Sometimes it can be difficult to have a positive perspective. We hear a lot about difficult issues, like the economy, unemployment, rising prices, and crime, to name a few. Such news can become background noise in our daily lives- hard to hear but even harder to change. We can become complacent; convinced that one’s contribution is not needed, or not enough.
In May, I met a young man named Alexander, a bright, articulate, 2012 high school grad, who received a scholarship to attend a top tier college in the fall. As a volunteer, Alex and I spent hours at my dining room table, making calls, mapping walks, planning the upcoming days. A kinship was formed.
About two weeks ago, I learned that Alex’s life – his family, his future, his stability – was suddenly in catastrophe. Alex learned that his home had been foreclosed upon, and his family had mere days to vacate. They needed to immediately pack up and move out of his lifelong home before the Sheriff did it for them. Alex’s father, who had been unemployed, but recently found a job in Chicago, could not come back to help. Alex’s mother is employed, but does not earn much. She did not have the funds for a new home for herself or her six children (one of whom is living with Autism spectrum disorder). The family would have to be split up. The bank for Alex’s student loans advised it would need a new co-signer, as his parents’ credit score would not work.
Alex felt helpless and hopeless, focused on anger and blame. Even though I, too, have struggled through tough times to make ends meet, I could only imagine what such a sudden and drastic turn of events must have felt like for him. Alex wasn't just losing his house; he was losing his family, his support system, the community he'd known his whole life.
I thought about the importance of community for all of us, and about the amazing things that can happen when people join together to make a positive difference. One need not look far to see this at work. Working collaboratively, parents, teachers and administrators transformed an underperforming school district into an award-winning system to be proud of. Neighborhood groups, such as those in Franz Park and Clifton Heights, come together to beautify the area with community gardens or park improvements, and host gatherings to strengthen and protect neighborhoods. Residents, businesses, and city leaders create events such as the Taste of Maplewood and Let Them Eat Art that attract people from across the region. By working together, the cities of Brentwood, Maplewood, and Richmond Heights are able to save on many purchases and services, and even share our parks and other facilities for the enjoyment of our larger community.
I realize that despite dedication and hard work, our community is not immune to the ups and downs that affect the rest of the nation. Like Alex, many of our residents have been hit hard by the economy. But there is something else I think is more important. I know that working together, there is nothing we can’t do. Helen Keller said “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” I am lucky to live among so many amazing and inspirational men and women who incorporate this idea into their daily lives.
For Alex’s family, a community of folks answered his call for help. Another volunteer brought in his parents to help pack and move Alex's family's belonging before the Sheriff arrived. Someone agreed to clear out the items that remained. Although no single home had space for the entire family, everyone is safe and sheltered. A volunteer’s mother helped complete last year’s taxes to get financial aid. Many calls were made to the college to find more funding and shrink the amount of loans needed. Someone offered to buy sheets and towels for Alex’s dorm room needs. Although Alex and his family have more challenges ahead, with help from others who all worked together, they managed to get through the trauma of the past two weeks. And Alex, now residing in my son’s old bedroom, is coping amazingly well.
After taking a moment to look at the wonderful things around us, perhaps a positive perspective isn’t so difficult after all.