Wednesday, January 10, 2007


In 1996-97 I worked at The Center For New Directions on the LCSC campus in Lewiston, Idaho. I was a job coach for the Idaho State Welfare Dept. My primary job function, contracted through Americorps, was to aid in teaching resume writing and interviewing skills to welfare recipients and prison parolees (attending the class was mandatory for receiving welfare and/or probation). I got to pass out gems of wisdom such as: "Shower; use deodorant; less cleavage, more skirt; clean your fingernails, brush your teeth ... There was one young woman whose name I can't believe I have forgotten. She came into my class furious at Welfare's insistence she get a job and support herself. She said, "Having babies and living on welfare is my job. Both my momma and my grandma did it. Why can't I?" She was also the one, 6 weeks later, who came back from a job interview, sat down at my desk and started to cry. "They hired me, but I can't do this job!" The job was at a plant nursery. They wanted her to pour water and pull weeds. "Why not?" I asked. She wailed, "They expect me to go to work everyday!" Everyday? Pft. Fancy that. One of my first students was a very tall and wide, 22 year-old parolee named Gina. She bulled into my classroom, invaded my personal space and shouted from about 6 inches above my head, "I'm f-ing not taking this class and you f-ing can't make me." My short 36 year-old over-fed self was thinking: I'm f-ing dead. Still, I opened my mouth and calmly said, "You're right. I can't make you." She backed up about two steps and looked at me in surprise. "Are you f-ing kidding? I can leave?" I gestured toward the door, "It's not locked." She moved toward the door. I backed toward my desk. As her hand touched the door knob I picked up the telephone receiver. "Gina," I queried, "Would you remind me, please -- is your parole officer Tom or Mike?" She stopped. She turned around. She sat down at a desk and folded her hands. She also became one of my most enthusiastic students and my ever present body guard. When the other parolees would act up Gina would rise to her feet and snap, "Hey, Teach don't disrespect you. You don't disrespect her!" I know nothing of Gina beyond my year at the CND, but when I left, she had graduated from my class, gotten a job and enrolled in college. One of the last things she said to me was, "When I grow up, I wanna be a do-gooder like you."


Blogger The amoeba said...

My word, Quilly! This kind of thing takes courage. Some do-gooder's likely to accuse you of blaming the victim ...


1/10/2007 05:49:00 AM  
Blogger Charlene Amsden said...

Courage? No. I was more afraid of disappointing the people who hired me than I was of taking a beating. The real courage came from these two women because both of them dared to dream for something different than what they knew. I was honored to be a small part of that.

1/10/2007 06:03:00 AM  
Blogger Rob said...

Great post, Quilly! It's disouraging to meet people who think that having to work for their paycheck is some kind of cruel joke, but it's great to know that some troubled people are open to bettering themselves.

Have a great day!

1/10/2007 06:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quilly - what a bonus you got - the feeling of getting through and making a difference. I did an internship at a place where I worked for a year with some people of your 'client's' background, and I know how hard it is to get through...easier to understand, though, when you realize they live a different 'culture'.

1/10/2007 06:39:00 AM  
Blogger No Mas said...

You must take pride in knowing YOU made a difference. Most of those women problaly never had a true role model.

1/10/2007 07:09:00 AM  
Blogger Lori's Minute said...

Funny....I had to tell my daughter last night to shower, use soap and shampoo, and make sure it all gets rinsed off.

What a life you have led....

1/10/2007 08:41:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wow! It is nice to see that your work impressed someone. Maybe years down the road that woman will remember you and say a pray of thanks that you were in her life for that brief shining moment. Good for you!

1/10/2007 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger Charlene Amsden said...

Rob -- most people are open to bettering themselves. Fear of failure stops them.

Jackie -- different culture, different rules, different values -- the important thing is to remember that diferent doesn't mean wrong.

NoMas -- the word pride makes me a bit uneasy. I feel priviledged to be in a place where I can help others.

Lori -- it's the age; in a matter of months you'll have to be prying her out of the bathroom.

Jill -- Prayers are always nice, but I'd rather she remembered me by helping someone else.

1/10/2007 10:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should feel very proud, QD

1/10/2007 02:42:00 PM  

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