Last Spring I was touched by a young boy whom I had been meeting with for the last year – every week, Tuesday morning at 8:30 a.m. The son of immigrants from Mexico, he introduced himself in broken English. He had a bright spirit and a witty sense of humor for a First grader. I was his Reading Partner. I remember distinctly one day, about mid-January, when suddenly this boy, who could barely read a sentence to me at the beginning of the year, read to me an entire short story and immediately said with a smile, “Let’s do it again!” He proceeded to reread this selection four times, each time with more proficiency and less struggle. I could see the internal belief in himself that was forming. A spark was ignited.
In the Growing Together Collaborative, our goal is for these sparks to happen so frequently that a huge fire is ignited, and overcomes our community like wildfire – consuming with it the effects of living in vulnerable circumstances. In my life I have seen the before and after of wildfires in our National Parks and wild places. A favorite State Park that my family and I go to nearly every year experienced such a thing a few years ago. I remember running on the trails that were once covered in green and often overgrown, but now was solid ash.
The following year I saw new growth – new trees and flowers starting to spring forth in a dramatic display of color. Plants and flowers that had never been present before because there was too much debris and undergrowth before to allow them to thrive.
I see our communities in a similar situation. Over time the debris and undergrowth created by years of disinvestment and poverty create a different reality in the lives of our kids and families. I was recently asked by a respected colleague who lives and works in the suburbs, why people in our community don’t just work hard and get themselves out of the challenging situations they are in. I guess when you live where the land is new and fertile, it’s hard to understand what life is like where nutrients are sparse, where dams have been erected to redirect water to their lands at the consequence of other areas, and where debris is thick. No amount of Ruby Payne seminars can teach you the effects of these circumstances on people, only having your life and relationships touched by these individuals can do that – and only when you come with a sense of humility and a listening ear.
My hope is that our efforts as a collaborative begin to ignite sparks that bring about a new reality for this generation of children. So that when they grow up in this community, their education and confidence has been such that it has been like a wildfire that burned away the debris and created new, fertile land where new growth will be sprouted and all sorts of new colors and life will bring about a beauty that was long thought lost. I am Growing Together because I want to be part of that growth.
Executive Director – Growing Together