Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Beginning of the End

Hello out there,
In case you don't have a calendar, it's JULY. My last month in Chicago.
Life been crazy busy lately, so here's a few quick updates.
My friend Ellen came to town! She's one of my favorite people and it was so awesome to be with her for a few days. My Aunt Patty and Uncle Steve were also here that weekend, and they took us to a Cubs game!

Chelsea, Ellen and me @ Wrigley Field

Signature Room--96th floor of the Hancock Building
The next weekend was 4th of July! I went up to Evanston and hung out with her and her friends and watched fireworks at the beach!

My other aunt and uncle Bev & Mark came with cousin Dahkota the next day, we met up and went on a bike tour of some of the lakefront neighborhoods. It was really fun! Highlights included Oprah's house, Lincoln's statue, the first Playboy mansion, Lincoln Park Zoo, and the lakefront trail. We got pizza after that and the next day we went to the conservatory and saw the bean!

Believe it or not, the next weekend another aunt and uncle came to visit! Doris, Darren, Matthew & Jacob stopped by on their way to vacation in Wisconsin/Michigan and took Hannah and I to a Cubs game.

It was so fun and a big blessing to have all these visitors! Fun to show them around where I've been!

Anyway, work updates:

Grace Seeds is good as always! It's getting pretty busy as I wrap up my time there! We've had some new partnerships this season which is exciting. One partner, Growing Solutions Farm, is run by students with autism, and has a huge space! The first 3 weeks of harvest they had between 70-90 pounds each week of greens! Linda and I are so proud to partner with them and they are happy to donate the produce to a pantry just a few blocks away.

My last big project with Grace Seeds is redesigning the website. We've had two trainings with a consultant which have been great to learn from, but it is a little overwhelming! It has been rather humbling (but exciting) to see how little I know about websites! It's a work in progress, but the new site is starting to take shape and I couldn't be happier with the way it's looking.

Lastly, we are preparing for a mid-summer celebration and fundraiser next weekend (the 26th) which should be a fun event once we get all our ducks in a row!

BUILD has been so much better lately. It's no secret that I was a little burned out at Spencer, so summer programming is a refreshing change of pace. Don't get me wrong- it's still exhausting and frustrating at times- but I actually enjoy going to work now which is awesome. Only one family from Spencer is there this summer which is sad. The rest of the kids are from other parts of the west/northwest sides of the city where BUILD works, but I would say that a majority of the ones at summer programming live in the Humboldt Park area where we run.

The bucket list?

Making progress! Probably not going to get to everything on it which is ok because I know I will come back at some point! Recent things I checked off: Nickel Creek Concert at Taste of Chicago, Movie in the Park, Summer Dance, more random coffee shops. This Friday for our last community day we're going to do several more things which will be really fun!

July 31-Aug 2 is our end-of-year retreat in Indiana and after that we are free to go! Eek! I'm going back to KS on the 5th or 6th and then......

Ethiopia! Dad, bro Aaron and I are going to rural Ethiopia for 3 weeks! We know some missionaries there and will support them however needed. So, yes, it is a mission trip. However, I'm also looking at it as a cultural exchange. We're going to learn about the developments that have taken place in recent years (my dad was there in '93 and '05 so he can tell us about how it's changed over the years) and see what the body of Christ looks like there. It will be cool to experience a different kind of worship and everything else that they do there!

After that.....that's a million dollar question.

So far I've applied to one organization called Communities in Schools---it's a big nonprofit that works in schools around the country to keep kids in schools. They do this by connecting kids to community resources like food assistance, mentoring, outside activities, etc. I really like the organization so I applied for a couple open positions in Kansas. I'm also looking to apply for similar positions in Kansas City Public Schools and Denver Public Schools. We shall see! Prayers are definitely needed and appreciated!

That's all I've got for now, keep it real.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Random Thoughts from June

Hello friends!

