Monthly Archives: March 2014

Doing the best we can with what we got

So it has finally come, our last night in the amazing little town of Pulaski, VA and I can honestly say I will miss this place immensely. I have learned so many amazing things while I was here and met some of the most extraordinary people in the world. While it would be impossible to put everything I learned in this blog I will do my best to point out the most important.

1. It’s not always what you do that’s important, sometimes it’s how you do it. So many of the things we have done this week are not unique or special to Pulaski, they are things that happen everywhere. What is very unique to Pulaski though is the way in which they do these ordinary things. You can find a food pantry anywhere, but only in Pulaski will you find a food drive set up like a super market so that those that need it are more willing to ask for help and also give these people a sense of normalcy and humanity. Everywhere there is a natural disaster people will come to help rebuild, but only in Pulaski will you have people give up their career and professional life to serve their community full time and do it with a smile on their face. Service is great, but service with a smile changes a community.

2. Anybody can be great, because anybody can serve. Of course this is a paraphrase of Dr. King but my time here in Pulaski has really shown me the meaning of these words. When I said I met some of the most extraordinary people here this week I meant it. They were extraordinary not because they donated thousands of dollars, or invented something great, or because they are award winning scholars but simply, and amazingly because they have decided to devote their life to service. They are the most inspirational people I have ever met. And it’s true, anybody can do service as long as they realize that somewhere, someone needs them and are willing to act on that.

3. A kids smile can brighten up any room I was fortunate enough to step outside my comfort zone this week and work with kids; something that is not exactly my forte. I quickly realized how easy it is to make a kid smile and how easily that smile can brighten up even your darkest days. If you can make a kid feel like he matters, even if only for a few days, hours, minutes or even seconds then you will do anything to make that happen because kids deserve to smile. You can’t change their life situations, or upbringing, or most things for that matter but you can always make a kid smile, and if you have that opportunity then it must become a duty, a responsibility and most of all a privilege.

4. There’s a right thing to do and a popular thing. You can make the right thing popular, but the popular thing is not always right. This was imparted upon me by one of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, Bill. Bill was the most sarcastic, intelligent, wise and caring man you will ever meet. Bill has accomplished so much in his life and done so many amazing things for the town of Pulaski but takes no credit and wants no attention for it. He believes that to be in the public eye means to be bound by what is popular at the time, not what is right, and Bill’s only motivation in life is to do what is right for his community. He walked away from a very lucrative business so that he could devote all his time to tornado disaster relief and home rebuilds. So please, listen to Bill and work to make what is right into what is popular because if what’s popular isn’t what is right then people who desperately need help will never get it.

5. It takes a village to raise a village. No you did not read that wrong, I meant to say village twice. My time here in Pulaski has helped me realize one thing, only communities can solve community problems. Sadly, you cannot rely on the government to provide the support they should to struggling communities, but what you can rely on is one another. When you have people like the ones here in Pulaski, people willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who needs it and put themselves second or even last, then you have no option but to succeed. While Pulaski has been going through tough times, the only way this place will fail is if the people here let it. They love their community so much that they will help with anything they can if it means improving the community by even the slightest bit.

6. Patch Adams was right, laughter is the best medicine. If there is one thing my group likes to do it is laugh, and laugh loud. Some of the issues we deal with are some really complicated and frustrating issues so laughter really is needed to get through the week. However, the best laughter, and the one that truly rang through the loudest was that of the citizens of Pulaski. Even the people coming through the food line, with next to nothing in their possession would laugh, and they would make you laugh too. No matter the situation, there was always laughter in the air in Pulaski and a smile on everyone’s faces. If the people of this town can still laughter after what they have gone through and continue to go through then so can you! Nothing makes you smile more than seeing someone with almost nothing brighten up the room
with their personality and smile.

7. You do the best you can with what you got. This was another gem from Bill, but one that could be the official motto of Pulaski, VA. This is a poor town with not much but tornado damage so they don’t have a lot of material things but they sure so have a lot of heart. I never once heard a single person complain about not having enough, or what they want. The only thing I heard was gratitude for every little thing they received. That’s what this town is all about, not complaining about the situation they are in but instead figuring out what they have to work with and making the best out of every situation. This is probably the most important thing I learned from Pulaski, and something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

8. Square dancing is a lot more fun than you think. Really nothing tricky to this one. We went to this square dance and had a blast! While I was a little apprehensive at first, I had an amazing dance partner (shoutout to Bonnie) and I’m glad she got me out on the floor because I had an awesome time.

