Not Just Another Story
Hello and thanks for reading. This will be my first Heston blog, and yes it is two weeks late. I have spent the last couple of weeks avoiding activities that I did not want to do: breakfasts, blogs, anything that I did not consider under the scope of my job at SCCAP. It was not until a lengthy meeting that I fully understood that Heston is not just a job, it is an experience, and thus everything that is not under the scope of my job is still required. And thus here I am, writing this blog, not for my job, but for the experience.
My meeting focused around why I did not like the idea of writing about my job, and more importantly my past experiences. I grew up beneath the poverty line, watching my family struggle in a lot of the same ways that I see other people struggle at my job. The Work Ready program, which people must attend when they go on cash-based assistance, is where I spend most of my time; my mother was part of the same program six years ago. I sit there daily, and try to help women who are in the same place that my mother was. After her time in the work ready program, my mother got a job, and then as she started to make money, she started to lose money. As her pay increased, she lost different forms of cash assistance, eventually leading to a week where my family went without electricity, despite the fact that my mom was working full time. These struggles are the same ones that we learn about in Circles, another program where I spend my time. And while my family is now above the poverty line, although just barely, I still remember times when my family would go to the food pantry in order to get groceries, a food pantry just like the one that I work at every Tuesday.
You would think that my time helping out here in Gettysburg would leave me wanting to speak about my younger years; everybody thought that, even myself. But as I spent time in orientation learning about all of the different ways there are to misunderstand people, I found that those people who we were expected to have difficulty relating to, are the people that I relate to the best. We were taught to respect people who may not have money, nor have graduated high school, or perhaps they were just misfortunate enough to have gotten in trouble with the law, but the whole time I sat there and wondered if everybody actually needed to be told these things; were they really so unaware of people less fortunate than themselves that they need to be taught, be placed into discussions, be required to write and converse?
I had reached two conclusions: either they did know about people less fortunate than themselves, and thus they did not need to be told; or they had no clue about people less fortunate, and thus they were not worth my time, as they would not understand. All of the classes in the world cannot undo a prior lifetime of ignorance. I tended to assume it was the first possibility; that everybody knows about different situations, not specifically but generally enough that they understood, and if they understood, then nothing needs to be said. Now I understand that there are people who may not understand another person’s background, and they may even want to know or learn, but I still hesitate. Yes it is good to learn about the world, and other people’s lifestyles and situations, but once it becomes a class, once it becomes something that you learn, just for the sake of learning it, it trivializes every unique story. It becomes just another archetype that people know, and will file you under.
My first week at my job was enjoyable, I got a quick orientation at all five different locations, met a number of new people, and got to watch all of the different ways in which the programs at SCCAP intertwined. I would go to Work Ready, and hear about how individual success stories still typically ended up at Circles. I would bag up food from Gleaning and eventually have to deal with it again at the food pantry. I even got to see one of the clients at Work Ready come to the Farmer’s Market, and buy strawberries for her daughter’s high school graduation party. It was enjoyable to do a bit at each part of the system in SCCAP. And yet all the while I would think about how these people would have treated my mother. Was she just another story to learn, so that they could finally understand this person? I’d like to think not. I’d like to think that they saw her as a person, not somebody to study but just somebody, just a person; because at the end of the day, nobody wants to be a neat little story that people tell, they just want to be a person.
Brandon McTigue ’15