Hometown: Avon Lake, Ohio
Why did you apply for this particular internship? I have always had a soft spot for non-profit organizations. The employees can always use a helping hand and are usually the most genuine people.
How did your work apply to your studies at W&L? Income is not the only indicator of poverty, nor is there a clear definition of poverty. I met some families who had enough money to put food on the table, but did not teach their children the importance of education. I think those are the poorest people.
What was the most unexpected aspect of your Shepherd Alliance experience? I felt surprisingly at home in Phillips County, Ark.! My neighbors and co-workers accepted me with open arms.
Please answer at least TWO of the following:Favorite Lexington Landmark: Sweet Things, of course! You can never go wrong with a scoop of ice cream and a waffle cone.
The alarm goes off before 7 a.m. and I actually want to throw it across the room, but I roll out of bed and make sure my roommates have the will to get up as well. With groggy movements, we all get ready for our morning run around the block. Going early guarantees fewer stares from our curious neighbors; four Caucasian women living in an all African-American neighborhood causes quite a stir. Even this early, we notice people peeking out their windows at us, and a few early risers stand outside waving as we jog by. Plus, it is hot--only seven in the morning and the thermometer is already nearing ninety degrees.
The rest of the morning goes smoothly. My roommates and I have worked out a carpool plan, so thankfully, the thirty-minute ride into work goes quickly while we chat and giggle about how crazy our lives have been this summer. We live in Marvell, Ark., a tiny town of only 1,000 residents. Most of us work in Helena, Ark., the biggest town in the county--a total of 12,000 residents. Our small town doesn't have much, not even a grocery store. Living in the country means driving for miles through cornfields to find necessary items. Our drive to work is nothing compared to the drive to the nearest movie theater.
When I arrive at the Boys and Girls Club, I am greeting by squeals of delight. A gaggle of girls surrounds me, asking me if they can braid my hair or play them in a game of pool. I play with them for a bit before unlocking a room in the back, commonly called The Reading Room. My main duty here is to encourage kids to read and write, and to show them that it can be useful and even fun. In typical pre-teen fashion, a few 12-year-old boys run by, laughing and yelling, "Reading is stupid!" Despite the stigma, The Reading Room is surprisingly popular. We participate in spelling bees, write poems and have story time, just to name a few of the kids' favorite activities. When we play hangman, the room even becomes crowded and loud with competitive kids. My job is fun, but can also be very challenging. Most kids do not have many books at home, if any. It is quickly apparent that reading isn't a highly regarded skill in this society, especially compared to street smarts and survival expertise. I meet plenty of kids who are going into the third or fourth grade and still cannot read or write simple words. I focus on the good and give them as much positive encouragement as I can muster--something these kids do not get enough of.
Although my main job revolves around literacy, I also spend plenty of time getting to know the kids and my co-workers. For many people, it took a while for them to warm up to me. They saw me as an intruder, as a little white woman that will never understand their lives. In a sense, that is who I am, but thankfully, they have given me a chance. Now I am able to talk openly with most of them. A co-worker and I bond over favorite foods and our shared inability to do math. I also chat with a few girls who need someone to vent to. Sometimes they come to me with typical pre-teen problems, but other times, they confide in me the struggles that often occur in this impoverished culture--rape, homelessness, abuse and racism. I try to stay supportive, but my smile feels more like a grimace. My only hope is to show them that, at the very least, I still care about them.
Later in the day, a group of nine-year-old girls are suspended from the club because of a dramatic fight that broke out. Despite the punishment, these girls are not ashamed of their actions. In fact, they have gained respect for throwing punches like professional boxers, and they hold their heads high with pride. A teenage boy also gets permanently expelled from the club, but not for a silly fight; he openly stated alliance to a local gang. He is also respected--not out of adoration, but out of fear.
Thankfully, the atmosphere at the Boys and Girls Club isn't all seriousness. For a few hours each day, I get to indulge in light-hearted play with the kids. I get beaten at cards by a group of young girls, get rich playing Monopoly with some of the older kids and struggle to complete a 500-piece puzzle with one particularly patient young boy.
As my workday comes to an end, I pack up and get ready for the drive home. Back in Marvell, all four of us girls cook and eat a family-style dinner. We share the stories of our days while we sit around the card table that serves as our kitchen table. If we are brave, we go for a walk around the block, acting as inconspicuous as possible, but we still stick out like sore thumbs. Most of our neighbors are friendly, but others don't trust us. They are used to the segregation that still separates their town, and seeing a white person on this side of Main Street shocks them. In the safety of our little duplex home, we finish the evening by watching an episode of Friday Night Lights and enjoying a bowl--or two--of ice cream.