I feel as though I must begin this blog post by acknowledging that there are still at least 700 cases of separated families. It does not escape me that my first blog post nearly two months ago discussed this very subject and, despite the administration’s promises of a timely reunification, families remain separated. I have not forgotten the courageous people I met and lessons I learned on the border. If anything, my convictions have only been strengthened working so closely with the amazing immigrant families in Adams County. The continued separation of mothers and fathers from their children, perpetuated by a blatantly callous government, is inexcusable and appalling.
That being said, it can be easy to become disheartened by a seeming lack of progress, leaving you wondering: What can one person really do? If weeks of media pressure makes little difference, then what’s the point? Am I just yelling into the void here? Do any of my choices: working for CPS, vegetarianism, etc. matter in the grand scheme of things? These thoughts can feel overwhelming at times, but if this fellowship has taught me anything this summer, it is the power of community action – the power of individuals to come together for the benefit of something greater than themselves.
So, what exactly did I do this summer to arrive at that conclusion? It’s not something that fits neatly into a thirty-second elevator speech or bullet points on a resume. Even now I’m struggling to find the right words to wrap up the past seven weeks with a blog post. Here’s my unsatisfactory answer:
Most of my time was spent working at a summer school program for the children of migrants – sure, I helped prepare and execute activities focused on community development and artistic expression, but the most important moments weren’t in traditional lessons. No, the most important moments happened in those in-between moments with the high-school students – competitive teacher-student soccer games; deep conversations about identity and family while sketching; and lunch-room banter over half-frozen, school lunch ham sandwiches. In these moments, I forged a stronger connection with my community and saw first-hand how a small group of determined people can make a real difference in the lives of young people. Teachers are real-life superheroes.
When summer school came to an end, I began tutoring women at Work Ready, a program that assists families in breaking the cycle of poverty, to help them prepare for their GEDs. Once again, the most impactful, memorable moments were unstructured ones. When I wasn’t tutoring, I was bouncing between observer and tentative participant. I listened to friendly banter, helped make a tuna casserole, and painted rocks to (sort of) look like fruit. During this time, they openly shared pieces of their stories with me: where they came from; their children; the barriers currently preventing them from succeeding independently. The relationships between Work Ready, Campus Kitchen, Gleaning, and the Food Pantry also showed me the power of collaboration between programs and the importance of seeking out the assistance of others.
Finally, in a late, but wonderful addition to the fellowship, we have begun participating in More Than a Meal – a program in which two or three fellows share a weekly meal with a local senior in the community. These meals have become a highlight of my week. What began with an admittedly shaky start (we parked in the wrong place and knocked on the wrong door), has morphed into an unlikely friendship I am fortunate to be a part of. Each week, I bring a meal made in our Campus Kitchen and, in return, get to talk and listen to a wonderful woman with endless fascinating stories and wisdom from her ninety-six years of life.
These community programs are proof that, although there is always more work to do, it is a mistake to believe that trying to make a difference is an optimist’s futile dream. As my new friend Mrs. Hartman so eloquently put it, “All we can do is try and make our own little corner of the world a better place. That’s all that matters, in the end.”
Michaela Crow is a Junior at Gettysburg College studying Political Science and Middle East and Islamic Studies. In her free time, she enjoys running the Gettysburg battlefields and working as a Program Coordinator with the Center for Public Service. This post was originally written for the CPS Summer Fellows 2018 blog.