My good friend Kathy Farretta shares how she met astronauts, overcame her fears in being on stage, and met me – all through volunteering! We also share stories from hosting AmeriCorps NCCC teams and I share a funny story about the first time I met her dad and how he felt about Kathy serving in AmeriCorps. This episode is more conversational than most since Kathy and I have been friends for 12 years and share a lot of experiences to reminisce about.
This season is sponsored by the Do Good, Be Good AmeriCorps Training Series. If you work for an AmeriCorps program or State Commission, contact Sharon to find out about customized training for your AmeriCorps supervisors or members.
For the full transcript of this episode, read below:
ANNOUNCER: This is Do Good, Be Good, the show about helpful people and the challenges they face in trying to do good. You host is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, a career do-gooder who also loves craft beer and a good hard tackle in rugby. Sharon speaks to everyday people about why they do good and what it means to be good.
SHARON: Hello! I am your host, Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom. Today’s podcast is brought to you by the Do Good, Be Good AmeriCorps training series. More on that later.
My guest today is Kathy Farretta. I have known Kathy for twelve years. At different points in time our lives have intersected in different ways. I worked for her, she worked for me, she served as my landlord for six months, I saved her life… twice. We have a deep friendship. We didn’t have time to get into all of it in today’s episode, but maybe I will have Kathy back on the show another time to share more of her experience. This episode starts off with a story about Kathy’s dad. I met him once and he gave me a ride. The story picks up from there.
SHARON: I was thinking of your dad when he drove me back to your car, how he was wanting you to pursue a job that would make a lot of money basically [laughter] and that he didn’t understand how people would do something like AmeriCorps where they would chose to give up a good income to serve their community and then there came the awkward moment when he asked, “Well, what do you do?” and at the time I was the AmeriCorps program director who had hired you to do AmeriCorps and I had to turn to him and say, “Well actually, I convince other people to give up a particularly good income to serve their community” and I love that he did not miss a beat and he just looked at me and went, “But you make good money don’t you?” and I had to admit to him that yea, I was fine, at least I had good benefits.
Kathy and I first met when I was volunteering for the Museum of Northern Arizona and she worked as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Riordan Mansion State Historic Park. When I came over to drop off fliers for the Museum, Kathy tried to poach me and get me to start volunteering for Riordan. She succeeded and I have been a volunteer docent at Riordan Mansion ever since. That gave me the chance to get to know Kathy and we’ve developed a great friendship. We have volunteered together many times. We currently both volunteer at our local community theater, Theatrikos.
KATHY: That’s the best part. The people that I meet when I am volunteering are just the best people. They are working for some organization and creating something that’s beautiful for the community and I get to be a part of their lives because I met them through volunteering.
SHARON: Part of why I love being involved with these community organizations is because it’s like a funnel, a selector for the best people in the community. It’s like, “I want to just hang out with the really cool people”. If I get involved with these organizations, the people that show up to that, they are going to be the cool people.
One thing that came to mind is that last night I was at rehearsal for the latest show at Theatrikos, the local community theater, and I’m the production manager … one of my twelve commitments right now… and as production manager, part of my job is to recruit for other people to fill in for some of these roles that we need like lights and sound. And we have a few roles left to fill because we have the opening night coming, and it was amazing because I could just think in my mind to all these wonderful people who I have volunteered with at the theater and think through ten different people who I know could do it… are physically, skillfully, capable of doing it. Then I thought, but who would really round out this team, who would really enjoy it, who is this a great time in their life to be involved with this. I was able to pin it down to just a couple of people I wanted to ask. Sure enough, in five minutes I had filled the two roles that we needed filled. One of them like in an hour, and showed up at rehearsal an hour after being asked if he wanted to be part of the production. And just all of the sudden he is just part of the production. He’s there, he’s fitting in, he’s seeing what needs to be done, seeing how he can be a part of it. I just couldn’t help but look around and be filled with happiness last night like these people are all really great people and it is so fun to have a place to just come and hang out and be part of creating something.
I asked Kathy about what surprised her about volunteering at the community theater.
KATHY: It’s something that’s completely outside of my comfort zone. [laughter]
SHARON: So, what makes it outside your comfort zone?
KATHY: Oh golly, everything. Being up on stage and having people look at me. I don’t have the best memory so I am always I afraid that I will make a mistake, so that scares me. And I don’t like dressing up and all of these pieces have been period pieces so I had to wear period dress. I am not really into hair and stuff and someone else had to do my hair. I hate having to ask other people to do things, so that’s outside my comfort zone. Just really, everything.
SHARON: So since this is radio, you said that you don’t like period dress… and there’s probably lots of people who don’t want to dress up like they are a 1940’s middle aged person with the big skirt and the panty hose and all that stuff [laughter] but I feel like that’s a little of an understatement. So what would your more preferred daily dress look like.
KATHY: [laughter] I am a jeans and t-shirt kind of a girl, always have been. I would much rather wear that, or pajamas. So having to wear 1940’s middle aged lady clothes is pretty weird.
