I have lived in a largely immigrant community for the past 6 years. I know many of my friends and neighbors are undocumented, and I have seen some of them suffer the consequences of their status . . . inability to get a driver's license, inability to participate in the democratic process of voting for president or local officials, losing a family member to deportation and/or living in constant fear of deportation. I have known that legally they are not allowed to work, but one way or another most of them have found jobs and a way to provide, at least minimally, for their families.
But recently I have had the heart-breaking experience of investing in and empowering a couple of women to develop their leadership skills and confidence, only to see them devastated by the reality that they can't work in the capacity they feel called to. And I realized just how much I take for granted my ability to work.
I know immigration is a devisive and hotly contestest issue. But, putting the debate and "legal" issues aside, I am left with seeing talented, passionate, committed women again feeling hopeless and worthless. And I am left feeling guilty that I tried (and succeeded) to convince these women that they ARE talented and have so much to offer and that society and our community needs them. Sure, the skills and confidence they have developed can be used in volunteer endeavors, and I am encouraging them to use their gifts that way. But, I have talked to many moms in the past year (and I was one myself a decade ago), who say that no matter how much volunteer work they do, they long to contribute in a meaningful and significant way and be valued with the dignity and honor of being paid for what they do. The difference, though, is that these moms can be paid for what they do someday, and that provides hope to endure the long, hard days of being at home with little kids they love dearly but that quite literally at times make them crazy. My immigrant friends don't have that hope.
I am sure this post will raise all kind of criticism, but as a woman who finds deep meaning and signifance in doing a job I love and being able to help provide for my family, it saddens me deeply to know that my friends may never know that experience. Sure, they could obtain the necessary 9 digit number in illegal ways. But, honorably, they are not willing to do that. So, I will continue to advocate and fight for immigration reform and pray that before their new found self-confidence fades, the "land of opportunity" will be open to them.
In 1997 I read Ron Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and my life has never been the same since. That book put words to thoughts and ideas and feelings I had been struggling with as a Christ-follower for several years. It ignited a passion that inspired me to be a voice for the poor and marginalized within Evangelical circles and ultimately led to the founding of Community 4:12.
I can't help but wonder if I will look back on 2012 and the reading of Paul Tough's book How Children Succeed in the same way. My work with under-resourced communities has forced me to care about education, and the glaring inequities between low and high income school districts. As I have watched my husband and many others teach for years in one of those lower income school districts, I have seen the frustration that comes from pouring everything you have into helping children learn, only to be told that your students and your school is not making "adequate yearly progress." The educational reform movement fueled by No Child Left Behind insists that with high quality teachers any student can learn and excel on achievement tests. From my perspective, as a non-educator, the result of that has been a lot of discouraged, disempowered teachers and not a lot of progress on improving student achievement. I have felt in my gut for years that we cannot measure a teacher or a student's success based solely on academic achievement as determined by standardized tests.
And Tough's research and resulting book confirm that. A child's success in school, college, and life is better predicted by certain character traits (such as grit, perseverence, curiosity, optimism, self-control) than by scores on achievement tests. And the research also shows that those character traits, or life-skills, can in fact be taught. So, why is that not the foundation of educational reform in our country? Do we really only care about getting kids through school with a certain academic proficiency, or do we care about creating a generation of kids--rich and poor--who go on to succeed in life?
As I launch my run for School Board for East Aurora District 131, I am beginning a new journey into the realm of advocacy and public policy. Will Tough's book provide me the inspiration and motivation to work again for something I have long believed in my gut to be true? Will I have the grit and perseverence and optimism to fight for the reform needed to set all children in East Aurora up to succeed--not just on achievement tests, but in life?
I got my annual "shot in the arm/boost to the heart & spirit" fix last week at the CCDA conference in Minneapolis. There is nothing so energizing, encouraging, and challenging as being with 3,000 people who are fiercely and deeply passionate about fighting poverty and justice in our communities. Given my passion for education and our local schools, I was especially thrilled to see a continued emphasis on working for educational reform and the role Christ-followers can and should play in that effort. For the first time, we were all challenged to consider running for our local school boards . .. to put more skin in the game in hard but vitally important work. That was a real confirmation, since I had been seriously praying about whether or not I should run for the East Aurora School Board. Needless to say, I have started circulating my petitions so that I can have my name on the ballot, and put my heart and passion for the district in the running, in April. I also enjoyed Nicole Baker Fulgham and her challenge to Christ-followers and churches to get involved in our schools in three ways . .. as vision-casters, as laborers, and as advocates. I will be spending some time reflecting on what I personally and Community 4:12 can do more of in each of those areas, and would love to know what others are doing. Please share!
