[T]he way to live a full life is to think about what can I do for others, how can I be a part of this larger project of making a better world. - Barack Obama
For about the seventh (?) year in a row, a group of Central Michigan University students spent my Spring Break volunteering at Chippokes Plantation State Park in Virginia. It was by far the most fulfilling and productive Spring Break I have ever had, not just because of the work we did, but because of how historic the area is. Located right across the James River from the Jamestwon-Yorktown-Williamsburg area, Chippokes is one of the oldest still-operating farms in the entire United States.
I've been busy in the past few weeks, but luckily I am finally able to share with you some thoughts and pictures from the wonderful break that was!
We left Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, around 5AM on Saturday morning, March 7. We spent much of the next 16 hours listening to the Top 40 on satellite radio, getting to know each other, playing name games, stopping for meals... and sleeping! On Sunday we met some of the camp staff, took the ferry across the James to get some groceries, and had our first nightly reflection. I took a couple of shots of the James:
...and here is their donkey, Jack, whom we called Stephan!
Our service itself involved such tasks as fertilizing trees, raking leaves, building a fence, raking leaves, cleaning the beach, raking leaves, refurbishing antique farm equipment - and did I mention raking leaves?
Not only was Thursday the birthday of one of the other students, it was also the date of the annual lunch thrown by the park staff for CMU volunteers. The menu included mac-and-cheese, rolls, a birthday cake, and a genuine Smithfield ham, which, according to Virginia law, could only be called a Smithfield ham because it was slaughtered, processed, and cured within the City of Smithfield. After lunch we toured the plantation's mansion.
Incidentally, here's a fun fact for you: Brandy likely saved the plantation during the Civil War. Officers from both sides cherished the brandy that the plantation produced, and, let's face it, when you're engaged in armed conflict, do you really want to risk destroying your source of brancy?
We had Friday off, and Kathy, our volunteer coordinator, took us across the river to Jamestown! We toured both the Jamestown National Historic Site as well as the Jamestown Settlement museum. We also saw the glass factory. As one participant said, it was a living history lesson that cannot be taught within the confines of a school building.
As we got ready to go to bed on our first night there, a realization hit me: We were going to sleep where slaves once slept. As we learned before we left, the cabin served as a slave quarters for much of the plantation's history. I was once again reminded of slavery's presence in the area when we watched a movie about the beginnings of Jamestown - and the beginnings of slavery - at the Historic Site.
But then, as we left that theater, I saw something that reminded me of just how far we as a nation have come:
I think that seeing his portrait at the Historic Site is when it finally hit me that this young man is actually President of the United States.
Kathy offered to be in a picture with us at the museum:
I will not forget the good times we had there, nor the many great people we met, from Ray, the camp host, to RJ, the park ranger. And they were so friendly! Whomever came up with the term "Southern hospitality" must have had these wonderful people in mind!
To me, Spring Break 2009 will serve as a shining example of how, when we give of our time, talent, and treasure, we receive so much in return!