29 June 2009


Last night was International Food Night, when all of the students bring a traditional dish upon their return - Mm, mm, good!

Today was International Day, during which everyone wore a shirt representing their home or favorite country - a jersey, national colors, souvenir, etc.

All in all, it's been a fun couple of days - a grand return, and an exciting start to the second half of Bridges to a Brighter Future!

28 June 2009

Funny/not funny

To summarize the counselor's weekend off, and because I missed OMC this past week, I've put together a funny/not funny, rated PG:

Funny: having a hard time ordering food that was vegetarian
Not funny: having a hard time ordering food that wouldn't make us sick

Funny: making a question ball
Not funny: not being able to think of a favorite book

Funny: unearthing my DVD collection
Not funny: having to repack my storage boxes

Funny: watching my All-State Chorus concert on DVD
Not funny: Casey falling asleep during said watching

Funny: playing laser tag, girls vs. boys
Not funny: losing in laser tag, 40,000 to 100,000

Funny: washing and drying all of my clothes together
Not funny: staining my girls' load of whites blue
Disclaimer: we fixed it.

Funny: getting Thaicoon for dinner at 4:00 p.m.
Not funny: forgetting to eat all day until then

Funny: going to Frankie's Fun Park
Not funny: getting carded on the way into Frankie's Fun Park

Funny: going on the bumper boats
Not funny: getting soaked on the bumper boats

Funny: "Transformers 2" being sold out
Not funny: inadvertently exposing a student to hundreds of uses of curse words

Funny: sleeping until it was time to leave for the movie
Not funny: Phil sleeping during the climax of the movie

Funny: telling them it's Casey's birthday at Johnny Rocket's
Not funny: freezing in Johnny Rockets due to the combination of air conditioning and dripping wet clothes

Funny: watching Milk with a diverse group on the Ant Hall
Not funny: struggles for gay rights that have never been reported in history books

Funny: sleeping until 3:15 on the day when students return
Not funny: being called out on it at counselor meeting at 3:30

26 June 2009

A Day in the Life

A typical day in the life of a Bridges counselor (MTThF) - well, at least, for me:

7:10 Rise*
7:15 Knock on doors to wake students; take shower and get ready
7:50 Line up on hall and go down to meet other halls to go to breakfast
8:50 Morning Assembly
9:30 Return to dorm - SLEEP**
11:00 (sometimes as early as 10:00) Counselor meeting
12:30 Lunch*
1:30 Check mail and e-mail, nap, work out, see friends, clean, run errands, do counselor-ly things such as organize hall meetings or the hall kitchen or meet with other counselors or something of that nature**
5:00 Dinner
6:00 Workshop (T) OR Hall time (MTh) OR special activity (F)
7:00 Evening Activities (MWTh) - physical activities such as soccer, tennis, swimming, step, fitness center, etc.
9:30 Return to halls - laundry, hall meetings, entertain students
11:00 Students must be in rooms
11:30 Lights out
LATER - after everyone's asleep and miscellaneous tasks are completed - go to bed!

*Each counselor attends dinner plus one other dining hall meal per day; a counselor may switch meals with another counselor, usually done either on a daily or weekly basis, so that Counselor X is not stuck with the same meal duty (either breakfast or lunch) everyday.
**The free time that we do get as counselors is the time during which students are in class.

What do we do on Wednesdays and weekends? you ask. That is a great question:

Wednesdays are field trip days at Bridges. The older two classes do one or more college visits, while the youngest class participates in an educational trip around Greenville; for instance, last week, I went with the Nus on their downtown scavenger hunt, Upcountry History Museum visit, and Flour Field tour; yesterday, I visited USC and Columbia College with the Olders. Wednesday evenings consist of dinner and Evening Activities.

Weekends are special. This coming weekend is the counselors' weekend off and the weekend during which students go home. Last weekend was jam-packed with a bowling trip, a pool party, visitation hours, a kickball tournament, and a ropes course for the Nus and community service for the Olders.

Do you have questions about my schedule - or about anything else at Bridges? Feel free to leave them in a comment or to shoot me an e-mail.

Progress report

This weekend will mark the halfway point of the Bridges to a Brighter Future 2009 summer program. Oh, how time has flown!

To commemorate this bittersweet moment, I will blog about a couple of the most brilliant things that I have heard students comment about over these past couple of weeks (in my words):

1. Everything happens for a reason. Therefore, if you give up on something or duck out early, you will never know that reason. That not knowing can be the hardest part, so try your best, go hard, and finish what you started. It will all make sense and be worth something in the end.

