By Lauren Jones, M.A. Special Education, Behavior and Emotional Disabilities
If you had told me a year ago that I would be able to drive into any low-income housing neighborhood and see people I know, go up and sit on the porch and catch up on things, and then be invited for Thanksgiving dinner – well, I would not have believed you.
I don’t take my acceptance into these families lightly. Their kids are part of my family, too. The commitment I’ve made to them is a lifelong commitment. I want to see them go to college, make good choices, find quality employment, and rise out of poverty to better circumstances. It takes more than teaching 8-3 to see that happen. It takes investment. That investment is priceless.
How did such a profound evolution happen? I’m a teacher, and I was sitting in a meeting with Jen Ramming last year as she advocated for a student of mine. That’s when I realized, we believe the same. She loves the kids I love. She sees the light hidden beneath the mess, and embraces the struggle of digging through that mess to reveal that light. I knew I had to be involved in what she was a part of; and I came on as a volunteer with OpenDoors.
Now I’m not just a teacher. I’m a mentor, an auntie, a job coach, a courtroom supporter and advocate. I am the one who holds the baby so a student can do their English homework. I am their partner in the martial arts, the one cheering at the wrestling match, the person who takes them to their first college visit. I walk them through the steps of opening their first bank account. Some days it almost feels like I’m their mom. I love it.
Yes, I am also the one who rushes to the hospital to be by their side after they have been shot. But I love all the roles. I would not trade it for anything.
I remember hearing about one of my OpenDoors kids before I met him:
“Oh he’s trouble!”
“He scares me.”
“He doesn’t care about school.”
“He’s already a dad to three with one year of high school left.”
I thought to myself, “Yeah, but he’s still attending school, so he must care, right?” A year later he is like family to me. Not trouble, not scary, and definitely driven to overcome what seems like impossible odds, so he can get his diploma.
I teach because of kids like him. Kids that others would throw away. Kids who may be a little different and who need school to be a little different so they can be successful. Kids who need someone to look a little harder to discover the light within them, glowing just below the surface, obscured behind all the dark trauma and intense stress that life has dealt them.
I had a conversation with Jen last week and she compared what we do for students to the work of a lifeguard See, there are kids who can swim and just need a life preserver. Then there are kids who are sinking, drowning, and don’t know how to swim because nobody has ever taken the time and put in the effort to show them how. At OpenDoors we go after the ones who are sinking. We dive deep for those kids. I’m proud to be a diver, and proud to be part of an organization that believes in kids even if they’re drowning.
See, these kids aren’t just gang bangers. They’re not just teen moms. They have names, faces, stories, and the drive to be successful. They just don’t have the tools. So, before you judge them, know them. You’ll fall in love.