Saturday, June 27, 2009

When It Rains, It Pours

This account will start negatively, like a decrepit river of blood, and flow into a splashing pool of fun and joy at the end, like the Nile during the first plague.

The YouthWorks! week that I just experienced with my fellow staff members was the hardest and most frustrating one I've seen in my nine weeks of programming. I don't think I'm actually going to delve into the details, as they are too gut-wrenching and tear-jerking for the casual reader (and anyone hoping to read something beyond the casual level here should redirect themselves elsewhere) to digest. I will sum up the problematic elements of theose six days with a glorious list of vague, blanket statements. These things contributed to the frustration:

a) Some of the kids were less than compliant with many a YouthWorks! policy and, indeed, with what the week needs to look like in general (i.e. working hard, listening at any point, etc.).

b) It was super, super hot, which was not an obvious factor, but the heat definitely wore on us all.

c) Several costly errors were made by the YouthWorks! staff during the week; some were more troublesome, some didn't really matter that much, and one that I made I will talk about later, just to satisfy all of your thirsts for dirt. But we could have done better.

d) Potter's House became more proactive about how they wanted us to be in the building, so the reins needed to be tightened on cleanliness and behavior. This one stressed me out the most, by far. This is the first year that YouthWorks! is staying at the Potter's House, and each time any of the church staff called me with a problem, I felt like I was blowing our chances of both leaving a good impression and of YouthWorks! returning to stay there.

e) The negativity in the week climaxed on Saturday with the passing of my Uncle Dave; that sucked, as did knowing it was coming, not being able to do anything about it, not being able to truly connect with my family about it, and not being able to attend the funeral, which, ironically, was in the same town as our largest church group the next week. If only we could have switched places...

All that being said! There were some neat neat neat people on the trip. Early on, it was harder to identify them because the kids who were more problematic were sucking up all the focus and attention. But about mid-week all the staff realized that there were some awesome young people who were really blessing our site.

Additionally, there were some magnificent leaders. My position as site director puts me in much more contact with the leaders of each trip than with the younger crowd, so I could really see how cool these folks were. There were also only seven of them, so it was easier to take time to get to know them and focus on them.

I had been warned by the previous site director in Niagara Falls that at least two of the three leaders were incredible, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the third unmentioned one was basically superhuman as well. All three had been to Niagara Falls with YouthWorks! before, and all three knew how to play the game that we sell. One just kind of silently made me feel good about the week; he dealt with his kids well, he made the ministry sites work well, and he had a quiet sense of humor that I wish I had gotten to see more. Heck, I wish I had gotten to know him more in general. The second leader "blessed" our staff like crazy. He bought us coffee, he brought an astonishing group of youth, he tackled me once, he led a crazy cool devotional session in the sanctuary by explaining the stain-glass window setup. At the end of the week he invited us to go on the Maid of the Mist tour with his group. Stud! I put him as the person who will stick in my mind the longest on our Weekly Check In sheet because he was so kind to us, and because he happened to come during a rougher week.

The third leader was different from the former two in many ways: in age, in appropriateness of jokes, in location (he'd lived in England for half of his twenty-six years), and in how high he could kick a soccer ball. This dude, who shall from here on out be referred to as Thrift Master Flex, made the week more interesting in a unique and fun way. It may have been because he would get in wild, violent wrestling matches in the middle of the night with youth because they put fake snakes in his bag. The aforementioned leader who bought us coffee had to break that one up, I'm told. It may have been how he related to his kids: fart jokes...really explicit ones. It may have been the reasons for which he called during the day; most leaders call when there is a problem, but Thrift Master Flex called to ask me if we could incorporate a birthday party into our Thursday cookout because he'd met a family who could not afford a cake for the two young members who had birthdays that week. It may have been how extremely comfortable I immediately felt around him; for instance, he answered the phone with, "Hey, baby." You know you'd feel comfortable, too. It may have been how he described the weather and general climatic atmosphere in the church; "What did he say?" you may be asking from your well-worn but very comfortable leather computer chair. He described how it was with a PG-13 phrase that I wanted badly to use all week, so I really appreciated him muttering it to me under his breath. It may have been because he was always playing four square, and beating kids badly and relentlessly at it. It may have been because he snuck his group out to go see the falls at night. Let's get real, people: the man was just plain funny. Behold, his wisdom: quotes from Thrift Master Flex!

About a certain ministry that he worked at: "That place would have made a great parking lot."

About another ministry that he worked at: "I eat dirt. I breathe dirt. Take me to the dirt, Terry."

About the sleeping room: "It was hard to sleep because of the fifty-decibel paper crinkling." There is paper over the windows to ward off Peeping Tom's. Or Peeping Orvises.

