Planting Seeds

June 2, 2010

I’m a pretty results-oriented guy. I like to see the benefits of what I’ve done relatively soon after working on it, and if I can’t see those results, I get a bit frustrated.

That’s why, at times this year, it’s been frustrating to be a teacher. You don’t always see results quickly. Sure, I’ve helped students get a good grade on this or that assignment, but ultimately, as a teacher, you don’t always see results today, tomorrow, next month, or even this year.

So, I find myself continually asking myself, “What real difference can I make?

Recently, I was bemoaning this to a friend of mine. She, however, was unimpressed. She said simply, “The fact that you are there is making a difference, Tom. You’re planting seeds. You probably won’t see whether those seeds grow, but they will. You are making a difference by planting, nurturing, and loving these seeds.”

She helped me realize that you don’t need to see the direct results in order to make a difference. Every little bit helps in the lives of children, and, no matter how frustrated I get, I need to realize that what I’m doing isn’t going to solve every problem, but it just might kick-start some growth into those seeds.


Also, in cased you missed it, I’m fundraising for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and hiking the Appalachian Trail to travel to Dis-Orientation, our retreat to end our year of service. For my blog post and more information about it, CLICK HERE, or to go directly to the fundraising page, CLICK HERE. Thanks everyone! -Tom


Putting it in Perspective

November 11, 2009

This is an excerpt from a blog post by Jenn Williams of the Catholic Review on the value of Catholic Education. She featured one of the students from Cristo Rey. Check it out. It speaks for itself.

“Some question why so much effort is placed on preserving the Catholic school system in Baltimore City, where many students aren’t even Catholic.

I can think of at least one reason why.

Fifteen-year-old Arthur Williams was one of two Cristo Rey Jesuit High School sophomores chosen recently to meet Bill Cosby during a Feb. 7 Black History Month Celebration at the War Memorial Plaza. He was selected because of the leadership he demonstrates in performing community service. Arthur told me volunteering is extremely important to him and he feels if he helps people, they will in turn help someone else, and the cycle of helping others will continue. He has volunteered some 80 hours at Habitat for Humanity, Beans and Bread and Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation (GEDCO), among other sites.

“I figure why not help people who don’t have the resources,” said Arthur, who is a graduate of St. William of York School. “Even if I help pack a lunch for one person, it could help make a difference, and then maybe they’ll help somebody else.”

At Cristo Rey, Arthur has the opportunity to serve as an intern at Brown Advisory, where he works in information technology.

I asked Arthur if meeting Bill Cosby was one of the highlights of his life. He quickly responded “no.”

“Well then what is?” I asked, surprised by his response.

“Seeing my mother get clean,” he said. “Meeting Bill Cosby was a great opportunity and affected my life, but seeing my mother stop using was much more crucial.”

I was quiet for a minute. I realize Arthur has had certain life experiences that have forced him to grow up faster than most and take on more responsibility at an earlier age. But Arthur’s generous spirit, his ambition and his will to succeed were nurtured in part by his Catholic education. Even if you’re not Catholic, I thought, how can you not see the impact a Catholic education can have on a young life?”

The Why’s Part II: Why Education? In Baltimore?

May 26, 2009

Here’s something you may find surprising: I have no experience teaching and spent a grand total of about 4 hours in Baltimore over 4 years ago. So why would I accept a placement with JVC teaching in Baltimore?

It all started last summer when a friend recommended that I watch HBO’s The Wire. It’s a fictional show about the Baltimore City, its people (cops, criminals, addicts, children, politicians, & everything in between), and its government systems.

Each season looked at a different aspect of the city. The first season focused on how the police department handled drug problems and interacted with drug dealers within the city. The second season focused on unions, the third on politics, the fourth on education, and the fifth on the press (public relations professionals reading this should take a look at season 5. It offers a very accurate portrayal of a news room). The show strived to show a realistic vision of an American city. All institutions depicted, from drug trafficking operations to City Hall, were dysfunctional in some way, causing the characters, no matter how noble, to adapt to their reality, continuing the cycle of dysfunction.

What really inspired me, however, was the fourth season on education. In my opinion, education is where the cycle of poverty manifests itself the most (Check out the circular imagery from the 1:16 mark in the season 4’s introduction). Middle school and high school may be the time when a child makes the most important decision of his or her life: stay in school or to start or continue down a path towards poverty or crime.

Each season ends with a musical montage of scenes showing where each character is headed in their life. Season 4’s montage ends with a long shot of a crossroads (5:30 mark), perhaps representing the crossroads that each child faced.

After watching The Wire, I felt that education would be the best place to volunteer. Here, I would be able to pass on what I’ve learned in my own education to those who may not otherwise receive that help. I know I can’t save the world, but maybe assisting some students with their class papers will add to the mission* of the school, help school be cool and, be a place where students not only learn about writing, but also about life.

*The school’s program caters to students in low and medium income families, who demonstrate academic potential and motivation, and are mature enough to be employable. Students pay part of their tuition by working five full days a month at area businesses.