Hey! My name is Nora, and I'm the summer Bonner intern at Bread and Roses in Olympia, WA. Bread and Roses is a temporary group home for women experiencing homelessness. I'm working in their garden and with the guests to increase their sense of self sufficiency around food security. I'm doing this internship through the Bonner Program at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, NC where I'm an undergraduate student of sociology and music.
Ask me questions! Get involved!
“I haven’t done my yard walk yet this morning.” Standing, grabbing a cup of lukewarm coffee and a cigarette, Meta and I move off the back porch of The Big House. We meander around the back yard and over the the chickens to bully them into laying eggs. We touch and poke the various plants that are just coming up, about to fruit, or already exploding with produce. We talk about probably ripping out the dying pea plants on the far side of The Guest House as we move around to the front yard. “We should probably re-mulch with straw in this bed.” “Look how huge that pumpkin is getting!!” “The asparagus is blooming!” This is generally how my mornings started this summer: four days a week I biked to Bread and Roses in Olympia, Washington. Bread and Roses is a Catholic Worker associated organization that houses three hosts and up to twelve women at a time that are in transition to more stable and safe housing options. The facility takes up two adjacent houses-one old victorian (The Big House) and a duplex (The Guest House)- and is surrounded by the ever expanding garden, fruiting trees, a colorful chicken coop, and a back shed that has tools in one half, the supplies for a homeless outreach program called EGYHOP in the other, and Phil and Meta’s room upstairs. My position as an intern there was one they haven’t filled like that in some time; right as I was transitioning into the positing there was an intern from The Evergreen State College that had been working there for the Spring quarter, but before that their past experiences with interns had been very mixed. Because of this relative lack of a structured internship program I got to shape what I wanted to do with my time there and have it be largely self-directed and flexible. We made a plan of some projects we wanted to get done and usually added to the list as we walked around the yard each morning. My being there allowed more projects to be completed, supplied an additional point of view and opinion about how to do things, and boosted the productivity and output of the garden for this summer season…The range of activities and flexibility in my work allowed me to work on my initiative and leadership skills, and though I don’t think I did exactly what we had talked about me doing before I came to work there ,I think I filled the spaces that needed to be filled and did the projects that obviously needed to be done. Bread and Roses is in a place of immense transition and I helped to build the foundation that will support their imminent rapid growth. My work felt important and constructive.
Before working at Bread and Roses I had no experience or understanding of the homelessness services available in Olympia. In my time living there for 21 years I’ve experienced the homeless population downtown and volunteered at the Thurston County Food Bank, but my knowledge of the range of agencies and shelters in town, their various reputations and services offered, and the reasons and stories behind the situations many of the people experiencing homelessness have was non-existent. I now feel equipped to direct people with questions about housing and those in need of advocacy to a reliable source and I feel informed and opinionated about this issue in my town. My work at GRuB, also in Olympia, last summer allowed me to engage in my hometown in a way I hadn’t before, and my work at Bread and Roses expanded that engagement and commitment to this community that I have felt continuous support and love from. I had so many conversations with people this summer about how they hope I come back to that community and do good work there; maybe that will feel like a burden later, but I kind of don’t think that’s going to be the case. I’ve been gifted with a place that loves me and is supportive of me leaving to learn so I can come back. That’s pretty special.
Step 1: rake away all the wood chips
Step 2: Dig a trench through clay and decomposed wood chips
Step 3: Fill the trench with smaller sticks and leaf debris.
Step 4: Add larger branches.
Step 5: Load on compost.
Step 6: Put the dirt you took out back on top.
Step 7: Add top soil to the top.
The idea is that as the sticks and debris underneath breaks down it feeds the plants planted in the top layers of soil and compost. The trench we dug will also serve to hold water at the top of the slope for the rest of the garden as well as the plants growing in the hugle kulture.
It’s insane to think that I have just under four weeks left here before I go back to school. In so many ways my life in Washington is nothing like my life in North Carolina. True the things are all connected and the experiences build on each other, but there’s something about the feeling of each place that just isn’t translatable. I love North Carolina for the opportunities and friends I’ve made there and the concentrated learning that happens there; I love Washington in the way that it is my place that I love through everything and never hesitate to give back to. This experience at Bread and Roses stems from an opportunity out of North Carolina and directly fuels my ability to give back to my place and my future here.
A couple weeks ago, on my birthday, I walked to work instead of riding my bike. As I turned down the ally that goes behind BnR, I ran into the elderly woman and her cat who live next door. Despite being a little late already, I stopped to say hello. Over the course of our 10 minute conversation we spoke deeply about role models, self-sufficiency, land preservation, and loving this place. I didn’t hesitate to tell her about my frequent qualms about leaving here to be there and about how when I come home for the summer I dive right back into this place so that when I leave I’m sad again. She said, “That’s a kind of sadness you can live with though, because you know you’ll come back.” Role models indeed. I’m grateful for that conversation.
In my work with non-profits I’ve found that there’s sometimes a strong sense of over organization, perfection, and designation to make up for the loose ends and unknowns that also proliferate. Bread and Roses isn’t like that. Phil and Meta who are the primary people running B&R both have outside jobs. Phil works at SideWalk, a homelessness and housing social services provider in Olympia, and Meta is the co-editor of the alternative newspaper Olympia Power & Light. Going to Bread and Roses is like being dropped into a big and chaotic family- in the best way.
No day this week was the same, but all of them were dynamic and productive. The biggest project we worked on was turning the pile of scrap plywood that appeared across the street into 10 planter boxes to go out front. Yesterday we drove the most janky truck ever to Home Depot and rented a jig saw and discovered the existence of the cull wood cart: 27 5’ treated boards for $16. Cutting the scrap wood into usable pieces involved guessing, measuring (kind of), and making 10 boxes that are not uniform in size at all. After filling the backyard with piles of wood that go together (maybe?) we came back today and painted them all with primer and then yellow paint to match the house. The process of putting them together is going to be like doing a human sized puzzle. A great highlight of today was having some of the guests visit and work with us. The ladies are always smoking on the back porches and wandering between houses, but today a couple came and painted with us for a while.
So, a week done. It’s nothing like working at GRuB last summer, but I think it’s going to be a spontaneous and exciting one filled with learning opportunities and hilarity.