2. We all come from different backgrounds - economically, socially, geographically, culturally, etc. Our upbringing forms the basis for our opinions. Thus, peoples' differences are not their own faults or even necessarily a bad thing - conflicting opinions are simply the result of growing up. We cannot judge people based on things that they cannot control. Rather, we need to listen and try to understand so that we can stand united; acceptance rules over dismissal or scorn.

And, on that note, sometimes, life is just hard, and we absolutely cannot change that. What we can change is our attitude and how we deal with events that are handed to us or obstacles that come our way.

"If you could take just one foot and put it in my Converse..."

Tonight's conclusion of the Nu class's NCBI workshop was one of the most moving evenings I have ever experienced. Though I tried my best to stay strong and somewhat detached emotionally so that I could be there for the students, I could not help but be affected by the genuine, painful stories shared by students and counselors alike. I am riding a thin line between being open, real, and available and being the staunch, professional counselor. I am slowly (but surely!) learning to balance this as well as the tough love approach.

I also am finally beginning to feel valid and useful and worthy of being a counselor, in particular because of two recent thank-yous from some students and also because of some affirmations and a mid-program conference. That's not to say that there is no room for improvement; rather, I am more motivated now to be the best that I can. I look so forward to the remainder of this program and will only complain about its tendency to fly by.

23 June 2009

These dreams go on when I close my eyes

I've had two memorable, awesome dreams in the last week:

1. Friday night, I dreamed that I met Ben Cohen (left) of Ben and Jerry. He was giving a talk in a theater setting similar to Burgiss but smaller and more intimate - he talked of being "granola," rugged, and living in Vermont. It was GREAT.

2. Last night, I had a dream about my co-counselors Phil, John Odell, and Desmond being in a band together. I'm not sure, but I think that Desmond was the rapper and John was the guitarist. I know that Phil was the drummer - however, rather than the traditional kit, he played on the hood of a black car. Initially, I believed that he played on the actual car, but no - he carried the hood around. He would. Anyway, these guys were legit - they were on MySpace and everything! They even played a gig for Bridges.

22 June 2009

Bridges featured on PBS

Mrs. Tobi Swartz, the director of Bridges to a Brighter Future, a.k.a. my boss, was conspicuously absent from Tuesday's activities. Why? you might ask: well, let me assure you: she had a wonderful excuse. She flew out Tuesday after morning assembly to go to Washington, D. C. to be featured on a PBS program entitled "Education News Parents Can Use." But not only was she on national TV, she was promoting Bridges!

Bridges was one of three academic enrichment programs featured on the evening's hour-long broadcast, "Summer Learning Programs: Preventing the Slide, Promoting Achievement." To see the full video, check out this link. Mrs. Swartz's interview runs from about 24:27-36:24. To see the FUnet article, click the post title.

21 June 2009

Here they come!

Check-in last Saturday morning was crazy and quick and frenzied and tiring and great. The process was actually divided: the senior Lambdas and their apprentices, the Mus, checked in first, during which time I carried bags. They had already been here once (Mus) or twice (Lambdas), so they didn’t need much help, and almost immediately after moving their things into their new homes for the next month, they left for a leadership retreat at a beautiful camp about an hour away, near the North Carolina line.

After the Lambdas and Mus left, the Nus came in one by one. We had ten new Nu girls on this hall. We combined with Alyssa and Sarafina’s six to have a brief hall meeting before going to meet Justin:

Justin Boudreau was hired by Bridges to facilitate two and one-half days of icebreakers, team-building, and leadership exercises. I was a bit skeptical before he arrived, but almost as soon as he got here, I appreciated him. Not only did we not have to plan anything for the weekend, but us counselors got to participate in almost three days of fun. I thought that Justin had a calming yet excitable personality; he did a great job of transitioning and keeping a good mix of light and heavy stuff. He switched well between active games and thought-provoking exercises and kept the students engaged by being goofy but not too out-of-touch.

I really enjoyed getting to know the Nus and learn all of the Bridges customs with other newbies. I especially liked John’s and my group of Nus, the Cuckoos! Saturday and Sunday, it was just us Nus and the counselors who had not gone on the leadership retreat; Sunday evening, the upper classes returned and had did some mentee activities including dinner and commercials. After Mrs. Swartz’s presentation of rules and expectations for Bridges students, we all retired to our first complete hall meeting and bed.

Monday was another time about which I had been skeptical: EVERYONE, and I mean everyone - all three classes, teachers, counselors, staff - would be with Justin for the day. I knew that he had done a great job with these Nus with whom he had begun to build a relationship, but I wasn’t so sure about his ability to handle all of Bridges. However, everything turned out just fine, and after dinner, parlor time to replace the rained-out scavenger hunt (during which I played Twister, passed a volleyball, chatted, and learned not one but FOUR Spanish dances: the cambia, bachata, samba, and salsa), and another big hall meeting, we were ready for classes on Tuesday.

