Americorps

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The New Beginning

Published September 12, 2010 by heatherksmith

It’s official. I’m no longer a VISTA. Even though I’m happy to say bon voyage to food stamps and living below the poverty line, I loved the experience and highly recommend it. You’ll see me volunteering again soon.

Life changed drastically since my last post. I left the desert and set up camp in the Rockies. I start graduate courses at the University of Denver on Monday and start a new job about a week later. Not only that, but I finally have wheels again (on a car that is, not my bike). No more five-mile pedals to work in 100 degree weather.

So, once again, new place, new people, new life. I’m excited to see how it all works out.

I Won’t Be Blind to 39.8 Million

Published March 29, 2010 by heatherksmith

My tendency to drift off into thought was in high effect this weekend while I pulled weeds at Steele Indian School Park in honor of Cesar Chavez Day with HandsOn Greater Phoenix. With each pull I reminisced about home, thought about grad school in Denver, wondered how it was possible I was sweating and getting sunburnt in March, and craved some boneless wings from Applebee’s. The usual.

My mind eventually wandered to poverty. Part of the VISTA experience is living below the poverty line. For the past 7 months, I’ve been living off of a modest stipend and grocery shopping with food stamps. I suppose you could call me poor, and every so often things get a little frustrating (Remember my post about my car’s transmission going out? Well, that still isn’t fixed). But being single, no children, and in my 20-somethings, I’ve been able to make it work just fine.

What I mainly pondered over as I uprooted desert weeds was the fact that so many people look negatively at and stereotype the impoverished. Honestly, it’s something that now breaks my heart.

I’m sure you’ve heard it. “Why don’t they just get a job?” “They’re  living off the government.” “They’re just too lazy to work.” “Waste of my tax dollars.” It goes far beyond words…

When you were a little kid, did your parents want you playing at the ‘poor kid’s’ house? Was that kid and his/her family considered ‘dirty?’ What about that family you knew with an alcoholic parent? That was their problem, right? How about when you see someone begging on the street? Do you just look past them, pretend they’re not there?

Some of the most recent data I found regarding poverty came from a press release from the US Census Bureau in September of 2009 . According to their research, about 13.2% of americans lived below the poverty level in 2008. That means nearly 39.8 million people were living in poverty!

Could that possibly be each of their own faults? Do you really think they’re all  purposely trying to ‘just live off the government?’ Maybe there are some people out there who try to slide by and live off of benefits or have managed to put themselves in financial despair. But I don’t believe there are over 39 million.

Think about that ‘poor kid’ who you weren’t suppose to play with. Was it their fault they were born into poverty? No, it wasn’t.  It wouldn’t be their fault if it was because their mother or father had an alcohol or gambling addiction either. 

The people on the streets are really there, even if you try not to see them. Do you believe they choose to sleep on the streets and beg? Do you trully think that they are ‘just too lazy’ to provide a home for their children? I don’t.

I also don’t believe it’s that easy for someone to ‘just get a job.’  If you had someone in tattered clothing you expected of living on the streets walk into your restaurant/store asking for a job, would your hire them? I don’t doubt that there are people out there that would, but be completely honest with yourself. Would you?

I’m no expert on poverty, and I’ve only been living below the poverty line for a few months. Like I said, I’m making it work just fine (food, a warm house, and a little bit of money on the side). My family went through some rought times when I was a kid, but my mother and father were always able to provide for me. I also know that if I really needed it, my mother could help me now. Sadly, that’s not the case for everyone.

I was fortunate. I still am very fortunate. But I refuse to be blind to the 39.8 million that aren’t. I’m proud to be spending this year trying to make a difference.

Moved by the phote? Check out more by Ed Yourdon here.

A Message from a Small Town Girl

Published January 16, 2010 by heatherksmith

I graduated from a class of 26. My hometown had a population of 1,200. My mother and my best friend spent their days of elementary school in a one-room country school.

There was no mall, not even a Wal-Mart, for 45 miles. There were no stop lights. I often passed tractors on the highway during the summer.

I’m from South Dakota, and to quote Journey, “I’m just a small town girl.”

And defensive about it when I need to be.

I love travelling; near, far, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been lucky enough to visit cities like San Diego and New York City (Might I say, the San Diego Zoo and Broadway, two of my favorite memories). I’ve been an exchange student in Japan and Mexico, spent a summer interning in Minneapolis, and if you haven’t caught on from the rest of my blog entries, I’m now living in Phoenix and serving a year with the AmeriCorps VISTA.

It seems that no matter where I go, once I utter the phrase, “I’m from South Dakota,” there’s always someone who does it.  Wondering what ‘it’ is? Here are some examples:

“You’re from South Dakota? I’ve heard that everybody hates it there and is trying to get out.”
“Most of the rednecks must be congregated in the small towns.”
“Do you live on a farm? hahah! Do you have cows? hahaha”

These are all things directly said to my face. To clear a few things up, no, most of the people living in SD are perfectly content (Otherwise, they’d move), there are no colonies of rednecks and I am not from a farm, but quite a bit of my friends and family are, and they’re some of the hardest working and succesful people you’ll meet.

Don’t think its only absurd questions.  From my time as an exchange student, I’ve had plenty assumptions made about me and my education by other US students. Apparently, it’s not ‘cool’ to be from a small town, and even though I was in college, it wasn’t worth much, being from South Dakota and all. I guess  Tom Brokaw missed that memo. There were other exchange kids from towns my size, but oddly tried to avoid mentioning it and distanced themselves from me when they found out my small-town roots.

