"Who we are and who we are meant to become is a collection of constant creation and revision...I am still a work in progress."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Now and Then

Three months ago today was the first day of classes at Saint Joseph's University. My official start of college. Looking back, I can easily recall my unbearable nerves and incredible excitement. Finally, here was the fresh start that I had been craving throughout high school. But what was I going to do with this opportunity?

Before I came to school, I kept a mental to-do list of all of the things I wanted to accomplish in my freshman year. I started off with wanting to keep my grades up. I wanted to participate in a couple extra-curricular activities...one sport team, one community service group, and one program involved in the arts. I wanted to keep in touch with my friends and family from back home. I wanted to take advantage of the location of SJU and explore as much of the city as I possibly could. Most importantly, I wanted to surround myself with a group of really great people. Although the list was a good reminder to keep my head straight, it added a whole new level of personal stress to be successful.

As the weeks passed by quickly, I was unable to pull myself back from my college experience. With the stresses from classes, social pressures, and a busy schedule, I barely had any time to reflect. I was unable to fully appreciate everything that surrounded me. Instead of recognizing how I truly have grown from my classes, I decided to criticize my B+ G.P.A. Instead of embracing and loving my new friends, I became determined to make even more friends. Instead of focusing on healing from my recent break-up, I decided to emphasize the need to move on to new boys. Instead of appreciating the fact that some of my relationships with old friends have strengthened, I focused on trying to reel back the friendships that have weakened or those I have lost.

Eventually, I was able to take myself away from the situation by making time for myself. I needed an escape. Through exploration of the backyard to my campus house, I found an escape. Literally, a fire escape. This staircase led me to exactly what I needed to escape from reality, the roof. By spending time on the roof, I took time to not only appreciate the surrounding natural beauty, but the beauty in my life. This is when I truly began to appreciate everything that was going right. I had stayed true to who I am. I have grown both academically and spiritually. I have became friends with such kind, fun, inspiring, and loving people. Sure I have made mistake along the way, but I decided to now focus on the positive.

Change can be complicated and confusing. But once embraced, all opportunities to better yourself become available. I am not an entirely different from the person on August 30th , but I have definitely learned a lot about myself. My priorities have not changed. Instead, I have strengthened these priorities. I realize that I can not expect myself to be perfect, nor will things always turn out the way I want. I now embrace my situation and everything that I am. My positive outlook on life has been restored.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Anything is Possible

Things must get worse before they get any better.  While devouring the end of the book, I could not help but remind myself of this common phrase in order to calm my nerves.  Graphic scenes of child abuse, drug abuse, physical abuse, murder, incarceration filled the pages of the last section.  I continued to carry hope that at least  Rosa could make a change for the better.  After enduring continual hardships, Rosa surpassed the common expectations of dying an addict.  Since she struggled for years with her addiction to both heroin and cocaine, Rosa finally came clean.  Taking herself away from the drug infested streets, Rosa decided to move into a better area, where she would not be tempted to take drugs.  She additionally removed herself away from Patty, so that she could finally take care of herself for once.  She rose above her posionous community and proved to help better her ownself.      

Once given the opportunity to share her life experience amongst a congregation, Rosa Lee explained a valuable lesson, “When you change the way you've been all your life, anything is possible” (Dash 241). In this simple explanation of what she had learned through her life, Rosa Lee emphasized the major theme of change. Her life story acts as a lesson to all. Ultimately, you alone have the power to change your own life. 

In light of the topic of change, I remind myself of the huge transformation my learner Francis is undertaking.  Although it has been a mere two months, I have noticed a change in my learner.  Not only does her trust in me grow more and more each week, but she has advanced academically.  Francis, who could at first not understand the simplest of vocabulary words, is now using words such as "ecstatic", "consistently", and "decipher" in our common conversations.  Each session I become more aware of her passion for words.  Today when we took a break from our session, Francis picked up a dictionary and wrote definitions in her notebook for fun.  Like Rosa, Francis is changing her own life for the better. 

Who would have thought that a druggie, prostitute, ex-convict would turn her life around at the end of her life willingly?  Who would have thought that a 21 year old woman who reads at a 4th grade level uses S.A.T. leveled vocabulary in everyday conversation?  Anything is possible.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Meeting Francis

The day finally came that I met with my tutor at the Center for Literacy. All of the training sessions, day dreams, and discussions about service led up to this evening. However, the actual experience was much different from what I had imagined. I awoke from an accidental nap ten minutes before the van's departure from Wolfington. Needless to say, I sprung from my bed, grabbed the tutoring materials and scurried out the door. After a five minute run, I made it to Wolfington with a few minutes to spare. I was glad to see that fellow classmates were sitting impatiently on the curb. Since I only had a few minutes to gather my thoughts, I did not allow my nerves to overwhelm me. Instead I spoke with one of my classmates about an upcoming volleyball game until I heard an approaching vehicle.

Sure enough, the maroon van quickly pulled towards where I stood by the curb. I slid into the second row and began to fiddle with my bag. The tension was obviously present, as no one spoke on our way to CFL. The entire journey I tried to make small talk to clear the air. After a few attempts, I decided it would be best to instead take in my surroundings. I began to see children running innocently through the streets on their way home from school. This sight alone reminded me of the film that we have watched this past week in class. After hearing passing sirens, my nerves stood on edge. I could not help but question if the neighborhoods were safe. Obviously, the schools in Philadelphia are unlike the schools in my hometown. I would never question students walking home from school in my area. However, I remind myself that this is a whole new world. The poor learning environment is one of the leading problems in the troublesome education system.

The van parked in front of the familiar brick building. The class unloaded from the vehicle and shyly entered into Center for Literacy. While we usually were greeted by Mark's enthusiasm, this time one of the students stood outside and greeted us with a puff of cigarette smoke. We trailed in past the student, and made our way into the building only to be welcomed by a class full of students. The lingering question in everyone's head was “Which student is mine?”

As I sat in my seat waiting for Mark to begin the session, I scanned the room and took in the initial impressions of the students. Just from my first judgments I easily understood the diversity between us. While the tutors were predominantly white, the students were mostly black. The tutors were all college students, while the students themselves were generally middle aged. Once Mark began the meeting, a few other students trailed into the building. One particularly stood apart from the others. She was a tall, beautiful young woman who walked in with a giant smile across her face. In a few minutes time, I learned that she would be my student.

Francis is a twenty-one year old woman who moved from Africa to Philadelphia two years ago. Currently, she lives with her uncle and another woman with three kids of her own. She works five days a week from 6 in the morning til 2 in the afternoon at the Philadelphia airport. Like myself, she loves to belt out the lyrics to Rihanna even though she knows she isn't the best singer. Her favorite food is rice and she likes to watch Wizards of Waverly Place. Her dream job is to become a nurse so she can help others. It just so happens that her parents were unable to care for her in the seventh grade. It just so happens that because of this troubling circumstance she lost interest in school and dropped out. It just so happens that a proper education is the only hindrance pulling Francis back from her dream job. So instead of having a pity party for herself, Francis uses her days off from work to go to school. Francis is admirably working towards bettering her life. We are working together to make her dream a reality.