I also feel led to relate this short anecdote. Two things to note beforehand: first, Thrift Master Flex was terrible and awful at following directions on the road. He told me so. Second, during club, where everyone is gathered in a holy and ceremonious assembly, YouthWorks! conducts this sharing session called Yea, Gods! A Yea, God! is when someone sees the good Lord at work in his or her life during the day. Example: Yea, God! that on Thursday it poured like mad from 1:30 to 4, quit for us to get the grilling done, and then rained from like 7 PM to 7:30, which was long enough for some kids to go run around in it but not long enough for us to decide to leave. Thus, the Yea, God! It is a key component of YouthWorks! programming.

Anyway, all of us went to Lockport, which is some thirty miles away from Potter's House, for the evening. Lisa and I were leading the pack in the Kia. I'm not going to say we were paying the best attention in the world, so suddenly, lo and behold, there was the turn we had to make. I slammed on the brakes and signaled, and I heard honking and saw Thrift Master Flex's fifteen-passenger van, which had been following our expert guidance, swerving away to avoid hitting us. There was no way he could make the turn; nor could the vehicle behind him. So two vans went and got quite sidetracked, and I felt awful for almost killing us/them all and for getting them off-course. As a sidenote, as I stood holding the door open for everyone to enter the church, feeling completely awful and not wanting to talk to anyone unless it was to apologize, one of the girls I wasn't as fond of asked me what we were doing next. I said, "Club is next," because it was. And she put her whiny face on and said, with no hesitation, "Club is stupid!" I should have added a third contextual element: club is my favorite part of YouthWorks! Finally, Thrift Master Flex arrived back, unfazed. The first thing he said to me was, "Reub, I tried my best to tag the back of your car, but, yeah, maybe next time." Laughed it right off! Stallion. Then we're in the middle of club, Wesley is rippin' through Yea, Gods!, and this girl raises her hand and says, "Some idiot driver in front of us slammed on the brakes and almost killed us, and Thrift Master Flex dropped the f-bomb and swerved and saved us, so Yea, God! that we didn't die." Then someone said, "That was Reuben," and the girl said, "Oh."

The last thing Thrift Master Flex said was "Ride the Reub" to this sweet kid in his group, and so for the rest of the week (or at least until the kid busted up his toe on their nocturnal journey to the falls) I would be walking around and suddenly eighth-grader-to-be would be on my back, counting out the seconds that he could stay there. It usually seemed to occur at times when I was in absolutely no mood for it, but somehow it cheered me up a bit, that the kid thought it was sweet to be able to stay on me for eight seconds. This kid would also be just walkin' around and you could hear him singing to himself, "You're so two thousand and late."

There were other funny individuals there, let me tell you. There was this tiny girl who seemed super quiet at first but then, as so often happens, got more and more pleasantly vocal. What she said is not as amusing if you have never met her, so here is a photograph of me trying to steal her ice cream from her:

Now. Picture her saying such things as:

"The rain is denting my 'fro."

"Boys ruin teenage girls' lives."

"Will Smith is mine. His wife had better back off."

Now picture Stockton running down the stairs to the first floor of the Potter's House yelling for Salena and one of several older women asking, "What?" from the room where they were having their Bible study that she'd just sprinted past. Now picture me at Office Max and handing my flashdrive to a worker there who was named Reuben so he could print something for me, and now picture him opening up the document I instructed him to open, and now picture the look on his face when the document begins:


Here are the blah blah blah..."

Yes. Now picture us having a pleasant conversation about the pros and cons of being named "Reuben."

Now picture Justin and Gretchen Juntunen driving through the wilderness of Pennsylvania and coming to Niagara Falls and hanging out all day Saturday. Picture a perfect, sunny day, a breakfast at The Why Coffee Shop, the insanity that is the Cave of the Winds tour, and the Maid of the Mist tour (yes, twice in two days...I'm not sorry), a delicious Chinese buffet, and intriguing discussions of many sorts. That is the bliss that was my Saturday. A delightful time was had by all. An even more delightful time was had when I saw Stockton walking around by the falls and she told us about how she'd been there for several hours, just wondering around, thinking, and unwinding, and how she'd gone to the ATM for some dough and discovered that her wallet was gone-zo, and how she'd retraced all those steps from all those hours, and how she had basically lost hope and kept praying and then how this old couple had suddenly come up to her and said, "Honey, are you lookin' for this wallet? We found it on a bench over there." Cool. As my parents would say, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

Thus was the week. Some real cool people came. A lot of growth happened. It was an okay week for our first time out, and I will leave it at not quite that. Here are some pictures of some of the events that occurred:

Four Square. Someone just got worked.

