We always find our way back home

This morning we woke up in Asheville for the last time. We sadly packed our things, crammed the bags into our cars, and said good bye to our wonderful hostel.

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On our way out we stopped at Homegrown, a farm-to-table restaurant that served the most delicious brunch. We ate fried chicken biscuits, quinoa bowls, local jelly, and drank sweet tea. It was a lovely way to say good bye to our home for the week.

We had the most incredible time in Asheville learning about poverty and working directly with the people who are most impacted by it. This blog just covers the surface level of our experiences, any of us would be glad to share more with you in hopes that others’ perspectives can be changed like ours have!

Risk it for the biscuit

This morning we drove downtown and took the “Poverty Walk” with the Asheville Poverty Initiative. We were led by several currently or previously homeless individuals who gave us a tour of the city from the homeless point of view. They showed us where they hang out, find clothes to wear, get food to eat, use bathrooms, sleep at night, etc. They also explained to us the difficulties presented by the current governmental systems.

The purpose of the walk was to “deconstruct the stereotypes about poverty”. Rather than volunteering in a typical “haves” helping “have-nots” situation, we interacted personally with the people in need with the intent to form relationships. We were told this is a better method of service because it encourages long term commitment and changes negative perceptions. For example, before the walk we brainstormed words that we associated with poverty–we used words like: shopping carts, baggy clothes, hunger, backpacks, “their” fault, etc. After the walk, we were asked to brainstorm words that we now associated with poverty. The new list consisted of words such as: stress, tiring, self-worth, targeted, day-to-day, etc. It was incredible to see how, in three hours, we were able to completely change our perspective on poverty. Everyone should have the opportunity to talk a life-changing walk like this one.

After the walk we went to Biscuit Head–a restaurant by our hostel that we’ve been eyeing all week. We were NOT disappointed. They had dozens of specialty biscuits and a jelly bar with 30 variety of toppings.

Following lunch we went to paint pottery! It was 75 degrees and beautiful outside but we spent ALL DAY getting into the creative Asheville spirit aka spent three hours crafting the most intricate mugs in the world.

Exhausted from our creative outpouring, we went to a coffee shop located in a double decker bus. We drank blackberry and lavender honey lattes on the top deck. Next we finally got to experience the infamous Friday drum circle in Pritchard Park. People gathered together and played drums and danced in the park. We had a great time dancing along.

At 7:30 we went to a comedy show. We’ll leave the name out for reasons that will become apparent. We were SUPER excited for a quirky Asheville comedy show. The actors gave us a shout out at the beginning because we took up such a large portion of the audience. However, the show was so awful all ten of us dipped out at intermission. We literally ran out. Whoops.

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We darted back for the hostel where we ate leftover spaghetti and did group karaoke to the Mid 2000s Throwback playlist on Spotify. We watched the UVA basketball game and had great reflections about our experience with the Asheville Poverty Initiative this morning.

We’re super sad because it’s the last day of the trip but we’re excited to be back in Charlottesville tomorrow!

I want my baby back [ribs]

We started the day at the Manna Food Bank again. For some reason got SUPER competitive with the other  volunteer group… we ended up packaging and boxing 2500 pounds of snap peas! We improved our efficiency from 20 minutes per row down to 8 minutes. It was an awesome team building exercise.

 

After our victory at the food bank we went to 12 Bones Barbecue in the River Arts District (previous customers include Mr. Barack Obama). We devoured pork and chicken barbecue plus a rack of blueberry chipotle ribs and dozens of sides. It only took 30 minutes to eat but another hour to motivate ourselves to stand up.

Next we took a self-guided tours of the murals in the River Arts District. We are so impressed by how artsy this town is. Graffiti isn’t considered vandalism, it’s just a way to express creativity.

Having digested our lunch a little bit, we made our way to Catawba Falls trail to hike. The ten of us took off our shoes for river crossings, slid down trails on our butts, and scaled rocks climbing up. We didn’t realize how advanced the hike was but we killed it! The trail lead to an incredible waterfall–and we only dropped three water bottles and one phone into it!

We also ran into a few dogs… ask us in person for the full dramatic retelling.

We were exhausted from our busy week so we came back to the hostel to watch the UVA basketball game, make home-made pizzas, and drink hot chocolate. To end the night we reflected on our service thus far and talked about the criticisms of Alternative Spring Break.

Another great day, can’t believe tomorrow is our last full day in Asheville!

Sugar we’re going down[town] swinging

This morning we woke up extra early to get coffee (& burlap sacks?) before heading to volunteer at the Manna Foodbank. Our job was to repackage industrial size shipments of breakfast biscuits to be redistributed to the food bank’s different agencies.

After we packaged several hundred bags, we spoke with an AmeriCorps volunteer who is assigned to Manna.  She gave us a lot of insight into the local and national efforts to relieve food insecurity. One out of every seven people are food insecure and one out of every four children in Asheville are food insecure. Those are incredible statistics and it was great to see an organization making strides to solve the issues.

Once we finished our talk, we ate a picnic lunch in Carrier Park on the French Broad River. Next we explored the River Arts District where we fell in love with Jonas Gerard‘s studio. Like everywhere else in Asheville, the murals on the walls were on point. The best part of the Arts District was the unbelievable number of dogs. If you haven’t noticed, we love dogs.

