Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Melvin Bush: Memories of Melvin (pt. 1)

Readers may be aware that Melvin Bush, a well known personality around campus, passed away recently. Last week I sent out a message to the offices at PSU asking for people to share their memories of Melvin. The response was so enthusiastic that I've decided to break them up into two blog posts, both of which will come this week. It's a wonderful testament to the power that Melvin had to positively affect the people around him.

Today I want to share our longest response, which comes from Tasa in the education department, who was present the very first time Melvin rolled through the door. Her memories of Melvin go beyond just remembering him as a man and friend, but also touch on the strength he represented in his ever day dealings with his condition. He always approached life with dignity and acceptance, and never believed that his condition could hold him back from being who he wanted to be:

Melvin was an important part of my office life for years—whenever I’d hear the automatic door opener click into action in the morning, I’d look up expecting to see him and to hear his voice.  When we got word of his death, I downloaded his picture and posted it on the door so that I could still see his smiling face when I heard that “click."  His picture still graces our door, and having it there means a lot to me and to many of the folks here in the School of Education.
Melvin and I had a real friendship and, like any friendship, there were days when we drove each other crazy! He always knew what he wanted, but I couldn’t always understand his requests; we would go round and round as I made one wrong guess after another, until, finally, the right word would appear in my mind, and we would both be so relieved to finally move on with our conversation. I always marveled at his patience with me and the world in general. I only remember a few times that I ever saw him angry – he had his money stolen off his coffee cart a couple of times, and he was justifiably furious over that, shaking his fist and wishing he could catch the thief and teach him a lesson. Then there was the day he came into my office very upset, a little angry and a lot hurt, because some, ah … person… in the park block had followed him around taunting him for being a retard!  He needed to hear that he was anything but (which he certainly was), to hear that we all respected him (which we did), and that he was both intelligent and valuable (absolutely!) 
To me, this incident was even more of a violation than the robberies. I helped him report this to Campus Security.  How anyone could treat Melvin like that was beyond me – he was so capable and worked around his physical limitations so casually.  He was here, doing his coffee route, day-in and day-out, bare headed in the worst of weather—did I mention he was very stubborn about wearing hats? Melvin knew what he liked and didn't! Customer service was very important to him, and I’m sure he was a great asset to Seattle’s Best. I know he was always ready to do an extra run for those of us who needed a latté or any other special order.   When we didn’t see him for a day or two, one of us would call over to check—and when we first heard that he might not make it back, we shared our grief not only with his family, but with the people at the coffee shop. 
There were many aspects of Melvin to see; not the least was his fondness for the young women on campus—he always had favorites in the office and, as his elder, I was allowed to tease him about this!  But there was one of our graduate students who meant far more to him, and when she went through a devastating and extended illness, finally dying, I stayed in touch with her family for Melvin. When her family contacted us about her death, I contacted Wilma, so that Melvin could be told in a less public area. When he came in the next day, we sat in the lobby as he cried. I tried to be some comfort, and I think I was able to help because I had understood how very much he’d loved her. I was so thankful that he was able to go to her funeral and say good bye, and so appreciated Wilma’s assistance in making that possible! I mention this because he assured me that he knew she was in better place, and no longer in pain.  Remembering this made accepting his death easier.  Wherever you are, Melvin, I hope it’s a much better place with your friends who have gone before and one where you are free of pain and limitations.
I miss you, my friend!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Common Experience: things students often say when they come back from camp

Session I and Session II counselors have finished their reflection papers by now and turned them in. Session III is doing theirs this coming week and for Session IV the due date is a yet distant horizon that they are probably enjoying not thinking about.

Not all of the papers have been read yet, but there are certain things we bet we'll see in a lot of them. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be sharing some quotes from papers of years past and some examples of the most common experiences students share when they come back from camp. Did you have a similar experience?

I survived night duty

Everyone has to do it at least once at camp. Everyone takes a turn at being on night duty. For some people, the night goes smoothly and without incident. For others, it is an epic eight hour period spent putting campers back to bed, helping calm down campers who are homesick, and dealing with the occasional angry camper who doesn't like to sleep. On these nights, you catch whatever sleep you can whenever you can. I myself spent one night half-indoors and half-outdoors, literally. No, I mean half my body was inside and half was outside. The idea was that the campers who kept trying to escape into the woods for night time hijinks would step on my head and wake me up. Yeah, kids week has its ups and downs.

