Flash Blog #2: What is something that you are thankful for that you did not used to be thankful for?

Disclaimer: This is a flash blog written in ten minutes based on a prompt by our site coordinator, Alison Wood.  Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors.

Oh man, Alison gave us a tough prompt for this flash blog.  As soon as she said it, my mind began to race through the past three months trying to come up with an answer.  The answer I will settle on is cleanliness.  I have lived in a clean environment all my life.  My parents kept my childhood home well maintained, I always cleaned my dorm room in college, and (for the most part) my housemates and I work hard to maintain a clean space in our YAV house.  What I have learned from working at CHRPA is that cleanliness is a luxury that many do not have.  As part of my job, I walk into many people’s homes, and the reality is that most are not clean.  I have seen varying levels of disorganization, clutter, and hoarding during my three months on the job.  I will admit, my gut reaction is to make a snap judgement.  Why would someone live this way?  I often think.  Yet when you talk to homeowners, there are so many layers behind their living situations.  Elderly or disabled clients lack the physical mobility to move about their house or do chores.  Other clients juggle multiple jobs while raising a family, so there is no time left in their day to tend to household matters.  Still, others may have lived their whole lives in poverty, so it may be hard for them to throw things away.  The point is, anytime that voice pops into my head asking me to make a snap judgement, I try to step back and see the big picture.  The virtue of maintaining a clean home is ingrained in us all our lives.  Afterall, the saying goes “cleanliness is next to Godliness.”  But the more I see, the more I realize this attitude is just another way to shame those who lack the privilege of having extra time and resources that they can use to take care of their home.  I am grateful that I have the ability to live in a home that is “clean”, but I am actively trying to separate the morality and judgement that can so often by tied into the arbitrary definition of what makes a home clean.

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CHRPA Tales

The staff members at Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona (CHRPA), the organization I am serving with during my YAV year, are required to write two stories a month about their experiences providing home repair services to low-income clients.  The motivation behind this requirement is CHRPA’s belief that the best way to convey their work and impact to the general public is through the art of storytelling.  Each February, our Development Director compiles stories written during the past twelve months into a book called “CHRPA Tales.”  As a volunteer, I am not exempt from the two stories a month rule.  Therefore, I thought this blog would be a great place to merge my writing for YAV and writing for CHRPA.  Periodically, I will publish a story I wrote for CHRPA to give you a better sense of my ongoing work with this organization.  Below you will find a story I wrote about a client I visited in September, during my second week as a volunteer.  Enjoy!

Gratitude

Note: All names in this story have been changed for sake of privacy.

How do you respond when someone you have known for merely six hours shows you overwhelming gratitude, especially when you feel that gratitude is unwarranted?  That is a question I wrestled with during my second week at CHRPA.

For context, I started at CHRPA with no prior experience in home repair.  Before this year, the only tools I had ever used were a screwdriver, a hammer, and occasionally, a drill.  During my first weeks as a volunteer, I was constantly learning about new tools and new methods of repair, and my head was spinning trying to keep it all straight.  The people I worked with were excellent teachers, taking the time to answer my questions and exhibiting patience when I made inevitable mistakes. Still, my lack of prior knowledge meant the amount of help I could actually offer my coworkers on jobs was minimal.  I knew this would change and I would eventually find my stride, but at first, I was constantly humbled by how little I knew.

Shortly after I began volunteering, I was assigned to assist Kelly with replacing major portions of an air duct in a client’s home.  Air ducts were something I admittedly knew little about. I was fairly sure that air travelled through them, and they also seemed to be great places to crawl through buildings undetected in spy movies, but that was the extent of my knowledge.  Kelly, on the other hand, has decades of experience in electrical work and a myriad of other fields, so I felt confident that the client and I were in good hands.

When we arrived at the home of Leticia and her husband, Diego, she gave us a large, warm smile and immediately offered us coffee and water.  Kelly and I got to work and the project took us the entire day. We had to cut out the old ducts, retrofit and trim the new ducts to fit the space, install them, cut out parts of the wall, add new support beams, and clean up the mess we made.  Kelly led the way, while I held what needed to be held, cut what needed to be cut, and swept what needed to be swept. I also listened and watched as Kelly explained each step of the process to me. Sure, I helped, but I was not an integral component in bringing back cool air to Leticia and Diego’s home.

