Community


I’m having a difficult time processing the fact that this is already my last week in California.  I feel like I’m leaving with so much work left to be done.  I’m heartbroken at the prospect of leaving the incredible new friends I’ve made and the amazing new students in my life.

Similar to week 3, this week has been filled with doing as many things for Puente before I go as I can.  I’ve continued work on organizing the backpack/school supplies drive, helping with PR and promotions for the 5K race, and of course working with the summer school students on their studies.

One addition to my California life this week has been the semi-communal living experience of my residence at Old Thyme Inn.  As I think back to my lodging prospects when I was planning this trip, I remember that I could’ve stayed on the beach near the Harbor in Half Moon Bay.  At the time, that seemed like a really good idea since I was making reservations during the winter months in Indiana.  However, after three nights at Old Thyme Inn, I regret nothing about this decision.  The innkeepers are a wonderful couple who know so much about the area and truly understand what it means to be in a service industry.  They operate totally in service to their guests at the inn and take great pride in ensuring that their guests have a wonderful stay not only in their inn but also in the area at large.  While I have absolutely luxuriated in having my very own claw foot bathtub in my room, my favorite part about staying at Old Thyme Inn is breakfast.  Not only is the food divine, but also breakfast at the inn is communal, so you have an opportunity to get to know other people and share experiences with strangers.  My first two mornings here were spent with a lovely couple from Cincinnati who were in California to visit their daughter who has a summer internship with a company in Silicon Valley.  They were great to chat with!  We shared a little about how we had spent our time in California, but we spent the bulk of our time talking about education (shock!), a topic about which I am very passionate (double shock!).  In addition to the couple from Cincinnati, I met a couple who resides in Sacramento, CA but who originally came from Russia.  The husband spoke almost no English, which works fine because they live in a community in Sacramento where English is rarely spoken.  I had no idea there was such a significant Russian and Ukrainian population in Sacramento.  The wife shared with us that they had moved to the United States years ago to escape religious restrictions in their hometown (and really entire country) because it was not permissible to practice Protestantism (as in any Protestant-based faith).  She and her husband found refuge here in the United States as they were permitted to worship almost any Protestant religion they wanted.  Their story was so fascinating to me, but even more fascinating was when their story overlapped with the conversation about education—in particular my Government and Economics classes.  The husband from Cincinnati asked me several questions about the content I teach in those classes.  In particular, he wanted to know if I teach my students to use multiple different sources, especially in Government class, to get the most accurate information possible.  His question prompted the wife from Sacramento to echo his concerns by sharing that in Sacramento, they are able to access Russian news and news from other countries formerly part of the Soviet Union.  She said it is so fascinating and concerning to her because the U.S. news stations often say literally the exact opposite of the Russian news stations, especially regarding international affairs and foreign policy.  She cited several examples of times when this was true (the most recent major conflict in Georgia, the Ukrainian conflict, etc.).  I loved participating in this conversation not only because it was stimulating my creativity as a teacher but also because it was reminding me of the importance of seeking alternate news sources in order to be a better citizen.  Our breakfast conversation that morning must have lasted an hour.  It was beautiful.  I am in awe of the kinds of things that can happen when you share a meal and a table with total strangers.

This morning, no one else was at the inn to eat breakfast with me.  However, Rick, one of the innkeepers, still treated me like absolute royalty anyway.  I enjoyed broiled grapefruit, pumpkin muffins, chicken apple wood smoked sausage, and blueberry buttermilk pancakes—all homemade and prepared in the inn’s kitchen moments before it was brought to the table.  I enjoyed the silence this morning while I ate and then Rick conversed with me for about thirty minutes at the end of breakfast.  We talked about the inn keeping business and the amount of time it takes to run a bed and breakfast such as this.  I had no idea how much of one’s life must be altered to do this kind of work.  It made me appreciate Rick and Kathy even more.

At Puente today, the staff gathered at noon for their weekly staff meeting.  It is so great to have everyone (or almost everyone) in the same room at one time.  It is also wonderful to hear updates from everyone on staff about the work they are doing, the initiatives they are spearheading, and the progress that has been made since the previous week.  At the meeting today, Kerry, the Executive Director of Puente, asked me if I had any final words.  Surprisingly, since I am not a crier and really hate just about everything about crying, I got very choked up.  I think I really only managed to say, “thank you…” before I was overwhelmed with emotion.  Here now, in the privacy of my room at Old Thyme Inn, I want to share some of the things I was unable to express verbally today.  Thank you is a great place to start…

While I have tried to thoroughly and accurately convey what this experience has been like for me on this blog, the reality is that words do such injustice.  This experience has changed my life and left a permanent mark on my heart.  I am so grateful to everyone at Puente for welcoming me so readily from the moment I arrived in California.  Your compassion, generosity, and love for other people and for me is profound and unforgettable.  While the physical space of Puente isn’t extravagant, the beauty of Puente that has left me speechless time and again is in the hearts, hands, and souls of the people who serve there.  And serve you do.  Without hesitation, you lay aside the power in any privilege you have been granted in this country, and you use all of your talents and gifts to be a bridge (as your namesake indicates) between those who have not been afforded the same.  You love unconditionally and give generously.  And all of these things that you do for others daily, you did for me despite the fact that I was a stranger who dropped into the middle of your world because of a brief encounter in 2012.  I am overwhelmed by the amazing work that Puente does and even more overwhelmed with gratitude that I was able to meet the people who live and breathe to make Puente function daily.  I cannot say “thank you” enough for allowing me to be a part of the Puente team for the last four weeks.  I feel so honored that you shared all of this with me and made me feel like I belong.  I hope this is not the end of my work with Puente because I believe in the work that you do.  There is a strength in true community that so many fail to harness, and you are doing it so well.  So from the bottom of my heart, thank you…

…until we meet again…