One of the great things about night duty though is the student response to it. We have heard great things back from students who had a harrowing night duty experience but found it to inspire them to a greater level of understanding of their camper and how difficult it can be for some people just to make through each night. Below is a story from last year that captures both the difficulty of camp and the incredible pay off.
The air was freezing on the porch at 10:34pm with a large deck light which inevitably attracted swarms of creepy crawly insects. This further aided in my fear of how the night would destroy me. "I want woodpecker! I WANT that one! JULIA WANTS WOODPECKER!" This was already my second week as a counselor at Camp Kiwanis, but all the confidence I had built up since day one was now plummeting rapidly. The behavior specialist handed me a Natural Geography coloring book, the camper's prescribed lip balm, and a black walkie-talkie. She whispered, "Ok... so as you can tell, Julia isn't adjusting well to sleeping on the porch." And then in a slightly louder voice, "we need you to go to sleep, Julia. You can have the coloring book in the morning if you are good tonight. Do you understand, Julia?" Screaming billowed from inside the yellow and green tent, which violently quivered from some rather aggressive kicks...
... I thought that Julia didn't belong at camp. I thought that her obsessions, violent tantrums, and inabilities to bond with others were too much to overcome. It was my fear that made me preemptively deem her as somehow an unfit person for camp, but I was completely missing the point. Fear holds all of us back. Fear is the only thing that causes us to avoid others, to avert eyesight when we see someone begging for change, to clutch our bags when someone of another race approaches, to turn down applicants-for-hire because they use a wheelchair to roll up to the counter...
It wasn't an easy night; it wasn't a comfortable or even a successful night for my record as a counselor. But the most important thing is that I learned all obstacles are climbable with the right amount of determination and a certain degree of faith. They didn't give up on Julia, and she went on to have the best possible experience at camp that she could have... the worst part of the night, and the thing I regret the most, is how my own fear kept me from accepting Julia's participation at camp... by the end of the week I found out how funny she could be, I saw her smile, and learned more about her as a person. My fear kept me from connecting with her, but compassion and understanding allowed me to get to know a beautiful person worth knowing.

I can't seem to tell others about it

One thing I think most people feel when they get back from camp is that they've left something behind. I felt this way and it took me a long time to put a finger on what it was. In the end, I realized that it was the camaraderie of the group. The people in my group had become like family to me. We relied on each other; we knew each other's strengths and weaknesses and didn't judge any of them. We had laughed together, a few of us had cried together, we had all been through a very difficult experience together and survived, we had all reaped the rewards of sticking out the program.

I haven't seen any of those people since, except in the briefest of passings. Camp is a special place, and special rules apply. When we got back to Portland, we went our separate ways and continued on with our lives. Some of my group members aren't even in the country any more and there's a chance we'll never see each other again. But we'll always have shared a special moment that no one else can understand in quite the same way. One counselor expresses this in the quote below.

At the beginning of our two weeks at camp we were told to look around at all the other counselors, because there were the people who would become our support, our friends, these were the only other people who would understand what would go on during our two weeks... We started out as strangers, and we left a family. I cannot imagine living out the rest of my life without those beautiful people around me. I was talking to my father about my fellow counselors in my group and he looked at me and said that I sounded as though I had been to war, that was how I explained the connection I felt to my new friends. It made me stop and think. MHKC is nothing like going to war, but we leave our worlds behind and enter into a situation so different than anything we have ever experience. We are put together with this group of people who live through it with us and we help each other. We lifted each other's spirits when we became discouraged, we laughed together, we cried together, we became protective of each other and defended each other. The love I have for my fellow counselors continues to astound me... It was true what we were told: we are the only ones who understand what happened on the mountain those two weeks. My friends at home listen and try to imagine but they have no idea what it was really like.

If you have your own story to share or want to say, "yeah, I totally understand what those counselors are saying!" then please comment here or on our facebook page. We look forward to sharing more stories with you soon.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

In Memoriam: Melvin Bush, Entrepreneur, Coffee-on-the-go

Some of you may recognize this man:

Those are the smiling features of Melvin Bush, a traveling barista who sold coffee and goodies from his wheelchair in offices around campus. Sadly, Melvin passed away this week, leaving the Kiwanis office a little dimmer around noon, each day, when he used to come through to say "hi" to us. 

t was a sad day for everyone who knew Melvin, because you could not know Melvin without loving him. Even if all you ever did was buy a cup of coffee or a lemon danish from him, Melvin was impossible to forget.

