“There are 10 of us moving across the country. We have a choice to make. We can impact our new community positively, negatively, or make no impact at all.”
This is what I told my children as we moved from Pennsylvania to Muncie in 1973. I knew coming to Muncie for my husband’s new position would be quite a change for our family, and I wanted to remind my children that 10 new faces in a neighborhood and community wouldn’t go unnoticed.
I guess over the years I continued to instill these values in my children. Now that they’re grown and living as nearby as just a few miles, or as far as San Francisco and the deserts of Dubai, I know that those statements made nearly 40 years ago, and lived out over a lifetime, have carried forward to their own children. I see it each day in their actions, their emails, their calls.
Our neighborhood was middle class. There was no evidence of poverty. As I raised my children and was involved with their lives and the lives of their friends, I never noticed poverty. I knew it existed, but it always felt so far away. I wasn’t aware that poverty was real in Muncie.
One by one, as my children left to live their own lives, I sought a new direction for my own. Before marriage and family, I had attended college for two years. In my 40s, I again returned to college. At Ball State I earned a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Education.
I had seen some of my children’s friends drop out of school. Sometimes it was because of lack of parental support and guidance, lack of adequate programs to meet their special needs, or poor choices of peers. I decided to enter the teaching field to work with children with learning disabilities, and those who were emotionally handicapped.
I was hired as a resources teacher in the Muncie schools. I worked with children in many different schools. Sometimes three schools in one day. During some home visits, my eyes were opened to the poverty in Muncie.
There was evidence of material poverty, but, often, another type of poverty— that of support and guidance for the child. This can be a more severe poverty. It impacts the essential person.
What was the greatest need? To know that someone listened? Perhaps to look upon them as an individual with potential and “hold the bar high and give them the tools to reach their goals.”
One student . . . I wasn’t sure he’d make it . . . sure I’d see him one day in the paper as a victim or a perpetrator. But one Christmas, several years ago, encased in a hood and layers of clothing, through the clanging of each ding and a blissful “Merry Christmas! Thank you! Merry Christmas!!,” my eyes focused toward just a glimpse of something I’d thought I’d remembered from the past. And there he was—ringing a bell for the Salvation Army. He looked at me through those layers and said my name. We hugged several times, laughed, and hugged some more. He was now intact. All the battles were worth it. After all of these hard years, he was there giving back to his community. We chatted for but a moment. He told how the Salvation Army had helped him in a time of need, so he chose to give back. He’s now married and has a son. Thank you, Lord.
After I had retired from teaching, I had more time to give back. In our church bulletin there was a notice about the Harvest Soup Kitchen in need of volunteers, and I thought, “Yes, I can do this.” It raised my spirits and I wish I had more than one day a week to spend down there.
You know, your heart may not be into something unless you know the impact you can make through your actions.
In 2009, two days before Christmas, I lost everything I had when my home burned. I was stripped of all of my materials and “things.” I became keenly aware of how vulnerable and humble one becomes when, of necessity, one becomes a “receiver” rather than a “giver.” I was blessed to have family, good friends and neighbors, complete strangers, “hold my head above water until I could swim again.” At that point, compassion for those in need took seed. It remains a guiding force in my life now. Energizing and rewarding.
Working with TEAMWork for Quality Living gives opportunity for changing lives. I enjoy working with people from all walks of life.
People are so good.
We all have resources and gifts to share. For me to share with them; for them to share with me.
— As told to J.R. Jamison, Associate Director of Indiana Campus Compact & Co-author of Charting the Course for Service-Learning: From Curriculum Considerations to Advocacy
This story originally appeared in Facing Poverty, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by TEAMwork for Quality Living in Muncie, Indiana.