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Sunday, May 1, 2011

St Ann's

This is what it's all about.... listening, sharing, getting to know each other, forming community.

Lynn (from our group) and Ariadne chat while eating fruit pops

I just got back from an overnight trip to St. Ann's Episcopal Church in the south Bronx, in the Mott Haven neighborhood. A group of about 35 youth and adult members of St. John's Episcopal Church here in Barrington, RI took the trip together to visit St. Ann's, do some service projects, but more importantly just "hang out" with the kids and adult members of St. Ann's, and be in community with them. Members of St. John's have been going to St. Ann's for about ten years now and have formed relationships and connections there. This was my first trip and I was admittedly a bit nervous. I really felt "called" to go on this trip and to get involved; to step outside my comfort zone -- actually way outside of it -- and do something different. It was "outside my comfort zone" for two main reasons -- the obvious one is that I just have no experience with going on missions trips or doing service projects in disadvantaged places, but it was as much outside my comfort zone because I knew I was going to have to be outgoing and "on" for over 24 hours which though I enjoy -- is very draining for this introvert. Lastly, I had to be willing to "go with the flow" and be flexible, to see what needed to be done and step in -- rather than waiting to be told what to do all the time. I am definitely more comfortable just following instructions -- at least the first time I do something.

We loaded all of our stuff on the bus we chartered at 6:30 am on Saturday morning. A lot of what we took were many boxes of donated books for St Ann's after school and summer school program. These were all brand new teacher guides, workbooks, and kids books for grades 1-6.  We arrived at St. Ann's around 11 and after unloading all the books and our stuff many of us got right to work cleaning the vegetable garden area. There were lots of leaves to rake and weeds to pull (as there are in most of our gardens here at home -- at least in mine)!. It was sweaty, satisfying work and I had quite an appetite for lunch at 1 pm. By that time the kids from the after school program had arrived to spend the rest of the day with us. We could not have asked for better weather -- it was just perfect warm and breezy sunny weather.

Setting up our beds for that night

Picnic lunch by the basket ball court in the church yard
After lunch we divided up into groups. One group with the kids aged 8 and older went off on our bus with many of our group and took a tour through Manhattan on the way to Battery Park and the ferry to Staten Island for a view of the Statue of Liberty. About a dozen of the kids were under 8 and had to stay back at the church with more of our group. After some initial tears about not being able to go, we had a really great afternoon just hanging out at St. Ann's which is an oasis of green in the city, and has a great playground (built and donated by some other churches and volunteers). There's also a big grass covered hill that was very popular for rolling down. One of the youth group kids had been clever enough to bring lots of nail polish in fun colors and this was one of the hits of the afternoon. While they were out shopping for the hamburgers and hot dogs for the cook-out in the evening, our group leader Al and St. Ann's rector Mother Martha bought fruit pops for all the kids that had to stay at St. Ann's.
Ariadne? hoola hooping.

The girls ran out of girls and women's nails to paint so they coerced our group leader Al and he let them do his nails!!

Angelique and Ariadne painting Martha's nails. Martha's a pre-school teacher so she had lots of ideas for things to do with the kids, as did her 13 year old daughter Julia.

Cindy and Julia helped kids do the monkey bars -- I also took my turn doing this -- it was hard work -- but fun. A few of them got good enough to do it by themselves.

Playing duck duck goose


Mariella or Marabella?
We ended the day with a BBQ outside -- featuring hot dogs and hamburgers and some peanut butter jelly sandwiches, with lemonade or water, and potato chips, with cake for desert. St. Ann's keeps their gates open during the day so there were other families hanging out at the playground, and many of them shared our BBQ with us -- we had plenty of food and it was a wonderful feeling of community to share with everyone. I had the job of making peanut butter sandwiches and serving lemonade.

The older kids and the rest of our group got back about 7 pm from their trek to the other end of Manhattan, hungry and tired, though that didn't stop our group of teenage boys from playing basketball in the churches indoor gym until almost midnight. I and most of the grown-ups went to bed about 9 and just read and relaxed while some of us supervised the group in the Gym. It felt so good to lie down, but it also felt great to have had an active day or getting to know the kids and helping out. I also spent some time admiring the manicure I got from Angelique -- pink and purple, with gold sparkles on top!

I was up by 7:30 and we all ate some breakfast we'd brought with us at about 8:30. Some of us walked a couple of blocks before then to get coffee at a neighborhood pizza and coffee place. I noticed some of our youth were eating French Fries for breakfast -- don't worry I won't tell your parents. Next up was attending church. St. Ann's has two services Sunday's: the 10 am is in English and the noon service is in Spanish. Most of the people at the 10 am service were African American, but not all. I really enjoyed the singing -- the choir was much more animated, and we got to clap along -- plus I knew or could pick up the songs and got to sing which I love. I saw a couple of the kids from Saturday and said hello! I imagine that the others were at the noon Spanish service.  We also had time to take our youth on a short walk around the neighborhood. Apparently when groups from St. John's first starting coming to St. Ann's the area was in rougher shape and the apartment buildings next door were crack houses -- they are now fixed up and lived in. The people of this community have been working hard -- with help -- to build up their own community -- which is terrific.
Community garden near St. Ann's

Donated books that we brought down and several of us shelved this morning.

St. Ann's Church -- it's beautiful inside with lovely stained glass windows
One of the other things that St. John's does is sponsor kids from St. Ann's to go to the Episcopal Conference Center Summer camps in northwestern Rhode Island. I met a nice ten year old young man who hopes to come to RI to camp this Summer -- maybe he will be there when Emma is there since they are in the same age group.

This was a great experience and I can't wait to go back and bring Emma with me. It is so important for our kids to see other parts of our country and other types of people -- as some of us said on the bus home -- Barrington can be a "bubble". I was lucky enough to live in many places growing up, many of them cities with diverse populations-- but Emma spends most of her time in Barrington only which is not a particularly diverse place.

P.S. I am adding Jonathan Kozol's book Amazing Grace my reading list. He wrote this book about St. Ann's and their after school and Summer school programs.

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