Once we were culturally fulfilled for the day, we made our way to a MASSIVE antique store on the river. Seriously, massive. We ended up with an assortment of jewelry and cookware to take home.

Next we drove back downtown to continue our exploring from yesterday. We parked in a new section of town and shopped along Lexington Street. All of the shops and murals were super quirky. Our shopping addictions were very satisfied. For dinner we ate at White Duck Taco Shop–think BBQ tacos, Korean Beef tacos, Jerk Chicken tacos, etc. DELICIOUS

After dinner we checked out the Asheville Pinball Museum. It was about as interesting as you would expect… so we headed back to the hostel to take a quick nap before:

A STORY SLAM at the Odditorium. A fellow hostel guest recommended it to us and we were NOT disappointed. It lives up to it’s name, it’s super odd. The topic was “jobs” so people in the crowd jumped up on stage to tell their best job story. It was SO entertaining.

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We finished the night with a game of Cards Against Humanity, cookies, and reflections about our work at the food bank.

Let it ~bee~

This morning five of us woke up early to get coffee/tea from the cafe next door and take a tour of the murals surrounding the hostel.

We got back to the hostel and made biscuits for everyone before heading out to volunteer at the POP Project. We sorted through and packaged 270 books then delivered them to two homeless shelters in Asheville. It was great how promoting literacy can be used to relieve poverty.

After volunteering, Brett and Morgan finally took everyone to the fabled Downtown Asheville. We ate a picnic lunch in Pritchard Park in the beautiful weather. We walked around the shops (including an incredible honey shop where we lost all self control) and toured St. Lawrence Basilica.

After hanging out around downtown, we spent the afternoon volunteering at the Steadfast House. The home offers classes, shelter, meals, and refuge for women and children. We did some yard work in the backyard to prepare for mulching and then played with the children for a few hours–they were SO cute! We also had a really great conversation with a female veteran who lives in the house.

After wrangling toddlers all afternoon we decided to stop at iHop for FREE pancakes. We ate way too much way too fast sooooo afterwards we…

WENT BACK TO THE CUT! I wasn’t completely honest on the Sunday post–six of us chickened out of hiking The Cut the first time… so we built our courage and returned today. We had an hour long photoshoot on top of this mountain overlooking the Asheville skyline at sunset.

Hiking was exhausting so we returned to the hostel for our pot luck dinner night. Everyone in the hostel had to cook a dish to the theme “So Wrong It’s Right”. Other guests cooked fruit sushi, “Foot Pie”, and “Experimental Spice”lasagna. We made the main course of Spaghetti Tacos. It was also another guests birthday so we had a little celebration.

We were very tired after our long day but couldn’t resist the bluegrass concert at the auditorium next door. We went and listened to some awesome banjos and fiddles and refreshed some of our dance moves from last night.

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We ended the night with some great reflections about our day–we discussed our opinions about poverty relief, the role of the government versus private sector, and our overall impressions of our service thus far.

Tomorrow we’re working at the food bank and we’re super excited!

Whistle while we work

Today we finally started volunteering! We spent five hours working with the Veterans Restoration Quarter. The VRQ is a transitional home for veterans addressing issues of poverty, hunger, homelessness and access to health care. They are located in an old hotel so we spent our morning prepping the exterior to be painted.

 

During lunch we broke off into groups of 2-3 and sat with different groups of veterans in the dining hall. It was so interesting to hear their life stories and advice. Later, we heard a testimony from one of the residents. It was incredible to see how quickly life can change and how unexpectedly a person can hit rock bottom. It really challenged our perspectives on homelessness.

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After volunteering we went to “Black Mountain” which is a super hip area east of Asheville. We went thrift shopping and ate delicious waffle cones from Kilwins Ice Cream. This town seriously gets quirkier by the day.

Next we drove to Montreat College which is BEAUTIFUL… but the best part is that we found a GOLDEN RETRIEVER. He was so smart, he knew how to shake hands and sit. We walked around the campus in awe of its beauty–it sits right in the mountains surrounding a lake. (Don’t worry Uva, you’re still the best!)

After the dog experience we went back to the hostel and cooked three courses of hot dogs: regular hotdogs, home-made beanie weenies, and pigs in a blanket. We are really quite the chefs.

Good thing we ate such a nutritious dinner because next we went CONTRA DANCING at the Grey Eagle Pub. We pulled out our best moves and danced the night away with lots of sweaty strangers. It was probably our quirkiest experience in Asheville to date.

 

[Don’t] go chasing waterfalls

This morning we woke up and, like an episode of Chopped, made breakfast for 10 people with 6 bagels, oatmeal, and a few bananas. Once everyone had eaten we hopped in our cars and drove to DuPont State Forest in search of WATERFALLS! We were not disappointed.

Our ten mile hike yielded 6+ waterfalls and too many dogs to count. We ran around barefoot in the freezing cold water and ate lunch at the foot of High Falls (where they filmed the Hunger Games!).

At sunset we drove around the city in search of The Cut, which is a super secret hike with a beautiful panoramic view of the Asheville skyline.

Suddenly we realized we were STARVING so we stopped at Juicy Lucy‘s. We balled out with cheese stuffed hamburgers, nachos, milkshakes, and gyros. It was truly an amazing experience.

Tomorrow is our first day of service and we can’t wait!