This fact would not have been evident if you went by Leticia’s reaction.  She praised and thanked both Kelly and I throughout the day, telling us how impressed she was by “our” work, and how helpful and smart we were.  She went on to explain that this used to be the type of job Diego, who worked in construction for decades, could have done, but age had slowed them both down.  She beamed with pride when she recounted how they had both worked hard their entire life to raise a family and maintain their home. Leticia thanked us again as we were leaving, and gave us a bag of homemade tamales, salsa, and candy for the rod.

I will admit, Letica’s gratitude made me uncomfortable at several points throughout the day, mainly because I felt it was unearned.  Why should she be thanking me? She and her husband were the ones who had worked so hard to provide for their family for so long, and Kelly was the one who had the skills and knowledge to complete the job.  There were times during the day when all I was doing was watching and listening. In the moments Leticia thanked me, I would smile and nod, but inside I couldn’t shake this feeling that it was somehow wrong for me to accept her thanks.  

As Kelly and I were driving back, she told me something that shifted my perspective.  She explained that it was fairly common for clients to offer us food or gratitude. She went on on to explain how clients often don’t want to feel like they’re being given a “handout”, and by thanking us or giving us a small token of appreciation, they feel like they’re part of an exchange of goods, not just simply being given something.  I can see how this exchange creates dignity on both sides. Leticia felt grateful for our work, and she wanted to share her gratitude with us. By accepting her food and hospitality, we are validating her as a person, and acknowledging that we are not the only ones giving something to her, she is giving something to us as well.

Each week I continue to come across clients that display extravagant generosity.  While I have developed more confidence in my abilities and knowledge, there is still much I do not know, and I constantly have to rely on the wisdom and experience of the volunteers and staff around me to complete jobs.  One thing I do know now is how to respond when a client shows gratitude towards me, whether it was earned or unearned: a smile and a “you’re welcome”.

 

Around the Horn

It’s October, which means playoff baseball!  I started following the sport when I was eight, and it has been a huge part of my life ever since.  A remarkable trait of baseball is its consistency.  The game has been played in essentially the same form for over a

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Adrian Beltre.  He is not relevant to this post, but he is a great baseball player nonetheless.

century.  This consistency can be a great comfort in a world that is changing rapidly on a micro and macro level.  Whether I am watching a baseball game on the TV of my childhood home, in a dorm room with friends, or on my laptop in the YAV house in Tucson, it is the same game.

Occasionally during a baseball game, the players will toss the ball around the horn.  This is when the infielders toss the ball amongst themselves after a strikeout occurred with no men on base.  The primary purpose of the exercise is to keep the fielders loose during the inning.  In honor of playoff baseball, I thought I would use this blog post to go around the horn, and do a brief check in with three components of my life as a Tucson Borderlands Young Adult Volunteer: Faith, Work, and Community.

Faith

This Sunday, we completed our Southern Arizona church tour!  Our site coordinator, Alison, arranged for us to visit various churches across the Tucson area during our first month and a half as YAVs.  Our house visited Trinity, Southside, St. Mark’s, Holy Way, St. John on the Desert, and Mountain Shadows Presbyterian Church.  The purpose of these visits were to introduce us to the various Presbyterian worshipping communities in the Tucson area, connecting us with the wider faith community we are a part of in this city.  Each church was unique, but the one thing they all shared was radical hospitality.  We introduced ourselves to the congregations, and they responded with warmth, curiosity, and joy.  Now that we are done visiting churches as a group, each YAV will choose their own worshipping community to be a part of.  While I have not made up my mind where I will worship, I know I will be fully welcomed wherever I choose.

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The St. Mark’s stop on our Tucson church tour.  The church’s pastor, Bart, is standing on the far left.

