Friday, April 3, 2015


It's been an honor and a privilege to travel with the Dream Team to San Francisco for their Catalyst Alternative Spring Break. Before leaving, most people I spoke with were ready to offer touristy suggestions about what to see and do. When I explained the nature of the trip, their reactions ranged from impressed to humbled and everything in between.


Prior to the trip we had pre-service and meetings to prepare for the adventure. I've been fortunate to work closely with the student leaders, Ayja and Miiko. They are exceptional and bring a wealth of passion, resourcefulness and energy to the experience. All students have been fabulous and we've all enjoyed getting to know one another throughout the week.

This week has been eventful and has stretched everyone (myself included) physically and emotionally to move beyond our comfort zone. You will see from the student posts that we volunteered at a variety of organizations to explore topics regarding poverty, homelessness, LGBTQ issues, and gentrification. Additionally, we had opportunities to visit some of the city's beautiful landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge, fisherman's wharf and various neighborhoods.

It's been incredible to witness 12 students come together to explore an iconic city, ponder serious concerns, develop new friendships, discover new realities, and evolve at a personal level in an intensive week of high-impact learning. I really enjoyed our reflection time together as well as the opportunity to be a companion on the journey.

Gliding to the LGBT Museum and the Golden Gate Bridge

Hey friends! 

Alyssa here. Today is Thursday, April 2nd, 2015... and tomorrow will be our last day in the beautiful city of San Francisco. Anyways, I just wanted to give a little summary of my day today (because it was awesome). 

We left for Glide at 9:10am to work the lunch prep shift. Last time we went to Glide, I was out on the floor bussing tables and directly interacting with clients. This time was a lot different because we were behind the scenes working more with Glide staff than clients. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to work this shift because I'm actually comfortable in the kitchen setting. My mom is an awesome cook and worked in restaurants when I was growing up, so I used to spend a lot of time watching my mom do prep work when she took me to work with her, and I also enjoyed watching her cook at home when I had the chance. I also work at a Drive-In Ice Cream/Burger place at home in the summer so I would say I know my stuff, resulting in me feeling pretty at home in that environment. 

Today I was assigned the job of slicing tomatoes (which was cool) and onions (which made my eyes feel the opposite of cool) and then I found myself elbow deep in pasta salad in order to mix up all the ingredients to make enough to serve several hundred people. It messy, mayonnaise-y, but fun nonetheless. While I was drowning in mayo, pasta, sugar, onions, seasonings and whatever else was in the 20 gallon container, I started talking to Bobby, the Glide employee giving me the orders. He told me that he had been working in the industry for 15 years, and 10 of those years were at Glide. Throughout my shift, I watched him and the other Glide staff members interact, and it was like they were a big family. There was an equal amount of love and sass that showed how much each worker values each other (no matter how much they criticize one another's music choice). 

I loved working at Glide today because I felt so much love and passion. I truly appreciate the organization and how multifaceted it is. If you want to know more about Glide, check out their website here

When we finished up volunteering at Glide, we went back to hostel and my team made lunch. I ended up kind of taking charge in the kitchen, and I guess I can thank my mom for setting a shining example in leading kitchen crews and cooking skills. So thanks mama! 

After lunch, we headed out to the Castro to go to the GLBT museum. I'm gonna call it the LGBT museum though because I'm sick of the G of LGBT being put first, sorry guys. Anyways, the museum was super well put together, however, it was only one room. It made me very sad because I thought of all the stories that don't get to be told in our community. I want to figure out how I can lift the voices and narratives up of those who are silenced not only in mainstream society, but even the queer community. Where was the floor full of stories of trans women of color? Sex workers? Non-binary people? As a leader in Hamline's Spectrum organization, I want to make sure I constantly trying to create a space back at home where people can tell their stories and share their experienced and feel validated, whether they're mentioned in a museum or not. 

