Monday, December 11, 2017

Meet Team Detroit!

Welcome to our blog! If you are reading this, you probably know how excited we are to participate in one of Gannon University's Alternative Break Service Trips (ABST) to Detroit. While we are in Detroit during spring break, we will be working at an urban farm called Earthworks and learning about how urban agriculture is part of a grassroots movement that is bringing new life to the city of Detroit. We will surely come back from Detroit with lots of stories to tell and memories to share, but the best way to keep up with us while we are away is to follow this blog!

We have a group of 11 people traveling to Detroit next semester. We will learn to get very comfortable with each other as we will be driving to Detroit in one large van, but you can get to know our group as well, by reading the biographies below:

Justin Johnson studies theology and social work. Our group will benefit from Justin's knowledge of these subjects because we will rely heavily on the Catholic Social Teachings as we learn about and help serve the Detroit community. Justin sees the Detroit trip as an opportunity to meet and help people. An interesting fact about Justin is that he can put both of his legs behind his head. Also, if Justin could choose to be any fruit or vegetable, he would be a peas because he feels comfortable being part of a community (as are peas in their pod).

Julia McGregor is a biology, pre-medicine major. Julia's interest in sustainability aligns perfectly with the mission of the trip and is the reason why she decided to participate in the Detroit ABST. In addition to making her own homemade products, such as toothpaste and lotion, Julia is teaching herself sign language. If Julia could be any fruit, she would be a banana.

Like Julia, Ally Owens is a biology and pre-medicine major. Ally has always been interested in service, and she decided to do the Detroit ABST because it was a good way to get involved. An interesting fact about Ally is that she can spin on her head, and if she could be any fruit, she would be grapes.

Amanda Weber is an occupational therapy major at Gannon. Amanda chose to participate in the Detroit ABST because it was an affordable way to travel. An interesting fact about Amanda is that she applied to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico for the summer. Amanda says that if she were a vegetable, she would be an onion because she has many layers! We look forward to getting to know Amanda's layers as we get closer to our trip!

David Reith is a Physician Assistant major. His future career path and his interest in the Detroit ABST both show that he wants to help those in need. An interesting fact about David is that he can sing! David's stories have already been very entertaining for the group, so we look forward to hearing him sing as well. If David could be any vegetable, he would be a pepper because he can be "both spicy and mild."

Ariana Aliasso is a junior Physician Assistant major. She decided to join the Detroit group because she wanted to give back to a community that is very close to her heart since she used to live Michigan! Ari is just returning from a semester abroad, so she wanted to stay relatively local for spring break. An interesting fact about Ari is that she has climbed on top of a sports stadium (the Adelaide Oval) in Adelaide, Australia! Finally, if Ari were a fruit or vegetable, she would be a strawberry because she is sweet like one! Moreover, the color red symbolizes passion and determination which are two characteristics she possesses. Finally, strawberries are able to be mixed with lots of other fruits and vegetables, but they can be enjoyed alone as well, which is something that describes Ari!

Adriana Molnar is in her first year at Gannon, studying occupational therapy. Adriana is involved in OPEN, which Gannon's student organization dedicated to helping with the issues of hunger and homelessness in Erie. We will be exploring the same issues in Detroit. An interesting fact about Adriana is that she swam in high school! Finally, if Adriana were a fruit, she would be an apple!

Melia Gasbarre is a Physician Assistant major and one of our leaders for the Detroit ABST. Melia previously had wonderful experiences on an ABST to Haiti, which made her interested in the Detroit trip. An interesting fact about Melia is that she has been studying in Brisbane, Australia for the past semester. If Melia could be any fruit, she would be a tomato because they are very versatile fruits and Melia is comfortable in many different settings.

Ryan Hamilton is the other one of our leaders for the Detroit ABST. He studies economics and finance at Gannon. He chose to participate in the Detroit trip because he has a passion for social justice. He is hoping to come out of ABST week with a better understanding of different walks of life. An interesting fact about Ryan is that the biggest trophy is from doing karate in kindergarten, ironically. If Ryan had to be any fruit or vegetable, he would be a tomato.

