Bem-vindo ao Rio de Janeiro

So my first official day in Rio has come to and end and I can say the bar has been set extremely high! Even if this was my only day here I would be happy, fortunately I still have many more. In just my first day here I’ve had the experience of a life time!

It all started with the drive from the airport. The first thing that was very evident was the vast gap between the classes. If you think there is a wealth gap in the US, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Rio. One minute we are looking at brand new stadiums and state of the art residential and business buildings and right next door are the favelas barely standing on their own. Can’t wait to explore this a little more!

Then came the moment I’ve dreamt about; watching Lionel Messi lead Argentina in their match against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Not only did I get to watch my favorite athlete in the world play I got to do it in the LEGENDARY Maracana Stadium, the temple of soccer. I am still in disbelief that I was able to watch it and be so close to the pitch!

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Other than the fact that Argentina won 2-1, I got to see Messi score a goal in true Messi fashion, by making it look easy! At times I felt I could touch him he was so close, just look!

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In tonight’s excitement I hugged strangers, jumped up and down with them and sang songs I didn’t even know the words to. Regardless of whether the people around me tonight were Hispanic, Brazilian or Bosnian, tonight’s only language was football. One day in and my dream has come true, can’t wait to see what’s in store from here on out!

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

Why I Hate Being A Sports Fan…and Nick Foles and Chip Kelly

I have been a sports fan my entire life. I have played sports my entire life and nothing brings me more joy then watching my favorite sports teams…..but, nothing brings me as much heart ache either. I know I am not the only one that feels this way. When your team wins you are on top of the world and trash talking anybody who dares say a bad thing about your boys (since I am mainly talking about Football, Baseball and Basketball here).  But, when you lose, you are probably the most unpleasant person in the world, at least I am. Now of course, most of this goes for the diehards out there like me; the casual or fair weather fan may not be like this but us support our team to the ends of the earth type of people take this stuff seriously. I can say without a doubt that if I were not a sports fan I would probably live for about an extra 20 years, but this stuff takes a toll on your blood pressure and heart! 

You think I would be use to this by now. After 20 years of being a sport fan you think that I would adjust and  learn to move on, well…NOPE! Let me explain where my problems with this start. I am a Red Sox fan. While I have lived in a pretty good era for my boys, there still have been no shortage of heart breakers for me. Case and point: Bobby Valentine. Then there was the monumental September collapse the year before that. Heart breaking losses to the Evil Empire in the post season and the list goes on. I would like to say that being a Boston sports fan significantly shortens your life more than any other sport fan. Which brings me to my next point…The Celtics….

First off there was the twenty-something win season, I still have nightmares. Then of course there was the Big Three era where the Championship was brought back to the greatest basketball franchise in the world. Then came the heartbreak ever since then! Having to watch the Lakers win a few more titles since truly caused me physical agony and illness. Especially when we would have won had Perkins not been injured. Had my boy Perk not been injured we would have had banner 18 without a doubt. Then was the start of a new rivalry with the boys in South Beach and the heartbreaking 7 game series loss to them (Don’t get em started on Lebron and the joke that is the NBA right now). Then came the ultimate betrayal from my once favorite player turned scum of the earth Ray Allen when he went to join the boys in South Beach where the NBA handed them another title (again don’t get me started). Finally, came the ultimate emotional punch in the face, the idiot himself Danny Ainge traded the second greatest Celtic of all time, Paul Pierce. A man who stuck with the Celtics through terrible times when he could have easily taken his amazing talents and went to a contender and probably won a few more titles. A man who fully embodies what it means to be a Celtic. Then we lost KG as well. A man who brought a Championship caliber attitude and definition to the team. A man who reinvigorated an entire city and made them remember the amazing franchise that we were. As you can tell, it still hurts. And of course I can’t fail to mention the slew of close games that we should be able to pull out this year but continuously do not. I miss you Rondo!!

Now let me bring you to the very thing that prompted this post: The Philadelphia Eagles. No, I am not a Pats fan despite being both a Red Sox and Celtics fan, I actually hate the Pats. How I ended up an Eagles fan is not important now, all that matters is that I am. If you follow football you know that the past few seasons have been rough for me as an Eagles fan. With that being the case I was on top of the world last week after we clinched the division by beating the Cowgirlsboys. And you better believe I was trash talking anyone who even said the world Dallas all week! Then the inevitable happened….they lost. And they didn’t just lose, they lost to the Saints, who were away and in the playoffs. Quick piece of history, the Saints have NEVER won a playoff game on the road….until tonight! The worst part is, as much as I tried to deny it, I knew it was gonna happen. I knew this for two reasons: Nick Foles was our quarterback and Chip Kelly was our coach. I said from the very beginning that we should not have hired Chip and knew that Foles was a phony from the beginning. I don’t care that Foles had the highest passer rating in the league and I will tell you why. First off, he played against a bunch of scrub teams. Don’t believe me? Let me break it down:

He beat the Raiders….yeah so doesn’t everybody. No further explanation needed.