The top photo is actually of the Harvey Milk Academy in the Castro, and the bottom photo was taken in the LGBT museum.
Following our visit to the LGBT museum, we headed out to the Castro to continue flyering for San Francisco Women Against Rape. Unlike the Mission and Tenderloin neighborhoods, as I walked through the Castro, I couldn't see the stark lines of gentrification. This left me with a lot of questions... Why was the gentrification so subtle here? How does white privilege come into play in the Castro as it is being gentrified? What will this gentrification mean for the White gay community here in San Fran? And the gay communities of color? It's heavy stuff, and I don't have answers. But it's something I will continue to think about even in our own community back at Hamline and in the Twin Cities. 

When we finished flyering, we had free time in which Hattie, Miiko, Robby and I took an uber to the Golden Gate Bridge! I'm so happy I could cross that off my bucket list because it's been a dream of mine since I grew up watching Full House religiously (hahaha but seriously). We also got to go see good 'ol Russian Hill thanks to our awesome uber driver James, who literally watched us take a disgusting amount of selfies at the bridge, and even took some pictures for us! It was pretty amazing overall. So s/o to James, (even though I doubt he'll ever read this, but either way, I'm sending him good vibes) you the real MVP! 

Golden gate bridge!

After James dropped us off at the hostel, we ate some lovely homemade pizza that TeamCrab made via stovetop and then reflected as a group on today's experiences. It's been a day... but an awesome one at that. It's left me with a lot to think about, and I appreciate y'all taking the time to check out my post. 

Good night from San Fran! 

Much love, 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Today we served at Glide for a second time.  Instead of working with actual clients we worked in the prep kitchen which was similar to the service we did at Project Open Hand.  While we were only there for two hours, the experience was vastly different.  We had no contact with people experiencing homelessness which was interesting because the majority of our group really liked that aspect the first time we served.
The thing that struck me the most about our service this morning was that an employee chastised a person for being in the male bathroom.  This person could identify as male, but the employee gave no room for flexibility.  This caused me to think a lot about the system that has been built around gender and how it is not equal for people that have a gender identity other than male or female.  This is a poignant example of why we are learning about the intersection of homelessness and the LGBT community on this trip.

Holt Hafer

       This week is the first time I have heavily relied on public transportation to get around.  I grew up in a small fringe town of 8,000 – the closest mass transit system was 12 miles away.  In the metro I’ve ridden the light-rail once.  Ridding the busses in San Francisco has truly been a unique experience.  Today we had a woman who was swearing and yelling because another older lady was standing next to the exit.  The first lady wanted to make sure she could get off the bus at her stop.  This morning there was an older sister with her two younger siblings that ended up chastising them fiercely because they were messing with each other's hair.
In contrast, yesterday Miiko made a great friend on the bus to Fisherman’s Wharf.  They had a great time talking about a myriad of topics but spending quite a bit chatting about the man’s experience going back to school to pursue photography.  This guy helped out with directions by telling us which exit was best to get off at.  Today there was a man that joined us on the bus with the woman that was yelling.  His first comment was to the effect of “You’d think after living here for 12 years I’d be used to that”.  We then spoke a little about public transportation, his background and Wisconsin/Minnesota.
These diverse experiences has created a conflict for me.  I like to categorize things as good or bad.  Black or white.  The bus system is both.  It’s great because it reduces emissions harmful to the environment and provides a way for people to get around easily and cheaply.  It’s not so great because I don’t enjoy loud environments and there is a lot of conflict between people that have a home to go to and people temporarily experiencing homelessness.  Maybe I’ll have an answer by the end of the week , or maybe not – I know that these experiences are affording me the opportunity to see what it’s like to live in the city and exposing me to the intricate lives of others.

Holt Hafer

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Labyrinth, Project Open Hand n The Castro

So today we started out by going to a beautiful church called Grace Cathedral and walked the labyrinth. It was a really nice way to start out our day and just reflect on everything we've experienced and learned so far on this trip.  Next we went to Project Open Hand and learned about their organization and were further split into groups and were put to work.  The group I was a part of was sealing and bagging cheese ravioli and ground coffee.  The group I worked with developed a sort of routine and it went fairly smoothly.  Later we went to the Castro and went to the Human Rights Campaign shop where a worker named John shared a bit of HRC's background and history.  It was interesting to learn about and we found out that Harvey Milk's ashes were in the concrete in one slab of cement outside of the HRC shop itself.  After visiting the HRC we walked around the Castro to look for souvenirs.  The Castro is such a vibrant place and I love that we were able to spend so much time exploring it.