Sun-filled picture of me at the falls, with my leg and my closed-foot shoes.

Stockton and I at Bridal Veil.

Lisa and I driving around the metropolis.

The next slough of these are from the Thursday cookout. The kid on my back in this picture is the "Rider of the Reub." Here he is caught in his finest, along with several other hungry youth.

Quenching post-cookout thirst.

Thrift Master himself, cutting the cake for the birthday girls! Also viewable behind said birthday girls is this kid who decided to try to head-butt these terrifically high soccer ball kicks that Thrift Master Flex sent into the atmosphere. He got it on the third try and landed in a huge puddle. It was way sweet.

And, finally, some shots from my time spent with the Juntunens, God bless their hearts.

Cave of the Winds tour: Before.

Cave of the Winds tour: During.

Cave of the Winds tour: After.

Cave of the Winds tour: Love.

Here's to you, Lissner 301 and 313. And you, M.J...?

I hope, for some divinely appointed reason, the parents of this blissful hamburger muncher happen to read this blog some day and wig out when they see their boy.

Maid of the Mist tour, round two.

This bird ended up biting more than 50% of J-Money's hand off.

Just checkin' things out, the way any resident director worth his weight in Cheese Puffs should.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


"For what?" you might be asking yourself as you sit in your tastefully-decorated home. Well, I will tell you. Justification for leaving South Korea to come back and live in some church and not sleep very much and be in charge of a host of middle school kids who won't listen all summer. The past week very much made me glad that I am where I am and that I am doing what I am doing.

Last Sunday, June 14, the 165th day of the year on the Gregorian calendar, three motley* crews from different chunks of the contiguous United States pulled their vans up to the front of Potter's House. They knew not what they were in store for. Nor did we. All I knew was that the Twins have a 2-4 record against the White Sox so far this season and that one of the groups was from Illinois.

The other two were from Pennsylvania and Michigan. The vans they drove over were full of middle schools kids, some entering sixth grade and some entering ninth, and many in between. Two of the three groups had chaperons who'd been to the YouthWorks! site in Niagara Falls before; actually, the group from Michigan had sent multiple groups each summer for as many years as YouthWorks! had been in this community, if I have my facts straight. That being said, I was a little intimidated by their experience and knowledge of our organization and especially of this town, a place where I am still apt to get lost in at any point.

That notwithstanding, the week went awesome. Having forty-seven wild children and thirteen heavily-armed adult youth leaders running around the gym was a stark contrast from the many lonely hours that we'd spent in solitude and relative silence there. I was and still kind of am a bit leery of the junior high age group, but the youth from this past week were neat-o burrito. They worked hard at the ministries, took relative good care of everything we'd sought to create, and did some stuff that greatly impressed me. Another success factor was the presence of the Steubenville staff, a hard-working crowd who do not have any clue what the word "quit" means, and the presence of Ben, my direct supervisor and favorite flying mammal basher. Part of what was sweet about having them around was the fact that our staff more than doubled in size, so a lot more got done in a lot less time. But, more importantly, Kim, Eric, Mark, Kryn, and Ben were dang fun to have around. We laughed a ton. I will leave it at that.

Some highlights:

---[A] As early as the first day out at ministries around town, multiple staff members had painted their faces with mud and eaten worms at this garden place that we sent the kids to. And, to be honest, there was a middle school girl who ate a worm, too, and she did it faster than the staff members.

---[B] A group went to what can best be described as a nursing home each morning. One morning they all were drawing pictures for the elderly folk at said home. YouthWorks! staff member Wesley decided to participate, and he asked this old lady if he could draw a picture for her. She said, "No. What for?" After a few awkward moments, she explained that she used to have a sign for her phone, and so Wesley ended up drawing this sign that said, "Don't Use My Phone" for this old lady.

---[C] We did that age-old skit in which a number of items are placed on a table and covered with a bin or something, with the catch being that someone hid under the table and stuck his or her head, however possible, under one of the bins. Then somd kids have to rush through and quickly identify the object under each bin. It went over pretty well with those who did it (although not as well as when Kryn did it, screamed, and threw the bin back into my face, nearly fracturing my newly-infected sinus cavity). Someone asked one of the girls who participated in the skit later about how startled she'd been, and she responded by saying, "Well, having Reuben's head on a table isn't as bad as having his head connected to his body."

