Evolution of a Dream

>> Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Yesterday I sat in a cramped school hallway, painted pea-soup green. My hands gripped the arms of a faux leather chair, and I smoothed and re-smoothed my hair, my clothes, and the piece of paper that was my job references. A fluorescent light flickered above my head, and a fly buzzed lazily around a pile of cardboard boxes. I prayed because I wanted the job. I told God this was my dream.

Compared to what I pictured myself doing when I was younger, this dream seems small. I think most people would squint and wonder why I would want to do this. Why I would want to while away my days here. And the truth is, I guess I wasn't being entirely honest with the Man Upstairs when I told him that this was my dream job. It was more that this school program, run by this popular not-for-profit organization, was my chance. My foot-in-the-door to bigger and better things in the not-for-profit world. This organization has so many different areas that I could work in. If I ever got bored or burned out on one, there would always be something new to do. From early childhood education, to teaching, to career counselling, to parent support workshops, from recreation to group homes to working with the differently-abled. It's a not-for-profit employee's dream. It's my dream. Still, I wondered what brought me here, to this place, where I was crossing my fingers and whispering silent prayers that they would choose me.

The first thing I wanted to be when I grew up was an actress. I wanted to be on TV, because even though movie stars got all the glory, I knew, even at the age of 10, that I wanted to play one character for years. I wanted to figure out and become that person. I wanted a chance to really get to know them.

The next thing I thought about being was a writer. I loved writing. Fiction, essays, opinion pieces, poems, even song lyrics. I rocked English class from the age of twelve on, and of course, loved the idea of creating a character. I felt that I was building a person. The thing that, once again, appealed to me most about writing, was conveying a personal truth--either through creating a fictional character that was as real to me as I was, getting my own thoughts on paper in a way that made them make sense to others, or writing a poem or song about how I felt about something or someone. It was about connecting, about drawing out my inner life (or the inner-life of some imagined person) and making sense of it.

Enter high school. I took a mandatory career studies class in my second year of high school. We had to do a series of assessments to find out what jobs we'd be best suited for, and I was matched with Child and Youth Worker. I hadn't even known that that was a job, but it made perfect sense to me. I would counsel children and youth. I loved children. I'd been baby-sitting since sixth grade, and always preferred to spend my Sunday mornings at church helping out in the nursery rather than attending Sunday school myself. I liked kids. I liked getting inside people's heads. I cared about social issues. I would help kids by getting inside their heads and helping them overcome their issues.

That summer I went away to camp, and we had a speaker who talked about all of this inner-city work that he did. He invited us to come for a few weeks later that summer and work in inner-city Toronto with at-risk youth. I immediately knew that I needed to be there.There were no ifs, ands or butts. I had to go. And I did. And it was everything I thought it would be, and more. It was as though everything inside me, my past, my future, everything, just came into focus and clicked. I wanted to spend my life on the mean streets, handing out sandwiches, talking to people about their futures, encouraging them and helping them find necessary services.

I even went to college for a program geared towards preparing people to work with the high-risk population in the inner city. I was dismayed to find out that since only 6 people registered for the program, by the end of my first year, it was cancelled. However, now I am so thankful that that happened. I transferred into the counselling program, which allowed for a much wider range of what I'm able to do. I can basically do anything that requires working with and helping people, and I'm not limited to the inner city, which is a good thing.

Let me tell you something that I'm not necessarily proud of:

I don't want to work in the inner-city anymore. And you know what did it? Living here. It's one thing to come down from a comfy suburb and hand out sandwiches and talk to colourful people (something I did all through high school and college). It's another thing entirely to live among them. To listen to their domestic disputes and hope they don't taint your child. To deal with the fact that they care so little about their own community that they would literally rather chuck their garbage all over the nature conservation area, than walk ten feet to a trash can. To step around the broken glass bottles all over the side walk, the thudding music through the night on the weekends, and the fact that no schools anywhere around here have any playground equipment for my son to play on.

I don't like these people. I don't. I'm not going to lump them all into one group, because I know that there are obviously exceptions to what I see and observe. I know that in this neighbourhood there are probably a lot of good parents. I know there are probably a lot of people who don't litter, who don't blare their music, and who don't beat their spouses. But the ones who do overshadow the ones who don't. I don't want to live here and I don't want to work here. I'm done. Especially because I have a child now to think about.

So. That leads me to where I am now. My current dream. Community Services Worker of some kind. I will not be approaching people on the streets to tell them about help they can receive. I will not be going to their shelters or offering them blankets as they sleep on sidewalks. I will work with the people who care enough to want to better their lives. The people who care enough that they come to me. I want to work with parents who want to better their relationship with their children, not those who were ordered to by the courts. I want to work with kids who want to get ahead, not those who have to choose community service or juvie.

I've been poor. I've been desperate. I've been damn-near hopeless. And I think that experience has made me see that there is help available. Everyone has a choice about what kind of life they're going to live. Anyone can get an education. Anyone can get counselling. Anyone can get emergency housing. For every problem (at least in Canada), there is a service. You just have to find it. I want to work with the people who care enough about themselves to seek out help. Those are the people who will ultimately succeed.

That's my dream.


Tamara September 11, 2010 at 2:45 PM  

I wish you the best on this journey of following your dreams!


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