New City - Home

It's only been a day, but I already feel welcome here.  It's been quite a trip.  Between not sleeping before the trip, sleeping on the plane for four hours, and then doing an entire evening of hanging out and walking around Little Saigon, it's been great.  The hostel we're at is located in the middle of Little Saigon.  This trip has been so odd.  Alyssa and I had a short conversation about how jarring it was to be in a place where homeless people are so visible.  That's definitely something that we don't see often in Minneapolis.  While walking around, we saw a homeless man just sleeping on his bed in the middle of the sidewalk.  But also, on the flip side, there is absolutely gorgeous art in this city.  We walked past a man that created "Smile Zones" because he believes that when people smile, everything becomes more beautiful.  Later, we learned that he is a cancer survivor and has been trying to create more "Smile Zones".  It's been so good to see art in the city and the impact it has, and seeing the line of poverty and gentrification is really eye-opening because San Francisco is such a touristy place but many people don't see it all.

This morning was pretty nice.  The entire room woke up to the sound of a drag show, music, and loud cheering as the Rock and Roll Marathon kicked off just down the street.  Even though we were a bit cranky, there's nothing quite like waking up to a rave in your backyard.  After meeting and making adorable cards for the people we'll be making meals for in the lobby, we headed out to the park for some ice breakers.

While on the way there, we walked along the marathon, and I caught the tail end of the song "Home" by American Authors.  It's funny, but that song made me feel like I was doing the right thing by going on this trip.  It's been such a culture shock.  When we made it to the park, we all went around and talked about a show-and-tell item that we brought.  I brought my journal, and talked about it.  It was really impactful and important to see what we brought and how these things grounded us all because this trip has been education.  We'll be learning and helping other people out, but we're also learning about ourselves and each other while in this city where people are unapologetic about themselves.

I'm extremely excited for this all.  I'm looking forward for what this city has to offer, and when I come back home, I'll learn how to be unapologetic about my self, my feelings, and how I can exist.  I feel at home here.  Between the hustle and bustle, the car horns, the dog parks with tiny puppies, the garden, the art-laden streets, the smells of Vietnamese food, and the sound of people just existing, I know that I'll come back.



That was written on the first day.  I was supposed to post to the blog, but it just never happened.
Today we went out in the morning to Grace Memorial Church to walk in the labyrinth.  It was relaxing and really thought-provoking because it forced us all to slow down.
After that, we went back to the hostel for lunch, and then went to volunteer with Project Open Hand.
Once there, we were all excited, but I wasn't feeling well so I opted to go back to the hostel to partake in some self-care.

During this time, I realized that it is officially National Poetry Writing Month.
Happy April.

In honor of that, have a poem.

These streets
become shelter to
hands and palms
stretching upwards towards
the unbridled sun, a question,
a bastion of hope laid beneath sunsets and
open skies, do you
ever wonder what it means to be shelter
to cling to a home
you no longer can call one
these streets are colder than
they were before,
the memory is now just fading
I used to think that it was beautiful
to be free,
but I know that home is no longer just a feeling
these streets are shelter,
but only those
who can walk it are free