He beat the Packers, impressive! Except it was their first game without Aaron Rodgers, had a few injuries on defense and the Packers D is not the Packers D of old.

He beat the Redskins. Yeah….

He beat the Cardinals, barely. Which is somewhat impressive except they have Carson Palmer throwing the ball for them.

Lesean McCoy beat the Lions with one of the best performances ever in the snow. Foles was pretty much absent as soon as he faced a little adversity

He lost to the VIKINGS….

Then we beat the bears, mostly on the legs of McCoy

Finally we beat the Cowboys thanks to McCoy again and of course Kyle Orton doing his best Tony Romo impression in the 4th quarter with an INT to end the game. 

Secondly, the reason he has a great passer rating is because he would rather tack a sack than throw the ball. He is so scared to throw an INT that he won’t throw the ball or when he does it is out of the reach on ANYBODY. That fact right there is the reason we lost the game tonight. Foles was scared and couldn’t handle the pressure. I understand not wanting to throw an interception but you have to take risks! You are not going to find a wide open receiver every time you throw the ball! So Foles, you either need to go back to the bench or somewhere else entirely. While you’re at it, feel free to take your Buddy Chip. 

Now Chip, I know so many people like to think of you as this football minded genius, and you might have been at Oregon, but here in the NFL you’re mediocre at best. The games that you won were due to a combination of playing scrub teams and the benefit of having the league’s leading rusher in the backfield and possibly the fastest receiver in the league in Desean Jackson running down the field. The games we have lost have been in large part due to horrible decision making on your part. Whether it be terrible clock management against the Chargers and a few other teams as well or it be terrible play calling. For example, in week 14, Lesean McCoy put on the performance of his career rushing for 217 yards in a blizzard! The following week against the Vikings, with a slightly below average rush defense, you only gave McCoy, the league’s leading rusher 8 CARRIES!! 8!! And this is just one of many games where you did not feed the run. A running attack led by McCoy and backed up by a pretty good Bryce Brown who had a couple near 200 yard games last year.This season you were just a bad coach with excellent talent. You don’t belong in the NFL. Go back to Oregon.

 

Okay guys, I feel much better now. And I will feel even better if Foles and Kelly are gone next semester…which they won’t be. Also, let me take this chance to say that if Foles is the starter next year I hope that Mike Vick is playing for someone else. He is too much of a talent to play backup to a guy like Foles.  He deserves his shot to play somewhere else, preferably somewhere with an OL willing and able to protect him. Vick, you are my favorite player and a joy to watch on the field and can still outrun just about anyone in the league and have one of the best arms in the league. Okay, I’m done.

 

-I Am A Fed Up Sports (Eagles) Fan

New Year’s Resolutions

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”
 Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Let me start off by saying I hate people that shoot down the “new year, new me” mentality. Yes, January 1st is just a day and one day does not make a whole new person, but for many the thought of a New Year really is a fresh start, their time to forget the past year and start anew. If you don’t think that New Years is a jumping off point for a new beginning that’s fine, but don’t shoot down those that do or discourage them from making resolutions….support those around you in everything they do.

That being said, I have had my fair share of failed resolutions for many different reasons. This year I am hoping I do a little bit better and maybe writing them down for the “world” to see will help motivate me. So here are my New Year’s Resolutions….

1. I will lose 40 lbs by the end of the semester.                                                                                                 I would like to be able to say that the Freshman 15 crept up on me but I would only be so lucky for it to be ONLY the Freshman 15. Truth be told, since I entered college in 2011 I have gained about 70 lbs. Admittedly when I came into college I was a little on the scrawny side and maybe looked a little unhealthy. So while I don’t want to return to that point, I also am not happy with where I am today. This means that I will have to get over my hatred for exercise and my love for taco bell (that hurt to say) but it is necessary in order for me to be happy with myself physically.

2. I will earn a 4.0 GPA this semester.                                                                                                                      I by no means struggle academically. I have earned a 3.75 GPA thus far in my college career which is something that I am very proud of. However, I know that I am capable of better work and capable of earning a 4.0 this semester. I need to improve my time management skills and cut back on my procrastination. My biggest challenge, however, is taking classes out of my major and the less challenging classes more seriously. If I can do that then I know that I will achieve this goal.

