Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A New Direction

A lot has happened in the last year since I posted an entry. I am in Denver, Colorado in graduate school studying International Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance. I often draw upon my experiences working with youth in Nashville. Constantly I am drawn back to youth who need some extra attention: weekly tutoring a child who lives in a single family household. I have been contemplating volunteering with the Boys and Girls Club as well as with refugees at the African Community Center. Volunteering really adds a great deal to my life and I never want to take anything in my life for granted, I want to give back as much as I can.

Being on a college campus again is exhilarating and to be surrounded by people who have a passion for the world and are so aware of things going on is refreshing. This summer I am interning with a Kenyan Nonprofit in Denver which I have also enjoyed.

Another exciting development...this November I will travel to India through a service learning program and class. We will work with Tibetan refugees. I love putting my education to work and I feel so fortunate because I received scholarship money. Learning to me is more than reading a book but feeling my heart beat and feeling a deeper connection with others. More information about the program: http://www.du.edu/intl/isl/isl_dharamsala.html

Monday, July 7, 2008


As an AmeriCorps volunteer I am not really in the position to buy new clothes, socks, etc. I don’t really mind I am really low key but sometimes when I go to the prison I wear two different socks, they might be a different color or a different style. The prison guards might think it is some new fashion statement but the fact is that the apartment and dryer devour my socks. Sometimes the guard does not make me take off my shoes and I don’t have to worry about the one pink and the one purple sock challenges. My sock dilemma was diminished this past weekend because one of the Amachi kids lost his socks at the water park. He looked like he saw a ghost because he knew his grandmother would be really disappointed. I can’t imagine not working and being able to supply socks to my three grandchildren.

sock picture from http://www.cnn.com/

A Salute to Grandmothers

This has been the week of grandmothers it seems. The majority of the Amachi children that I have set up for an interview are being raised by their grandmother. To imagine going through the years of lunch making, early hour waking, shoe tying, kite flying and to know that it all starts again must be overwhelming. The grandmothers this week wouldn’t express that straight out but I could sense it. They acted like it was their duty and they would raise their grandchildren to the best of their ability no questions asked, no matter what. The desperation in their voices was apparent. One grandmother was frustrated that she couldn’t play by the creek with her granddaughter because it just takes too much out of her. Not only were they raising their grandchildren but struggling with disability or in one case helping take care of a diabetic husband on top of all of this. The phenomenon of children being raised by grandparents is not a new concept and is not isolated to the USA. The fact that all over the world this is becoming commonplace is shocking. In sub-Saharan Africa AIDS has done this, in the US even more so than AIDS incarceration has done this.

I can imagine that the children can sometimes suffer in subtle ways. The generational differences might be frustrating. Children often think their parents just don’t understand them and what they are going through but these feeling are illuminated and exasperated with the case of grandparents.

“Mothers most often said their children's grandparents were the care givers (53 percent), compared to 13 percent of the fathers who said their children were
with grandparents.”( http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/press/iptc.pr)

“In the majority of cases, these grandmothers are in need of external support in this inherently demanding endeavor as many are poor and/or infirm and are barely able to care for themselves, yet they are taking on the huge responsibility of raising a second generation of children. Grandparents often become financially vulnerable when they become primary caregivers for their grandchildren. Typically, they do so without any additional income. Further exacerbating this problem, grandparents who are employed may be forced to quit their jobs, reduce their work hours, and/or exhaust their savings in order to cope with their new caregiving responsibilities.” (Minkler & Roe, 1993).

Nashville Shores
BBBS of Middle Tennessee was fortunate enough to take ten children who live in or near the Napier Public Housing area to a water park, Nashville Shores. It was a big hit with the children that they asked when we were going back, hoping my answer was next week. The children really thrived. Water just makes children feel alive and brings out their carefree nature. It has a cleansing affect too, water represents purity, hope, and new beginnings: which I feel Amachi children enjoy a reminder that despite some hardships they are children. One of the mothers told me that there had been a shooting everyday that week in their community and that just really stayed with me. Time with their Big or time at a Big Brothers Big Sisters event give the children the chance to know something different and not succumb to the violence that might plague their community well at least in the case of the children in the Napier area.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Two More Months...

It is strange that pretty soon I will be handing over the torch. August 24th will be my last day of service. We found a new VISTA who will be wonderful. She is already a Big Sister to a little boy in our school based program so she knows our mission.

Today when I was doing some outreach to the community centers I really became excited. I know that they are frequented by children especially during the summer and I could see that the staff were already thinking of children that might be a good fit for the program. Today I also went to one of the public housing offices in Nashville to talk to the director there about BBBS and she was going to present to her residents tonight. I absolutely love community outreach because it is that instant gratification of spreading awareness. Watching the light bulb go on about something that can benefit the community.

I have started to think more seriously about my future as well. I am going to start applying to grad schools so that I can start in the spring. My struggle though is figuring out what exactly I want. I have three areas I am debating between...

Social Work because there is that community interaction and I will be aware of what ails communities and know that I can help and provide suggestions for resources in the community. Also it is a wonderful way to help people who are struggling. Becoming more aware of the challenges that children who have an incarcerated parent experience makes me want to keep giving back to this population.

Education because there is a lot of opportunity to be creative and to inspire. After doing AmeriCorps and delving into the issues of poverty I am better able to deal with what children experience because I have visited homes, talked to parents, and children. Schools are diverse places and I will learn from others which I enjoy. Having the summers off would be a plus to use that time on my other passions.

