Service with people rather than to or for them is a powerful way to approach helping. People who lack resources don’t lack intelligence. Having lived with a mom who received food stamps, I am never surprised at the creativity and ingenuity of people with limited resources.
I struggled to get into and stay in college. In order to gain acceptance into the University of Missouri-Columbia, I needed remediation. Don’t be shocked by this! According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, nearly 60 percent of first-year college students discover that they are not ready for post-secondary studies.
I remember the summer of 1994 as being hotter than any other summer, perhaps not because of the weather, but more because of the pressure. Math was not my thing, but I had to conquer it to advance. My fallback plan in case I didn’t succeed in math was – I didn’t have one. By the middle of the summer, it was clear that I would not pass the class. I had been tortured, I mean tutored, cajoled and prayed upon that I would stay the course. It didn’t work. Because I didn’t have a fallback plan and I was fully committed to a different life, failure was not an option. Somehow, I dared to believe that I had the right to hope for a different future, I had the right to expect a different outcome than most who had come from the kind of sketchy background that produced me.
I believe that programs are wonderful tools, but they are just that, tools. Programs independent of personal desire will always fail. Programs are about providing options, of what might be possible if we work together. The investment of time as the person who needs help has to be greater than the time the helper invests.
Here is what I really think: The people, who tutored, cajoled, prayed and refused to make my path artificially easy set me up for repeat success. They enhanced my ability to be accountable for bigger things. They gave me the confidence to not conform to the expectations of those who placed me in a statistical box (statistics say that people like me will rarely amount to much). They set me on a path to be a lifelong learner with an intentional effort directed toward renewing my mind. They helped me realize that people who struggle, or may be poor, nonetheless have every bit of purpose and creativity inborn, and if we partner with them as opposed to working on them, we might have a better shot of success.