In case you missed my last few posts: May was a roller coaster month for me, I had extremes of happy and sad. Thankfully, June has settled down some! So far, it's been a great month, not without stress, but overall pretty mellow as summer should be! :)

June came in at a very happy time- when my wonderful friends Allison & Rebecca came to town! The whole weekend was AMAZING, so great to be around such good friends. We fit a lot of adventures into one weekend yet still had time to relax and chat :)

Sunbathing on the deck at Rebecca's cousin's apartment- we felt pretty classy.

At the Jack Johnson/Edward Sharpe concert

Art Institute!

The next weekend, a group from Grace Seeds joined up with the Naperville Interfaith Community Dialog for a tour of the Baha'i house of worship in Wilmette. One of the architects actually led the tour, which was amazing, and made the building that much more incredible! If you don't know much about the Baha'i faith, I would highly encourage you to just read the brief description on Wikipedia here. It really is a fascinating religion and I think that we could all learn a bit from them in terms of valuing unity!! Here is a prayer that I think conveys their beliefs quite well:

Baha'i Prayer

O Thou Compassionate Lord,Thou Who art generous and able! We are servants of Thine sheltered beneath Thy providence. Cast Thy glance of favor upon us. Give light to our eyes, hearing to our ears, and understanding and love to our hearts. Render our souls joyous and happy through Thy glad tidings. O Lord! Point out to us the pathway or Thy kingdom and resuscitate all  of us through the breaths of the Holy Spirit. Bestow upon us life everlasting and confer upon us never-ending honor. Unify mankind and illumine the world of humanity. May we all follow Thy pathway, long for Thy good pleasure and seek the mysteries of Thy kingdom. O God! Unite us and connect our hearts with Thy indissoluble bond. Verily, Thou art the Giver, Thou art the Kind One and Thou art the Almighty. (Baha'i Prayers, p. 99)

Chelsea and me
Photo cred: Linda Wygant

Speaking of unity, for those of you who do not know, Chicago is very un-unified (segregated). Each of the city's 77 neighborhoods has a stereotype associated with it, that often also reflects a certain racial group. It's pretty sad how people often don't try to break down these walls, and that people are so terrified when I tell them where I live. I read this book a short time ago, it's basically a collection of short stories that are all about the author's experience growing up in Chicago. Here is one that I think exemplifies the point I'm trying to make:

Those Who Don't

"Those who don't know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we're dangerous. They think we will attack them with shiny knives. They are stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake.
But we aren't afraid. We know the guy with the crooked eye is Davey the Baby's brother, and the tall one next to him in the straw brim, that's Rosa's Eddie V., and the big one that looks like a dumb grown man, he's Fat Boy, though he's not fat anymore nor a boy.
All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake and our car windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight. Yeah. That is how it goes and goes." -The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

About 10 days ago, I was able to head home for the weekend. My best friend growing up, Lizzie Snell err--Porter, got hitched!  It was a great weekend as I got to see many old friends, and take my dad golfing on Father's Day :)

All of us Mac girls :)
Photo credit: Shelby Horton

Ok, now we're at June 23! It's hard to believe it's the end of the month already.

Tomorrow is my first day back at Build since my last day at the school which was June 5th. It has been a great (and much needed!) break. Summer programming started today. Most of the time, we'll be at a church from 9-5 doing games and stuff with the kids. However, Tuesdays are field trip days! Lucky me since I only work for Build on Tuesday and Thursday! Billy just informed me that tomorrow we're going to Navy Pier and then on a boat tour, and we have another field trip Thursday to the Museum of Science & Industry (which is extra exciting because I haven't been there yet!).

Honestly, I have mixed emotions about going back. It could be really great since everyone is happier in summertime, or it could be really stressful again. I'm not really sure what to expect and don't know what kids I'll be with yet so it's hard to say what it will be like. Either way I guess, every day will be a new adventure! Please pray for me to have strength and a positive attitude as I go into this final phase of my work with youth in the city!

