Learning New Skills at the Farm
By Alexandra Sinner, Summer Servant and AmeriCorps member
I am a recent graduate from the Catholic University of America and knew that when I finished school, I wanted to do service. After months of researching different service organizations to determine where to spend my summer, I found Bethlehem Farm on the Catholic Volunteer Network. Without ever having been here or knowing anyone who had, I applied and decided to spend two months as a Summer Servant.
At first I didn’t think about my choice much, but as the date of my departure, I started to worry. What should I bring? What would I be doing for the whole summer? For a month, I tried to push these thoughts away because I knew service was what I wanted to do and everything else would work itself out. Suddenly it was June 2nd and time for me to leave home for the summer. I was excited to get away and start my new adventure as a college graduate. The drive took about four hours, and it wasn’t until hour three that I started to realize what was about to happen. I thought to myself, ‘What the heck are you doing?! Turn around Alexandra, you aren’t ready for this!’ But thanks to the strength of God, I kept going until I drove up Bethlehem Farm Lane and parked my car. Now that I was here, there was no turning back!
Soon after my arrival, the Bethlehem Farm staff returned from having been out. It was at that moment my anxiety hit. I was suddenly surrounded by 15 people welcoming me home to a place that felt nothing like home. Little did I know, that was soon to all change.
The first night I was here, I remember feeling very anxious until I met Steve. Steve is currently a Caretaker and it was our first conversation that started to make this place feel a little more like home. At the time I was reading a Civil War book my boyfriend had given me. Steve began asking me questions about the book and my boyfriend and soon we were joking around. I felt comfort that I found someone to talk to within the first few hours and our conversation turned into a laughter and jokes.
Throughout the first week I soon realized that I had no idea how to do anything at this Farm and started to doubt how I could be helpful. I had never been on a working farm, never operated power tools, never worked on a construction site, and never cooked for large amounts of people. I again thought to myself, ‘What the heck are you doing here Alexandra?’
Although I felt very incompetent in all of these areas, the work needed to get done and I had signed on to do service. I was assigned tasks and I soon realized it was okay that I didn’t know what I was doing, because no matter what I did or where I was on the Farm, someone would be willing to help me. During the first week when I would finish a day, I’d be shocked that I somehow learned how to plant a sweet potato, or use a drill to make signs for the garden, or learn the difference between a thistle weed and burdock weed. Slowly but surely I was learning and it was thanks to everyone at the Farm who made me feel at home.
Just like that, my first week was over and it was time to tackle my first group week. It was the first high school group week of the summer and I had no idea what to expect out of a week living with 26 high school students. It felt strange to be somewhere between four to six years older than these volunteers while equally having no idea on what was going on. But again, I was here to do service and work needed to get done, so I signed up for chores and work sites and did as I was instructed. Halfway through the week I realized it was going so well thanks to the support of the other Summer Servants and Caretakers. They made sure I was comfortable and taught me everything I needed to know. Though I felt overwhelmed, I could tell that little by little I was beginning to feel more competent around the Farm.
On Thursday I was told I would be doing a "special operations project" with Bill the chaperone and Claire, another Summer Servant. Our project for the day was to take down and then rebuild the front steps of the farm house in one day. I thought to myself, ‘This is impossible, I do not know how to build stairs and there is no way I can do this.’ But, the project had to get done! I was given the task of cutting all the stringers to support the stairs, and cutting all the planks to make the actual steps. Again, I thought to myself ‘WHAT! I have no clue how to hold a saw let alone operate it!’ Although I did not have confidence in myself, somehow others did. We had no spare materials so I really could not afford to mess up at all! Bill and our Project Director, Will, showed me the circular saw and a jigsaw and demonstrated the first few cuts. Now it was my turn. I was very hesitant at first, but soon I had finished the first stringer – only three more left to do. After hours of working and a few mistakes later, I had cut all four stringers and 25 planks of wood. By the end of the day we had finished taking down the old stairs and put up the new ones just in time for the dinner bell; our work was done and now the Farm has new stairs! After the project, I felt more confident than ever. It was at this point that I started thinking, ‘I can do this. I am ready for whatever else this summer has to offer.’
After week two was over, I definitely felt like I was home!