Joe Mokwa is one of our accompaniers for the Detroit ABST. He is a Gannon alumnus, and is currently working on campus as an AmeriCorps Vista. He chose to participate on the Detroit trip because of the subject matter of the trip, specifically urban gardening and race relations. An interesting fact about Joe is that he has a scar on his eyebrow (he doesn't cut his eyebrows on purpose). If Joe could be any vegetable, he would be broccoli because it's cool.

Heather Gilmartin is our other accompanier for our trip to Detroit. She works at Gannon as an assistant in one of our academic buildings, Palumbo. Her desire to become more involved in the Gannon community motivated her to participate in the Detroit ABST. An interesting fact about Heather is that she is currently training her Great Pyrenees to become a therapy dog! If Heather could be any fruit, she would be a mango because they're her favorite!

We appreciate that you are supporting our group by reading our blog and sending your prayers! Have a wonderful holiday season.

-Team Detroit

Friday, March 3, 2017

XOXO Detroit

March 3rd, 2017
                Today is our last full day in Detroit and the best way to describe it is bittersweet.  Our work included finishing bee boxes, sifting compost, and carrying soil bags.  In the afternoon, we attended the fantastic Detroit Art Institute and got lost for a few hours amidst the beautiful halls.
                However, for this post, I don’t want to focus on the day, but rather the wonderful week.
                So here’s to you Detroit.  Here’s a thank you letter for all that you have done for us.
                Thank you for inviting us into your community.  From the minute that we arrived in the Eastern Market that first day, we all knew that the stereotypes we expected would be torn apart.  You smiled at us on the streets and greeted us every morning while working at Earthworks.  You provided us with wonderful baked goods and inspirational messages to keep our energies up.  On our final night of reflection, we talked about how one word is “homey,” because that’s what Detroit has been for us for the week.
                Thank you for inspiring us to find beauty in hidden places.  From murals on brick walls to junk piled together on the side of the street.  We saw the wonder in growing plants from little seedlings to a magnificent crop.
                Thank you for providing us with energy at our lowest points.  The lively choir at Sacred Heart rejuvenated our souls.  Fun lunches with the characters at Capuchin Soup Kitchen made us connect closely to the community there (and provided us with lots of funny stories).
                Thank you for making us truly aware of all that we are fortunate enough to have.  In the middle of our trip, a water crisis caused us to see how much we need these vital items, such as food, water, and shelter.  Everyone deserves these things.  We cannot divide ourselves into classes as it was seen at the 8 Mile wall.  We must break down those walls and realize the true value in each human being.
                Thank you for educating us about so so so much.  From queen bees to the history of Detroit to Motown, I felt that we learned more than we honestly thought possible.  Maybe the reason we were so tired each night is due to the fact that our minds were full of information.
                Thank you for letting us connect with our roots.  On the first day at Earthworks, Shane mentioned how our ancestors connected with the earth by planting what we needed.  This week we experienced that.  Many of us are inspired to continue farming in the future.
                Thank you for providing us with a sense of peace.  Sitting on the beach at Belle Isle was an intimate moment as we saw the juxtaposition of a deindustrialized city on one side of the water and a place of nature on the other.  This moment provided an unspoken bond between all of us that can’t be broken.
                Thank you for late night talks in our bunk beds that felt like summer camp.
                Thank you for early mornings in a busy kitchen as we bumped elbows singing and dancing to music.
                Thank you for the chance to sing “My Girl” in Studio A at Motown Museum.
                Thank you for the hugs and blessings provided at Sacred Heart Church.
                Thank you for connections and stories from individuals who joined us at lunch every day.
                Thank you for cramped van rides with off key singing in the backseat.
                Thank you for exploring new faiths as we went to a mosque and a chapel.
                Words can’t really explain how we feel about this community now.  However, if there is one thing I have learned from mission trips, it’s that sometimes the service performed impacts the individuals doing it more than those helped.  So, here we are saying thanks to you.
                We now represent the love of Detroit in other areas of the United States.  As we saw posted around the city, “Believe there is good in Detroit.”  And oh my goodness, is there greatness here.

Detroit 2K17

"When it's cold outside, I've got the month of May."