SHARON: I was in that … right? We are talking about the same show?
KATHY: The first one.
SHARON: Yea… and the other funny thing was, although I don’t exactly go around wearing 1940’s period dress very often, when I was in that outfit, a mutual friend of ours came up to me after the show and was like, “I don’t know how to say this in a way that might not offend you, but that’s a really good look for you.” [laughter]
KATHY: [laughter] Hmm, what does that mean?
SHARON: Yea, looking like a little bit older, with pearls, and a high waisted skirt…
KATHY: Of course it was right after you cut your hair too, so the hair cut might have been striking to them as well.
SHARON: That’s true. It was the whole ensemble.
KATHY: Yea. [laughter] It wasn’t that one, but it was the next one that I was in the opening scene of the play and I had to do like the very first thing as the play began. It was so much pressure. I mean all I had to do was like put something in the garbage and walk away, but still.
SHARON: I believe you had to walk from stage left to stage right.
KATHY: With people staring at me. Not really my thing.
SHARON: For many many years, Kathy has volunteered with the Flagstaff Festival of Science. This is the longest running community science festival in the United States and it takes place every September with over 75 free presentations and activities.
KATHY: I never wash my right hand because I have shaken the hands of two different astronauts. People who’ve been in space. Someone who has walked on the moon. I shook the hand of a man who walked on the moon. I never wash this hand. Actually I do, but…
I got to meet one of my all-time heroes, Stephen Squires of the rover project with Opportunity and Spirit. When those rovers had launched I was really into that whole project and watched a lot of the NASA reports. I just thought Stephen Squires walked on water and then we got him to be a speaker and I was just amazed that I was going to get to meet him. I got to meet him and shake his hand.
SHARON: I am sure he appreciated having a total fan girl there.
SHARON: Kathy served in AmeriCorps twice. Once with the Coconino Coalition for Youth and once as the VISTA Leader for a new program called the Flagstaff STEM Education Project which I had just started. She now works for Coconino County Adult Probation and supervises an AmeriCorps member.
KATHY: One of the goals of AmeriCorps service is to introduce people to volunteering. To introduce people to thinking about how they contribute to their community. So I know that there are lots of people who get attracted to National Service because of the living wage and the stipend or the educational award and the work experience it will get them. It will help them get a job and that’s one reason people volunteer, just simply to give them career options and experience, which is not a bad thing. It’s definitely a giving something with a very clear, getting something back. But the process of being part of AmeriCorps and giving national service, they try to introduce you to continuing to volunteer and volunteering in more than one place and what it means to be part of a community and I think that’s really really valuable. So I’ve got an AmeriCorps member, I am a Supervisor right now for someone who is very young, he had never heard of AmeriCorps and he is very much doing it in the hopes of getting a job, but because of the requirement to do work in other places, he had to find out what else is out there. Cause all he knew about was food kitchens, the famous thing people know about in terms of volunteering. I am hoping that this will help him understand more about the community and volunteering.
SHARON: I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
SHARON: Season Two of Do Good, Be Good is sponsored by my AmeriCorps Webinar Series. I offer live webinars for AmeriCorps supervisors and AmeriCorps members. One supervisor at my Is Member Stress Stressing You Out Webinar, said that it was the best webinar she has ever attended on any topic. Do you work with an AmeriCorps program? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. That’s email@example.com. Mention this podcast for a twenty percent discount. Now back to our show.
Kathy and I talk about NCCC in this next segment. NCCC stands for the National Civilian Community Corps.
KATHY: When I was at State Parks I had put in for getting a NCCC team and we had had a team a couple of years in a row or a couple of seasons in a row, so we didn’t get one because they were getting more and more requests. So I put in again, and I didn’t get picked again. And I got a phone call from the NCCC Coordinator, he had a team who the job had fallen through so they had been sent to do disaster work in Missouri and after that was done he wanted to send them some place and would I be able to accommodate them? From like the Denver airport I am calling my park and trying to see if it would work and talking to him and calling all these people and trying to put this in place. I was really excited because disaster work has got to be the hardest work ever; I just can’t even imagine what that’s like. And these are young people, doing that kind of work. This park that I knew that I was sending them to really loved having NCCC teams and I had talked at length with the Park Manager at that park about how much they were valued and the kinds of things that they did for their people when they had a team because they appreciated their work so much. So I knew that I was sending that team to a place that was really going to welcome them in and care for them and give them some fun work to do and some fun recreation, because it is right on the river, that I thought would be really nice and healing for them after doing that kind of work. I was able to pull it all together and send them there and then when they arrived it was one of my last days in that position. I drove over to Parker so that I could welcome the team when they got there and give them an orientation and stuff. They were just so great, they were so excited to be there and it was awesome.