Thanks for reading! Have a great week! :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Wrapping up at Spencer

I never thought this day would come.

The last day of school here is this Friday, June 13th, but BUILD doesn't work in the schools the last week to get ready for summer programming, which starts June 23rd. So my last day at Spencer was last Thursday!

Last week was fairly smooth sailing, actually. Or maybe I was already mentally checked out so I just didn't care. Hmm, that's a pretty good possibility. Anyway, I said goodbye to all the kiddos, which was sort of sad, but honestly I was just glad to be done so I wasn't as sad as I probably should have been.

On Thursday, I was only in 2 art classes because Ms. D had a sub so she could get sets ready for the Wizard of Oz play that was this week. The rest of my day was spent helping her paint sets like this one:

When I was saying goodbye to the bittersweet group of 6th graders (some kids in this class are wonderful and I love them, while others make me want to wring their necks) Joseph, one of my favorite little guys, said "Ms. Clarissa, give me your number and I'll call you!". I gave my number and email to him and him alone because I love him so much and want to stay in touch with him.

Let me tell you about Joseph. First of all, he's SO SWEET. He ALWAYS said hi to me and gave me the cutest little wave when he saw me, which always brought a smile to my face. It was especially nice that he was in this group of kids because several kids in that class did NOT like me at all (they never listened to me, mimicked me, and called me a b*tch more than a few times). So Joseph and a few of his classmates were the little rays of sunshine that made working with that group a little bit easier.

Joseph isn't the brightest crayon in the box, and frequently needed more assistance than most of his peers. I would often be the one to help him, breaking the steps down for him, and giving him lots of ideas or explanations. Perhaps this is why I was able to bond with him so much. Joseph didn't always have the best drawings, but man did he kick butt on the weaving assignment! At first he didn't really get it and needed some assistance but once he got the hang of it, he really nailed it, and enjoyed it too! He worked a lot faster and with much more care than a majority of his classmates.

Sometimes I would run into Joseph outside after school when I went over to the little building to pick up the younger kids for our after school program. His Dad, Mr. Walker, was always there waiting for him. It was pretty precious because they look so much alike! One day Mr. Walker said hi to me and something to the effect of "thanks for being their for our son and encouraging him. He needs that". This was on one of the particularly rough days, so his comment really lifted my spirits. He asked how I was and I gave him an honest answer that I'd had a rough week (this was just after Lexie died). He said "Keep prayer in your life, girl. He is faithful. Just like I am to my wife (pointing at his blushing, eye-rolling bride), He is faithful."

He said what I needed to hear. And it was especially meaningful since that was the first time that a parent had really, sincerely THANKED me and acknowledged the support that I was attempting to give their child. 

Friday of last week:
I get a phone call from a 773 number (Chicago), answered it and heard "Hi Miss Clarissa!". It was Joseph!!!! I was so happy to hear that he called me and didn't lose my phone number or forget about me. He and his family (on speaker phone) just called to say hi. His dad said "Thank you for being with our son all year and encouraging him, we are so thankful that you are in his life". So that was pretty much amazing.

Throughout this year, I've been engaged in a different type of service where you don't always seen tangible results of your efforts. When I didn't see results, I tried not to get discouraged. And slowly I began to realize that service really isn't about me at all. It's about humbling myself and learning about others. I may make an impact on other people, and I may not. Either way, the Lord and the people I encounter have an impact on me and that's the important part. It's not about what I do but who I am and who I'm becoming.

Of course, however, positive results are always an affirming thing to see. So when I heard Mr. Walker say those great things to me, it really filled me with joy. I don't know in what ways I impacted Joseph or their family but I at least know that a parent was grateful for my work and knew that I was a positive presence in their child's life. Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to keep on trucking this school year, when I was feeling negative and doubting myself.