---[D] So the church from Michigan was this million-time alumni church, basically the cause of any stress or intimidation I had about the groups. I figured the adults from this group would be scrutinizing everything the staff did the entire week, and suggesting things they'd seen from before, and criticizing practices left and right. But I was pleasantly surprised. Not only were they mostly younger people (as opposed to probably the majority of the the leaders who come on trips, which is surprising), but they turned out to be very cool and very funny. In my past YouthWorks! experience, I had connected much more easily with leaders who were nearer my age, and this week was no exception. This was not to speak ill of other leaders from this week or of older leaders in general (Dad! Cheryl! Very cool people and competent youth leaders, both of you!), but the youth leaders from Michigan were straight-up exceptionally cool; they were very connected with their kids, they were funny, and they knew YouthWorks! I went down to the breezeway one night to see how much milk we had left, and they were all down there eating chips and salsa and shooting the breeze, pun intended. And they invited me to join them. The next night our whole staff decided to go in and see what was going on, and eight or nine staff people and most of the Michigan leaders and some brave adults from Pennsylvania and Illinois ended up playing extreme spoons. I have played extreme spoons a few times in my day, but few times have I feared for my physical well-being in the way that I did on this night, and more so for the physical well-being of some of the smaller-frame-havin' females present. I say this because some of the other leaders looked like they could play linebacker for the 49ers, or maybe even the Steelers. The other element that concerned me was that we played on this glossy hardwood floor that lay next to the beautiful sanctuary. I figured that between so many colliding bodies and so much old, delicate furnishing, something was bound to get broken. But, in the end, the only thing that left in worse shape than it arrived was our pride; no YouthWorks! staff could make it to the final round. And when the sun came up the next day, I noticed many, many scuffs on the floor.

---[E] Eric was drinking some water and it went down the wrong tube, so he started coughing, and so we said things like, "Are you okay?" and "Cough it up," but Wesley said, "Go for it!"

---[F] One night Ben made us all do pilates during our staff meeting, which happened to be held outside in full view of any passers-by that night.

---[G] Ben and I were sitting in the grass watching six million cubic feet of water rush over the edge of Niagara Falls each second when this kid from one of the groups came and sat between us. He talked to us for a while, and in the middle of one sentence, he cut this extremely loud fart, but no one said a word about it. After a while he left.

---[H] One night at supper, I was placidly eating some tacos when one of the leaders from Michigan called me over to where he and the boys he called his were sitting. I sat down and he asked me about whether I believed in free will or predestination, a concept I knew was way above the heads of the boys in his group, who also happened to be the youngest at the site. I gave my opinion, despite remembering that we, as staff, were discouraged from engaging in discussions of controversial nature. I noticed that every single one of the boys was intently watching my hands and only the leader was listening. I inquired but was told that they had just wondered what I thought. Later, in club that evening, we did this activity in which groups of kids were supposed to come up with skits about someone in power (Hitler, Mao, Rush Limbaugh, you get the idea) and while there were several other entertaining performances, the young group that had watched my hands so closely earlier got up on stage and all pretended to give announcements while vividly using their hands to complement whatever they were mouthing, just like I apparently every morning and evening in front of everyone without even thinking about it. I gave them a standing ovation. Later, Stockton asked everyone what words came to mind when they were thinking about power and about their skit, and one of those kids said, "Site director." Ha. Later still, before bed, I cornered one of those little guys alone and asked him what was going on, and he laughed and said that his leader had pointed out how much I talk with my hands and how often I do this with my pinky and ring finger:

Sidenote: this kid and several other people here and there throughout my life have asked my why I subject my fingers to such torture, and I honestly don't have a good or interesting answer and tell them so, and that I do it with my toes, too.

---[I] On Friday I took our three very full recycling bins to this recycling dump and was let in by this lonely old man. I know he was lonely because while I was cheerfully dumping all the recycling, he was kind of watching the entrance to the facility, but he kept yelling questions to me, and then when I was done we talked about everything the place used to be. And then I went all the way back to the church and dragged out the garbage bags and threw them in the bins because they were ripping and dripping, which was awful, especially because they'd been sitting out in the sun all day and I could tell that their contents had come from meals early in the week. I took all this to the dump, and was throwing it all in when another car needed to get past my vehicle. So I kicked the bins to the side of the alley and drove away. As I came back on the other side of the dumpster and threw the last two bags in, some dude who looked about my age came up and was like, "Hey, are you really from Minnesota?" because the Bronco (still without a name...the only suggestion has been "OJ," I assume in reference to O.J. Simpson) has Minnesota plates. I said I sort of was and he told me he was going to Anoka for junior hockey tryouts. I told him good luck, stay away from U of M parties on Hennepin or you'll get beat up, and I drove away. I got all the way back to the church and went to get the bins from the back of the Broncatonk before discovering that they still lay wherever I had kicked them in the alley by the dumpster, several miles and potholes away.