March 2nd, 2017
                Well, it’s officially past the halfway point of the trip and we are definitely in the swing of things here in Detroit.  Today was bitterly cold compared to the last couple of days and we were rather ill prepared.  We often had to take breaks to walk around in the greenhouse in an attempt to feel our fingers and toes again.that
                Halfway through our morning of work, Patrick came out and told us to take a break inside (evidently we were acting as frozen as we felt).  Inside, a group of us got to work on building bee boxes.  Another group headed outside to clean out old bee boxes, taking them into the greenhouse for more work.
                We were served another lovely lunch and that afternoon, we sat down with Shane to have a conversation on food justice.  For two hours, we dove into the depths of food security, food justice, and food sovereignty.  It was eye-opening to discuss all that we deal with in our capitalist society that further pushes these divisions.
                Today was Shane’s last day with us as he will be heading to Chicago for business.  It was wonderful to meet such an inspirational character.  He taught us so much about the work they do at Earthworks and how we can take back lessons we have learned to Erie with us.
                After leaving, we headed over to the Motown Museum on Grand Boulevard.  Here, we were given a tour of where it all began for music legends like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the Temptations (along with many, many others).  Even though we weren’t able to take pictures within the museum, it was so amazing to stand in the downstairs studio where they once stand and sing the lyrics to “My Girl.”  Our singing might not have been on point, but the experience definitely was.
                Tonight we will be meeting with the head of the Detroit Urban Retreat Center to discuss the water crisis that areas in Michigan have been facing.  We can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds (hopefully with some warmer weather included).
(Julianna, Annmarie, Rachel, Jess, and Chris building bee boxes)

(Julianna and Annmarie presenting Shane with his gift)

(Annmarie hard at work)

(Crista, Jillian, Jess, Julianna, and Rachel fixing grape vines)


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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"Romaine" Calm

March 1st
                Happy March y’all!
                Not nearly as much to report on today as we had a pretty relaxed day.  At Earthworks, we found that the soil was too wet to work with.  If we walked on the wet soil, it could compact it too much and prevent plant growth (fun fact).
                Our mission for the day involved lots and lots of writing.  Using popsicle sticks, we created little signs for all types of seedlings that they would be giving away, including dino kale, batavia, and bell peppers.  Even though this was not the intense work that we had been doing for the past days, it was nice to sit down as a whole group and work together.  The songs we sang and the conversations we had were truly unique.
                Part of the group took an early break to grab lunch.  We talked to some very interesting gentlemen at the soup kitchen today who discussed many, many different topics with us. 
                At noon, we went to a local church for an Ash Wednesday service.  This was a very wonderful experience as another church community invited us into their home.  After the service concluded, one of the ushers even came up to us and began asking where we were from (we’re beginning to think that it's extremely obvious that we aren’t Detroiters).  She was so incredibly friendly and invested in hearing about our service work at Earthworks.  It was just another encounter to show the love that this city has.
                Upon returning to the greenhouse, we continued writing and writing, eventually getting to a couple thousand signs for little plants.  This lasted until 3 PM, when we loaded things up and headed out.
                Our first stop after work was at the Hiedelberg Project, an artsy project a few blocks down from Earthworks.  Tyree Guyton, a man who grew up in Detroit became an artist and used a two and a half block radius to exhibit his ideas.  Words cannot do this justice, so I will provide pictures below, but just know that it was incredibly intriguing to look at.  Abandoned houses were adorned with spray paint, chipped mirrors, and old stuffed animals.  Things that would appear to be junk were placed side by side in strange fashions to show Guyton’s thoughts.
                After we were done walking, Chris actually came upon Tyree himself in one of the lawns.  He invited us into his house and talked to us about his work.  Burton is very philosophical and has a specific viewpoint on time.  He feels that all we have is the now and that we must grab ahold of it and understand that everything happens for a reason.  He chased after his dream to be an artist despite what everyone said, and now the exhibit is nationally recognized.
                The next stop we hit was driving down 8 mile, a road made infamous by the film 8 Mile  about Eminem’s rise to fame.  This street is actually a racial divide between the wealthy and the more impoverished areas of Detroit.  Within some houses, you can still see an old concrete wall that stands about waist high and is a physical reminder of the divide between the two areas.
                Upon arrival back to our retreat center, we had a relaxing night of Little Ceasars and some coloring during reflection.  Our group has grown into a little family and it feels that we are started to feel more at home here in Detroit.  I am excited to see our relationship with the community grow even more.
(Rachel, Annmarie, Jess, Deen, and Crista hard at work)