Work

I am now a month into my work at Community Home Repair Projects of Southern Arizona.  As the seasons change, we have less and less cooler repairs, but our work of fixing roofs, plumbing, flooring, electricity, and everything in between continues.  The cooler weather has transformed my morning commute by bike.  What used to be a hot and sweaty slog is now a cool and breezy ride.  I have also started to split my time between working in the field and in the office.  Two days of the week I am out making repairs, and the other two days I am in the office helping CHRPA’s Development Director, Carrie, with various tasks ranging from grant writing to data entry.  This past thursday, I worked on and submitted my first grant for CHRPA to Wells Fargo!

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The dog days of work.

Community

One realization I have  recently come upon is that being a YAV is not merely being a part of one community, it is being a part of many communities.  Over the past month, I have began to form communities with my housemates, co-workers, church congregants, and Tucson residents.  The community that I have the most interactions with is our YAV house.  We have known each other for over two months now.  This means we have a degree of comfort with each other, and can laugh together, dive into deep topics together, and, sometimes, disagree together.  It has been a rewarding experience to get to know Ryan, Miranda, and Dakota, and to hear their fears, realize their strengths, and appreciate their senses of humor.  And yes, I realize I included my wife in that list.  Despite having known her before YAV, this experience has taught me even more about her, mainly just how much strength, resilience and compassion she has within her.

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Shhh! Community at Work.

Thank you for going around the horn with me.  As the year goes on, I will try to occasionally do this exercise to continue to give you a sense of the life of a Tucson YAV.

Peace,

Tanner

 

Flash Blog- How Would you Describe Tucson?

Disclaimer: This is a flash blog written in ten minutes based on a prompt by our site coordinator, Alison Wood.  Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors.

Tucson, Arizona is defined by two traits in my opinion: the desert and diversity.  I had frequently heard it was in a desert, but what this means did not sink in until I had actually spent several weeks living in the city.  Being in a desert means scarcity.  There is a scarcity of water, a scarcity of green, and a scarcity of land available to farm on.  As a result of this reality, people here are conscience of how their actions impact the environment around them.  Grass is not planted in lawns because it uses too much water, green space such as parks are meticulously planned using native plants and vegetation so that they can thrive in this environment, and the city’s economy has to rely on tourism and other industries outside of just agriculture.  As a result, I have never been in a place this is more in tune with the environment that surrounds it.

Tucson is also diverse.  Various cultures have influenced the city over the years, and the marks they have left show.  The Hispanic culture is incredibly vibrant, and it is common to hear Spanish spoken and see places named in Spanish.  The cuisine also borrows heavily from Mexico, and street vendors frequently sell a taco for as little as one dollar.  The city is also maintains a connection to its Native American roots.  Native Americans have been living near the rivers of Tucson for tens of thousands of years, and several reservations surround the city.  The worshiping communities I have visited here have been mindful to acknowledge the presence of the original inhabitants of this land, and I have heard more discussions on Native American rights and issues than anywhere else I have been before.  Of course, white American culture is still prevalent throughout the city.  However, instead of one culture dominating over the other, I have found that the various cultural influences exist relatively harmoniously here, and people are accepting and open-minded.

A First Time for Everything…

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My year as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in Tucson, Arizona is officially underway.  These past three weeks have been filled with a mix of joys, challenges, and everything in between.  Yet one common thread that has defined my time here thus far is firsts. As a YAV in Tucson, I have experienced foreign and new situations on an almost daily basis. Below, I will reflect on some of my most significant firsts during my brief time here.

First Time in a Desert

During my first few days of exploring Tucson, a thought kept running through my head: “where is the green in this barren city?”  Coming from a city of trees and manicured lawns, the site of dirt and gravel stretching in all directions was a stark change. Upon looking at a map of the city on my phone, I noticed several blue lines running through Tucson.  Recalling the rivers and watering holes that dotted the Central Texas landscape, I was eager to see a splash of blue in the desert. However, every time I rode over one of those blue lines on my bike, I found that they were simply dry creek beds, and water only runs through them a few times a year.  It was during these moments that I fully

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Picture taken of Santa Cruz River on September 20th

began to understand just how different of a place I had entered into. Three weeks in, and I still sometimes miss the site of grass or a flowing river, but I am no longer think of Tucson as “barren.” The city is abound with various types of wildlife, flora, and natural splendor. It is simply different than where I came from.  Then, just today, I drove over a fully running river. It was full from a day of rain, and was strikingly beautiful against the backdrop of the rugged desert landscape. As my time here progresses, I hope to continue to find beauty in the desert.