---[J] We had a cookout on Thursday night, and had a ton of leftover hot dogs and hamburgers. When we were putting the stuff away afterward, all the staff was asking, "Did you see the meat? I didn't." We didn't find it, so we figured some eager participants had put the food away for us. But then Friday at around 6 PM we found that it had all been left in the trunk of the car.

---[K] Ben and I walked to the Safeway store that is about a half block away from Potter's House, and as we approached we saw a bunch of cops there. Upon trying to open the door, we saw that the glass had been smashed through and was covered with newspaper and cardboard. We went inside and there were three police officers right in the main shopping area of said store watching a surveillance tape of some dude with a mask on who'd broken in and took a bunch of stuff. I watched the tape for a little while; the thief had been pretty calm. Weird stuff.

---[L] At the cookout there was this grill that had not had the charcoal removed from it, and it had been raining all day, so Wesley and I smeared soggy charcoal remains on our faces like warpaint. And I forgot to take it off until halfway through club.

---[M] On Wednesday night everyone was in the gym, hanging out before it was time for bed. The YouthWorks! staff and all the adult leaders (except the leader from Illinois, who was planning on making a quick trip into Canada, and did, and brought back ketchup-flavored chips) were engaged in an intense "leaders only" game of four square. At about ten to eleven, when lights out was going to happen, we decided the game was done, and as the crowd of spectators and players broke up, someone yelled, "There's a bat!" and, lo and behold, there indeed was a bat. Was it the same one that had violently attacked us in our quarters upstairs the week before? No one knows. All I do know is that pandemonium ensued; seasoned YouthWorks! veteran Ben said he had never seen chaos erupt so quickly on a YouthWorks! site in his life. The first thing that happened after every junior high girl in there started screaming was that someone threw the four square ball in the bat's general direction, and several leaders, assuming it was one of the younger boys, immediately condemned the action. It turns out that Mark threw the ball, though: "I thought it'd be sweet if I hit the bat with it." Which it would have been, really. The four square ball was not the only ball that got thrown at the bat; the trip leader from Michigan also resorted to throwing one of his kid's new football but got it stuck in the rafters, right after the kid had said, "Don't use my football." He'd gotten it two days before as a birthday gift from his small group leader; Wesley and I used rope to get it down the next day. Balls were not the only things that got hurled at the bat; the trip leader from Pennsylvania threw this dish rack at the thing super hard and it almost went right over the tarp that constitutes one wall of the girls sleeping room. That dish rack was not the only thing that wanted badly to go into the girls sleeping room; at one point in the confusion, the bat, which spent most of the time tediously circling the entire gym, made a nose dive out of our sight and into the aforementioned girls sleeping room. Obviously this solicited many a shriek and scream from everyone in there, which was the first funny part. Kinda. The second was how long the bat stayed down there; I sort of assumed that it had caught itself in some thirteen-year-old's hair. The third funny part of the nose dive was that there was this adult leader who was in the makeshift doorway of the sleeping room, and I watched her the entire time. She put her hand over her mouth as she watched whatever it was that was happening in that tarped-off area, laughing but gasping in disbelief several times and doing double takes all over the place, and then in the end she doubled over in laughter. Which I was soon reduced to. Before and after that, Ben and I just stood in the middle of the room, watching. I was completely at a loss as to what to do, despite being sort of in charge. One of us suggested to the other that maybe we could move everyone out into the courtyard, but then, after a pause, we shook that idea off. The other site director on site that night, Steubenville's very own Kim, didn't help at all; it turns out that she and Lisa had been in the kitchen during the entire event, calmly eating Oreos and watching all the male staff members and leaders run around and leap into the air to try to capture or maim the bat with garbage bags, dish racks, big cardboard boxes, and Iowa flags. As for the other female staff members, well, I don't really know where Kryn was, but I know Stockton was in a corner shielding herself and a couple middle school girls with some Happy Fun Bags, which are paper sacks that you'd imagine using for a inanimate, nonthreatening lunch and not in defense of a bloodthirsty flying mammalian. To each his or her own, I guess. Ultimately, Lisa left her cookie post and got a ladder and pole used to extend paint brushes, and the bat landed in high up in one corner. Ben climbed up the ladder and brought the pole back to smash the creature, but not before turning around and yelling, "Cover your eyes and ears." He then knocked the bat unconscious. Hoping to salvage a bit of glory, I swooped in and grabbed the bat with my Iowa flag. If only I had a dollar for every time I've used that thing to carry a bat outside. Ben and I marched ("Walk slow and somber, and put your head down") past the sobbing mourners (I am not making that up) in the hall and went outside; I released the bat into the night from whence it came. Will we see it again? Time will tell. When all was said and done, lights out was done only ten minutes later than scheduled, even though the bat's reign of terror had seemed to last a lifetime. What did I learn from this experience? Nothing, because I still think that there was fancy little that could be done. The only precaution we have decided to take is to do "bat drills" on Sunday night so the participants are prepared for this type of intrusion when it goes down. And, lastly, Ben said he was going to text our supervisor Heather the following: "I just slaughtered a bat in front of seventy I need to fill out an incident report?"