Born in 1948, Melvin spent most of the first thirty years of his life at the Fairview Training Center (which an upcoming blog post will feature) in Salem, OR. At the time, it was known as "The Center for the Feeble-Minded" and was later closed along with most facilities of that sort when the inhumane living conditions were revealed. Melvin never liked it there. After several escape attempts, he finally convinced government officials to release him and he moved into his own apartment. This was a grand success for Melvin.

But he wasn't finished yet.

Determined to show that he could do anything despite his condition of cerebral palsy, Melvin set out to find a regular job and, when he couldn't find employment opportunities, created a job for himself. With the help of David Kern, a job developer, Melvin Bush ended up as the first Seattle's Best mobile coffee barista.

Most of the time, Melvin could be found around PSU campus, traveling from building to building offering coffee and conversation. Like I said, he used to make a special stop by the Kiwanis office. We'll miss him greatly.

A great cover of Melvin's life story and rise to success can be found in a 2003 feature in The Oregonian, written shortly after he started working at Seattle's Best. There is also a photoboard dedicated to his memory up at Seattle's Best.

If you have any memories of Melvin that you'd like to share, even just a time you bought coffee from him, please feel free to include them in the comments section. We'd love to hear them.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Kiwanis feature: Sammi and Danny

Those of you in Session II may have met Sammi and Danny last week, our Kiwanis sweethearts. Sammi and Dan met at camp and fell in love, getting married a couple years later. Dan summed up the meeting at his interview:
It was love at first sight. My counselor was watching me and kept noticing I was looking at her every time we were all together to eat lunch or dinner or breakfast. Finally she said she was going to take me over and introduce me. I had butterflies in my stomache! I was scared!
Sammi was more succinct:
He was my dream guy. 

Camp used to be a real mixture of joy and sadness for Sammi and Dan. It meant they got to see each other but it also meant a hard goodbye at the end, made harder, Dan said, by the final song: "How Could Anyone Ever Tell You...?" In 2004, that changed forever, when Dan asked Sammi to marry him. The two now live together in their own place and attend camp every year for the same week in which they first met.

Camp Kiwanis: A Love Story from Jonathan Stark on Vimeo.

Last year the camp celebrated Dan and Sam's anniversary. The occasion was marked by a romantic dinner for two and a special dance that played their special song: "God Bless the Broken Road." I'm sure whoever was at camp this year got to see their continuing love for one another. This is one Camp Kiwanis story that we get to relive every year!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

KOIN News Features Kiwanis!

"It's changing lives," says KOIN Local News, introducing viewers to Mt. Hood Kiwanis camp and camper Kendal in particular. Who apparently talked about "girl stuff and kissing" with the other campers. I knew those boys got up to mischief during break time...

Session I folks may remember KOIN being up there filming! They were very impressed! Great job from Session I folks and a huge round of applause for Session II counselors finishing up their first week. Session Oners can tell you guys all about what that's like!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Get your Arts and Crafts on, yo

This was an exciting year for the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone! We collaborated with another capstone, a marketing capstone, to bring PSU's longest-running service learning program up to date with an all new look and, for the first time in its history, a presence in social media!

This blog is one of the results; later this month we'll show you guys the amazing tri-fold Kiosk that was hand built out of Douglas Fir and plywood. If you take a walk over to Neuberger's first floor, you'll be able to see our new giant poster, too!

And then there's this work of hilarity, the first ever MHKC rap!

Jesse Hansen, Nic Henderson, Brian Williams, and Sam Humphrey (that's Sam singing) were the PSU seniors who came up with the lyrics and laid down the tracks.

I wish I could say that Bieber's endorsed it himself, but we haven't been able to get a hold of him for comment. We would love to get YOUR comments, though! Let us know what you think about the video and, while you're at it, please like our facebook page! It's going to be the place where alumni can keep in touch with each other and where new counselors can go to ask questions about how scared they should be on their first day of camp. We'll also be posting photos from camp, stories from camp, and videos focusing on campers and the camp experience.

Join us and share some of your own favorite camp memories!