Deep Roots, Hammers, and Chai
Every year, our outstanding Youth Group, brave and selfless chaperones, and I are excited to travel someplace together to get involved with some justice issues and social action work.
For the past 6 years we have traveled to work for a couple of high need homeless shelters. We really like to spend our energies at a particular homeless shelter for families called Deep Roots, located in Earleville , Maryland.
The things that keep bringing us back to work at Deep Roots are the connections and the immersion we get with the families who reside there, the work ethic ,and the variety of work we can be involved with . Most of all, we feel like we are aligned with this organization’s mission :
Deep Roots works with children, who are disconnected through homelessness or other similar marginalization: connecting hearts. Our program will challenge children to envision a brighter future, to sustain healthy relationships and to navigate a course towards personal and social responsibility through better life experiences, with mentors, providing healthy life-models for all future relationships.
We work closely with an impressive man named John. John is a former resident of the shelter, and has journeyed through homelessness, to shelter dweller, to full-time shelter volunteer. John went back to school, finished a degree and now serves has a Project Manager and Case Worker at Deep Roots. John has his plate full; but always seems to find time to make us feel welcome, informed about projects, and connected with supplies to use and work plans to accomplish.
And we do a lot of “accomplishing” in our two days at this large shelter, set on a farm surrounded by cornfields and soybean fields, horse farms and Mennonite -owned farms. John says that our small group of (usually 16-20 people) accomplishes more work in 2 days than every other larger group can do in a solid week. Why? I know! It’s starts with our skilled and patient volunteer chaperones who sign on every year to make these trips happen.
Bart Hill: the ultimate teacher and trainer of skills involving woodworking, carpentry, precise work, and safety. Bart’s patience exudes all else! During our evening check-in, Lydia, one of his “apprentices” said, “My joy today was working with Bart. Bart is really good at explaining exactly how to do something and gives us the challenge and also the choice to try something new.” Bart, Lydia, and Thalia built a bus stop for the many children at Deep Roots to stand under every school day, to stay warmer and dry. Thank you also, Bart, for being a luggage packer and van diver- to and from Maryland.
Nir Cohen: another wonderfully skilled and kindhearted master carpenter, took many apprentices under his wing. Although Nir had the great fortune of sometimes having too many eager workers under foot ( children from the shelter wanted to join in!) ; he showed ultimate patience and grace. Nir taught Annie, Nathan, Tom, and Carrick the tricks of the trade in laying a laminate floor. Nir also drove a van part way to and all the way home from Maryland.
Annie and Gareth learned how to install siding on a house working with a resident and building and grounds volunteer of the Deep Roots Shelter.
Joe Zawielski- our warm, fabulous and talented electrician (retired but still sharing his “spark” with others!)- had the most important job of keeping all workers electrically safe and giving us much needed light around the various buildings on the property. Joe’s grandson, Kyle , a member of our Youth Group ,and the so-called official “chai- master” ( you’ll have to ask the Youth Group for an explanation on that one!) was his assistant. Joe, Kyle and Lexi eventually moved into another floor installation project at the “Count Your Blessings” Exchange Store, and made the entrance room functional and beautiful. Joe drove a van partway to and navigated to and from Maryland.
Lee Hill: the master of so many skills, picking up more and more with each passing year of volunteering; continues to make this experience of caring for all the people who come on our trips seem effortless. Lee is our official food planner and shopper , baby lover and holder, child wrangler, swing pusher, support giver. Lee and her crew: Lexi and Carrick and Gareth organized the Exchange Store. Lee and her crew: Maggie, Forrest and Nathan cleaned and organized the education center. Thank you Lee for also being a navigator to and from Maryland and the keeper of the medicines!
Me: well, I sat around eating bon-bons (wink wink), and walked many a mile to take a zillion photos. I cleaned-up boo-boos, gave pep talks and lectures, babysat a praying mantis, swept floors , did dishes, and observed and recorded the wonder of all these people, doing all these challenging jobs, with smiles on their faces and humor and love in their hearts. This year, I spent a good amount of time engaged in a project that I hope to publish in a few places. This project will spotlight shelter families and hopefully challenge what we think we know about homelessness and shelter life..I have interviewed and photographed six families this past weekend and will share the honesty and the beauty of their special message to you- it’s coming soon.
I would like to say thank you , thank you , thank you to our Youth Group teens. These young people gave their time, their money, and worked incredibly hard to learn new jobs and to get them completed. In addition to the jobs at hand, they had other things to contend with. On the car rides and in the evenings, I saw their homework spread out in front of them. Still, they were excited to learn new skills, and were focused on our building project goals, yet aware enough to put down their hammers, their lunches, their free time, their phones, and their notebooks– and open their arms to the two dozen children and teens living at the shelter.
Thank you, because you were the rock stars. Thank you because you were viewed as the cool kids and then chose to hang out with a kid who may not be so cool in their own world. You were the ones, then , that they will want to emulate : strive to be like. They will because you gave them a solid boost of confidence , you gave that coveted feeling of worth and dignity. You lifted them up with your kind hearts and your inclusive, respectful actions. They wanted to know how they could be in our Youth Group…and you all met privately to make a plan, and craft a ceremony, to make them honorary members of your group. Oh, the joy you gave them. I look back at the Deep Roots Mission Statement and I know that it was just a natural thing for you to practice their written goals of “connecting hearts and mentoring, and being healthy life models” – yet I am so very proud of every minute that you did.
The hand-painted fence that surrounds the Deep Roots Playground reads: “Be the change you wish to see in the world” – Ghandi
I want to thank our whole group for living those words out-loud . To label what you’ve accomplished this weekend as “ life-changing” …. is an understatement .
With Gratitude and Joy,
Robin Mitzcavtich – Director of Religious Exploration and Education