Much love,

Gentrification and Political Street Art

Hey friends,
Today we worked with San Francisco Women Against Rape(SFWAR), an organization that provides resources for women who have experienced rape and sexual assault as well as promotes awareness in the greater population of San Francisco.  We were given the task of going into local businesses and asking if they would put posters up for SFWAR.  Miiko, Gunner, and I primarily were talking to Businesses on Valencia street which was mostly upscale hipster-y businesses and cafes.  The sidewalks were clean and freshly cemented, also there were these structures on the sidewalks called "parklets" (see picture below):
Initially I thought the parklets were nice and quirky cool.  They're a nice bit of natural (ish) space in the middle of the city and breaks things up a bit.  However, we had to cross a block to go to a parallel street Mission Street to get more posters.  The number of people experiencing homelessness increased and the quality of the sidewalks dramatically decreased.  The people on Mission street were less likely to speak english fluently and also less likely to want to put a poster up in their store.  They space they had for advertisement was already limited, they couldn't sacrifice any window space that wasn't already being used to promote the products they were selling.  
As we crossed back over to Valencia, Miiko, Gunner, and I noticed a very clear divide.  On the Valencia side of the line, the cement was fresh and clean, there were trees and plants every 10 feet,  and the apartment buildings looked more expensive.  But on the Mission side of the line, the cement was dirty, unkept, and barren.  There were no parklets on Mission street, there weren't even trees planted in the sidewalks.  

During our walk in the Mission, we discovered a lot of political street art.  This is a mural we saw that I felt was really telling of the experience of gentrification of The Mission District: 

We continued to put up posters in the Tenderloin (the neighborhood our Hostel is in) and downtown San Francisco. We were very successful directly in the Tenderloin, but as we got farther and farther into the Downtown area, the more corporate franchises we encountered and were unable to accept our posters.  
On the brightside however, in the middle of all the corporate downtown buildings and shopping centers, we ran into something called "Vets Alley."  It's an alleyway between Geary Street and O'Farrell Street in the Tenderloin that is covered end to end with street art made by for and about US Veterans of the San Francisco area.  
Because I come from a military family and have personal connections to the veteran community, encountering Vets Alley was especially impactful for me:

I really enjoy the street art we are seeing here in San Francisco and I wish I had the time to see all of it, I think it's an important part of the community here.  The art serves as a window into the lives of the marginalized people of the area.

That's all for now.

Wishing you the best,

Hattie Hsu

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hello again!

This will be a quick post about some very impactful moments that occurred today!

1. Our group was able to help distribute posters around various neighborhoods for the SF Women Against Rape organization for their 10th Annual Walk Against Rape.
2. Our group recognized the incredible economic divide that can literally be seen along the same block in different areas of the city. Furthermore, gentrification is very prominent here and needs to be addressed.
3. Hattie, Miiko, Robby and I happened upon 'Vets Alley', a mural project that displayed stunning art and poetry along a block near San Fran's main downtown area. This was definitely quite an experience as many of us have relatives that are veterans and have suffered through war and the repurcussions it brings.
4. I learned that today is Transgender Day of Visibility!

Thank you and make sure to look up all of the wonderful things that the Women's Building in The Mission District does for women and children throughout the area and in the world as a whole.

Have a fantastic week!

Service Learning, In-N-Out and Beyond


Monday, March 30, 2015

Alive, Awake, Alert, Enthusiastic....

Today began with all 3 of my temporary room mates alarms going off at 6:00 A.M; it was our first day of service. We went to GLIDE, a church that serves meals to those in need. We were paired with a few groups during our time there with people coming from all over the world to help. I was assigned two places to work during our long day at GLIDE. I worked the coffee house which catered to those suffering with mental and physical disabilites and families with small children. The coffee house, while very fast-paced, provided a sense of intimacy between those I was able to help. The coffee house gave me everlasting memories that I will remember during and past this trip.

                                                     Coffee House Team

My second task was given to me during the lunch hour; I was assigned to the main lunch room to hand napkins and forks to those who ate in the main room. Seeing all the people pass through that room (some even coming through multiple times) made me reflect on my own life and the privaleges I have. I saw people ranging from the elderly to those that seemed way younger than me, and it saddens me to think that people have to do this. The reality is that something like this could happen to anyone at any time and everyone is at risk.

We then went back to the hostel after volunteering in order to prepare and freshen up for our tour of The Women's Building in the Mission District. The building itself is beautiful. The women's center provides a multitude of services to those who need it in the area ranging from technology help to job searching help. It was super inspiring to see the positive things that the building is doing. I am excited to work with that building in my future in San Francisco and to further my exploration of myself and the city.

