Been a long hard week. All around the college where I work as a benefits coordinator, programs are out of funding for the summer. Financial aid is strained to the breaking point by the influx of new students. Students come flooding in for vocational training designed to switch them out of their now-defunct line of work.
Worker retraining can pay for tuition, but not books. What program offers to pay for childcare? Can I qualify for financial aid if I worked most of last year? I have to stay in school to keep my food stamps; who has grant money? I field a dozen phone calls a day from students trying to find a way out of the current economic situation.
Trying to find a program to help each student is taxing at best and on bad days it is heartbreaking. Our state is broke and our social service safety net gets more threadbare each month. Keeping the hope alive for a struggling student can involve much more than books and tuition. Some students are homeless and need referrals for safe housing. In more flush times we sometimes help pay for their immunizations, utility bills, even transportation, but none of that help is coming this summer.
I read the text of President Obama’s speech in Cairo this morning. Towards the end of the 6,000 words he spoke about the power of educating women. Most of the students I assist are women. I had an interview today with a woman from Iraq attending our college to learn English. She came with her two small children, a social worker and an interpreter. She and her husband came to America to start a new life, but he hasn’t been able to find work so he is going back to Iraq. The children were born in America, so for now she plans to stay. As I sit and write about her now I realize that keeping hope alive also takes lots and lots of people willing to go the distance to help.
It’s easy to be cynical about the language of hope and the call to service issued by our President. When the rubber hits the road it’s going to be the people that embrace hope that will lift our collective boat. It happens with small acts. It happens when enough people show up every day to learn something new. It happens when we share scarce resources. It happens when we believe it can make a difference to embrace hope.