Here is what Cathy wrote after our trip to the Ozarks.
The second weekend in June I stood in the Central Illinois Regional Airport parking lot, with the rain pouring down, stuffing duffel bags, backpacks, pillows, and fishing poles into the back of a van.
When I climbed into the van to start our journey, I had four Scholars, a college sophomore, and myself - and I wondered what I had gotten myself into.
Earlier that spring, one of my fellow teachers called me up and asked if I’d be interested in helping chaperone the McLean County Diversity Project’s annual trip, which was headed to southern Missouri and camping.
I’d never been involved with the Project before. I really didn’t know what it was about, and when I got the 30-second explanation I still wasn’t sure I knew what it was about. I knew two Scholars with the Project though and they are great kids. So, I thought it sounded pretty neat, and I said yes - never expecting or imagining what I was going to find on this trip.
What found me was a group of 25 kids, ranging from seventh graders to seniors ready to graduate, from various walks of life, backgrounds, schools, communities and who blended together as though they didn’t see any differences.
They helped each other. They worked together.
They looked out for one another.
Two things really stood out.
First, was a pair of lost glasses that disappeared somewhere in a swimming hole. After a minute or two of looking, it would have been easy to say "well, those are gone" and go back to playing in the river. Instead for a solid 15-20 minutes all 25 the Scholars stared down into waist-high (or deeper) water, and hunted until they found those glasses. No adult prompting, no pleading - they just automatically hunted for the glasses because one of their number needed those glasses found.
The second was our final debate of the week.
Jeff had asked if I would be interested in moderating a series of three debates, run by six of the Scholars. For three nights, we listened as all 25 Scholars weighed in on topics chosen by the Scholars who led each debate.
They didn’t shy away from heavy topics.
We began with the question: "Where do our values and morals come from?" and moved to: "Is the US heading in a positive or negative direction concerning our values and morals?" before ending with: "Is organized religion good for society?"
While the discussions sometimes got heated and intense, the Scholars listened to one another. They shared their views, but were willing to explore other ideas. They brought up things they’d learned throughout this past year in the Project.
Each night, no matter how heated things got or how strongly they disagreed, once the debate ended the entire group came back together to happily play games and hang out together.
On that last debate, both Scholar debate leaders summed up their different positions by recognizing the special and unique nature of their involvement with the Project. They both saw hope for humanity because groups like theirs exist.
They spoke eloquently about how they might all have different beliefs, different backgrounds, and different values, but they were all here, all believing in the importance of the Project, and all making a difference by opening themselves to new ideas, experiences, and ways of thinking.
They saw themselves as a source of hope for the future - and I agree.
When I pulled my rental van back into the airport parking lot after a week spent with the Project, I brought back a deeper understanding of what it means to be involved with this amazing group.
I brought back an increased respect for the Scholars who choose to become involved, and the adults who guide them.
I experienced that this is an amazing thing taking place in McLean County, and I’m honored to have been asked to be a part of this incredible group.
I can’t wait till next year.
- Cathy Unsbee
former Rookie and now Veteran Team Captain