Today (Tuesday) I was off since Build isn't in schools this week and they didn't assign me to anything else, which was AWESOME. I went back to Spencer today to watch the play! I found it rather funny that they were performing the Wizard of Oz, talking about going back to Kansas and whatnot, haha. Anyway, it was fun to go back and see this exciting event. The kids actually did very well, they had improved a lot since rehearsal last Thursday! A few of my kids from art and after school were in the show, and I loved being able to see them in a different context. Malik, especially, did an excellent job. He's one of the other 6th graders in Joseph's group that I loved having around. Last week at rehearsal, he was really frustrated with another cast member who wasn't giving their 100%, so I had a short talk with him and just encouraged him to remember that the only person he could control was himself. If someone else doesn't want to give 100% (which happens, well, all the time in life) then it's on them. All you can do is your personal best and it was clear that he was giving that, so he should be proud. He hugged me and said "thanks for the talk, Miss Clarissa". So sweet. It's nice to see kids express gratitude, too.

Then after the show today I saw Malik's proud father, said hi, and he just said "My baby did good, didn't he!". I smiled and agreed.

Oh, and then Markell, the little second grade diva, walked out of his way to give me a nice hug.

And that, my friends, is how my time at Spencer wrapped up. I'm glad it ended on a high note today so I can look back and have positive memories!

Thursday morning I'm headed back to KS for another wedding! This will be the last time I go back before my YAV year is finished, woohoo!

Friday, June 6, 2014


So, this post is going to be a little depressing, but it happened and I need to share it.

About 3 weeks ago, I was not in a good place. I felt like I'd hit rock bottom. Things at the school were not good. One day in particular was pretty rough. I can't remember specifically now what happened during the day, but I know there were some fights and little kids with huge attitudes. After school drove me nuts-I had too many to supervise and some would just leave the room and wander the hallways or other shenanigans. Some of the more mature students were getting a little too irritated by the younger kids and making huge deals out of tiny issues. I felt like I was losing my mind. I told Mike at 5:00 "I can't do this anymore". He was supportive and everything, but basically said we just had to suck it up and tough it out; there were only a few weeks of school left. So I went home that day still feeling pretty discouraged and beaten.

I was sitting downstairs by myself (fortunately) when my parents called and told me that my other dog Lexie passed away. She'd been going downhill for about a week and a half, and we knew it was coming, but it still felt like I'd been punched in the throat. Before she'd started slipping, she still acted like a puppy despite her age at 10 years.

Let's just say that was not a pretty night for me. It probably sounds pathetic to say this, but for 12 years, I was blessed by Lexie and Rosie with their companionship, loyalty, and cheerfulness. And within 4 months, during an already difficult period in my life, they were both gone.

On the bright side, that was a few weeks ago and I'm doing better now. More posts coming soon!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Mother's Day Luncheon


I must apologize, yet again, for my delay in posting. Bah! More posts coming soon!

A few weeks ago, my lovely sissy and her new hubby came up for a visit! They drove up after finishing their last final of 3rd year vet school to central Illinois where Aaron's family lives. They came up because his family was having a post-wedding towel shower for Amy on Saturday! Anyway, they arrived in Chicago Friday afternoon and we hit the ground running! We took a quick driving tour of the neighborhood and drove by Spencer, then went to the Conservatory! Then we headed downtown to say hi to the bean and get deep dish pizza! After a Potbelly shake, we went back to my place and played some games for a while, one of our favorite pasttimes. The next morning, we just had time for a quick breakfast before they had to hit the road for Amy's shower! It made for a very quick visit but it was filled with good conversation and togetherness and I'm very thankful to have such supportive siblings! :)

Then, on Saturday after Amy and Aaron left, I had the opportunity to speak at Oak Lawn Community Church's Mother's Day Luncheon. They initially invited Linda to speak, but she had a conflict and so they asked me! The luncheon is an annual event that lots of mothers and daughters come to, many of them from the Oak Lawn Community, some church members, some not. It's just a chance to get together, fellowship, and honor mothers.