SHARON: Yea, I really enjoyed when I had the chance to apply for an NCCC team to come here to Flagstaff and work with the Civic Service Institute while I was there. Likewise I sort of… I kept thinking about their experience and how can I make it a good experience for them and I wanted them to … I was kind of doing it as a sales pitch for Flagstaff almost. I wanted them to fall in love with this town while they were here. So in addition to all their work projects we had a whole host of different activities they could be part of. We found a school for them to stay in which was walking distance from our historic downtown as well as walking distance from some of the best trails. Which I gotta say was fun and ridiculous.
If our listeners aren’t familiar with NCCC .. they are traveling around as a team of 10-12 18-24 year olds and they travel around in a van and they have their meals together, they’ve got all these projects together, they’re just in this really interesting artificial experience. It’s this intense work team. Each project that they go to also has the responsibility of housing them and what that housing looks like varies dramatically depending on what kind of project they are in.
So my team was actually staying in an old middle school that had been converted into a couple of different purposes, cause they had moved the middle school students out and they now had a church on one end and they had a charter school in another part of the school, but they had this large room, basically just a classroom that wasn’t being utilized over the summer. So we had them just staying in cots in this large room and they showered in the gym locker room. It just kept reminding me of something like Breakfast Club, you know? On the one hand it was meager accommodations by a lot of standards, but on the other hand it was like they ruled the school. The school was theirs. They had this empty gym and it was over the summer, so no one was there. They hung their hammocks outside in the trees. They cooked everything in the microwave. They just had a fascinating way of turning it into a home. They took all the book shelves and turned them into their own mini cubbies and they put up art on the walls. They thought it was a treat. They ended up really loving it.
KATHY: Well, so often they are tent camping and then they don’t have access to running water or microwaves. They go to a central kitchen somewhere that’s a ways away. Yea, that sounds pretty posh for an NCCC team.
SHARON: And I remember that we found them a couch. I said, they have to have a couch. [laughter] You can sleep in anything as long as you have a couch, was my theory. And this theory came from the fact that as you know my husband Jay and I did this year long road trip where we lived out of our car and slept in a tent. So we had lived sort of a similar lifestyle to an NCCC team. We were traveling all over the country, we were volunteering every week, we were sleeping in a tent most times, no running water and no restrooms. And what we craved more than anything was a couch. We didn’t even miss a bed, we just missed a couch. So it was only maybe a year or two after that experience that we got this NCCC team and I said we have to have a couch. I went to a thrift store and they donated a couch to us and we moved the couch into this classroom and they loved the couch. The poor things, there were ten of them so they couldn’t all sit on the couch at once. So they would fight over who got to sit on the couch.
SHARON: The podcast is called Do Good, Be Good. What does it mean to you to be good?
KATHY: I feel very strongly that I have been given opportunities in my life just by virtue of where I was born that are fantastic. I’ve never gone hungry. I’ve never been homeless. I’ve never been in a war zone. These are not anything that I earned. It’s just by virtue of where I was born. So I feel very very strongly that I have an obligation to give back to my community. I have an obligation as a citizen of the United States in a democracy, that I should be aware of what’s happening around me and that I should be giving back, that I can’t just take. I can’t just earn a wage and spend all the money however I want and just ignore everything else around me. For me being good means aspiring and trying to be a meaningful participant in my community and trying to help it be a better experience for everyone, especially the people who didn’t get the experience of being born the way that they got born you know or the way I did.
I have chosen throughout most of my life to perform that role as an educator. Teach people about the breadth of history and try to give them a more critical understanding of the world around them in that way and then sneaking things to them in a fun lecture where they think they are going to learn about Mark Twain and then suddenly they find out about anti-Imperialism. I think that being good means doing something more. Not just being a law-abiding citizen and not cheating too much on your taxes. I think being good means being an active participant in your community and giving back.
In a way I feel guilty. There is this great episode of Friends where Phoebe starts thinking about doing good things and how you always get something back. You give someone a hug and you get a hug back. You give someone a gift and they thank you for it. How about just doing good for the sake of doing good where you don’t get anything for it? She ultimately ends up letting a bee sting her because she doesn’t know that bees don’t want to sting you and they die and then she was crushed. But I always think of that, I try to do good and really I benefit from it so much in all the ways we’ve discussed here today, but I do try to do good for the overall sake of doing good. There’s just so much reward in it.
SHARON: Thank you for listening to Do Good, Be Good. For show notes on all of the episodes, visit dogoodbegoodshow.com. If you want more behind the scenes stories and insights, check out the show page on Facebook at facebook.com slash do good be good show. Thank you to Kathy Farretta for coming into the studio and sharing her story.
On next week’s episode, I speak to Michael Chizhov. Here is a little preview of that episode:
It boils down to moving the pile from one spot to another or hit the thing with the other thing.
To subscribe to the podcast so that you get that episode as soon as it is released, search for Do Good Be Good in Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Music, or your podcast app of choice. This podcast was produced with help from Sun Sounds of Arizona. Music in this episode is Bathed in Fine Dust by Andy G. Cohen, Released under a Creative Commons Attribution International License and discovered in the Free Music Archive. Until next week, this is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom signing off.