Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Spring Bonner Blog

This is a reflection written by Gavin Prouty, a first-year Bonner who went on the alternative spring break trip to Mobile, Alabama.

The bus ride down was a great opportunity to start building a great community, what else is there to do with 22 hours straight on a bus but talk? Made friends with a lot of the kids that came through Campus Ministry and also made friends with one of the adults on the trip who works at Augsburg. Once we got to the church in Mobile we unloaded and split up into rooms for sleeping, I try to choose a room with some of the guys I didn’t know so I could try and talk to them. First day we spent roaming the beach at Dauphin Island, did some wave riding and souvenir shopping. Second day we got down to work and I volunteered to go to a AmeriCorps house and clean it out because they sold it and were moving all the stuff to a new house. Made a lot more friends working with them during this clean out, it was a lot of work trying to take apart all their bunk beds. They third day we went to the house that we would be spending are time at for the rest of the week. It was a small house and we were the first group to be in it so we got to do the demolition, that was A LOT OF FUN! For the most part I was working with one guy I had never talked to before, his name was Erik. Erik and me had more experience with construction compared to the other volunteers so we were given more jobs and more power tools. We ended up taking down a wall and building a doorway along with storage areas for the air conditioning units and the other big appliances that would go in the back room. One other job that Erik and me did was try to screw a ceiling back up into position which ended up with me being in the small crawl space of the attic and moving all the fiberglass insulation. After I had done all that work we ended up just smashing the ceiling in too because it was just too damaged to fix and they were going to re-do it. When that week was all done all of us were so tired that we all got great sleep on the bus ride back to Minneapolis. I honestly couldn’t have had a better spring break!

To Alabama and back

The following is a reflection on the 2012 service spring break trip to Mobile, Alabama, with Campus Ministry. It is written by Ozzie Valverde. 

Minnesota climate, got a little
old. That’s why I hopped on a southbound bus
to a place where skies are clear as crystals,
Alabama, it’s called, a place to trust.
The sleepy city on the coast of dreams
brings back memories of places serene
there ain’t no question what’s in this place teems
lots of sunlight, and me without sunscreen.
My labor was a gift for those without
the advantage in this game we call life
worked as I planned, without getting worn-out
had a great crew, devoid of any strife.
Sweet home Alabama, point of Mobile
cross the Dixie line, you’ll never feel ill.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Kristin Farrell, Bonner Program Director

The following was written from an interview senior Bonner Katelyn Danelski conducted with Kristin Farrell, who works as the Bonner Program Director at Augsburg College in the Sabo Center for Citizenship & Learning.


Kristin came to work at Augsburg after considerable inner dialogue and conversations with coworkers and friends about a desire to work in higher education and a passion for helping students gain real-world exposure to social justice issues. She had worked for eight years as a high school teacher in social studies, but she began to feel a need to learn more about experiential education and working in a post-secondary institution. After going back to school and completing her graduate thesis based in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, Kristin found her way to interviewing for a position at Augsburg College, and she was excited about the college's way of going about work in the community. After accepting the position, she began to work more holistically with the Bonner Program.

In the past few years working as the director of the program, there are particular aspects of her position that stand out as most valuable to her. Hands down, her favorite aspect is being able to work with students and watching them grow. Kristin also values the focus on relationship building with a purpose to support students to be able to take steps towards their aspirations, as well as working in the community itself. She believes that the commitment of the students in Bonner directly relates to the mission of the college itself. Bonner and Augsburg are a natural fit, she says, because of Augsburg's focus on community engagement, student leadership development, and helping students find their calling. All of these core commitments coincide with what Bonner is all about.

Kristin is also inspired by the students she works with. She says they share experiences of adversity and yet take action and engage with others, using those challenges they have experienced as fuel for their journey. Bonner students here at Augsburg are committed to engaging with the community, bringing forth their experiences, and learning from others' experiences; they are also incredible connectors. She envisions the future of Bonner as one that works towards stronger community and identity amongst the students; she believes the future of Bonner in these regards must be student-lead because the future of the program's community life is in their hands. 

She has also learned some things while working as the Bonner Program Director, including trusting in the value of long-term relationships and the importance of working through struggles to reach goals. In addition, Kristin mentioned developing a deeper value of community and realizing that every interaction you have contributes to a larger community. 

In the end, she says that being at Augsburg has helped her understand her personal vocation better, and that she has been able to help students discern theirs. She deeply values the way the Augsburg community engages with others, and is thankful to be both a teacher and learner in this environment. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Spending Spring Break in Service

The following is a reflection on the 2012 service spring break trip to Mobile, Alabama, with Campus Ministry. It is written by Alisha Esselstein. 


I decided to go to Alabama because I felt that my week long break should be spent doing something worthwhile, rather than sitting on the couch in my parent’s home. I had never been to the “true” South, because I feel that Disney World does not really count. Going into the trip, I had no idea what to expect or even what we were going to do while we were down there. The only details that I knew were that we were going to be helping Habitat for Humanity and that there was a possibility that we were going to be building a house.