                                               Mural Outisde Womens Building

-Robby M.
Service Day 1!

We just finished a very exhausting yet very rewarding volunteer experience at Glide, a non-profit organization that helps with feeding those that are hungry, while also running case managements, a health clinic, and centers for women and men. Our group helped to prepare and serve both breakfast and lunch. It was intensive work but some students were able to interact with guests and were able to meet those to whom we were serving lunch. Personally, this experience allowed me to really get a sense for how many people just in this area of San Francisco would go hungry if not for this center. Glide serves three meals each day, seven days a week, and 364 days of the year. They have great roots in this city and even though they have greatly expanded since their original years here, they remain a huge sense of passion and care for those that walk through their doors every day. We are luckily able to return later this week to help with more meals. For now, we are off to see a woman's center!

Thanks for reading! Keep checking back for more updates and some great reflections from other Pipers!

Have a great day!
Gunner Drossel

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hey friends!
So a quick update after dinner.
1) Dinner was delicious, we had  omelettes with tomato soup and toast.  Random combination, but I enjoyed it.
2) Our reflection today was super good!  I feel really good about my group and I feel like the work we're putting in to creating a safe and supportive environment is really paying off.

Here are the pictures, as promised in the video:
San Francisco is filled to the brim with really cool street art, some more traditional than others, but all the same beautiful and filled with culture and charm. 

This is the Hostel we're staying at, in the negative space you can see a pine tree and a house, that is the logo for Hosteling International.  

Here's a picture of us doing team building exercises, you can see on the right a glimpse of the painted ladies.  It seems cool to me how beautiful the park was, we were doing these exercises in the midst of the culture and beauty of the city and the multitude of people with their cute dogs at the park.  

Adem, Ayja, Dani, and Kenny meet a new friend in the park.  (I'm so jealous)

Our intrepid leaders that have made this whole experience possible.  So grateful to them and all the work they've done.  

My small group, we prepare meals together, clean together, and in general make awesomeness together.  Super excited to work with these lovely fellas.  #teamseal 

Thanks for watching and reading, I hope your day brings you happiness and peace! 

Sincerely yours, 

Hattie Hsu 

First Day

We started our day at 3:30am to go to the airport, so along with traveling and coming to San Francisco and seeing the was a long day.  Coming off the flight, it was kind of disorienting because it was like 9:00am-ish due to time change and everything.  We traveled from the airport to our hostel and were able to get a glimpse of the city itself.  It was pretty shocking seeing all of the homeless people and how normal it seemed to be.  Prior to this trip, when I thought of San Francisco, I immediately think of Full House, the ocean, diversity, but never really how people within the city itself live.  I think it's really important that while we're here we aren't necessarily staying as a tourist, but seeing what the all parts of the city hold.  In other news, the weather is beautiful and I could feel everyone's energy and everyone's so excited for the week ahead AND I CANNOT WAIT. I couldn't be more thrilled to be in this beautiful city with such great people that I can learn from and share experiences with. :~)


We Made It!

Wow! We have had quite the experience already here in San Francisco!

Yesterday we had to leave HU by 3:30am to be to the airport by 4:00am to begin our journey. We had a safe but sleepy flight and made it into San Francisco at 9am.

Lily thinks it is too early 
Miiko needs a nap

When we got to San Fran our hostel wasn't ready until 3 which gave us a great opportunity to explore! We all had lunch together at a Vietnamese restaurant in the Tenderloin, which is the neighborhood we will call home this week, and had a lot of laughs. 
Some art work found while exploring 

We all experienced quite the culture shock due to the differences between Minnesota and San Fran. For one, people experiencing homelessness are much more apparent and visible than in Minnesota. The disparity and visibility of the class divide was also viable. Walking a block or two can change the entire population compliation. Through service and reflection we will be able to process what we have seen more deeply. 

More soon, 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Welcome to our blog!

This blog will chronicle our experience on the San Francisco Catalyst Alternative Spring Break Trip. We can't wait to share what we learn. Check back for updates! We'll be in San Fran March 28th through April 4th.