For my co-op, I chose to work on a restoration project in Philadelphia, PA. The project, pictured below, is a Queen Anne-style Victorian house, complete with a turret, servant staircases, and floors that creak. My host family, Kevin, Benny, and Melinda, have been working on this house for the past 8 years and believe there’s still around 4-6 years worth of work left. They bought it on a whim as a passion project; Kevin is a civil engineer with a love for historical architecture while Melinda has a particular and fantastic taste for decorating the inside. Its inside is vibrant, retro, and is reflective of their love for antiques and cycling.
I found this co-op opportunity through a program called Workaway that connects travelers looking to work in exchange for room and board at a host family’s house. The most common type of Workaway experience is farm work and rural settings, but occasionally you can find an opportunity in a city, as I did in Philadelphia. I really enjoyed exploring Philadelphia through the eyes of knowledgeable locals and I like to think it grounded me a bit more in the culture.
During my time there, I worked mostly up in the turret. The turret is the outermost structure on the house where the weather vane is perched. When I was first introduced to the turret’s inner room, it was off-white with wires coming out of the ceiling and the woodwork was untreated. But not for long. I found it satisfying to transform the room into what it is today—painted lavender with chestnut-colored woodwork and an original light fixture that can be seen from the road. I also helped around in the garden, weeding plots and schlepping soil; there was always something to be done.
A day of work would often involve all different kinds of work, from sanding and paint stripping to priming, painting, and taping. My work hours were from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., which left the afternoon to explore Philadelphia and the surrounding area. I saw the Liberty Bell, Chinatown, the Love sculpture, New Jersey, and even took a couple of day trips to NYC which was only 2 hours away. You can learn more about my adventures in my photo journal and blog of my first co-op.
I found this co-op to be extremely culturally rewarding. I had never been to the East Coast for such an extended period of time and I believe that being able to independently navigate cityscapes, Greyhound bus lines, and self-sustenance grew me inexplicably as a person. Having been born and raised in Ohio, as well as currently attending college there, immersing myself in the thriving diversity of these big cities was an experience that will stick with me forever.
In a valley that, if observed from up high, resembles a bowl- there is a village of twelve houses. They hold farmers, bakers, and candlemakers. These houses do not have televisions, pets, or microwaves. They sing and bless their meals. They are from Europe and Asia, South America and Africa. The people live together without necessarily a lot in common, but their service to each other, their time, and their place.
What I’ve described is Camphill Village, an intentional community that operates under the philosophy of Rudolph Steiner and supports the education, employment, and day-to-day life of adults with intellectual disabilities. I am spending my third co-op here for the Fall of 2020 in the foothills of Copake, NY. It is the center of a movement, in the middle of nowhere.
From the get-go Camphill was not a regular community and did not try to be. After quarantining for two weeks, I went to live with eight others in my house, Aspen. As dinner guests came and went in the coming weeks, there was a common story amongst the older long-term volunteers. Namely, that they came to Camphill at a young age, were spellbound, and stayed for life.
I can understand this trajectory. In particular, I work on the estate of Camphill. We rake leaves and stack wood. We collect the compost every Friday, and get to smell it, too. We tear down old sheds and ride with the wind in our face on the flatbeds of dump trucks. We laugh together.
It is relaxed, necessary work, or, as was said to me on my second day, “we’re glorified landscapers.” And even in that remark, that was not sarcastic but humbled, there was a little hint that suggested that, really, we’ve got it good. And I think everyone here knows that they’ve got it good. For each person has their part and purpose. There are estate people, and candlemakers, and bakers, and weavers, farmers, gardeners, and grocery clerks. The village supports itself happily and eagerly as a well oiled machine. There are readers, violin players, cyclists, and certified-eurythmy-experts. People work hard to retain Camphill’s goodness and so it does. And its goodness retains its people.
