Archives for December 2015

The Carolina Thread Trail: A Collection of Unfinished Thoughts

On my desk, there are at least four scrapped, partially written blog posts. Sentences scratched out, pictures scribbled on, quotes highlighted, bullet points listed. None of these drafts have made it past my legal pad (sorry Jeff) because I felt that they either didn’t properly describe my experiences, focused too much on one aspect, or weren’t focused enough.

After five months at the Carolina Thread trail, I’ve realized that a blog post will never fully encapsulate my experiences, no matter how many drafts I write. Basically, I need to stop being so selective and post something already. So here you go. A blog post that’s been five months in the making but was written in a single afternoon.

First, my general spiel. I’m technically employed by the Catawba Lands Conservancy, a land trust that permanently preserves land to improve water, protect wildlife habitats and local farms, and provide connections to nature. The connections to nature part is where I come in-I primarily work with the Carolina Thread Trail, an initiative spearheaded by CLC to connect 15 counties in North and South Carolina through a network of over 1500 miles of trails, greenways, and blueways.

Things get a little more complicated when I start to explain exactly what it is that I do. Below is an excerpt from Blog Post Draft #2

‘Job Title _______________________’

I stared at this seemingly innocent question on a grant application for a few minutes before popping my head into my boss’s office.

“Hey Tom, what’s my official job title”?”

We bounce around a few ideas (Marketing Assistant, Marketing and Outreach, CTT Fellow) before deciding on Research Fellow- the broadest and yet most accurate description that we could come up with.

This post then just turned into a multi-paragraph list of things I’ve done (which is why it never made it online). I’ll subject you to a few things from that list.

  • Write grant applications
  • Research peer trail organizations
  • General trail maintenance (aka kill invasive species)
  • Create social media posts
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Blog Post Draft #4 focused on the theme “collaboration”. In my 16-person office, no one has just one responsibility.

Our work is a giant, multi-year, multi-decade group project that everyone is actually invested in… because there is a lot more than an ‘A’ riding on it.

Deep, I know. This post was scrapped for obvious reasons (I was trying too hard to be clever and match the quality of my peers’ blog posts). However, I stand by the core of that post.

One of my major goals for this year was to figure out what aspect of non-profit work I want to focus on and pursue as my career. I’ve realized that non-profit work isn’t that simple, especially in small offices. Everyone’s responsibilities are tangled together and, in order to be successful, you need to be well-versed in teamwork.

The title of Blog Post Draft #1 is “The Davidson Bubble Never Bursts” and was written two weeks into my fellowship. Because I had just started at the Thread Trail, it is about the community that exists outside the physical Davidson College campus and doesn’t really offer anything of value.

Blog Post Draft #3 is really just a jumble of thoughts written on post-it notes and in the margins or grant drafts.

First time I overheard someone talk about the Thread Trail outside of work

Day on trail vs day in office

Trails not just environmental- political. Healthy. Social. Transportation. Economic. -> look at things from diff. perspectives

Before I started to work at the Carolina Thread Trail, I saw it only as an environmental non-profit. We help build trails, plants species, and take people on hikes. What else would it be? But one day as I was talking to Tom Okel, the executive director of CLC and CTT,  he mentioned that the Thread Trail doesn’t identify as an environmental non-profit because it is so much more. Trails and preserved open spaces improve air quality and protect native species, sure, but that’s only one aspect. We’re a community development non-profit and a health organization. Trails bring jobs and tourism to the region. They act as transportation alternatives. They are gathering places and recreational facilities. They lower obesity rates and increase home values.  CTT doesn’t fit into one category. Our mission is to get people to support trails for whatever reason because in the end, we all benefit.

So there it is. My five months consolidated into one post. Hopefully I’ll get around to expanding / explaining things that I alluded to in this blog post. The important thing is that it’s out there and  I can throw away the jumble of papers littering my desk.

*I realize that I used a lot of different names and abbreviations to refer to the Thread Trail but, in the spirit of this post, I’m just going to leave them. The Thread, CTT, Carolina Thread Trail, Thread Trail… they’re all the same.

 

Ramblings on a day's work as Program Analyst for Touch Foundation in Tanzania

I show up to work at 8:45 or 9:15, never 9:00 am. This is not company policy of course but rather what seems to be my keen unpunctuality; something ingrained in my character during 4 years of Davidson where “international students arrive to class late”. In 2001, the USAID head of the time proclaimed that

[Many Africans] don’t know what Western time is. You have to take these [AIDS] drugs a certain number of hours each day, or they don’t work. Many people in Africa have never seen a clock or a watch their entire lives. And if you say, one o’clock in the afternoon, they do not know what you are talking about.

I’ve learned though, in East Africa you’re never late, just delayed. My colleagues come from just about anywhere around the world, and feel much the same way about 15 minutes. Thankfully, the above sentiment is long since gone (in Tanzania, not Davidson), USAID is Touch Foundation’s biggest funder, and the patients who we work to benefit now receive AIDS medication.

To show up to work at 8:45 or 9:15, I have a) slept through my alarm (9:15), b) fallen asleep like a baby at 7pm when there was no electricity (8:45), c) met one of Touch’s local partners on the street on my way to work (9:15), d) ran from sudden rain on my way to work (8:45), e) bought shoes from a guy on the street selling shoes at 8:45 (9:15), f) thought I had time to iron my clothes (9:15), g) given up on ironing clothes (9:15), h) walked downstairs from my room (8:45), i) walked downhill (8:45), j) walked uphill (it’s a big hill) (9:15), k) walked across town (9:15), l) ridden a motorcycle across town (even though I’m supposed to only take car taxis, I, rebel) (8:45), m) looked for a café with wireless internet around town (9:15), n) ridden for 2 hours on a dirt road full of bumps and holes (8:45), o) taken a leaking ferry across a cove in lake Victoria to ride for 2 more hours on a dirt road full of bumps and holes (9:15), p) flown to South Africa (8:45), q), r), s)

There is no typical day working for Touch in Tanzania. I can’t even finish describing arriving to work in under 500 words, to try to do so for my workday would do it a great injustice. It’s really cool though.

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