First Time at CHRPA

For several weeks now, I have worked as a volunteer for Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona.  This organization provides free emergency home repairs and handicap modifications to low-income and elderly residents of the Tucson area.  As I have no previous handy-man or construction experience, everyday at CHRPA brings a new first. So far, I have had to learn how to fix a cooler, build a wheelchair ramp, replace

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Laying Tile!

a toilet, install a new sink faucet, and put in a door.  Other new experiences this job has brought about include waking up before the sun rises, biking to work, and riding the bus. To say I am out of my element would be an understatement. It is hard work, and sometimes I feel like I get in the way more than I help when making a repair.  I also find myself tired, sore, and most of all, hot. All this being said, I am amazed at the knowledge and passion of my coworkers and the lengths they go to in order to help the residents of Tucson. I have only begun to see the impact CHRPA has on people’s lives, and while it is difficult work that often leaves me frustrated, I feel proud to be part of this organization.

First Time at an Immigration Shelter

During our first week in the city, the Tucson YAV house volunteered with the Inn Project.  The project is run through First United Methodist Church of Tucson, and provides a shelter for primarily Central American asylum seekers recently released from detention.  Most refugees stay in the shelter before going on to their families in the United States who they will be staying with while their asylum application is processed.The shelter is set up in the church’s basement, and provides individuals with a place to sleep, three meals a day, and food and water for their upcoming journey.  On the day we volunteered, 42 individuals were residing at the shelter. Immigration is an issue that I have learned about primarily through my wife, Dakota, who has worked extensively with immigrant communities through various non-profits. However, this was my first time being face to face with people who had just been released from immigration detention facilities.  With my limited Spanish, I struggled to communicate effectively with those we were helping, but all expressed immense gratitude towards us for volunteering. Most were families, and all seemed tired yet excited to soon have the opportunity to see their family in the United States. As I was leaving, I had the feeling that if more people could spend a few hours with those most impacted by our immigration system, the debate surrounding immigration would be quite different.  

First Time Fixing a Flat Tire

Finally, I fixed my first ever flat tire on a bike during this past three weeks.  In fact, I fixed my first nearly two weeks ago, and have since had to fix four more flats.  With a plethora of thorny plants and frequent potholes, Tucson may well by the flat bike tire capital of the United States.  These flat tires shattered my vision of what community by bike would be like. Before I started as a YAV, I had an hour round trip commute in my car, and I was eager to trade driving for the simplicity and free exercise that come with biking.  It turns out, bikes are not the simplest of machines to maintain, and just like a car, regular maintenance is required. On one particularly hot day, I found myself changing a flat tire on the side of a busy street. At that moment, all I wanted was my car, which happens to be sitting with my parents a thousand miles away.  The very next day however, I found myself biking to work with a repaired tire, a cool morning breeze in my face, and a view of the sun rising over the Tucson mountains. Often during these past three weeks, the experiences that have brought me the most frustration and the most joy have been one in the same.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post!   Have a great weekend and stay cool.

Peace,

Tanner

Welcome!

Hello and welcome to my blog!  My name is Tanner Kohfield, and I am a recent graduate from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.  More importantly, I am the husband to the amazing Dakota Kohfield.  In August of 2018, I will be embarking with my wife on a year of service and simple living in Tucson, Arizona through Young Adult Volunteers, a program run by the Presbyterian Church (USA).  In the coming months, I will find out more about the exact work I will be doing during this time, but for now, I am doing all I can to prepare for this new opportunity!  The first step is to create this blog, which I will use to reflect on my experiences throughout the program.  I thought the name would be fitting, as I will “right on the border”, and I will be writing on the border!  Thank you for your interest, and please check back starting in August for regular updates as my journey begins!