After the week was over, I felt both physically and spiritually fulfilled. Throughout the week I swam in the Gulf of Mexico, completely remodeled a house, built a community garden, and met an entirely new group of friends. I also experienced a new culture. In Alabama, there is still the “Southern hospitality”, but there is a strong sense of privacy that you do not see in the Midwest. The majority of the houses had fences surrounding the homes with “Stay Out” signs attached.

In many ways, Alabama was still the same as Minnesota or Wisconsin. Ironically, southern hospitality is the same type of behavior found in the small towns of Wisconsin. Everyone knows everybody and everything about them. Even if they do not know someone, they are still treated with the same politeness as if they were part of your family. The standard of living was also similar to the Midwest. There were houses that were not up kept and there were houses that took your breath away. Overall, the way of life in Alabama was not far from the way of life in the small towns of the Midwest.

The only critique that I have of the trip was that we did not hear the stories of the people who were being helped by Habitat for Humanity. We were only given small amounts of information about the devastation of the storm and the overall poverty of Mobile. I feel that the trip would have been more enriching if we were immersed more into the community.

Finding Community at Jane Addams

The following was written by senior Mallory Carstens about her work with Bonner and what has been most meaningful for her. 


I have had many placements in Bonner. My first placement was with the Employment Action Center, RESOURCE Inc. I spent two years at this site and this experience really introduced me to the community in which Augsburg is located. It is here that I discovered my interest in working with people and in the community. I have since worked with Kaleidoscope Place, the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, the Jane Addams School, Centro Guadalupano/Holy Rosary Church, and the FAIR School Downtown.

The Jane Addams School for Democracy has been the most meaningful placement for me. The Jane Addams School for Democracy is an initiative of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship located in Saint Paul’s West Side neighborhood. Here, neighborhood residents, immigrant and refugee families, youth, and college students and faculty gather for dialogue, education, and public work. Jane Addams School believes that everyone is a teacher and a learner and that bringing people together can create change. There are currently three circles: the East African circle, the Spanish circle, and a Youth circle. A typical night is something like this: I come with the goal of improving my Spanish writing skills, and partner with a woman studying for the U.S. Citizenship test in Spanish. Together, we work on our learning goals, but also discuss our favorite foods and how to prepare them, our families, current events, and other topics relevant to the neighborhood in which we both live. After an hour of studying, everyone comes together for a bi-lingual conversation. Topics include anything from health, recreation, and families, to politics, environmental issues, and culture. Sometimes all circles come together for celebrations, discussions, or field trips.

My connection to Jane Addams School became even stronger after studying for a semester in Cuernavaca, Mexico. While in Mexico I had the opportunity to live with a Mexican family, study the current relations between the U.S. and Mexico, and learn from many social workers and activists. This experience increased my interest in studying immigration in Minnesota with a particular interest in the experience of Latino immigrants. Returning to Jane Addams School I had increased Spanish language ability but also a new insight into the culture and background of many of the participants.

One of my fondest memories was last summer at an end of the summer celebration. Every circle prepared food, games, and activities for all to participate in. We shared a meal, dancing, and games in the park. One game in particular will always stick with me; a moment that I think illustrates the spirit of Jane Addams School. Everyone gathered in a large circle for a game of ‘hot potato’. Although the circle included people of many different backgrounds, languages, ages, and abilities, all were able to participate, and despite the language barrier, it was apparent in all of the smiles and laughter that everyone was enjoying themselves.

Jane Addams School has given me the opportunity to meet incredible people. I have shared stories, experiences, and memories with the people I have met at Jane Addams. As I graduate from Augsburg and the Bonner Program I look forward to remaining involved with the Jane Addams School.

Monday, April 2, 2012

From Failure to Meaning & Refugee Empowerment

Senior Bonner Katia Iverson tells a story of finding unexpected meaning and lifted spirits one day, and of her commitment to refugee empowerment. Her insights are shared as her responses to the questions below. Katia is studying Cross-Cultural Studies and Spanish.

1. What placements have you had in Bonner? Describe a meaningful moment you had at one of them with another person or a group of people.

I have worked at VOA SALT charter high school as a classroom assistant, the East African Women’s Center in a number of roles (ELL teacher, childcare help, girls’ group program, farmer’s market/cooking), Redeemer Lutheran Church as a youth coordinator, Campus Kitchen and, currently, Minnesota Council of Churches Refugee Services.

I often think of one hot, summer day when Rachel Svanoe and I were working at Redeemer. We had a planned a big group field trip and were looking forward to touring Minneapolis and meeting successful business people, eating lunch, and learning more about the community. Well, the time to meet at the church passed, and it was only me and Rachel—no kids had come to join us as we sat anxiously waiting on the church steps. After another half hour of waiting, we began cancelling our meetings for the day and wondering what we had done wrong.

