The Beauty of Evolution: The Learning Curve by Omiah Mitchell
There is so much to be said about my experience thus far I honestly do not really know where to begin. So I guess I will begin here, Montana as a whole is the 17th State with the largest homeless population. 9.2% of that population (the population I serve), are between the ages of 18-25. While another 4.4% are between the ages of 13-17. The homeless youth in rural Montana is an issue that has been steadily growing as far back as the early 1900’s. When looking at youth who are homeless, we see that they are missing out on more than the bare necessities like food, shelter, and water. They are also at a disadvantage when having the chance to develop skills like communicating properly with their peers and authoritative figures, career development, and even learning how vulnerability could be a strength when it comes to trusting the people around you. Definitely some people out there do not see the traits I just listed as equally important as budgeting skills, time management, and other hard skills. However, realistically in our society, they are just as important, if not, more.
Over the past eight months, I have been working very closely with students who have grown up without a stable home and or within the foster care system. The Dawson Promise Program within the Dawson County Community College (DCC) offers something to the students that is so amazing it almost seems unreal–an opportunity to graduate college debt free. The Dawson Promise Program ensures that students all across Montana (and at certain times across the United States) have an equal opportunity to receive a valuable education. The program covers the cost of housing, books, classes, and even provides fresh groceries during emergencies and campus closings. Besides providing assistance for their day to day needs academically, there is another aspect of the program that we have been focusing on this past year that I feel is incredibly important in the development of our students. Their growth as humans. We have been focusing our efforts these past few months on their education by developing their understanding on things like accountability, responsibility, being respectful of their environment and the people around them, as well as following through with the commitments they may make.
Coming into this service year, I will admit that I never expected to be so emotionally invested in the achievements and the growth of my students as I am currently. I never truly grasped how connected to them I would eventually become. But, here I am. I get excited to see them achieve new heights and grow into better, more evolved versions of themselves than they came in. I find myself taking extra time constantly to reach out, be available, and just be present for my students in a way that allows them to feel safe, heard, and comfortable.
There is something in the air here at DCC. The work environment is student focused in every way. You can clearly see this within every action by the staff and faculty here. I have never in my life seen people that care so deeply about the students around them. The faculty and staff see the students not as dollar signs or athletes but as actual human beings who deserve time, care, and mentorship. It is here, during my service year, that I am learning what it means to be truly there for the students. Students that are working very hard to better not only themselves but also their community on campus.
To be extremely clear, the service that I am doing is not all rainbows and sunshine. It can be painstakingly difficult at certain moments. Like anything in life when making serious commitments, there are good days and there are bad days–and on those bad days when it rains, it pours. I have never been challenged this way in my entire life. Every day there is a new stride I must make to do my part in the way I see fit. The mental, emotional, and sometimes physical challenges I have endured so far have made me so much stronger and prepared for the next learning moment.
That being said, the population of students I work with require an extra level of care that I found myself almost unequipped to give at the beginning of my service. Grasping the expectations that were required of myself to continue to provide service effectively and successfully was a long and bumpy learning curve that has seemed never ending thus far. At my own pace, I began to understand where I fit within my students’ lives as a mentor as well as DCC as a whole. I carved out a little space for myself and snuggled in.
One of the most important things I have learned so far is that the act of being present in your mind, body, and spirit goes a long way. Folks in rural communities only ask that of you. They do not expect you to come in with a wealth of knowledge and answers for their problems. They only expect you to be there not just physically, but mentally for the community both daily and during times of need. The same thing goes for my students who are in the Dawson Promise Program. All they want is for someone to be there for them in a way they might not have had growing up. Someone who pushes them to do their best. Not because they have to or they are paid to do it but because the person actually wants to see them succeed–not only in this program but in life too.
My service year has brought me so much clarity and appreciation for where I am now in life and what an authentic and supportive community looks like.
The act of being present, empathetic, and collaborative in our efforts to reach a common goal is something that is and always will be more than enough when shooting for success. In the words of Toni Morrison, “You can do some rather extraordinary things if that is what you really believe.”, and I believe that we are making a difference one student at a time.