Currently, I teach both matriculated students at Salem State University and shelter students (at Lifebridge in Salem and the New England Center for Homeless Veterans in Boston). Occasionally, these two words collide and I find myself teaching a matriculated student at SSU who is homeless. Sometimes these beleaguered students are forthcoming about their circumstance and sometimes they are too ashamed to speak of it. Last February I had a student, Alexandria, who came to class in 17 layers of clothing; it was cold outside, but not that cold. As the weather warmed up and the extra clothes were shed, so too did her reticence to share her situation ease, at which point I was able to get SSU's Student Affairs Office involved.
This past fall, Ariana arrived in class two weeks late, privately explaining that her family had recently become homeless and the travails of their dislocation over the past couple of weeks had prohibited her from starting school on time. I encouraged her to write about her circumstance in a couple of the essays that were assigned in class; I wanted her to feel that she had a voice in the face of all the hardship that she and her family were enduring. On the last day of class, each student was asked to read their best work of the semester aloud to the other students. Ariana chose to read her essay on 'leaving home', giving away the family dog, packing up box after box of things that were special, all that constituted family, home, happy times. She wrote of putting a good face on the 'adventure' of homelessness that she and her family were embarking upon, for the sake of her three younger siblings, a disabled dad and a mother whose nerves were already frayed to breaking from working two jobs. After a silence that must have seemed interminable to this courageous young woman, the class broke into a round of applause. This morning, I received this text from Ariana:
Hi Professor Batten
This is Ariana Rodriguez. You told me to text you within the next few days to let you know how things are going for us. Yesterday was one of the worst days since my grandmother has passed. We found our belongings in storage had been auctioned on December 17th and now we have nothing; it was our whole house in one storage and now we have nothing. To top it off a jealous girl that lives in the shelter called the cops on my mother, who has been driving an unregistered and uninsured car because she can't afford to pay for it right now. Due to my grandmother passing she was let go from her jobs because she was too depressed to work. I don't know if there is anything you can do to help us, but anything you can do is greatly and truly appreciated by my family and I, because we have no transportation and we won't have a Christmas. My mother would have reached out to you herself, but she is overwhelmed with stress due to everything that has been happening. Thank you again and Merry Christmas. ~ Ariana
So you folks see where I am going with this - four days before Christmas. If any of you are able to help me help Ariana, I would greatly appreciate it. Ariana's mom has two layaways with Christmas gifts for her children that she has been paying off slowly (there is still $150 owed on both), plus it will take at least $500 to get her car reinsured and registered so that she can drive her children to school/work.
Whether you are able to help or not, blessings on all of you this holiday season! (You win good karma points for reading through this unwieldy plea!) May your own joy be plentiful!
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