Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bursting the Bubble: Part III

We had all the pieces in place.  The Family Resource Center had staff, had a building and had some seed money for programs.  We had ideas.

The center didn't become the overnight bustling hub of activity as I had hoped. In my green mind, I had imagined we would fling open the center doors and we'd be bursting at the seams.  In the beginning, the neighborhood was more interested in the free snacks we offered than the free programs.  There were days when the center was so eerily quiet that I did wonder if we would be able to stay open. 

Some days I sat and wondered if this was going to work.  
If this was worth all the effort. 
If I was wasting my time.  

There were days I felt so inexperienced and felt that perhaps the community just plain didn't care.  I was scared.

But...slowly, very slowly, a center began to take shape.  People did come. We even had 'regulars'.

On of the goals of the center was to build a bridge between the schools and the neighborhood residents.  Test scores were low in this neighborhood.  Many parents had never been inside their child's school.  Many didn't know how to communicate with school personnel and for many, a language barrier existed.  

I will never forget one little girl, perhaps eight years old, who had asked her teacher how you get AIDS.  Her teacher, well aware of the drugs  and prostitution that existed in the neighborhood, reassured the child, 

"Don't worry honey.  You can't "catch" AIDS. Only people who do bad things get AIDS."

The teacher was unaware that this scared little girl was being raised by a single mother who was HIV positive.

In the infancy of the center, we started and afterschool homework program where we provided tutoring, free of charge.  A woman came into the center and asked about the program.  She told me she had five children.  The oldest three were in school.  The fourth child, was severely handicapped.  The fifth was a baby.  

She told me she left school in the eighth grade when she became pregnant with her son.  The boy was now in the fourth grade and she could no longer help him with his school work because it was too hard for her.  

"I'm scared," she told me.  "I'm getting clean." 

I brought her into my office to fill out a registration form.  She picked up a framed photo of me with my parents on my graduation day.

"That your high school graduation?"
"I never met anyone who went to college."
She set the photo back down on the desk.

She left.  I was unsure if I'd ever see her again.

The next day was dark and drab and it was pouring rain.  Three little faces, soaked to the skin, appeared at the door of the center.  The first three founding members of the Homework Center.  Three little faces who showed up every single day we were open.

There was one night I had stayed well into the night working on things for the center.  My phone rang,
"Why you still there, YMCA Mama?"  (This was my given nick name from this man.)
It was the man who lived with his family across the street from the center. I was confused as to why he was calling me.
The man with the thick Puerto Rican accent continued,
"You always leave by 6pm.  It is ten now.  Are you okay?"
"I have some work to do.  I'm fine."
A few minutes later he knocked on my door.
"You should really get home. You need to be careful here at night.  I'll walk you to your car."

These are experiences that shaped me and changed me.  This is when, at age twenty three, I finally understood the meaning of the word, "community."

I'd finally burst the bubble I had lived in my entire life.

No comments:

Post a Comment