I arrived and saw that the church was decorated for the occasion:

They even put my name on the flyer-Eek!

The event started with a pot luck lunch (Yay!)...

Then I spoke for the main program, we had a sing along, prayer, fellowship, and then dismissal. I wasn't really sure what to say to these ladies- I'd met some of them through working at the food pantry, but hadn't met most of them. It was a little intimidating coming up with something relevant to share with all of them, but Linda and Alice assured me that they would just be blessed to hear my story and about YAV/DOOR. So basically I just shared my story with them- how I grew up, highlights that shaped me, what made me decide to do a year of service. Then of course I shared some stories from this year.
I talked about the ups and downs, and what I’ve learned. I’ve learned about how service really isn’t about me at all, and that I may not drastically change any lives this year but it’s worth it if I can just help one person. I tried to pass that along and encourage the audience to embrace that any way that it applied to their lives. 

Honestly, some people (or most people) were probably bored by what I had to say haha. BUT like I’ve said, if even one person benefited from that, then it was worth it! And, I know that some of them really appreciated hearing me speak. I received many compliments and words of encouragement. I think it was a good thing for me to share my story for many reasons. It caused me to stop and reflect on memorable highlights from this year, but also the big picture and how I’ve changed overall. I believe in the power of stories and believe that mine may not be extraordinary, but it is worth telling because it is a testimony to our great God! Boom.
The next week, I was invited to go on a field trip with a 5th grade class to the Old Town School of Folk Music. Before the program started, Sharell was complaining about it, saying he didn’t want to learn about “stupid ballet” and stuff like that. I told him he didn’t have to like it, but we were just here to learn about different styles of music and dance because they’re important to our culture. The program started and it was actually pretty cool. Not just for me, but for the kids too. They went through 3 different kinds of dance which were all awesome, the last one was called “be boy” which was like gymnastics/dancing where the dancers did tricks like flips and spinning on their heads. It was cool. And the performance was really interactive so some of our kids got to go onstage and show off their skills. Some of our kids were really talented! It’s cool to see them showcase their skills and get affirmation from peers and adults. It showed me another side of their personalities and abilities, and was really awesome. 

After the show, we headed across the street to a restaurant that opened up just for our class. It was a nice restaurant too. The staff was incredibly friendly and hospitable and treated the kids like royalty. It was cool because many of them had probably never experienced that kind of service (and from white people no less). Some of the girls I sat with were glowing with excitement. You could tell they felt like queens. It was such a cool experience and I’m so thankful that I was selected as a chaperone. It is one day I will not soon forget.

 After school in Kansas got out, a group from K-State Wesley came to do a mission trip with DOOR for a week! Wesley was one of my main activities at K-State so I knew most of the group and was so excited to have them. I didn’t get to hang out with them a lot during the days, but was able to show them around a little bit in the evenings. I loved hearing their stories after each day of work! I was able to join them for reflections on the last night which was so cool to hear what they learned throughout the week. It was great to get a glimpse of what DOOR groups experience even after just one short week in the city. I’m so thankful that this group of people that supported me so much in college continued that by bringing a group up to Chicago to see part of my experience this year!

Photo from Leah Smarsh

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Hi friends,

Sorry it has been a while since I last posted- I have been silly busy and frankly a little emotionally exhausted lately. I'll write more later, but for now, here are some highlights from the past few weeks.

A quick visit to Evanston- I had a rough week at work (a kid hit me) and it had been a while since I'd seen Chelsea so I went up to hang out for a little bit.
Little baby Chicago

People paint pretty stuff on the rocks by the lake :)

Columbine- one of my favorite flowers!
BUILD Annual Dinner- It's a huge fundraiser/celebration for Build. This year it was at Soldier Field in the United Club, the fancy level. Tickets were.... well over my earnings for the month, but that made it a great fundraiser! The pep squad performed and 3 high schoolers gave speeches sharing their stories. There was also tons of artwork, photography, and jewelry created by our youth that attendees could buy. I helped at the event by ringing people up when they purchased stuff made by our young people.