I wish I could tell you everything I learned this week but that is just too much and plus that might stop you from visiting this outstanding little town in Virginia. If you ever get a chance to visit, or you are looking for a life changing experience that will brighten your outlook on the world, come to Pulaski ASAP. I will be sad when I leave this place tomorrow and the people I have met but I know I will be back again because Pulaski will always have a place in my heart.

Thanks for everything Pulaski! Until next time,

Mark Martinez

Welcome to Pew-laski

So today we got a proper southern introduction into the town of Pulaski and the surrounding area. We took an economic tour of the area as well as stopped in the new Ratcliffe museum. We learned so much that really put into context for us why we are here and why what we are doing matters.

At the Ratcliffe, I GOT TO RING THE BELL IN AN ANTIQUE FIRE TRUCK, we learned about the amazing people, past and present, that make this community what it is. We learned that Pulaski is quite possibly the unluckiest town in America because almost every important building in town has burned down at some point (some of them even twice). But, and at the risk of sounding so cliche, the town rose like a Phoenix from the ashes each time on the back of people like John, the man who showed us around the museum. To see people like him, and Eric, and Buz fight to preserve the history of this town when most would have just walked away, really made you appreciate the love these people have for their community and made me even more excited to serve in this amazing community. This is a town worth fighting for (sung to the tune of Mulan’s a girl worth fighting for).

Then we drove around the area and saw all the abandoned factories that use to be the economic engine of the area. Then, even more upsetting was the damage and carnage left behind by the tornado that hit three years ago. The only thing more upsetting than all of that is knowing that in the richest country in the world we can’t even help out a town recovering from a natural disaster (this is something that I had to take quite a bit if time to calm down from).

The thing that stuck with me most was the similarities that Pulaski had to so many places that I know. When I see the blight in the aftermath of the tornado I can’t help but think of Springfield. When I see a once proud industrial down filled with abandoned buildings and empty storefronts I can’t help but think of my hometown of Ware, MA. These are not problems unique to Pulaski, however, the solution will be. We must abandon the idea of one size fits all policies and the notion that what works in one place will work in others.

The best part about this tour is that it gave us all a sense of purpose for what we will be doing this week. When we are rebuilding homes we know it’s because we need to help where the federal government will not. When we hand out food to those who can’t afford it we know it’s because these industries left to find cheaper labor and left these people with nothing (NOT because they are “lazy” or want to live off of public assistance). When we help kids with homework, or just play games with them at the after school program we know it’s because these schools, and education are the only things that will save these kids from suffering the unfortunate fate of their parents and give them a hope at repairing their community. Lastly, we know that when people thank us, with a smile, for doing what we may believe to be insignificant, it is because they realize that not everyone has forgotten about them and that there is hope for this lovely little town that could: Pulaski (pronounced pew-laski), VA.

I am living Pulaski

A Crash Course In Kids And That Country Twang

Another perspective on the trip I’m taking from a team member. Take a read!

Western New England University: ASB 2014

Served up today on Beans & Rice’s menu was an insightful lesson into the inner workings of early childhood development and the issue that we will face while working in the after school program. We broke into three teams to discuss some of the developmental issues that we face in middle and elementary school and the questions that we could be asked by the different age groups. This stimulated a rousing trip down memory lane for some and painfully awkward stumble for others (Some of us haven’t grown out of those awkward teenage blues quite yet). However in all honesty this was a wake up call for how much the world has changes since the days of our youth. The peer pressure to conform driven by social media and the availability of misinformation to today’s youth was surprising terrify and drove home the importance of providing them with the correct…

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The Waterfall!!

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So we had some free time today and decided to see what fun we could have in Southwest Virginia. So we did some googling and found this beautiful waterfall at a place called The Cascades (photo above)

So we get there and find out it’s only a 4 mike hike (2 there, 2 back) and figure alright, not too bad, we can do this no problem…..HA! It turned out to be a lot tougher than we thought (or at least I thought). But I just kept on trudging along wanting to see this waterfall and when we finally got there it was absolutely beautiful and I wasn’t quite that exhausted anymore.

I didn’t realize it till now, but what a perfect metaphor for this week and for life. Things aren’t always going to be easy, and things certainly won’t always turn out the way you anticipated but if you have a goal in mind, something that you determine you will see then you’ll keep on going. I won’t get too deep or philosophical right now, but my wish for you is that you find your waterfall and no disrespect to TLC, but PLEASE go and chase your waterfall

I am ready for my waterfall

We made it!!

So after 15 hours of travel we have finally made it to Pulaski!! We don’t have the most luxurious living quarters but hey, it’ll be a bonding experience!! This is going to be a short post but I am beyond excited for this journey!! Stay tuned here for updates!

I am ready