As we wandered up and down the sidewalk in front of the church, a young woman walked by flaunting a set of balloons. We stopped her and asked where they had come from, and she explained (beaming!) that she had just graduated from a job training program. She mentioned that she was happy, but very hungry. In that moment, Rachel suggested we all go out to lunch. So, with a small flexible budget, disappointments and successes to talk about, we all headed to the nearby café. The excitement in the woman was palpable as she ordered her lunch at the café counter, still clutching the herd of balloons. She later told us that she was pleased to be celebrating with us, as she was unsure who else she could share her joy with. It felt like we’d found a meaningful day despite a seemingly massive failure at the start.

 2. What social justice issue in the Cedar-Riverside area or one of your placement neighborhoods is most apparent to you? How have you been involved in helping create awareness of this issue and/or what have you learned about this issue through your time at Augsburg and/or at your Bonner placement?

 I am all about refugee empowerment. I find that some people are uncomfortable with using that word—“empowerment”—but that is always my goal when I meet new arrivals to the country. When I began interning at the East African Women’s Center fall of my sophomore year, I was exposed to stories I had never considered before. It was one of those moments where “you don’t know what you don’t know,” and I instantly felt I needed to bridge a huge gap in my understanding of the world. 

Now in my current placement, I mentor refugees as they practice public transportation and find that there are a whole new set of barriers and cultural idiosyncrasies to unpack. Here are families who have been uprooted from their lifelong homes, often leaving immediate family members behind and, in many cases, very much alone in a new environment. Yes—most refugees I meet are incredibly motivated and thankful for their opportunity to be in the United States, but the process of settling into a new, aggressive American culture is anything but straightforward. The gaps in literacy and understanding are great, and transitions are necessary on every level.  I have come to believe that it does not matter what  a person’s view on immigration is—we have new neighbors arriving in our communities every week, and it is our responsibility to make them comfortable and welcome.

Alabama Service Trip & Encouraging Kids

First-year Bonner Adrena Murphy shares her experiences of the Alternative Spring Break service trip to Mobile, Alabama, in March 2012, as well as why she is committed to encouraging and supporting kids at her current Bonner placement, Kaleidoscope Place. Adrena is studying Elementary Education and Communications.

Alabama Service Trip 

The service trip to Alabama was definitely eye-opening. I remember listening to one of the leaders say “you may not be able to see the work you’re doing but what the thirty of us can complete in a week is astronomical!” And now that I look back, we really did some amazing things down in Mobile. 

Yes, there were times when I felt that all I was good at for was painting because of my sprained wrist,  until the last day when the team and I magically turned a huge lot full of dirt and puddles into a large community garden. I’ll be honest, just the weather alone that day made me doubt that real progress could be made, but as I looked around I seemed to be the only one worried that the rain would destroy everything we’d put together. I definitely got over all the doubting when I heard of a young man still in high school but definitely missing class to help us help him and put this community garden together. From then on, then pain in my wrist was surpassed by my desire to help this young man and others like him in the neighborhood.

 I was delighted to build flower beds, fill them with dirt and mulch, step in mud puddles, dirty my new shoes, and learn; at the end of the day, it was worth it. As I used a mallet to dig the stakes into the clay-colored ground, I began to smile; I could do more than paint. For four days, I smelled of paint. For any project that involved paint, I was there to volunteer my time, but that Friday something said, “Do something else, something new.. you’re in Alabama woman!” 

I had a blast yelling “STAKES?” and “does anyone know where the caps are?” I gained personal strength and courage that day! Eight hours later the team and I stepped back to admire our work and what we had done was remarkable: eight rows of double-stacked flower beds, all filled with dirt and mulch, all containing freshly planted fruits and veggies, watered so that in a couple of months neighbors from around will be able to pick fresh produce! And I helped make that happen, sprained wrist and all.

Encouraging and Supporting Kids

Being a first year and not really having much experience in the Minneapolis community kind of put be on the wrong foot when joining my first placement through the Bonner program. Sometimes a visit on a quiet day isn’t always the best way to feel out your placement because my experiences within the first weeks really began to challenge me an individual and the program as well. These kids were struggling with basic social skills that you are usually supposed to pick up from home and it made me extremely angry that the school system in this area was purposely trying to fail these kids. It wasn’t creating an environment where kids were learning to become confident in their academics and also their personal relationships.

These kids deserved more and at the moment of test and trial, I felt it was my duty to create that positive environment and to be that mentor for them. I wanted to make sure that these kids knew their own potential and that they always remembered that they could come to me for anything and I would try my hardest to help them, whether that meant I had to teach myself a new way of doing math or learn a new style of communication that involved me closing my mouth and letting them talk about whatever they needed to.

 I was raised in a pretty unhealthy and abusive household and I remember that experience making me stronger as an individual and also becoming a part of my character, someone who was more humble and understanding. So, to be in an environment where kids are probably having it much worse than I ever did motivates me to seek out ways that my placement and I can help encourage these kids that they are safe there with us!