Tag Archives: mississippi 2017

A Single Glorious Day

Photo 1

by Avery Stern 

Important Note: Having worked with dogs in many professional settings, I know the mark of both a healthy and docile animal. The dog mentioned in this post was both – I also had him checked out by J.D., our supervisor, who has ten dogs himself and has seen multiple successful adoptions in similar situations to this one…I also called my Vet friend. Everyone was responsible.

So we begin.

This is both a thank you letter for the wisdom each student has granted me, and a letter of wisdom to each of those I have thanked.

I am heading to bed tonight with a tiny hole in my sweatpants from a playful stray puppy. With cornbread crumbs on my heels. With a few small dollops of stucco in my hair, paint-stained finger nails, and wretched stomachache I’ve carried with me for days. (I’ll tell you now that if you’re a vegetarian, eating your first rib in 13 years off a student’s plate in a divey restaurant in Memphis isn’t the way to go. Might I suggest the fried chicken?)

I am also headed to bed tonight, ten days before my 25th birthday with a revelation I swore I would never have: You cannot save the world. You cannot even save a sliver of it. (The 20 year old in me is shrieking at the impossibility of this statement. “Quiet,” I tell her…hear me out).

I came to this revelation through the previously mentioned stray puppy. The puppy, whom I named “King Tutwiler of Tutwiler, Mississippi,” followed me home on a mid-day run. I’d passed a literal pile of puppies the day before, all heaped together for warmth in the rare 34 degree southern weather. But while those dogs showed moderate interest in me, they stayed put. Wiler, however, chased my heels for a mile jog back to the Habitat Dorm at which point I was determined to feed, vaccinate, wash, and ship him home on our American Airline flight this Sunday. (Ugh, I am a bleeding-heart I know).

We can perhaps by-pass the absurdity of what ensued when I arrived, floppy puppy afoot. The kids bottle-necked the door, some smartly cautious about interacting with a stray, others donning long sleeves, boots, and pants, and trusting that if he wasn’t nippy all they would need afterwards was a shower. John called his mom in hopes of fostering him claiming, “he’s the goodest of boys!” She agreed.

Sarah and Storey both agreed to take him for shots and a check-up at the shelter. I indulged the idea. Perhaps my Vet friend could take him in? No, her roommate did not like animals. My sister? An almost mother of two. So “Def no.” My boyfriend? A “soft” no, but a “no” nonetheless. My Parents? “Hahahahahah NO.”

But, I had to save him! WE, the good people of the George School with our house-building and community-engaging and compassionate hearts! As a tiny stray he could get run over by a car, attacked by a larger animal, starved to death. Yes, this is true—but perhaps that is life. Perhaps Wiler was serving as the symbol or metaphor of the much larger implications of this service trip.

We cannot save all of the stray puppies, however phenomenally cute, and we cannot build enough houses for all those in need. Sad? Yes. True? Unfortunately.

What we can do, as the well-educated and privileged people that we are as George School community members, is to acknowledge that we can “mud” all the dry wall in the kitchen, or install support beams for a whole roof, or give a puppy the best day he’s had in this three months of life. And these contributions are good. They are so, so, so, good. And if life is just a sum of its parts—just days all strung together, then one of those days is bound to be the best one of all and I’d like to be a part of someone’s.

So thank you Nodor, Sophia G, Sophia S, Sarah, John, Storey, Micheala, Elvis, and our supervisors J.D. and Ben for teaching me the humbling power of a single glorious day. I hope you continue to treat everyone with the same selfless love, respect, and generosity that you did to Wiler and I thank you for the love, respect, and generosity that you have shown to me.

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March. 7th

This woman Shirley will move into the first house we helped build in Clarksdale soon. She came to the potluck held last week, a short, black woman.

Shirley works in a casino and gets up at 4:00 a.m. each day to get to the casino 40-miles away.  She sleeps at 12:00 a.m. in order to take care of her sick mother. Having many children is a common thing here, and she has 10, among them the first was born when Shirley was 14.

March. 8th

We went to Oxford this afternoon and ate at a very nice restaurant called Snack Bar at night. The catfish did not taste like catfish though. Ben later told us the local food place has a substitute that is a kind of catfish but does not taste good. So, the fancy restaurant used it.

“We Oxford is the Northern city in the Southern State.” Said the smiling waiter.

“Well it’s still difference.” Said the teacher.

I don’t understand why this person is not proud of the fantastic fried chicken made by the people of his state.

March. 14th

This is literally today.

All the work is good. It feels nice after solid work. My love: nailing = drilling > sanding > mudding > painting. I got my jacket impressively nasty and used the paint to write LOVE on it in Chinese character. I intend to make it a unique souvenir from this trip, not for sale.

We played Salad bowl last night. The theme was George School. I admire the teacher’s courage to join it, because if you are a teacher, you try it. It’s difficult, emotionally. Super funny, though. I learnt a new word: Hype Beast. Not knowing the word, I tried to make sounds like a beast at first, and after I failed, they all got it.