---[N] We sang "The Moose Song" two times this week. I love it.

---[O] Ben, Kim, and I went to this place called "Hannah House" where some of the youth were working one day. There is this six-year-old girl Hannah, after whom the house is named, and we were talking to her and the other kids. Ben said, "Hi, screaming girl," and Hannah wound up and hissed at him, really loudly.

---[P] I got two funny text messages during the week. The first one was from my dad: "Twins thump Pitsburg 8 to something" The second one was from my sister: "Dad inherited grandpas bb gun. Think about that."

---[Q] The aforementioned youngest guys on the trip knew every single lyric to the songs "Since You've Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson and "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey. They occasionally would belt either of these tunes out at the top of their lungs. When they were doing the Journey one, I called Justin and just let him listen. I hope he liked it, or that he could make out a single thing they were singing.

So when all was said and done, the week was way sweet. My stress level was very high coming into the week; I will not lie, I did not think our staff was completely ready. But everything went super smooth, and all three groups were way sweet. I am pumped for when more come tomorrow.

This is me on the first day of ministries, basking in the glory.

Community cookout. I know Mike is going to make some comment about how he wishes the lighter in my back pocket would do its job and set that flag ablaze, so I will just save you the time and energy.

We served ice cream in bowls, as routinely happens in the United States, and the kids would rinse out their bowls in this bin of warm water, and Lisa would drink it. All summer, guys, all summer.

Lisa and Wesley.

And, for the record, many of these photos are stolen from Facebook, where Ben left them up for grabs. Thanks, chieftain.

*Little known fact: the word "motley" means "exhibiting great diversity of elements; heterogeneous," which comes as a surprise to me and answers the question of "does Reuben sit around with both a dictionary and a thesaurus and write these stupid things?" but also brings up the equally-intriguing query "Should Reuben give random definitions of words from the names of famous 80's bands in each post from here on?" Call me and let's talk about it.

It's the Final Countdown

Last Thurdsay, the 11th of June, four members of the YouthWorks! staff from Steubenville, Ohio (town motto: We'll Rip Your Face Off), arrived at our quaint site in Niagara Falls. Our coach, attorney, cartographer, and Area Director, Ben, was also present. Such would be the cast for the next eight horrifying days.

Let me explain something. For those of you not inordinately familiar with the YouthWorks! setup, here it is: there is a week of training called RAMP that occurs at the end of May and the first week of June. After that, each site staff drives or parasails to their respective site on the Saturday at the end of the RAMP week and has between one and two weeks to prepare for the arrival of the first batch of youth group kids to their site and the commencement of programming for the summer. Those one or two weeks are referred to as Prep Week; hence the title of the last post on this blog.

Let me continue to explain: I absolutely and completely hate Prep Week. It is basically when the site is prepared. There are long lists of crap to do, which I like, but there is so. Much. To. Get. Done. All of it is necessary. But it is just a ton of items to complete, and it is difficult to wrap one's feeble mind around such a list. And, both years I have done YouthWorks!, I have been in charge of these structure-lacking weeks. Sigh.

So! Not that we were completely ready to go when Steubenville's personnel arrived, but I felt a weight lifted off me to some degree when Kim, Kryn, Mark, and Eric showed up, mostly because Ben assumed command.

Friday we shopped. We spent over $2,000 and then had unloaded it all in one fell swoop. It was a lot. Half that much was spent the next week.

Kryn, with food that wasn't for her site. Thanks, son.

Mark, with meat that wasn't for his site. Thanks, dude.

That evening we attended YouthWorks! Theater, which was composed of many of the upfront presentations that various members of the staffs would be doing in the next two weeks. Skits, orientations, dances, announcements, executions...this night had something for everyone.

We may have consumed this on Thursday or Friday; as you can imagine happens when one eats recently-warmed cookie dough topped with ice cream in mass amounts, my memory of exactly when we threw this down is a little fuzzy. It was too much to eat and too soon after dinner, but I'd do it again.

