 4 foot 6, and mentally handicapped, but was the brightest shining face that I saw the whole day. We were there to check up on them and make sure they had enough to get by. When we were about to leave she got up, gave me a hug and said she loved me. She was so happy that we took the time to come by and chat with her for a while. I reminded her that it's always a good idea to pray, she said a prayer for us before we left. I couldn't understand everything that she said but the intent was clear, and it about broke my heart to see this woman who was so disadvantaged in life and had so little pray for us. Then we had about 7 or 8 other visits that day, each one offering a different and moving experience. That's only a small taste of my first three days, so I can already see that this year will have no shortage of memorable moments and forging new relationships.
In addition to work, I have been loving Savannah itself. It is more beautiful than the pictures I saw beforehand and I am so excited to spend the year here. I don't expect the drive to work, under a canopy of oak trees and spanish moss with the morning sun shining through in spaces, to get old anytime soon. We explored river street and saw Savannah in all its tourist glory. My favorite moment so far just might be getting cut off by a car who didn't know how to drive in the squares (they're treated as roundabouts), noticing the Virginia plates, and muttering something about "stupid tourists...". That was on day two. We went to Mass at the cathedral downtown which is absolutely beautiful and even saw Paula Dean's restaurant. Not that I really know anything about Paula Dean, but down here I guess she's a big deal. Besides that, I've been settling into our new home with my wonderful community members. We were planning on going to the beach today, but it decided to thunderstorm so we spent the day cleaning instead! Haha, not quite as much fun but it feels good to have the place spic and span. But Linda, Carla, Regina and I are all getting along extremely well and this place is starting to feel a little more like home each day.
If you want to see pictures, I may put a few up here, but you can check out a whole bunch more on my facebook. Sorry for writing a book for my first post, but I had a busy week to catch up on! I hope everyone is doing well and I miss all my family and friends!