Friday, April 17, 2015

PACC's Spring Retreat

What better way to start this post off than with a picture from our VISTA Spring Retreat. Quite the Photogenic Group!

I can't believe that the last time I sat down to write a blog entry, the ground was covered in snow. Now, the buds are starting to sprout on the trees and despite all of the pessimism that this unusually cold winter brought out in me, it seems as though Spring might finally be upon us. 

Spring is my favorite time of year, when folks that have been burrowed all winter in their mole holes start to arise in droves. The city is bustling with energy and the colors seem so vibrant after living in a limited pallet of color all winter. An early morning walk can provide the opportunity for a cotton candy sky like this one which occurred on the cusp of winter's transformation into Spring. All in all, it is a time of blossoms and reemerging life, which I find to be invigorating every year.

There are so many things to report on, it is hard to know where to start. I will go ahead and touch on the retreat first and then will go into a couple of impressive VISTA accomplishments.

This retreat was a blast! Despite the very dreary weather, it was foggy and drizzly and we literally did not see any sunshine for three days, the location and the facilities seemed to be a hit overall. This retreat was set at Bryn Mawr Mountain Retreat Center in Honesdale, PA. The location is remote and we were able to book the entire retreat center to ourselves, which gave us tons of space to spread out and explore. Here's an aerial view of the setting:

The weather, the isolated setting, and the amount of woods and space dedicated to our mere group of 22 seemed like the makings of a horror movie that thankfully never came to fruition. Though I hear that there was a pretty elaborate game that the VISTAs came up with about how the horror movie would have played out. Anyway, all in all Bryn Mawr Mountain exceeded my expectations. The VISTAs, per usual, brought their energy, enthusiasm, and investment and helped to make the retreat rejuvenating and successful.

We started with a "Show and Tell" of items VISTAs brought in representing their greatest success or lesson learned this year. VISTAs brought in everything from their work telephones, to business cards, to manuals they had created, to coasters.

Then we did Teach-Ins, which involved each group preparing a 20 minute workshop for the rest of the group. Here are the leaders of each of those groups and what they presented on. I also got a few shots from the presentations:

  • Kelly-Volunteer Mobilization
  • Evalyn- Networking and how to increase visibility & fundraising
  • Riccardo-Group Coordination of an Event
  • Ana- The Science of Learning

In case this isn't clear from the picture, this is your brain!

Here's Grant explaining how understanding your brain impacts understanding how you learn
Time to mobilize some volunteers!
We played a game that was like networking Clue
Then it was on to Professional Competencies. For homework, prior to the retreat, the VISTAs had to consider how they demonstrate each of the competencies below and how they would like to develop each of these competences. Here's a list of the ones they had to consider: Accountability, Adaptability, Clear Communication, Initiative, Managing Resources, Organization/Project Management, Problem Solving, Service Orientation, Technology/Specialized Knowledge, Valuing Diversity, Working Collaboratively

There was also a great deal consuming tasty food. I've included some of the menu as a nice way to remember the deliciousness of the retreat feast:

Thursday was packed with productive, reflective activities that were aimed to consider where VISTAs are at now, what they need to accomplish in the final 3 months of their service term, and finally what they'd like to do during "Life After VISTA." Here are some of the things we touched on:

Below is a picture of our VISTAs practicing their elevator speeches to each other. I think "elevator speech" is an exceedingly strange term. I get it, an elevator gives you a finite amount of time, confined with a group of people, but, for me an elevator is far from the ideal setting to hear about someone's life, goals, passions, etc. What is the likelihood of meeting your ideal employer on an elevator? Have you camped out on said elevator in their designated office building in order to create a chance meeting? Have you brought snacks? Do you stand the whole time? Do people start to get suspicious? So many unanswered questions, but I do know it's important to be able to pitch yourself quickly.

Then, VISTAs got into inner and outer circles and had to answer question they were asked about their VISTA experiences to the person standing across from them. The outer circle rotated. The room buzzed with talking but, as I said at the retreat, the noisiness of it all seemed appropriate. It's hard to focus in or make sense of your VISTA year within all of the commotion of the present.

In the evening we did a Clearness Committee, which is basically a Quaker Communal Approach To Discernment. It challenges a lot of things that seem intuitive to many of us: asking questions because we're curious, giving advice, filling silences with noise, being on a tight schedule, and allowing space for uncertainty. I have found it to be an incredibly therapeutic and meaningful process in my life and was very happy to bring it to this group of VISTAs who are already so introspective, collaborative, and willing to question and learn.

Then on Friday, the VISTAs filmed some pretty stellar videos that we'll be turning into movies and showing at the Summer Retreat and PSO. As well as for PACC promotional purposes. Here's just a bit of a preview to get you excited for more to come!

All in all it was a great retreat. It did not turn into a scary movie, everyone left well-fed, we got some time in Honesdale, and most importantly, everyone had some quality time with each other.

There are also some other exciting things to report! Our 27 15-16 Host Sites are working hard on recruitment and we're very excited about all of the projects beginning and continuing next year. Here are the Host Site Institutions and their focus areas:

Last but not least, here are a couple of exciting things that are happening at PACC Host Site Institutions around Pennsylvania:

Kevin at Bucknell University:
"The Lewisburg Community Garden serves as a resource in a wide variety of ways and the Spring is when you get to see the real worth of the garden. I have worked to implement 6 adult educational seminars focused around the work we do in the garden, our first one was a seed swap. We had 25 people in attendance learning about saving and storing seeds, heirloom varieties, and swapping some of their favorite seeds that have been passed down for generations.

We have been working diligently to prepare for our biggest fundraiser of the year - the plant sale. We have +3,000 plants growing in our greenhouses everything from heirloom tomatoes to some sort of herb called marshmallow. Between planting, watering, and repotting it keeps us very busy but not enough to stop us from building a new fence!

The old fence at the garden was in sad shape, bent, broken, and with gates that had come off their hinges. The garden stakes will be replaced with pressure treated lumber, the PVC gates with livestock fences, and the whole thing will be surrounded with new rabbit fencing. A Management 101 class is raising money, planning, and installing the 720' fence and all in the course of 3 months!"

Riccardo from Drexel University:
Riccardo from the Lindy Center was nominated for Outstanding Nominee in the Distinguished Service by a Current AmeriCorps member category for the 3rd Annual Mayors Award for Distinguished National Service. Pretty awesome!

What better way to end this post than with a picture of the Wolf PACC at the closing of our Spring Retreat. It's always a pleasure to be among them and so impressive to hear about all they do. Till next time!

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