14 June 2009

Bridges to a Brighter Summer

What a whirlwind of a week! This time seven days ago, I had just gotten home after watching the Pens in game five at a party at Billy's house. I had told everyone goodbye and was in my room focused on packing as quickly as possible so that I could get to sleep.

It's hard to believe that, now, one week later, I am sitting in a dorm room back at school, feeling completely good emotions. This week has been exhausting and overwhelming at times and has definitely moved me out of my comfort zone, but even just today has made all of the hard work and training so worth it.

When I got here on Sunday, I was unsure of myself and just tired of driving - after I moved in, I was pretty much beat. I didn't know more than a few people, and I was anxious to see how the week would play out. After a few hellos and a small gathering in my room, we realized that we needed to be ready to leave before 5 a.m. and that we should probably get some sleep, so we parted ways until the next morning (or, if you prefer, later that night.)

The kayaking trip definitely had its ups and downs - perhaps at the time, I felt that it was a lot of downs, but now, looking back, I can see that it was an overall positive experience. We were exhausted and eaten alive by bugs on the beach, but we got to know each other and built our team. We also saw some beautiful scenes and gained some wilderness experience and confidence. I had never been kayaking before.

The rest of training consisted of a variety of people hired to do workshops for us on everything from conflict resolution to coaching to CPR training. Some sessions were more helpful than others, but, for better or for worse, we were generally in training from eight or nine until five.

After our training during the day, we did lots of counselor bonding activities: everything from going out to eat to bowling [see above picture and below video] to just hanging out.
Jeff and I watched the Pens in games six and then the victorious game seven, shaking the building, I'm sure, at the final second with our jubilous (Yes, I am making it a word.) cheers. That Friday night just happened to be the day that the six senior members of the Leadership Team moved in and the final night before the rest of the students came - read: hall decorating frenzy.

We got started on our hall decorations after picking an overall theme on Thursday: TV channels. After divvying up the individual channels (200G-GSN; 200B-ESPN; 300-Discovery; 400-MTV), I was asked to switch rooms with a few other counselors before the students got here, so I was moved from the Game Show Network to MTV just before going to shop at Wilson's, a store with such a combination of useless nonsense and genious contraptions that is an overpriced, convenient time-killer. We decided to focus on making all of the big wall spaces (about ten or so since I had more than doubled the size of my hall) different MTV show themes, such as Road Rules, Spring Break, and My Super Sweet Sixteen. We spent a few hours on Thursday planning things out and cutting out giant decorations out of brightly-colored paper, but we didn't get anything finished or posted, so we had nothing to show for ourselves when we went to bed due to sleepiness Thursday night. Friday, though, we got out of training early after a final run-through at lunch at William's, and we got right on our glamming up the drab dorm space. By the time the LT arrived (early, of course), we had shown significant process but were still struggling to fill up the smaller spaces. When all was said and done, the two LT girls on our hall had helped us to create a montage of instruments, music notes, money, Road Rules, The Real World, an iPod, My Super Sweet Sixteen, a television, and the trademark MVT astronaut. We went to bed anxiously awaiting the arrival of 67 campers bright and early the next morning. See the next blog for more...

03 June 2009


I have been quietly trying to build up my credentials for a few months now, setting the stage for an alternative to mass e-mails come August as well as a solid career leap and an outlet for all of my opinions that do not fit into the school newspaper. I feel that now, for a number of reasons, it is finally time to propel my blog into the public eye.

Perhaps most importantly, I will now be a member of the Free Spirit Network. A certain series of events really propelled me to this launch:

A newspaper article that I wrote for the teen section of the Charleston Gazette one year ago recently won First Place in the Personality Profile category of the Newspaper Association of America's Youth Content awards. That is a fun fact, but even more fun is the ensuing story: the original article was (apparently) reprinted in Saturday morning's Charleston paper. Since I don't subscribe, I was doubly surprised to receive an e-mail with a subject beginning "FSN: Emily Barksdale" (very exciting, as it is the first of its kind that I have received) from a Furman alumnus - not such a common occurrence in West Virginia - who was not only congratulating me on my achievement but making further relative connections.

What a small world! And it must have all been thanks to an Internet search pulling up my bio on the Free Spirit Network. How's THAT for networking?

Well, that's really all that I had to say. Feel free to comment, peruse past entries, subscribe, comment, tell your friends, comment - you know the drill.