2016 PFIG Recipient Morgan Tyree
Journal Entry #1
Great Expectations has easily lived up to its name. On the first day in the office, I was introduced to all of the community college advising staff and the individuals I am working alongside. One of the advisors asked if I had brought along my tennis shoes, and I quickly realized why. I am continually on the move: meeting with students, collaborating with local schools and shadowing my advisor. I love the flurry of activity and direct involvement with the students and their lives. The main goal of Great Expectations is to increase educational access, attainment and success for students involved in the foster care system. That being said, we work with many schools in order to reach out to and care for all students, not only foster students.
Half of our week was spent in two local inner-city high schools working to educate students about college life, enrollment, class schedules and job planning. It was an amazing opportunity to sit down and work one-on-one with students in order to help them figure out what is the most financially and academically responsible choices for them. Many of the students we worked with are first-generation high school graduates and college attendees. Many have part- or full-time jobs and also spend a lot of their time taking care of their siblings. If it were not for their motivation and work ethic, they probably would not be where they are today.
The past week has humbled me. The students I have worked with have faced abuse, neglect, homelessness, racism and a spectrum of other struggles, but so many of them view what I see as struggles as opportunities for growth. The world I have grown up in is quite the opposite of my students. This week has shown me a few of the realities of this world and the hope that still exists. A young lady I had the pleasure of working with did a spoken word for us at the end of our meeting that brought tears to many of our eyes. I will leave you with a quote from her poem which sums up my first week’s experience, “you will never see me cry, but you will one day see me fly // flying high above the trees, forgetting the days spent down on my knees”.
I cannot wait to see what the next couple of month’s hold and all of the people I will meet. The world has so many hardships but there is still joy to be found and lives to be cherished!
Journal Entry #2
The weeks are already flying by and I cannot believe I am halfway through my internship! Public service has been more challenging and more fulfilling than I expected as I began. Students and other organizations we work with are always in need and I feel like I am pulled in ten different directions every day. However, there is nothing more fulfilling than being able to help solve even just one of those needs and make a small difference for the individual.
Over the past few weeks, my boss and I have been specifically working on outreach and enrolling new students. The summer is a chance for us to focus on kids that we can get involved with the program or simply continue to support since it is an off time during the school year. We have been lucky enough to add four new students to the program so far! My boss is very hands-on so I have been put in charge of partnering with the students in order to complete their college applications, FAFSA and various other forms for the program. I am learning the in’s and out’s of the process and each of the parts so that I am able to answer financial aid, course selection and housing and job questions on the spot.
Likewise, I have begun an initiative for local scholarships for all of the community college students. I was surprised to find that CVCC didn’t offer many outside aid options, so I am creating a resource for the school of various local scholarships that can lessen the financial investment of attending college. Finances are generally one of the biggest obstacles for students and I want this resource to help them have one more reason to achieve their goals.
The biggest challenge with my students so far has been the amount of need they have. I always knew need existed, but in a much different context. I am quickly learning that when you are on your own and have been for several years, you’re in what we like to call “survival mode”. These students are not worried about what classes they will take in the Fall or their career in a few years. They are worried about whether they will be able to put food on the table today or pay their rent at the end of the week. How can you even consider grades and future education when you cannot put food on the table, pay your bills or find somewhere to live? A large part of our program is geared toward helping connect the students with resources that can meet their immediate needs so that they have the opportunity to think about things in the future like going to college, having a career and starting a stable family. Whether it is buying groceries, having to babysit during a placement test or giving students rides to work, it seems that I have broken my boundaries of comfort with people and been willing to step into their lives in ways that I never expected. I have learned that you can never discount anything, no matter how small, because it could have a major impact later on when you least expect it.
Journal Entry #3
As I reflect on my last few weeks with Great Expectations, I cannot help but have a huge smile on my face. The program has stretched and challenged me in ways that I could not have anticipated, and I am so thankful for the opportunity for growth that it has provided. In the last two months, I have helped enroll ten new students in our program. This may not sound like very much to many people, but in reality this is a huge step in the right direction for our students and the program as a whole. I am excited to say that all ten students have continued to keep in contact with me and often reach out with their questions and concerns. Although my phone is often blowing up these days with my students calling or emailing me, I could not be happier! I am honored that they trust me enough to come to me with anything.
All that aside, this summer was not without its challenges. The biggest challenge I faced quickly became one of my biggest learning experiences, as many often do. One of our students has been battling addiction and homelessness, and he came in pleading for our help. Of course we were quick to step into action and do what we could, but we also had to maintain certain boundaries due to his previous history. Unfortunately, he wasn’t happy with this and began threatening my boss, the campus and myself. The police had to get involved to ensure our safety, and I became a part of the current threat assessment team. Despite everything, my boss and I were able to help the student find a stable place to live and an opportunity for a job. Although I was not always comfortable, I learned the depths of a student’s heart and struggles and had the chance to deny my own comfort and help him rise above his current circumstances.
My time with Great Expectations affirmed that my heart’s desire is to serve. Although I am young and still have countless lessons to learn, I know that a life in public service will teach me more than I could possibly imagine. If there is one thing I could urge students, parents and people of all ages, it would be this: Get involved. It doesn’t have to be full-time. It doesn’t have to mean a career change. It simply means connecting with just one person in your community and making them a priority. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing that you were able to partner with someone in his or her life journey. This can mean many different things, but that is the beauty of life. Everyone is different and was made for something special, but if you never step out of what you know, you may never find that part of yourself that you didn’t know was missing. I am sad to see my time with Great Expectations come to a close, but I know that I will forever hold all of the lessons I learned and memories I made in my heart.