Patti Welander on Gettysburg

When I sat down to summarize my feelings about this year’s trip to Gettysburg and Washington, D.C., I came across a quote attributed to Thomas Edison:
"If we all did the things we are capable of,
we would astound ourselves."
One of our goals for the Scholars (and the adults) during our summer trips is to break out of our comfort zones. We encourage the Scholars to do things they might not realize they are capable of. What that means to the 25 youth and 7 adults on the trip is as diverse as the group itself.
Sometimes the limits of the Scholars’ comfort zones can be amusing - like last year when we learned one Scholar was uncomfortable around butterflies. Other times they are understandably familiar - like the difficulty of being away from home for the first time.
I have to admit I left my comfort zone far behind the second we left Bloomington. I’m not a huge fan of driving or of being the "leader" of the pack of drivers. And, I would prefer to simply tag along with 31 people, not plan every aspect of the entire week from meals to Metro tickets.
By Tuesday night, though, I was back in the "zone."  We had experienced a day on the battlefield, followed by a successful trip to and from and around Washington, D.C. And, best of all, no one was complaining about the food. However, it wasn’t my capabilities that astounded me, but those of our Scholars.
Without exception, they were seeing what they were truly capable of, and they seemed to be enjoying finding out what they could achieve.
Before the trip and after I had booked a day-long bike ride, I found out one of our Scholars had never ridden a bike. What would she do? Well, she borrowed a bike and practiced before the trip. On the big day, she braved a tandem with Jeff, and after getting over the initial fear, peddled like a pro around the battlefield. Later we learned that many of the Scholars had never ridden in traffic or had never ridden as far, yet there were no serious accidents and very little whining, even when we faced 90 degree hills.
Others broke out of their comfort zones and became leaders on the trip. There isn’t one teen in this group that won’t do what you ask of them, but when they take charge without being asked, they astound me.
When they realized the crowded D.C. museums made it difficult for chaperones, a few Scholars in my group took charge of keeping track of the others in the group. These weren’t kids that normally lead, but they decided it was their time to step up, and they made it much more enjoyable for all of us.
Perhaps the highlight, though, happened in Washington, D.C., when one Scholar felt another group of teens was attempting to bully another Scholar.  Instead of just walking away, he waited until he was alone with them, and then told them what they were doing was wrong. While the words he spoke were not ones that can be published in an essay, his standing up against bullies astounded me.
Over the past five years that I’ve been involved with the Project, I’ve seen our kids achieve amazing things time and time again.
It’s probably what I love most about my job.
So, as long as the Scholars are willing to do what they are capable of, I will be too.  I’m already looking forward to the challenges that we will face together at next year’s destination!
- Patti Welander, Chief of Operations
McLean County Diversity Project

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McLean County Diversity Project   c/o Jeffrey A. Schwartz   16043 Dorado Road Bloomington, IL 61705