This is Mike! I work with him at Spencer- he's the coolest.

Dot used to work at Build but still volunteers to help with Brand Build which is the jewelry-making program in Build.

Me and Billy!

I took these pictures last week to give you an idea of what some of my days look like. There's no such thing really as a typical day for me (which I love) but here's a glimpse of my work life lately.

Linda and I went to the Oak Lawn building to order a rain barrel for a garden.

Looking at compost prices!

And of course looking at the pretty flowers!

This is where we had lunch- we drive by all the time and I wanted to try it mostly because the sign is such a landmark for me.

I had breakfast for lunch, as usual.  
I rode the L home

Went to the fitness center

My daffodils bloomed! I enjoyed them for a while until someone cut them off and stole them :(

Then I came back to the church and did a little bit of work!

And at the school:

Our 6th graders are making "Assemblage" Sculptures (inspired by artist Louise Nevelson) out of old scrap materials.

I tidy up the room, this is what it looks like on a GOOD day.

Well friends, that's all I have for now but I will be back soon with more info! In the meantime, prayers and encouragement are definitely needed!

Monday, April 21, 2014


Easter weekend was bittersweet for me. I was away from my family for the first time on the holiday, which wasn't super sad except that I missed seeing my dad sing in the Messiah. However, let's rewind to Good Friday.

Billy, Megan and I made our own Easter dinner Friday night which was lovely. We had a yummy little ham from Aldi, green bean casserole, and crescent rolls! It was simple but wonderful. After that, we headed downtown to 4th Presbyterian Church for a choral service. The service was a little disappointing i my opinion since it was a little opera-y for my tastes, and they didn't sing in English so it was hard to stay in the moment.

Anyway, after that, I headed up to Lincoln Square for a sleepover with cousin Hannah! We arose early the next morning and headed to Grant Park for the Bunny Rock 5k! Although I've been running for a while now, I was still nervous for the 5k since I hadn't worked my way up to running the whole distance on the treadmill. However, I proved myself wrong! I ran the whole distance and finished at a faster pace than what I was shooting for! It felt good to accomplish that. Special thanks to Hannah for running slowly with me- she's quite the runner (did the marathon in October) and probably could have run circles around me, but chose to stick with me :)

Here are some of our photos from the day:

They had a petting zoo :)

 If you're interested in some action shots from the race's photographer, click here.

I decided to go to 4th Pres again on Sunday. I thought it would be neat to experience Easter at that venue, being a big downtown church, and I also just wanted a more traditional worship on a holiday. (Can't have Easter without singing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today"!). I arrived at 9am for the 9:30 service, and boy was I glad I came early! The line was already wrapping around to the sides of the building and when we were seated I was only about 4 rows from the back! That sanctuary, which is beautiful by the way, holds 1,000 people! It was a great service, but I did feel a little sad and awkward to be the only person I noticed that was flying solo that day.

After the service I sat and people-watched outside for a little bit. I wanted to enjoy the outdoors, and it was fun to look at everyone dressed up for Easter. :)
I headed home and then Billy invited me to lunch with his aunt and uncle at Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro, where Billy's cousin (their daughter) is the chef! They had a wonderful buffet with traditional Irish stuff like amazingly tender corned beef and super yummy bread pudding! They also had a build your own omelette station which I LOVED. Omelettes have been my new favorite thing for a few months now thanks to my weekly lunches with Linda. Just ask her, I order breakfast for lunch every chance I get! Anyway, it was nice to hang out with them for a while and eat some great food on Easter!

All in all, it was a pretty good Easter. I still would have liked to have gone home to be with family, but staying in Chicago enabled me to do some pretty unique stuff that I may never get the chance to do again.