International Studies (specifically International Human Rights) Ok this might sound random but at the University of Denver they have a major in International Human Rights and I feel like this would grip my soul. On my free time I read about the genocide in Sudan and always revel at the sections in The Economist that talk about injustices in the world. I have always had a profound connection to those throughout the world. I don't know if you know how I feel but sometimes in my life there are times where I am so preoccupied by issues that it is hard to function even. When Hurricane Katrina happened I was just glued to the TV. After doing Periclean Scholars I would discuss the issues of AIDS orphans and women's rights daily. Now with the special children that I am now working with I think about their circumstances all the time.

Y'all have ideas????

I am excited about more of an income again. I was looking at jobs and I would make more than I am now just by doing part time work. Scary, huh??? Especially with concerns about food prices and gas prices I am thankful that I will have the extra security of a bigger check. I am extremelly thankful for the experiences of this last year and really transforming...

I'm doing what I think I was put on this earth to do. And I'm really grateful to have something that I'm passionate about and that I think is profoundly important. (Marian Wright Edelman)

Music City Soul

The Robot

These past few weeks my object has been to find ways to have information all across town about our Amachi program. Last week I connected with the park service to seek permission to have brochure holders with information at all the local community centers (I think about thirty). They are at every corner of town so I have been busy mapquesting all of the sites and I am excited to finish that endeavor. I keep thinking of new places to visit. It is fun how my mentality has changed. I will be watching a movie and realize that child on screen needs a mentor. (the movie is FICTION, Rachel). Or I will be passing a clinic or other important part of a community and wonder if they know about Big Brothers Big Sisters. That is what passion does, take over.

Growing up I knew that children experienced a lot of pain and trauma because my mother was a social worker, but my childhood was pretty carefree. I remember getting together for girl scouts and children telling me “I wish that your mom was my mom,” and that shocked me. My safety was never jeopardized, I always had food to eat and a lot of love. This past year when families open up and honestly give us a glimpse into their lives a lot of pain and struggle come across.

Every once in awhile we receive letters from the inmates about their hopes for their children and what they think about their children receiving a mentor. A father talked about his children and how they are so smart and how he lives for them. He also wrote about how his daughter was taken away for a little while because the child’s mother and he were using drugs. That is overwhelming to me. I feel fortunate to be having this experience because if I go back into the education field I will have a better understanding than many educators of the variety of experiences that can constitute childhood. The epitome of childhood is having the freedom to be a kid and at Kids Club there are definitely those opportunities. Kids Club was this past weekend and was a blast. Music City Soul came out to perform and instruct. They did break dancing…but even more than that. They even had the adults doing the robot and an Egyptian pose. I really appreciate the ability of staff to find some great groups to come in. Sara, a coworker who helps me plan the activities tracked this group down and we have been utilizing their skills a great deal. One of the performers Ronald has had some neat life experiences and articulates himself in a great way to the children. He was talking about the fact that if we have skills, in athletics, in school, etc. that is one thing that, “No one can ever take away from us, no matter what happens.” He asked the children about their talents and they beamed with pride.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


This week for some reason I have heard so much to bear from the inmates and the families. On a rare week I might have more than one visit to a prison and this was one such week. I went to Charles Bass which I go to every Monday and then last night I went to TN Prison for Women. At Charles Bass I had a pretty positive response from the inmates, but one man wanted to talk to me about his situation. I was open to learning more about his children and how we can serve them but what I heard next was scary. I guess more so the dark, distant look in his eyes sealed the deal. He wanted to refer over his niece and nephew and said he didn’t know his sisters number. I told him, “You could give me your mom/their grandmother’s number and I could get their number from her.” I often do this because some of the inmates have lost contact with their children but the grandparents seem to always be able to reach the grandchildren. So the inmate told me, “I don’t know if that would be the best idea, we are not on the best terms. I shot my dad because he was beating my mom.” I feel like there was more to it then that because he also told me that he was spending hundreds of dollars a week on drugs. He also said he has an eight year old child and this inmate was my age.

Then after following up with one of the other referrals from this week I talked to woman about enrolling her children. The children’s incarcerated stepfather had referred the children over. She told me about her struggles of being disabled and how her brother was killed five years ago and how her mother’s house just burned down. Luckily the children can be exposed to the model of one-to-one mentoring and strive for big things. Poverty weaves its way into every aspect of life. Violence, poverty, health concerns, education are always at the forefront of survival. She was already worrying about her son who had skipped school a few times.
Yesterday at the TN Prison for Women a woman admitted to the group that she is in there for selling drugs and now her own son is dabbling. She was horrified but in a way knew that she had almost facilitated this to happen, that it was the natural course. There was a woman who was also locked up who wanted to refer over her great grandchildren. She was in a wheelchair and I can’t even imagine what she did. One parent spoke of the fact that her children are already involved in the program and all the wonderful activities they did.

I want to change gears a little bit and focus more on the most incredible part of the whole experience. The children we serve!!! A few weeks ago we took children who are matched with a mentor at a few of the local Boys and Girls Club to a day camp and they canoed, did tree climbing and rode horses. Basically I was able to be a kid for the day. It made me want to make my living as a canoe instructor or something to that effect. The children were in heaven. They were so PROUD to see what they could accomplish. To see a child learn, to see a child experience, to see a child grow is an incredible experience. Many of the kids have not been exposed to life outside the city so it was pretty special to see wild turkeys when we drove in. You will see a photograph of the children getting psyched up to tree climb. I do feel so fortunate to work with children and to hear the different ways that people live in the community I live and to understand that poverty and violence need to be something that we combat especially for the sake of future generations!!!