Writing the post for the Official Blog is hard. The writer has to pray that her/his readers are smart. Even so, the post could be interpreted in different way, and not all that in the writer’s mind are exposed.

I really, really, love the local people. “People are not loving each other enough. We should love and support each other,” said Shirley. She never mentioned hatred, not even once.

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Today was the 5th day of the trip and we had completed our work on the first habitat house in Clarksdale.  I actually ended up having a lot of fun working on the house once I was able to hammer in nails quickly.  I was also so glad that I had the chance to meet Ben, who is one of the most incredible people I have ever met.  He had told the group and I a few stories about his past like his time in the navy and a time when he had to drive his girlfriend 23 hours back to her home in northern Canada.

Friday Night:

I had expected that on the trip I would meet people with incredible lives, but what I met tonight I could have never of guessed.  I met God.

We visited Morgan Freeman’s club Ground Zero for dinner and to hear local musicians.  The band was excellent and prompted a few of us to go up and dance to the music.  The guitarist stood in place and did not move around often, he wore a large cowboy hat and had a half buttoned up shirt.  At one point during one of their songs, the lead singer walked away from the stage and introduced the audience to Cowboy Neil.  Cowboy Neil walked to the center of the stage, began to sing, and was surprisingly good.  However, half way through the song, he lifted his guitar to his face, and played it with his tongue.  He only did it for about 5 seconds then stopped. I was at a loss for words of what I had just witnessed, but when he introduced us to his guitar Louise and asked it what it wanted him to do to it, and he played it with his tongue again, I realized I had been staring at a God.  

He played the guitar for a solid 30 seconds with only his tongue.  After he was done, and the lead singer went back up but did not feel as amazing as before.  We left shortly after and I immediately wrote about my experience when we got back to the house.  I will never forget Cowboy Neil.

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March 11th

by Michaela

We started our morning out by cleaning the Clarksdale house and doing some laundry. After cleaning and packing for our weekend, we piled into the cars and headed to Memphis. Storey, Nodar, and I were the life of the party van and jammed to some old Taylor Swift and some other great throwback songs.

After about an hour and a half of driving and jamming we arrived at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. I really enjoyed walking around the Civil Rights Museum and learning so many new things. I really liked how the museum put everything into a very clear timeline. We were able to see many interesting exhibits at the museum including the Montgomery Bus Boycott exhibit, the Brown vs. Board of Education exhibit, and the Sit-Ins exhibit. We also watched a film about the fight for equality in America.

Our next stop was the hotel in Memphis. We checked into the hotel and after a few room switches, we got ready to head out to Beale Street for dinner and the night out. After looking at all of our options for dinner, we decided on the Jerry Lawler Hall of Fame Car and Grille. It was, of course, fantastic. Storey and I had a great time listening to the live band, celebrating her birthday, and eating frickles (fried pickles).

After our incredible and fun filled dinner at the Jerry Lawler Hall of Fame Bar and Grille, Storey, Elvis, and I decided to explore Memphis and find a way to continue celebrating Storey’s birthday. We went to a few record stores, and eventually found a small ice cream shop to celebrate her birthday. While we were in the ice cream shop, it started to snow. Freezing, we all walked down Beale Street one more time and met many interesting people with interesting stories. We then headed back to the hotel to get ready for the next day’s adventures and to get some rest.

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Another Day in Mississippi

by Nodar Sotkilava

Day 3 March 8

Today has been an exciting day! As usual, we started our day working at the construction site with Ben and the others. It is challenging work but knowing that someone will benefit from it is rewarding in if of itself.  While others concentrated on their work, John and I, or Superman and Batman as Ben calls us, worked on getting the heater room set up for the heater. Our work day ended quickly because after lunch we headed towards Oxford. As we got there, we were greeted by the beautiful campus of University of Mississippi. Oxford is a nice little town filled with local shops and restaurants with plenty to do.

While we were there, we had five hours to kill before dinner so John and I walked around the town and campus. As we were walking we chatted about our past, present and future. This was a nice moment to reconnect because when we got to George School, our friendship grew farther apart from that of what we had in middle school. When dinner time rolled around, we all went to a place called, “Snackbar.” Judging from the name, I was expecting some kind of buffet but it was not at all what I thought. The restaurant was actually a nicely decorated place with an interesting mix of foods on the menu. While waiting for our food, our entire group shared laughs, fond memories, and our thoughts about the trip thus far. It has been an entertaining evening and I am enjoying my Mississippi Service trip so far!

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Another Day in Mississippi

by: Sophia Stio

Tuesday, March 7th

After working on one of the Habitat for Humanity homes with Ben for most of the day, we headed over to Quapaw Canoe Company where Lena, a former Habitat for Humanity supervisor, worked. Elvis knew Lena from his first trip to Clarksdale with George School students. During last year’s trip, a flood occurred, causing the canoe company’s basement to flood. George School students were notified of the flood and immediately responded by helping to move objects from the basement to the main floor to prevent them from getting wet. The students’ impact really helped the company, which has since redone their basement.