Oh, and the third comment about the ‘farm and the cows,’ came from fellow South Dakotans! Another pet peeve of mine is people saying ‘it’s different when you live in Rapid City or Sioux Falls.’ No, that is also South Dakota, and just because those places are more populated, it doesn’t make it better than the rest of the state.  My home town was founded by the railroad in the 1800’s. The area is filled with farms, some of which have been in families for generations. The area has always had a small population, not because there’s something wrong with it, but because that’s the way it’s always been. Ask most of the people who live in the area, and they’ll probably tell you they wouldn’t want it any other way.

Quite honestly, it makes me sad that some people are so naïve and uneducated that they would make those assumptions. (Sometimes the assumptions do give me a good laugh though. Check out Texts from Last Night).  Back on subject, I feel sorry for anyone that is embarassed to say they’re from a small town. If anything, its something unique, BE PROUD!

I will admit that this is a two-way road. I won’t deny feeling a bit scared my first time in New York City that I might get mugged, and I have jumped the gun on assuming that some urbanites I’ve met were just bound to be elitists who’ve probably never seen a real hard day’s work before. Perhaps, sometimes, I can be a little bit of a ‘ruralist.’

I must also say, I’ve heard a good share of positive stereotypes about my midwestern upbringing, which I love! More than once people have commented they’re ‘excited to be around someone from an area with such a good work ethic,’ and that people from the Dakota’s must have still have that great ‘pioneer mentality.’

Push come to shove, we all just need to realize that no certain way is better, whether rural, suburban or urban. There’s a good chance someone raised in a metro area wouldn’t think it be fun to hang out with my brother in his ice shack or tree stand all day. In retrospect, he’s probably not interested in hitting up the mall or club scene. Different strokes for different folks.

After Phoenix, I’ll be heading to grad school in Denver. Who knows where I’ll end up after. I love the city, but sometimes I really miss the small-town street dances and ‘mom and pop’ restaurants.  We’ll have to see. Until then, I promise to try to not be such a ruralist, if  you promise not judge this ‘small town girl.’ 🙂

phi⋅lan⋅thro⋅py (fĭ-lān’thrə-pē)

Published December 5, 2009 by heatherksmith

Please fill in the blank. Philanthropy is ________________________

Did  you cheat and look up the definition on dictionary.com?

When I tell people I’m spending my year of AmeriCorps service working in philanthropy, I get my share of confused looks and polite head nods followed by a “oh, that’s nice.  So what, exactly, do you do?”

Philanthropy, philanthropic sector, philanthropist–terminology foreign to many people, but should be everyday household words.

Check out this video co-sponsored by the Minnesota Council on Foundations.  I recommend searching YouTube for similar clips. You might just be a philanthropist, and not even know it.

My Trials and Tribulations on Two Wheels

Published November 14, 2009 by heatherksmith

Remember as a little kid when you had no problem riding your bike all over town? Going 2-3 miles to the softball field, park, the city pool or your best friend’s house?

 Don’t you ever wish you could go back to those days?

 Oh, wait, that’s right. You have car now.

 Well, I recently reintroduced myself to life behind the handlebars. Appearantly getting the transmission in a car fixed costs quite the pretty penny. A pretty penny  more than the VISTA living stipend covers.

The daily three-mile pedal to work hasn’t been all that bad. It’s great exercise, I’m saving money on gas, I’m reducing that nasty little carbon footprint and it’s a really nice pick-me-up for an anti-morning person like me.

This isn’t to say I haven’t had my share of two-wheeled mishaps and near-death experiences. Phoenix isn’t exactly ‘bike friendly.’  Here are some pictures to help you visualize.

Bike path on 15th Ave

This is the bike path on 15th Ave. In case you didn’t notice, the path goes between two driving lanes. Thanks, but I think I’ll stick to the sidewalk, especially during rush hour.

 

 
sprinklersSometimes I consider waiting to rinse the shampoo out of my hair from my morning shower and letting this sprinkler system take care of it. On the bright side of things, the sprits of cold water have an even better effect than morning coffee! 

  

Car GarageCars coming out of this garage never seem to notice me. Perhaps I should invest in an air horn to get their attention.  

 

 

Nemisis hedgeThe dreaded hedge. It’s unavoidable, literally. I often find shrubbery in my hair when I get to the office. 

 

 

 

Even with the unobservant traffic, unwanted cool-downs and the  occasional plant-made obstacle course, I’m still proud being a biker. Just do the math:

3 miles to work + 3 miles home= 6 miles. 6 miles x 5 days a week=
30 miles peddling away per week!

The New Life Thus Far

Published November 3, 2009 by heatherksmith

Janet and II’m now two months into my year service with Americorps VISTA.

In case you’re wondering,
VISTA =Volunteer In Service to America. Our mission=Fight poverty

In otherwords, I’m a professional volunteer with the government.  (Please disregard any talk from Michele Bachmann about “re-education camps” that you may have heard. I can tell you from first hand experience, certainly not the case, her son must agree).

I recommend checking out the website, you might find a service site perfect for you. I did. I’m doing marketing and communications. Not only do I get warm fuzzies from giving back, I also get to do what I love. Pretty sweet deal. You should be jealous. 

I moved to Phoenix from South Dakota for my service project. Don’t so much love the heat of summer and the breeze that resembles a blowdryer, but I’m really enjoying the lack of blizzards and scraping ice off the car windshield in the morning. (Yes friends form home, you can hate me for a few moments).

I haven’t seemd to have been able to stay put these past few years (De Smet to Spearfish, SD, to Mexico, back to Spearfish, off to a summer in Minneapolis, one more time to Spearfish and now Phoenix). I’ll probably explain this in more detail sometime in the future. I plan to use this blog to keep  my friends and family from all of these different corners updated on what’s going on in my life, along with the random thoughts that are going through my mind.  Anyway, enjoy the tidbits from my life.