Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When Seeds Sprout

I have a saying, "Sometimes the seeds we plant take longer to sprout than we want them to." When working with young people, this could not be more true. I and the many people who work in Bridges to a Brighter Future are constantly planting seeds. Maybe it is an encouraging word, advice, mentoring, support, or one of our programs. We plant these positive seeds in students everyday, with the goal that the seed will grow positive outcomes. When I see students going through struggles, facing challenges, or making wrong decisions, it is hard to exercise patience in waiting for the seed to sprout. I see where they could be headed and worry the seeds planted will not be fully realized. However, after being the director almost eight years and working with many students, I have observed that the seeds do eventually sprout. It just may not grow as fast as I would like it to.
I am thinking about this today as I look at the Facebook page of one of our graduates, Jose. Jose graduated from Southside High School in 2009. When he came to Bridges, he was painfully shy. He did not say much to anyone but you could see, way deep down inside, he had a lot going through his mind. He and his single mother came here from Colombia, S.A.. Unfortunately, his mother married a man who was just not a nice person. There was a lot of verbal abuse and Jose was told all of the time, by his stepfather, that he would not amount to anything. Therefore, it was no surprise that Jose was introverted and kept to himself. The Bridges program worked to help Jose build his confidence and overcome his shyness. He grew so much in the program! One of the things about Jose is that his inside thoughts, aspirations, and dreams were always bigger than what his personality projected. For example, he would be the last person I would think would want to go to Adventure Camp, a week-long adventure program we provide for Bridges students through Clemson's Youth Learning Institute (CYLI). However, when we asked who wanted to go, Jose raised his hand and he went! He mountain biked, repelled down a waterfall, and slept under a tarp. There was so much more inside him than he allowed others to see. It broke my heart to talk to him and hear about his step-dad. The anger his step-dad projected on him was unbearable to listen to, let alone live with. Here is Jose, this tender, sensitive, amazing young man, being told he is "nothing" on a daily basis. His step-dad ended up getting injured at work and was disabled. This made everything worse for Jose and his mom. Jose's dream was to go to a top tier college for Science and Technology. I thought this was a very big dream, but Jose was very smart and it was possible. Jose enlisted everyone he knew to help him get into college. Jose may have been quiet, but he was very resourceful! He had the people from CYLI write a letter of recommendation, I wrote a letter for him, as well as many others. On his own, he researched financial aid, even emailing me scholarship information to pass along to the Bridges students. He wanted it so bad! We were thrilled when in his senior year, he was admitted to Cornell University!!!!! Wow, this was so amazing! You could see in his eyes the joy, relief, and pride in this accomplishment. I remember him coming to my office in his Cornell t-shirt! I took a picture of him (I can't find it now) and shared in the joy. It was so amazing. The seed was sprouting.
Unfortunately, during this time, Jose's step-father's condition worsened. He was diagnosed with ALS and Jose could not go to Cornell because he needed to stay home, work, and help his mom. After the high of being admitted, this was devastating. However, Jose never let the dream go. He deferred his admission and stayed in Greenville to help his mother. One year later, in September 2010, Jose's step-father passed away. This opened the door for Jose to finally take care of himself and realize his dream.
On April 3, 2011, I received this email from Jose:
I know that I haven't kept in touch as I should have and for that I am sorry. You were an integral part of my life for three years; you helped me accomplish so much and I was too quick to distance myself as I often do. I wanted to let you know how much I value the support and advice that you have given me over the years and tell you what's going on in my life. You may have been aware that my stepfather was very ill. He was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). His condition worsened rapidly. He passed away on September 6, 2010. At the end, he couldn't perform even the most basic functions and relied on my mom to help him. I helped him only occasionally because I still felt some resentment towards him. I think I've forgiven him though. After his death, my mom and I traveled to Colombia. We stayed there with my uncle and grandparents for several months. My mom and I were very happy to be with them again. We hadn't seen them since 2007. After getting back from Colombia, I've been getting ready to go to Cornell this fall (yes, finally). I'm currently awaiting my financial aid award letter, applying for some scholarships, and looking for a job to gain some experience too.
Thank you, Jose
Tears came to my eyes after reading this email. Wow. Two full years Jose waited. How many people do you know who just give up at the first challenge? So many people just let their dreams go, never realizing them because they were not patient enough for the seed to grow. Sometimes the seeds we plant take longer to sprout than we want them to. Jose never let his dream go and now he is a freshman at Cornell! He attended a summer adventure program through Cornell with other freshmen and is enjoying all that campus life has to offer. While Bridges played a role in Jose's life, Jose played an even bigger role. I believe it was his determination, faith, and perseverance that made it happen. Jose credits God and the help of others in his success. He states:
It was knowing that God was guiding me through these trials; I always knew that everything would be alright because God was watching over me. Even in the saddest times, I could see a bright future, in which all the things leading up to it, And I feel so blessed because He put people in my path, you, Mrs. Swartz, and so many others, to help me along, to offer support and so much more.
We can plant the seed, but the student has to care to that seed and ensure it sprouts. We (Bridges) cannot do it all. Ultimately, the student has to take the final steps to realize his/her dreams. We love you Jose and are so very proud of you!