Many of the moms in my community feel like there is not much they can contribute in this foreign land that they now call home. As undocumented immigrants, they are ineligible to get a driver’s license or a job. As Spanish speakers with limited English and in many cases only an elementary level of education, they don’t believe they can even be of any help as a volunteer at their children’s schools.
Our church has tried to shatter those beliefs and empower those moms to be leaders and mentors. Through a Parent Mentor program we call “Parents United in Action/Padres Unidos en Acción,” we offer training and a small stipend to moms who in exchange volunteer for 10 hours/week at their children’s schools as teacher assistants. Teachers and principals claim the program is a win/win/win for teachers, students, and the moms involved. Some of the benefits they see include:
- Parents become a part of the culture of the school--which unfortunately is often not the case at our schools.
- Children see parents contributing and serving as additional role models in the school.
- Teachers have a part-time assistant at a relatively low cost to help provide more individual attention to students struggling in reading or math.
- Parents who entered the program reluctantly, feeling like they had nothing of value to contribute to a school, grow in self-confidence and become active contributors at the school on many levels beyond their work in the classroom.
- Parents see this as a job and take it more seriously than volunteers, so are much more reliable and committed.
- These parents often become the foundation of a PTO that struggles to get people involved.
We started the program at one school with just 5 Mentors, but have grown to 40 Mentors at 7 schools. All funds for stipends and other expenses are paid by the church, because we want to send the message that we care about the people and schools in our community. This is just one of several ways we try to come along-side the teachers in our schools who work tirelessly with very limited funding to educate the kids who have so many odds stacked against them.
One of our Parent Mentors recently shared this about her experience, “It has been an amazing opportunity. I keep learning every day from the children and the teachers I work with. I have learned how important it is to keep in touch with our children’s school and their teachers in order to help them succeed.”
Through this program, I have had the opportunity to hear the struggles and dreams of many of these moms. One of them recently asked me what MY dream is. I shared with her my desire to help people develop skills and find opportunities to discover their gifts and passions so they can fulfill their dreams. And she said with pride, “So really, WE are your dream, right?” “Yes,” I said trying hard not to cry, “you are!”
Over the past 4 years, COMMUNITY has allocated $1.75 million to the work of four missional ministries . . . the NewThing Network, Frontline Ministries in the Philippines, our work in Haiti and Africa, mostly in partnership with World Relief, and the work of Community 4:12. And this weekend, we will host our 5th annual Celebration Generosity.
I love this weekend and the generosity it inpsires. To be honest, it is also a bit stressful, because my entire year's budget is determined by what Community 4:12 receives in designated gifts on this weekend. I've never been particularly concerned about the money . . . God has been amazingly faithful in providing the resources we've needed for the work He's led us to do. But, I'd be lieing if I didn't say I harbor a bit of human anxiety heading into the weekend.
Here's a snapshot video of some of the things we were able to do as a result of last year's Celebration Generosity.
Everything we do, from Gift Marts to tutoring, to having space to run clinics and programs is fueled by the funding that comes in this weekend. Our hope this next year is to continue our various programs and events and to:
- provide at least 150 kids in East Aurora and Joliet with tutors and mentors,
- continue supporting Emmanuel House in East Aurora by helping at least 4 low-income families begin the path of moving into homeownership and out of the cycle of poverty,
- sponsor Gift Marts in Aurora, Joliet, and Chicago to raise thousands of dollars to support educational initiatives at our partner schools.
In addition to that, three new things we are dreaming about for this year are:
- Beginning a ministry in Chicago that will allow our two campuses to come alongside low-income families and individuals in the city through partnerships with World Relief and other organizations.
- Increasing involvement in our Parent Mentor program to at least 50 parents in Aurora and Joliet.
- Creating an East Aurora Restore Team of at least 10 families that are committed to living in East Aurora and working relentlessly for community development. We will not create deep, significant, and lasting impact unless we have families living in the neighborhood and doing life in partnership with the community, so that will be a big focus for us this year.
If you attend COMMUNITY, I hope you will join us this weekend and consider supporting the work of Community 4:12, and/or any of the great causes. If you aren't able to join us, you can make a donation on-line; just specify in the comments which Team (Community 4:12, NewThing, Haiti, or Philippines) you'd like your donation to go towards.
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