The physical representation of second chances are in my students. The YMCA Education Center is not just a classroom; it is a breeding ground for students to have a second chance at education and at life. Because of this, I am not just a teacher. I am a cheerleader, a motivator, and a confidant. While this is similar to all teachers, whatever grade you teach, it is somehow more poignant to me because I teach adults. My middle and high school students would have social issues at school that I could try to control or emotional situations at home we could discuss with the guardian and school counselors. But there are no counselors and no reporting rules we follow in adult education. If a student is having problems at home, they feel they have to deal with it themselves with no help from the outside world.
That is where I come in. One of my many jobs is to be a Transitionary Agent for my students; basically, this means I am becoming an advocate in the community for students who need help. This help can manifest in many ways: calling around to find a home for a homeless student, sending students to programs that can give them clothes and other resources, or working with students on resumes for potential jobs. But sometimes even simply listening to a student's problems or showing interest in their goals and aspirations can make all the difference in the world.
An example of this is in one of my students at the main branch of the YMCA in downtown New Orleans. A young woman who joined the class relatively recently was in the middle of some major family issues and was unsure of how to handle her emotions. A family member was hospitalized and lost a leg; she was trying to be supportive but she felt that other family members were not caring as much as they should. This was causing her moral issues because she didn't know if she should speak her mind in this situation or simply let the issue transpire. When she and I talked about it, I could tell that she was bottling up a lot of emotions on the subject that she thought she shouldn't show; simply showing her that I cared and that I would listen allowed her to get her emotions out. She later thanked me, saying it's nice to talk to someone outside of the situation and someone who is focused on her.
In the New Orleans East branch of the program where I also work, a similar situation transpired. A mother and daughter are enrolled together in my class; the mother just got a full-time job and the daughter in under 18 with a son at home. Both clearly have issues with the education system and both are struggling to make their future a reality instead of just a dream. I took the time to ask both of them about their goals, whether the mother was in her dream job or not and why the daughter dropped out of the education system in the first place. Both women are passionately dedicated to their work and their education; both want to go to college to follow their dreams—one to nursing school and the other to cosmetology school. They seemed so happy to share their goals with someone who cared about their future; both are now excited about their prospects in education and in the program.
All three of these women were given second chances in many ways. The woman at the main branch is using this negative situation to better understand her family and tune into her emotions and needs; she is trying to give the situation a second chance rather than writing off her family. The mother and daughter in the east are using this second chance at education to move onto their dream jobs. This second chance is important to them because both mother and daughter a chance at an opportunity that both thought was unattainable.
This song was actually the inspiration to this blog, not the other way around. I stumbled across this song a few years ago and realized the deep meaning that it has and the powerful impact on my life. I have been graced enough to have second chances in my life, whether through education, friends, or family. I see my life and my work at the YMCA as a chance to give back to God and the community the numerous second chances I have been given. As the lyric states, “if it weren't for second chances we'd all be alone.”