That is much to say, the majority of Camphill’s goodness is in its people. You see, living with those who are differently abled was initially a learning curve. I am no good measure of my ignorance before I came to Camphill, and continue to be blind to what I do not know, but I will say that as I have lived here I have felt a shift, whatever that means. Looking back, it was an unrealized belief of mine that people with different abilities were apart from me in important or fundamental ways. And since my time here, I no longer recognize that belief in myself. Instead, I find the people here as different from me in fundamentally unimportant ways. Just like everyone else. I am reminded of other people I know in their quirks, I enjoy the presence of their personalities, we share and poke fun. In that way, Camphill is just a community, with people, in houses.
Camphill has led me in an experience that will stay fresh with me long after I leave. Communities share their lives together, which seems obvious, but is a less clear and more interesting fact as I’ve learned what it means to share life. In its sorrows and joys, and intimately, in a village of 200 people. All wrapped up in a valley, that, if observed from up high, resembles a bowl.
Right now, I’m in a van with seven other new employees, we’re riding around on a rainy day visiting the nine different health clinics Project Vida offers. Many are in rural areas of southeast El Paso, places like Succuro and Montana Vista seem to be comprised of big box stores, mobile home parks, little taquerias with hand painted signs, stray dogs, and stretches of the border wall.
Most of my fellow new hires and coworkers are El Paso natives, attended UTEP, speak Spanish, and are knowledgeable about the community they are serving. Most of whom I’ve spoken to have backgrounds in insurance, construction reception, or were homemakers. I really like that Project Vida strives to be comprised of people who may or may not have the typical non-profit experience, and rather seems to be looking to do what I believe every struggling community would do if it could; help itself, with its own people, in its own language. You can learn more about Project Vida on their website.
When choosing my co-op, Project Vida caught my attention because it gave me the opportunity to explore a career in healthcare, specifically through a non-profit, high-need population perspective. They started in the 90’s with community meetings in the living room of the founder, Bill Schlessinger. In recent years, Project Vida has taken off dramatically, and now provides community health centers, affordable housing, homelessness prevention, behavioral health services, childcare, economic development, and, the department I belong to, Chronic Care Coordination, Sexual Health, and Family Planning. All of these services are based on a sliding-scale billing method, if applicable, and a client is never turned down if they are unable to pay.
So far, my medical shadowing experiences have been the most engrossing and valuable part of my internship. I was able to shadow Dr. Luis Garza MD, the medical director of Project Vida. I spent a week with him learning how he balances aspects of the job like charting and patient care, he explained his use of medications, specialists, and how he troubleshoots. I really enjoyed meeting the population that Project Vida serves, my role as a shadow often was to enter behind Dr. Garza and observe the appointment through and through (always with consent), many of the older patients would ask; “¿es este tu hijo?”, if I was his son. I witnessed the diagnosis and treatment of plantar fasciitis, hypertension, diabetes, hepatitis C, arthritis, herpes, and a muscular injury. I observed minor surgery
with the removal of a birth control implant and then watched again as another one was inserted. I attended providers meeting and got a real taste of how a small community health center functions; the workflow, printing, no-shows, lab results, pots of coffee, and all. I also got to interact with and shadow other healthcare providers, including a registered nurse, a physician assistant, a nurse practitioner, and other MDs. I even spoke to medical students attending Texas Tech and heard woe of what medical school is like they were shadowing Dr.Garza, too.
My environment has varied a lot; one week I was with the Mobile clinic and outreach team in rural Succuro, another week I shadowed Dr. Meissner the Chief Psychiatrist, and recently I’ve been in schools with Project Vida’s Navigation department as part of their BeWell program which connects schoolchildren in need with mental health services by bringing therapists on campus.
Living in El Paso has been really beautiful. The sunrises are technicolor and the mountains are always on the horizon. I got really lucky and met some great people through the sublet I’m staying at. They both happen to be in the healthcare field. Nick is a pharmacist and Javier went to medical school in Mexico and is currently a professor for medical assistants. They’ve been great fun in showing me the El Paso area and bought me my first real churro. My memory of my time here will be indefinitely intertwined with them.
This coop has been both effective and affective. I’ve met so many people and heard so many horrible and harrowing stories, experienced the downtrodden, and met those who are hopeful as well having been witness to a movement that has made a dent in the suffering. I look forward to the rest I have to learn,. there is much, I know.