From the canoe company, Lena took us to Spring Initiative, which helps students who are struggling academically, or lack support at home. Three seconds after walking through the doors of Spring Initiative, an adorable little boy approached me with a huge smile. Rebecca, one of the coordinators for the organization, instructed Sophia and I to read with the child aloud. Yes, both Sophias helped; No, there was no confusion whatsoever. After finding the perfect table to read at, the boy opened up a notebook and wrote his name in it: Jamaren. At the bottom of the page, Jamaren wrote in big letters, “Goal.” I asked Jamaren what he meant by this. Hearing my inquiry, Rebecca walked over to explain that Jamaren had made it his mission to set daily goals to write a summary of whatever he read. His enthusiasm towards his work brought joy to both Sophia and me. During our short time with Jamaren, Sophia and I grew to love him. Every couple of minutes he’d take his eyes off of his book to ask us about our lives. Most of the questions were directed at Sophia. Jamaren was fascinated by the fact that Sophia spoke Chinese and was very eager to learn some new words from her. Jamaren picked-up on the language fast, repeating “Hi, my name is Jamaren” continuously for the remainder of our hour together. It was hard to say goodbye to such a great kid, knowing that both of us would probably never cross paths again… or so we thought.

Later in the evening, the founders of Spring Initiative came to our house to talk about their organization. Twenty minutes or so into the conversation with the leaders, we heard a car park in-front of the house. In walked Ms. K, a woman who had benefited from Habitat for Humanity. Behind her followed Jamaren, who immediately sat down next to me. The emotion behind Ms. K’s story made me realize how meaningful our work in Clarksdale is. What made the day even better was that on his way out, Jamaren took time to add Michaela, Sarah, and I on Snapchat, ensuring that we’d all be able to keep in touch with him.

Overall, it was an excellent day in Clarksdale, Mississippi.




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Mississippi Service Trip

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March 6th


by Storey Deerhake ’18

After pondering over yesterday’s first impressions, I woke up knowing that I wanted to ask questions, but most of all I wanted to get answers. After a breakfast of cheerios, peanut butter, and bananas (I have a feeling we are going to go through a lot of peanut butter and bananas this trip), Nat came over. He told us that he was new to Habitat and had only been here since July, but he gave us a warm introduction before the leader of the group, Ben, arrived. Ben presented himself as a real southern gentleman and gave us the lowdown of what the expectations were for the work we would be doing. I could tell right away that he was the man to ask all of my questions. After his introduction, we all piled in the cars, leaving the comfort of our blue bungalow behind us for the rest of the morning. Ben took us across the river (which I believe is called the Sunflower, but I will have to ask) and we arrived at the site of a house that we were going to be working on in the upcoming week. The house had beige vinyl sidings and we had to enter the house by first removing the plywood from one of the windows, and then by sending both Sophias through and having them remove the plywood on the front door. Ben explained later when he took us to the other site that although “the plywood method” did not keep people out, it cut down the number of unwanted visitors. Ben took us over to the house that Elvis and a previous group of George School students had worked on. A young boy greeted us, telling Ben that his mother was at work. Small interactions such as this one really gave me some perspective on the work we are doing here and the people who are benefiting directly from our work. Throughout the trip, I have kept with me the constant reminder of the privilege I have, especially when it comes to needs versus wants and the privilege I have of all the wants I have in my life.

On our way over to the site across the street, I asked Ben something that had been on my mind. Since the drive down route 61 from Memphis to Clarksdale, I had been seeing signs and art everywhere with the word Delta. I looked it up when we reached the house, supposing that it was just my ignorance getting in the way of my unknowing. Google gave me a map of Mississippi with a highlighted region of the Northeast part of the state. The answer I was looking for was more from the perspective of someone who was born and raised here. So I asked Ben “What makes the Delta different from the rest of Mississippi?” He answered with one word. “Blues.” Ben went on talking about how the Delta and Clarksdale specifically, was home to the likes of John Lee Hooker and Ike Turner and Muddy waters, and how once they made somebody of themselves they left without looking back. He said that the people of Clarksdale were a lot like that, but he did not care to elaborate more on what he meant by that. [In my journal, I included a pressed clover that I taped in, but if you are reading it online, you’ll just have to envision it or look up a Southern spotted clover] I noticed these clovers right away because the only clovers I have ever seen do not have spots or like these do. It turns out that these clovers are referred to as “spotted clovers” and the only thing I found out about them is that their spots are believed to be the drops of blood of Christ. I think this is a fitting narrative for our location.

This afternoon, after Ben gave us the lay of the land, we all walked from our part of town, Riverton is what Ben called it, to the more commercial side of town. The majority of town was full of tired and unsuccessful business, and you could tell that the shops that were open had been there forever. Despite the towns’ poverty, it was rich with personality. Friendly people and equally friendly dogs occupied the businesses. Something that I noticed, and something that Elvis noted earlier, was that the gentrifications of the town was slowly creeping in. The most prevalent example of this was the very nice coffee shop in the middle of town off second and Yahzoo Street. I wonder if I came back in 15 years if the town would be full of shops like this coffee shop, or if they would eventually be driven out of town.


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