"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."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More Than a Drop in my Bucket

Thinking back, I easily remember the day when the Service-Learning interest card popped through my mail slot.  At first, I didn't know much about the program. I just thought that it sounded interesting and would probably look good on my resume. After much encouragement from my mother, I decided to fill out the card and send it back. I thought little of what that card meant, that is until I came to school.  All I know now, is that fate must have intervened.  

Sitting within the cramped white walls on that first English class in September, my first thought was “Wow, there are a ton of girls in this class. Oh boy, I hope it isn't dramatic.” Once we went around the room introducing ourselves, it became clear that this was a different type of class then from what I was used to. Instead of the usual “Hi my name is and this is my major” we began with saying what service activities we participated in throughout high school. Even though I always thought I was involved in high school, I couldn't help but feel intimidated by my peers lengthy lists of activities. But it was during that time, that I first began to see how Saint Joe's and ultimately service-learning would soon change my mentality. From that moment on, instead of feeling the urge to be competitive, I began to appreciate what each individual offered.

As the weeks flew by, I began to see how much I have changed. Through service-learning, I grew as a person. I learned to share my knowledge and experiences with others. I began to value my education even more. I finally understood how truly blessed I was to be going to college, especially at Saint Joseph's University. Not only was I learning about the failed education system in class, but I was working to improve this devastating problem each week at service. Now of course, it is only a drop in a bucket. But who is to say that this drop isn't important? I know for a fact that this experience is changing me for the better, not to mention Francis. I am beginning to overlook stereotypes, learning for myself through experience the definitions of hard work, dedication, and success.

There is one particular project that Francis and I work on together, in which I truly learned what it meant to be a woman with and for others. Francis loves words. Any chance she is given to use a dictionary, she will use it. One Wednesday there were a few nouns that she could not understand: aspiration, appreciation, and accomplishment. I could not help but feel deeply saddened that she did not know what these words meant. So an idea came to me. Why don't we make Francis her own dictionary?

I scrambled for paper and markers. I punched holes in the paper with my pen and tied the pages together with paper clips. I wrote out “Francis's Dictionary” in bold, red, block letters. On each of the following pages I wrote aspiration, appreciation, and accomplishment. I asked Francis to write the dictionary definition beside each word. After that, we decided to discuss who we looked up to. After deciding that we looked up to Oprah, our parents, and Beyonce, I asked Francis to draw them on the paper. I saw her finally grasping the intensity of these words. So from that day forward, whenever Francis does not know a word, I ask her to jot it down in her dictionary, along side of silly doodles of course.

I love learning new words and trying to use them in daily life. This might be one of the reasons for why I find English so satisfying and fascinating. I find looking up words in a dictionary or thesaurus to be just as fulfilling as Francis. This could be one of the reasons why we work so well together. Through our love of words we have bonded. My heart melts each time I watch Francis get that spark in her eye each time she flips through the pages of that dictionary. I am incredibly grateful to be able to share in this learning experience with Francis.

Over the past weeks of the semester, I have learned a lot about the real world. Working with Francis, I have been able to share the knowledge I have had through years of schooling. In return, Francis has shared with me the knowledge she has gained over her lifetime. This is the realization that I needed. I am not in competition with others. Instead, I am working with others, to gain the most I can through personal connections. I am a learner myself; we all are.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Linking Worlds

The link between the real world and the Center for Literacy simply needs to be discovered. The aged metal may be tarnished, yet the valuable luster still manages to shine through. Draped with interwoven layers of rich ivy, the connection between the two worlds is hidden to most of society. The arch much like the Center for Literacy, is just awaiting to be appreciated. This gateway leads to much more than a home, instead this archway symbolizes a communal safehaven. Once you travel beneath this arc, whether a tutor or student, you continue onto a journey of change.

The archway acts as a symbol of change in my life. Every Wednesday evening, as I make my way underneath this arch, I start to feel an overwhelming sense of excitement and determination. Even though I am exhausted after a day of classes, I know that within the next couple of hours I am bettering my own life. I am so grateful and glad to be able to pass along some knowledge that will help better another person's life. In return, my learner teaches me so much about reality. She inspires me to work to the best of my ability.

I remind myself of Francis whenever I feel tired, over-worked, or aggravated from my day. Not only does she work full-time at the airport, but she sends her paycheck to her family in Africa. Plus she uses her free time to better herself, as she takes classes at the Center for Literacy. Not to mention she dedicates her Wednesday nights for our tutoring sessions. Each time she walks underneath the archway, Francis is taking the steps to bettering her life. This rusted, ivy-covered arch acts as much more than an entrance to a building. Instead this gateway is an entrance towards self-improvement.