Monday, April 30, 2012

STLF Tour - Belleville, IL

Date: April 1st
Stop: Belleville, IL

STLF (Student Today Leader Forever) is a non-profit organization on campus. I've heard about them by seeing their posters about this spring break community service tour. "One student can make a difference!" they advertised. Why not? I was just worried that I didn't find travel partners and had no where to go during spring break. I signed up for the trip 4 days before the set-off.

The 8-day-long trip seems like a perfect deal, costing only $450, including about 2 meals a day and a 2-night stay at a decent hotel. However, we'd be sleeping on the floor in churches, schools, and YMCA, so I ran to buy a sleeping bag. I remember that Friday was completely hectic. I skipped 3 classes, packed up, and tried to finish my lab report due on the same day right before the trip. Ready! Final destination: Dallas, TX. It's like an adventure! 40 other young and daring college students like me made this decision of jumping onto a bus full of strangers down to the deep South.

I didn't sleep well on the first night, nor did I throughout the trip. The floor was hard and the sleeping bad was too warm at first and too cold in the morning. But new friends' companion and all the fun and magical things happened on the trip proved to be more than worthy.

Our first stop was Belleville, a rather small town in Illinois. The very first mission was to accompany the old people in Sycamore Village, a senior center. Didn't sound hard at all. I looked at this finely decorated place curiously. They seemed to have everything - from pretty bathrooms, barber shop, restaurants, to ice cream shop. It was really like a village on its own, but all the residents are old people, many are physically or mentally disabled. I suddenly understood the significance of our first mission - those elders must be very lonely and bored to be confined in this village, with no one but a few caregivers and each other.

We went around and tried our best to interact with the elders around tables. Some of them talked to us happily but many of them seemed to be too old or too ill to talk or even move properly. We were encouraged to play music and dance with them. The music machine had some Western oldies that the elders liked to sing along. I danced to the beats and amused not only some elders but also my trip-mates. Some girls and I danced with them and apparently one of the old men liked me a lot. He kissed the back of my hands many times and said I had a beautiful ponytail. (LOL I'm the old man killer; for some reasons some old men like me very much, including a little girl's grandpa I met around the old campus of HAS and a janitor of the UW chemistry building and who is a retired navy.)

Everything was fine except an obviously psychotic old woman going around and nagging "they are going to kill my children!" and another old man was annoyed. Most people seemed to get used to her. We were provided with children's toy and puzzles to play with the old people, but most of us found them too childish. Before I left, I asked for paper and pencils and drew a portrait of an old man named Phillip, using two colors of his choice. His caregiver was joyed and showed it off to other people in the center. Before I left, they all wished that I could stay longer and do more portraits of the elders. Well, I'd love to, if that made them happy, but would I ever have the chance to visit the same place again?

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