3. Be a better me!                                                                                                                                                                 Yes, I know, how cliche can I be? I won’t go into huge detail here but everyday I want to work on being a better me than the day before, in every sense of the word. I want to be a better friend, boyfriend, son, brother, nephew, cousin, student, citizen, leader and any other identifier that has been attached to me.

This is what I hope to accomplish for at least the first half of the year. I will no doubt slip up at points but now that I have this post to refer back to I can have a constant reminder as to what I want to accomplish I think I have a pretty good shot at it this year.

On campus I am a Peer Advisor which is essentially a mentor for first year students. One of the most important things I do with them is known as a Personal Success Plan. This is a worksheet that they fill out with what their goals will be for their freshman year. I think what makes this so successful is that they walk away with a copy of their goals and the steps they identified would help them get there. I will use this post as my own version of a Personal Success Plan and hopefully refer back to it often.

 

-I am Starting Fresh.

 

 

Yes, I’m a liberal

So by now you’ve probably heard that Phil Robertson, patriarch of the family on the hit show Duck Dynasty has been suspended by A&E for his anti-gay remarks. If not, you can take a look here

All the media attention is on how he made these disgusting comments, most of all, comparing homosexuality to bestiality, which is of course repulsive and ignorant. And of course, he uses the bible to justify his bigotry, as so many people do. I do believe somewhere in the bible it says let he without sin cast the first stone. So often, these so called “Christians” like to forget that piece and use the Bible when they see fit to condemn the lives of others. I know it’s been said before but I will repeat it, if you don’t like homosexuality then don’t be gay, its that simple. Leave people alone to live their own life. Only God can judge, no man has a place to call out the sins of other people. God loves all his children, so why don’t you? And Phil goes on to talk about how these people will not inherit the kingdom of God, well I’d like to share a piece of scripture with Mr. Robertson, who according to celebritynetworth.com is worth around $15 million;

 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:24

So of course, the conservatives come-a-runnin to the aid and support of Phil Robertson under the guise of protecting the right to free speech when in all honesty they are coming to lend support to his ignorant and bigoted comments.  You may say I am being cynical and that these conservatives really do care about the 1st Amendment, and I might buy that if they came to the defense of Martin Bashir after he “resigned” from MSNBC following his comments about the one and only, Sarah Palin (see video below if you don’t know what I am talking about).

So when Mr. Bashir lost his job, where were all these 1st Amendment protecting conservatives that are up in arms right now? Exactly. Another prime example of, “you can have the right to say whatever you want as long as you agree with me.” So no, I don’t buy the conservative role of protector of the Constitution!

But, I want to get to the real point about all this that really has me worked up. Yes, the comments he made about gay people are absolutely reprehensible and as an adamant supporter of gay rights, someone with many gay friends, family members (my mom included), and just a rational human being, I am disgusted by them. However, the bigger issue that I have is what has not been getting coverage, and that is his comments about Black people pre-Civil Rights movement.

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person, Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

I could spend days telling you what is wrong with these comments! But let me start by stating that, contrary to what my Bio photo might lead you to believe I am Black; I may be the poster child for light skinned, but I am indeed black. Now, first of all, and this applies to everyone, just because you have never experienced or witnessed acts of racism or discrimination DOES NOT MEAN RACISM DOESN’T EXIST!! Secondly, if he actually opened his eyes I can guarantee he would have seen mistreatment of Blacks, IN THE SOUTH during JIM CROW laws. Let me just say this as well, no Phil, you are NOT with the blacks, you will never understand what it is like to be black in America. And no, you never did here them say these doggone white people because they were afraid for their lives living in a time where lynching and harassment was both common and LEGAL! And don’t even get me started on the idea of “entitlements” for blacks when white people are entitled to privileges they only earn by having European blood and blacks are entitled to systematic and institutional racism and a criminal justice system set up for them to be a part of, but let me not get going on all that……for now. So don’t anybody dare tell me we live in a “post-racial: society because that doesn’t exist. This is the world that I live in, the world that my ancestors lived in and the world that my future children will live in; one that tells us that we are second class citizens.

So I guess my rants came out sooner than I thought in this blog, but I couldn’t ignore this story. I could have gone on much longer but unfortunately posts on topics like these do no good because they are either ignored or explained away by those that disagree or taken in by those who already know these things to be true, and I don’t like to “beat the dead horse” so to speak. But make no mistake about it, I am fired up, I am irritated, I am motivated and I am passionate about these issues and I will not ignore them! But for now, I will leave it at that.

-I am PASSIONATE