(Exhibit at Heidelberg Project)

(Exhibit at Heidelberg Project)

(Remnant of Concrete Wall at 8 Mile)


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Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

February 28, 2017

                Here we are at day two.  If you’ve been following our journey, you know that we have started our work at Earthworks and have met the wonderful people involved there.  So, here comes our next fun-filled chapter.
                Set the scene at 8 AM this morning as we sat around sipping coffee with the sound of raindrops outside the windows.  Our stomachs were ready for the delicious treats that awaited us at On the Rise Bakery, an affiliate of Capuchin Soup Kitchen and Earthworks.  The bakery specializes in employing ex-convicts who are trying to get back on their feet.  It is an empowering business that spreads a message of hope and love.
                Stepping into the bakery that morning, we were in awe (as in mouths gaping in awe).  Before us stood rows of glazed donuts, homemade muffins, and cinnamon rolls bigger than our hands.  We all ordered our treats with some coffee and sat down to eat our way to a sugar high.  Trust us, we wouldn’t have wanted to start our days any other way.
                When we arrived at the worksite, we met with Roxanne, the assistant head farmer.  She put us to work immediately, despite the slight drizzle falling.  Splitting off into groups, we worked on putting up chicken wire around the greenhouse to prevent cats from getting in, along with digging up old bushes that were no longer producing fruit.  The best experience of that whole time was our great teamwork.  It sounds cliché, but teamwork truly does make the dream work.  This was evident enough if you saw all that we accomplished within the span of a few hours.  The bushes were gone, vegetables picked, and chicken wire put up along one whole side.  The feeling of accomplishment was felt by all.
                Lunch brought back some old friends to us as we sat down to our home-cooked meal.  Some individuals recognized us and motioned for us to come over or asked how Belle Isle was.  It just goes to show how tight the family is at Capuchin Soup Kitchen.
                After lunch, we headed back to the Hoop House to continue on with all of our hard work.  This time, we met with a worker named Eric, who taught a group of us how to prep the beds.  The amount of work that we went through was super intense.  My arms were definitely feeling it after we were done pushing wheelbarrows full of compost across the length of the greenhouse.
                Shortly after leaving Earthworks, we quickly changed to head to Dearborn, picking up Shane and driving to a mosque.  The scene in the girl’s bathroom was hilarious ahead of time as we all lined up to have Miriam wrap our scarves for us.  Once we arrived, we wandered around to see the beautiful prayer room and architecture within the mosque.  Many of us come from a different faith background, so we were constantly pestering Miriam and Hitham about what different objects meant or the translation of certain phrases.
                We did actually sit in the back of the prayer room as the prayer went on.  During prayer, the men sit at the front and the women sit near the back.  All of us women headed toward the back wall, while Tommy and the other men headed to the front.  Tommy was actually drawn into the prayer, making friends with the men sitting beside him.  As someone who has never experienced a Muslim prayer service before, it was truly an amazing experience that I won’t forget.
                After the service, Shane directed us to an Arabic restaurant in Dearborn called Al Ameer.  The food was absolutely delicious and we all went out of our comfort zones to try something different.  Many of us ordered shawarma, an entrée consisting of lamb, beef, or chicken grilled in delicious spices.  Hummus, pita bread, and garlic sauces covered the table as we ate and talked for a while.  This dinner will go down in history as one of the best.
                The day was packed with activities and by the time we shuffled through the retreat center doors, it was after 9 PM.  We all soon hit the sack, still reminiscing about an amazing day spent with new friends, new experiences, and lots of good food.


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(Chris, Jess, and Hitham enjoying the massive cinnamon rolls)

(Julianna, Chris, and Jillian putting up chicken wire)

(Annmarie, Rachel, Miriam, and Jess)

