Bad Coffee

Today marks the final week of the Buckeye Leaders at the Library program for the 2015 fall semester. As I write this, I am sitting in my small apartment, bad coffee at my right hand, taking a break after organizing the snacks for the five weekly sites. This has become my routine. On Mondays, I get up for class, then meet my coworker to pick up a tremendous amount of goodies for the kids: everything needed for the upcoming week. I get back, toss everything across the small kitchen table and divide it up into five bulging grocery. I tie the flimsy plastic arms together, hoping they don’t rip this time, then take a seat. I may get up to wash some dishes or complete a small piece of homework before I leave for the Linden program. Other times I’ll just have a good sit. And some bad coffee.

This is my Monday now. It is mostly dedicated to BCEC work; I prep for the subsequent three days at different Columbus Metro Library branches, helping out with homework, reading, and doing my best to put on great programs for great kids – not to mention the snacks. It was daunting at the beginning, but I settled upon a way to make it work. I spend twelve hours each week directly working with kids from Linden, Livingston, Franklinton, and Hilltop. We also have a program at MLK, but it happens at the same time as another. It kills me that I can’t be there as well. I spend about another five hours in transit. I am dropping off supplies for the folks at MLK, going to and from all of the branches, giving volunteers rides, and picking up supplies every Monday. I spend another three hours or so doing everything else it takes to keep the engine running. What supplies did I forget? Did I follow up with those interested volunteers? How many people do I need to interview today?

At times like this, having a good sit can be intoxicating. Sometimes it calms me down, but other times, I just want to stay glued to the chair. Sometimes I don’t want to start the week and drive past high to 17th to Cleveland and go north to Linden. Sometimes the selfish part of me just wants to stay in my apartment, clean some dishes, put on music, and drink bad coffee. This is the same part of me that hits the snooze button in the morning when I need to catch up on prep for classes. You likely have a similar version of your self you’ve come to know over the years.

But I always go. And as soon as I am there, I can’t even remember the part of me that would do anything else with my time. A couple snapshots of things that have happened this year: kids at Linden in teams helping each other make butter like it was the most important task of the day; kids at Livingston having an impromptu meditation session as a throwback to an earlier week’s lesson; kids at MLK being challenged by programs on DNA, fractals, and optics, presented by OSU’s budding experts in those fields; kids at Franklinton running back and forth to sort rubbish for a recycling relay; kids at Hilltop insisting to act out stories for each other when we had only planned to write them; kids opening up about the family member’s they’ve lost over the years, then turning the page and continuing to read their short book to you.

There are some difficult days. Sometimes I feel as bad as my coffee tastes. Sometimes I think it’s not doing any good and that the problems that these children face are bigger than anything I will ever face. But then I have a good sit and think. I reframe and recenter. All experiences, great and terrible, impel me onward, giving me the fuel to keep bringing my bundles of snacks to the kids who run up for a hug and make fun of my hair.

So I’ll stand up now. And stay hopeful. And keep shuffling toward a better Columbus.

Buckeye Reach

The name is extremely fitting. Buckeye R.E.A.C.H. Often names of programs are just names. I have been a part of many educational programs in my four years at OSU and usually the program names are just in place to identify the program. Sometimes the name is motivational or maybe just describes what the program does. However, it’s never a way of life. Except for Buckeye REACH. Relationships and Education in Action through Community and Hope.

Relationships and Education in Action. These words are the ingredients of REACH. They’re what we do on early mornings at our various sites. They mean excitement, exhaustion, and hard work. They are what makes it Ohio State’s premier community program. The relationships in REACH are not surface level. Over the past four years, I have been able to develop deep bonds and have truly made friends with some of the young men in Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility. I have been able to see them grow from gang members with crime on their minds to scholars with college on their mind. Furthermore, they have seen me grow as well, and that’s what truly makes these relationships valuable. The combination of these relationships with our interactive educational activities is what make these ingredients perfect. During REACH the men we work grow a great amount academically. Pen Pal letters allow them to develop better vocabulary and writing skills. Book clubs allow them to explore novels they wouldn’t have thought to pick up. And films allow them to critique many of society’s flaws. This combination is the Action. Because of our relationships, the education portion is extremely joyful. This joy allows the development of a love between OSU students and Circleville youth, as well as a love for Buckeye REACH. With this love, I have witnessed mindsets and lives changed from those in college and those behind bars.

In its early years, I did not understand why Community and Hope were a part of the acronym. Honestly, I thought it was there to make the name sound more appeasing. However, as the program develops, I see that my initial thought cannot be further from the truth. The people who make up BuckeyeREACH are truly a community. From Dr. Patty to the freshman who just wants to help out, to the youth who has been a part of the program for three years, everyone feels a part of this community. This can be seen by the great amount of laughter and smiles, or the fact that everyone (volunteers included) has nickname. Lastly, Buckeye REACH gives everyone in the community hope. After our time together, the youth are left with a sense of hope that they too can be in college like us. In addition, many volunteers leave with the hope that many of the young men we meet will lead a good life once they are released. This hope is what keeps me coming back. The hope that the dear friends I have met in there will eventually become leaders of this nation is why BuckeyeREACH will be my fondest college memory. The name is perfect. And as we further build Relationships, Educate the youth with Action and provide a sense of Community and Hope, Buckeye REACH will be perfect too.