What I Learned about Being Human in My Years of Service
Today’s guest blog is written by AmeriCorps alum Emily Goodridge who served with Friends of the Children-Boston (Emily’s full bio is below).
“T-mobile is driving me crazy.”
It was those words that marked a major turning point in my relationship with Joanne, mother to six year-old Jahnea, one of my mentees in my first year of service with AmeriCorps at Friends of the Children in Boston, MA, in 2008. Up until this day, Joanne had been polite but not warm, and our brief interactions took place in the doorway to her apartment and consisted solely of small talk as I picked up and dropped off Jahnea for our outings. My cell phone had been acting up, and I didn’t get a text Joanne sent me about scheduling. I made a comment in frustration about the issues I was having with my service provider, T-Mobile. To my surprise, Joanne stepped out of her doorway, and launched into her own tirade on T-Mobile and how they have been driving her crazy with poor service and other issues. We had a spirited exchange, venting our frustrations with the company and swapping stories.
Next time I came over, she mentioned that she was thinking of taking Jahnea and her siblings sledding for the first time, but was skeptical as she thought of it as a “white people activity.” I laughed and said I understood, but expressed that the kids might enjoy themselves. Sure enough, the next time I saw Joanne she had photos to show me of the kids playing happily in the snow in a park near their house. Over time, my relationship with Joanne underwent a dramatic change, and I remember vividly one of my last days as Jahnea’s mentor, at the end of my year of service, sitting on their couch, showered with homemade cards from the kids (as well as a pink and glittery “crown” made from construction paper by Jahnea’s younger sister, Jahlia), the cat (Jojo) next to me, their baby brother running around half-naked, and Joanne across from me, relaxed and laughing.
I tell this story to illustrate an important realization I had in my year of service, which was about how we connect as human beings. I completed my first of two years of service with AmeriCorps at Friends of the Children-Boston right out of college. I came from Bowdoin College, an idyllic bubble of privilege and intellectual elitism on a beautiful campus in Maine, to the inner-city neighborhoods of Boston. It was quite the transition, and I could not be more grateful for it. It helped shape who I am today—open-minded and curious, constantly open to self-critique and self-growth.
My relationship with Joanne, an African-American woman and a single mother of four who was doing the best she could to stretch the welfare benefits she received, could have easily stayed on the level of polite acquaintance, both of us saying to ourselves how different we are and how could we possibly have anything in common to relate over. Instead, we worked a little harder and did, in fact, find common ground—a process triggered by a shared loathing of the same cell phone service provider!
I’m incredibly grateful for AmeriCorps and for Friends of the Children-Boston; if it wasn’t for my years of service, I would not have had experiences that changed my life and changed who I was, for the better, setting me on a path of commitment to service, to working for non-profits with missions I believe in, and to always seeking what brings us together as human beings, rather than what divides us.
Author Bio: Emily Goodridge is a native of New York City and attended Bowdoin College for her undergraduate degree in English and Theatre. She went on to complete two years of service with AmeriCorps in Boston at a youth-focused non-profit, then to teach and work at two education-focused non-profits in Boston and New York City. She earned her Master’s Degree in Theatre Education from Emerson College, graduating in May of 2014, where she also worked as a Graduate Assistant in two departments. She then began as the Education Associate at Cleveland Play House, where she remains to this day, and is headed to Florida State University in the fall of 2016 to earn her MFA, fully funded, in Theatre Management.