(Shawarma from Al Ameer)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

"Lettuce" Begin

February 27, 2017
               Today was the day!  Our group finally arrived at Earthworks for our first day of orientation.  As they say “the early bird catches the worm,” so bright and early, we loaded up the van and drove to the west side.
                Upon arriving, we saw the multiple greenhouses and garden plots surrounding one side of the parking lot and some lots across the street.
                This morning we were able to meet with Shane, one of the leaders at Earthworks, who we have been in contact with for the last couple of months.  Shane is knowledgeable in all things Detroit and agriculture, but he has a special knack for drawing you into deep thoughts.
                “I want you to introduce yourselves and include what you call home, along with your favorite food,” he first stated after settling in.
                We rambled through lists of homemade desserts, pastas, and delicacies.  Shane brought to our attention that we have such a close relationship with food.  It goes beyond just a physical response and enters an emotional center within us.  Food is comfort.  Food is joy.  It can tie whole communities together.
                The orientation this morning was all about learning as we expanded our perspectives on Detroit.  We found that growing our own food is tied to our very roots.  Our ancestors had to plow their land and we are finding the love in doing it once again. 
                After a few hours of touring and discussing our expectations for the week ahead, the group sat down to lunch in the soup kitchen.  Tommy, Julianna, and Jessica found themselves sitting next to a wonderful gentleman who discussed all of his favorite things about his city.  He wanted to know all about our trip and after the conversation, asked to take a picture with them, stating that he would be praying for them the rest of the year.
                In the afternoon, the hard work began when we split off into two groups to perform pruning and mulching.
                The hours were spent attempting to figure out what parts of the tree to clip and/or climbing them to search the tops.  No one was hurt (except maybe some egos).  Three others were truly breaking a sweat shoveling mulch and flattening out the soil.
                Afterwards, we were able to start pruning some grape vines.  Even though this was one of the most confusing tasks of the day as we struggled to define new baby branches, it was incredibly rewarding.  It felt as though we were saving all the future baby grapes.
                When 3 PM hit, we were ready to head over to Belle Isle.  It was incredibly beautiful, especially in the off season.  Some sandy beaches provided the perfect backdrop for our reflection period.
                Today was full of so much.  We started it with learning, then hard work, and then some reflecting.  It was great to see Earthworks for the first time and we can’t wait to see what the rest of the week has in store.
(Earthworks Logo)

(Greenhouse at Earthworks)

(Rachel, Jillian, and Crista hard at work)

(View from Belle Isle)


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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Gathered in Love

                Today, our group was fortunate enough to attend the beautiful gospel mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.  Located right near the Eastern Market, this is also a center of social life for some members of the Detroit community.  From the minute that we walked through the door, we were welcomed and greeted with loads of smiles.
                Sitting in the back pews, we were able to observe everything around us.  The congregation members seemed to all know each other, smiling and waving from across the chapel.  In front of us was an adorable little boy and his mother.  He kept waving and showing us his tiny white bear.
                Looking back on it, we were all in agreement that the service was one of the best that we have ever been to.  The choir was astounding with their loud voices and we were welcomed deeply by their close-knit community.
                Reverend Thomas, the pastor of Sacred Heart, preached on how the “inner city” is viewed by outsiders.  He questioned what that term truly means.  The stigma that surrounds this city is untrue, making it seem so different than it actually is.  As he states, each individual is a wildflower and is truly important to God.
During one point of the service, Reverend Thomas took a special break to invite members celebrating birthdays and one little girl with a fantastic report card up to the altar in recognition.  While our hearts were busy melting, we realized that the Reverend was calling our own group up. 
“And all the way from Erie, Pennsylvania is a group from Gannon University.”
At first, I felt awkward making the long trek up to the altar as members clapped and cheered.  However, that feeling soon disappeared as we were hugged and given warm wishes by so many members.  Older ladies, young children, and elderly gentlemen shook our hands and hugged us, wishing us peace.
                I know that for me, this was an incredibly moving moment.  I wish that the church knew how much we appreciated all the joy they provided to us.
                Later that afternoon, our group explored some more culture of Detroit at the Detroit Historical Museum.  Beginning in the basement, we traveled through time for the history of Detroit, from its settlements in the 1700s to present day.  Who knew that Little Ceasars came from here?  We didn’t.  Who knew that they have soooo many cars?  You probably did, but I didn’t (oops).
                We concluded our lovely day with some smoothie tasting and exploring two grocery stores within Detroit, glancing at our surroundings (who was shopping there and how expensive grapes were).
                The day started off bright and sunny (literally) and continued to be full of joy and exploration throughout.  From being gathered in love at the church to gathering in love around each meal, the trip is going swell.

(Passing of Peace at Sacred Heart)

(Annmarie and a Congregation Member of Sacred Heart)

(Outside the Detroit Historical Museum)


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