– Angela Nelson
In the past, “training” for jobs has always included about three hours of your manager standing behind you pointing out buttons—“Push that now” “Oh no, don’t push that” and “Well, you’ll learn, I guess”—and then ending with the smug satisfaction that you have learned how to work a twenty-year-old cash register. Congratulations, time to start your glamorous job as a cashier at Dollar General.
However, training with KEYS AmeriCorps brings with it a sense of accomplishment that other, more straightforward trainings just don’t have. Sure, a lot of it is sitting around listening to paperwork being read aloud or lectures on what to do if a child misbehaves, but as I have just graduated college, I’m used to that sort of thing. However, there were also parts that often made me stop and marvel at the fact that I was having fun and training at the same time, a concept that I could have never imagined before. I began to realize that not only had I joined an organization dedicated to changing lives, but that I was having fun at the same time!
Of the two weeks we trained with KEYS Americorps, the highlight had to be our trip to Camp Guyasuta, a team-building exercise that included a day of (physical) obstacles and games, as well as a climbing wall and what the staff called “The Leap of Faith”. By this time we had been assigned to our sites, so this was our first opportunity to get to know those with whom we would be spending the summer. The morning was spent doing team-building exercises. More simply put, we played games, games that not only helped us bond as a team but games we could use later for the kids we mentored. My favorite exercise had to be trying to move a marble about fifteen yards into a hula hoop on the ground, using only PVC pipes sawed in half. The trick to this exercise was communication—creating a system and then implementing it.
After this, we went to what the staff member called the “low course”. This course consisted of a number of stations, usually involving physical obstacles, that to conquer required a team effort. Our obstacle involved two platforms, each about four feet high. Between these platforms were strung several tires, about five or six. While the first person crossing could be handed a tire by someone on the ground, the rest following had to be given the tire by the person in front of them. While some might be able to cross without the help of those behind and in front of them, the tires were spaced in such a way that it was easiest if the person in front of you swung back a tire so that you could grab it. Some of us didn’t have much trouble navigating the course. But the most inspiring were those who had difficulties, who had to cling on for a few minutes while the person ahead of them backtracked in order to get them a tire. I watched people strain themselves and go back again and again to assist their team members having difficulty. I watched (and joined) the spotters offering a string of “You can do it!”s and other encouragment to those stranded on tires. Even if the person eventually surrendered to the task, they were still given a hearty “Good job, nice try!” that made us a stronger, closer team.
I’ve always had trust problems, and I’m often paranoid about what people think of me. However, that day I felt that we were truly connected as a group, that people could be just as kind and encouraging as they could be mean or spiteful. Even more than that, seeing such an overwhelming positive attitude strikes you harder than a negative one. You hear so many negative things about people and the world that when people come together and cooperate, it gives you pause.
After the low course, the high course was more of a personal task than a team task. Certainly there were people offering encouragement from the sidelines, but it was a personal decision to get to the top of the climbing wall (which I did). It was a difficult climb and I remember that several times during my climb I thought, “There are no good footholds. I have to stop.” But my brain kicked in with a “Don’t you quit!” and I forced my way to the top. I’ve always had a pretty strict sense of determination. That sort of “No quitting” attitude helped me climb a volcano hand over foot, and I was rewarded by the end. I got to stand about two yards away from real, flowing lava—something most geologists might not even get to do.
I congratulate other AmeriCorps members for their willingness to climb the Leap of Faith ladder and jump for the trapeze bar, something I didn’t have the guts to try. I also congratulate other AmeriCorps members for facing their fears and believing in themselves (and their team members). Physical labor is always given the credit for being hard, but the mental labor required to conquer personal obstacles is just as difficult, if not more. At Camp Guyasuta, we were given a chance to grow as individuals and grow as a team. Sometimes you can’t do one without the other. Let’s hope that as we move forward during the summer, we can continue and expand this growth. We can use these experiences to show youth how they themselves can become stronger as a person and as a group.