Today was a good day. It was a good day because even in the midst of heartbreaking recent events there are beacons of hope burning bright. I was reminded of this hope a few times throughout the day and for that I’m thankful.
In the past two years I have been lucky enough to be able to contribute a small amount of my personal resources to local non-profit organizations I truly care for. Today I hosted a table at Treehouse’s annual Champions for Kids luncheon in Seattle. I had worked for this organization for almost 3 years and this was my second year volunteering as a Table Captain.
The event was a huge hit with over 1,100 people in attendance. They raised over $830,000! The Grammy Award-winning artist Patti Labelle spoke and also gave a rousing rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow!” After she brought the house down a young man I know very well came up to speak. His name is Sam Martin and I was his coach/mentor in the Coaching-to-College program. He started off with admitting how hard it would be to follow someone like Patti Labelle. The crowd laughed in agreement but little did they know that he would be the one upstaging a recording legend.
He started off by recounting the hardships he faced as a foster kid. He talked about how his mother couldn’t take care of him and how his father fell in and out of incarceration. He spoke about an alcoholic grandmother who abused him physically and mentally. He then moved in with an aunt that had five kids of her own and he spoke about how she tried her best but couldn’t give him the attention and support he needed. He talked about his heartbreak when they moved to California and didn’t take him along. He then moved in with another aunt who gave him more stability and because of that he had the anchor that allowed him to start growing. He began working with Treehouse for help with tutoring in middle school. Treehouse helped him find clothes that allowed him to fit in at school and gave him the strong academic and emotional support he needed to reach his potential.
He spoke about all these great things the organization did for him and then he surprised me by mentioning me by name. He proceeded to talk about the many days we spent together going over scholarship applications, college applications, and financial aid forms. He thanked me for helping him get into college in front of 1,100 people! My heart swelled with joy and admiration and pride! My friends and colleagues smiled at me brightly and congratulated me and I won’t lie – it felt awesome! I am very proud of the time I spent with Sam but it never seemed like that big of a deal to me. We goofed around, talked sports, ate at Taco Time, and filled out some forms. He did all the work. He took the bus over long commutes to get transcripts and recommendations. He typed up his essays and met with advisors. He studied for his tests. He graduated from high school.
Sam is a senior at the University of Washington and will continue to be an amazing champion for foster youth and social justice. I am completely humbled by his steadfastness and persistence in the face of overwhelming hardship. It has not always been easy and each measure of success was often met with false starts, poor decisions and pitfalls. He is well on his way to becoming an amazing young man and I am proud to have had a small part in helping him along his path.
In light of what’s happening in Japan, Libya, and across our country (safety nets being slashed and educational programs for our kids who need the most being dismantled) it’s hard to see the light. But like Sam we all need to take it in stride – both the good and the bad and the ugly. Hope is never lost. The battle is never over. There are always people in our lives to cherish and evidence of grace. Our job is to adjust our eyes and our hearts to see past the darkness.
Sam taught me all this while I only taught him how to fill out some forms. We both benefited from each other but in all honesty – I benefited the most.
Thank you Sam.