Saturday was even more enjoyable. After Wesley and I attended the weekly Men of Praise meeting that occurs each Saturday morn at Potter's House, the entire gaggle of us set out to see the Falls. 'Twas a good time. After spending most of the afternoon there, we all went to Hyde Park and played four square in a parking lot for some fourteen delicious hours. When all was said and done, Mark won the tournament by one point. Then, obviously, we went to this Como Restaurant, where only two of us actually finished our meal (holla) and then, as if enough gluttonous consumption hadn't occurred already that day, we headed to Twist of the Mist, a local ice cream spot. What I remember most about the Como Restaurant was that we had a exorbitantly long discussion about whether it would be better (or worse?) to drown in Coke or be boiled in 7-Up, and that the waitress was involved, and that some ludicrous discussers thought that drowning was one of the most peaceful ways to go. What I remember most about Twist of the Mist was that I chose to drag this blow-up doll around the whole place with me, which makes for a delightful transition into the next paragraph and the accompanying photographs.

When the Niagara staff was moving the YouthWorks! materials from last year's housing site to our current one at Potter's House, Stockton discovered a deflated blow-up doll; she asked if it was ours and I decided that it was. The thing got blown up and it was just this masculine figure with a super hairy chest and a weird, creepy head. After a while we put some clothes on him so he could be around when other people came by. In the same way that I totally and exhaustively detest Prep Week, Stockton doesn't really like this blow-up doll, which shall from here on out be referred to as He Who Shall Remain Nameless.

So, Stockton hates it, and obviously this fueled the other three of us and, ultimately, the Steubenville staff to incorporate He Who Shall Remain Nameless into some of the orientations and, indeed, into some of our group activities throughout the weekend, including Twist of the Mist. Here he is... the Kia, coming back from Twist of the Mist. Notice how full our bellies are. From left: Reuben, He Who Shall Remain Nameless, Mark. the parking lot at Twist of the Mist. From left: Reuben, He Who Shall Remain Nameless. the parking lot at Niagara Falls. From left: Eric, Eric's phone, He Who Shall Remain Nameless, Mark, Kim's arm. anguish. Surprisingly, Stockton did not do this to He Who Shall Remain Nameless; someone placed the doll right outside the door to the room in which Kryn and Kim slept, and it scared the crap out of Kryn, so she set He Who Shall Remain Nameless up here. the staff living room. the Kia. Again. From left: Kryn, He Who Shall Remain Nameless, Mark. the dining room. the club room. Also note the stage decor, the product of the creative fountainhead that is Stockton's mind. From left: He Who Shall Remain Nameless, a reluctant Stockton. the house. Of pain. Just enjoying Niagara's youth orientation. From left: Ben, Mark, He Who Shall Remain Nameless, Eric, Kryn, Kim.

...with the entire crew for our Early Bird week, in the parking lot at Niagara Falls.

Let the record show that I stole several of these photos from Facebook, where Ben left them out to dry. Thanks, F├╝ offense.

Thus were the few days prior to the arrival of the youth groups who attended Early Bird in Niagara Falls in 2009. We laughed, we cried. It was a nice break from the drudgery that is Prep Week, but, at the same time, it was still nothing compared to what ensued the following six days.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Prep Week

At 5:30 AM on Monday, May 25, 2009, a morning on which I forgot to apply deodorant, my father and mother drove me to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, from which I flew to Philadelphia. From then until Saturday, May 30, myself and eighty-some young people had our brains trained and instructed out on the ways of YouthWorks!, Inc. To even hint at the quantity of information we ingested would make you, the lay reader, shudder; thus, I will not elaborate too much. It was just...a lot. There were many people to meet, most notably the other three staff members with whom I would and will be working this fine summer and a handful of people who were pretty solid, and less notably a host (no offense) of folks I won't see or care about again. And, of course, there were some familiar faces who it was just nice to hang out with again. You know who you are. On a less humane note, the highlight of the week: we all went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and took a bunch of pictures and ran up the stairs that Rocky ran up in his self-titled film ('Rocky'). Behold:

Niagara Falls YouthWorks! Summer Staff '09:

Same staff with Rocky Balboa:

Bethel alum unite. We are making a "b" and a "u."

Fairly cool Philadelphia skyline.

Saturday rolled around and the staff who has been cursed with my leadership and I sped away in our Kia 'n' Bronco vehicular combo. I killed the battery in the latter within three hours of our departure.

Our fearsome steed. Send me suggestions for names for it; no one has really even tried to come up with anything yet.

Said staff is composed of Lisa from Wisconsin, Stockton from North Carolina, and Wesley from North Dakota.

Quick quiz:

1) Which one of the three raps unprompted? Circle one: a) Lisa b) Stockton c) Wesley

2) Which one of the three watches an weekly online show centered around a ninja school? a) Lisa b) Stockton c) Wesley

3) Which one of the three goes on nineteen-mile hikes up and down seven peaks in twenty-four hours and lives to tell about it? a) Lisa b) Stockton c) Wesley

This unruly mob and I arrived at our housing site where we were met by Deacon Ron. I was, of course, immediately horrified to see that he had on none other than a New York Yankees baseball cap, but my displeasure evaporated when he told us that he sometimes roamed the church with his pistol in the night. We settled in and got half-pound burgers for three bucks each. That's right, people, I said it. Three U.S. dollars.

The next day we should have gotten to immediate work, but, since YouthWorks has never stayed at Potter's House before, the equipment that we could claim as ours in Niagara Falls was locked away in a previous housing site, so we decided to go to Canada and verify all the claims that "the view from the Canadian side is better." It is.

Another golden staff picture, this one near Horseshoe Falls of the Niagara Falls set. I guess get used to pictures of this staff.

Instead of posting the multitude of "neat" photographs of the falls that I may think I have, I think I will save them for some conglomerate showing later. Until then, I will try to keep things on the lighter side, as opposed to tackling the serious subject of Niagara Falls, which has "enough power to pulverize a city in one second."

This is the barrel that Annie Taylor rode over the falls in. Annie Taylor was a teacher from Michigan. She was the first person ever to go over Niagara Falls in any such manner. She took a heart-shaped pillow with her.

The barrel was in a museum of items taken over the falls by people. Some survived, some didn't. It was super dang interesting, and perhaps more will be written about it later. This picture was taken with Rollie and John Hulshof in mind, as we had a lengthy conversation about this type of thing before I left.

The waterfalls formed a rainbow. Hedge your bets.

So after that we hit it hard. Last summer at YouthWorks! I kept an insanely-detailed journal that only four people ever really got to read, and I remember documenting activities that were conducted by the staff in Sault Ste. Marie during the preparation weeks before any youth groups arrived and that that documentation was more boring than playing Orvis in Mario Kart. So here is the abbreviated list of what the four of us have spend our time doing in Niagara Falls the past week and a half:

*calling churches who are coming to our site
*spending thousands of dollars on everything from sink stoppers to pink toppers (Google "topper" and try to draw some conclusions on what the word actually means...)
*putting up signs that reference both 'The Office' and our menial lives ("I went from 160 to 175 pounds in just two weeks!")
*wearing whack costumes
*attending church barbecues/rummage sales/car washes
*listening, from where we lay in our beds, to some dude cuss out his pre-school daughter very loudly
*stealing wireless internet
*getting lost trying to find Wal-Mart
*hanging a giant Iowa flag over the male staff bathroom because the door is glass and, thus, transparent
*blowing up a blow-up doll
*dancing to Scatman
*making late-night McFlurry and Taco Bell runs
*sitting in the sunny park for so long that I forgot my bag there
*moving tables (this one was great because I had recently trained for it at home with my family)
*taking Underground Railroad tours
*painting a giant sun
*startling each other by leaving He Who Shall Remain Nameless all about the place
*experiencing church services at which the pastor refers to booty calls and then translates them into the King James version ("I want to know thee")

It is Wednesday right now. Tomorrow another YouthWorks! staff from Steubenville, Ohio, (I know, I's only a couple letters away from "Reubenville") will arrive in Niagara Falls to help us conduct our first week of programming next week. Our commanding officer Ben is also here calling shots. The participants are nearly upon us; they hit us on Sunday.

I will leave you this grim, final story:

When we arrived at Potter's House and Deacon Ron was giving us a tour and again when Ben and I were inspecting the building for prior damages with Deacon Joe, we were informed of the bat that haunts the ol' place. Noted. Last night the five of us were sitting around the staff room, very near to calling it a night, when the bat flew into the room. It made a few circles and left us cringing in fear. It returned a few minutes later; Ben instructed us not to move and then explained how sonar worked. He is applying for a science teacher position at the local high school, too. Then the bat retreated into the kitchen. After much hullabaloo, Wesley, Ben, and I mustered up our courage, entered said kitchen, and spent probably ten minutes trying to figure out how to get this five-inch creature out of our residence. Ben and I ended up chasing the thing wildly around the room; the bat ran into Ben's chest and head several times, which explained the truly unearthly sounds he was making, and I finally trapped the beast with the big Iowa flag I wisely purchased before leaving for the summer and threw it all out the window. The next ten minutes were spent changing out of the completely soiled pairs of pants that we all ended up with afterward.

Summer preview: