Experience is everything.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a vet. It’s what I said I wanted to do for years. I love animals. Not like I think most people love animals though. My animals (past and current) have been my best friends, my motivation, and pretty much my world. So much of my life revolves around my animals, and I’m totally okay with that. After the death of my goat, Chaos, I realized I didn’t want to be a vet anymore. The medicine the vet gave him didn’t work, and young me found him dead the next morning. From then on, becoming a vet was the last thing I wanted to do. Vets can’t save all animals, and that wasn’t the profession for me.

In high school and early undergrad, I wanted to become a marriage and family therapist. For whatever reason, I was fascinated by keeping marriages together. Yes, my parents are divorced, but my dad is gay. It’s not your typical reason for divorce (I think).  I’m not sure what my fixation was with becoming a MFT, maybe subconsciously I was craving for my parents to still be married. But consciously it’s not something I’d want because I’m proud that my dad finally came out. Anyway, my MFT path hit a roadblock my second year of college. My boyfriend of 5 years had cheated on me. Then he cheated again, and again, and again. What I realized is this: not all relationships work out, not all marriages can stay together. I hated the idea of becoming a MFT.

I was still in the family studies program, and I knew there were other options for my career. In this program, I was required to complete 2 volunteers placements. My first was with the local Commission on Aging, the second with a Children’s Advocacy Center. At the Commission on Aging, I was given a list of several volunteer roles. On this list was a position called “Friendly Visitor.” A FV is just as it sounds: someone who visits an elderly person. I love old people, so I decided to do this role. When I met the caseworker before the introduction of my old person, I was given a piece of paper to review. At the top was my old person’s name, Hazel. Below, a list of negative, awful, judgmental things about her (I now realize that it was a typical intake assessment). My heart broke into pieces. I remember reading “frail,” “depressed,” “lonely,” and I thought “how sad is it that this woman has to enroll in a program called Friendly Visiting just to have someone talk with her?” I was determined to make a difference. Hazel and I were matched for a little over two years, and I have the best memories from our time together. After she died, I realized that this one-on-one relationship was what was needed to make the world better. My experience led me to become a Big Sister.

Someday I might write about my 6+ year experience as a Big Sister, but it’s too raw of an emotion for me to take on right now. 

While at my Big Sister interview, the caseworker seemed to like me a lot, and thought I’d be a good fit as one of their agency interns. I jumped on this opportunity because I really didn’t know what I was going to do after I could no longer become a marriage and family therapist. My experience at Big Brothers Big Sisters was another life-changer. Not only did I learn from the best, I was offered a job! My co-workers were some of the best I have ever had and they quickly became my family. When you’re working at BBBS, mentoring becomes everything. You see the impacts of the one-on-one relationships in other people’s lives (not just mine, Hazel’s, or my Little Sister’s), and I was a huge advocate for the program. I thought that mentoring would change the world.

Then I left. My boss at the time was awful and I couldn’t take it anymore. I found a job at the YWCA and started working with women in poverty and parents with limited skills. I slowly started seeing the impacts of education and women’s empowerment, and at the time I thought the real way to change the world was by becoming a political advocate and educating others. I remember thinking, “why did I advocate so much for mentoring, when that’s not how you fix the world?”

Then I left that job. The Children’s Advocacy Center that I volunteered with as an undergraduate student hired me. I’m still at this job, and I absolutely love it. What’s changed for me is this: yes, mentoring is important; yes, poverty alleviation needs to happen; yes, everyone needs access to education. BUT none of these things come close to the issues that occur with child abuse. Our agency works with children who have been sexually and physically abused, a sickening crime that unfortunately happens in every community. Now I want to make it clear that there are cycles and there are linkages to poverty, lack of education, mentoring, parenting skills, and child abuse. Those who have had a mentor, taken a parenting class, or received assistance to get out of poverty have had life-changing experiences- but have you ever talked to a child (or adult) who has been sexually abused or physically beaten? The effects are tremendous.

So here’s my thought on changing the world. Maybe the way to changing the world is by a combination of things, and maybe changing the world, or someone else’s world is subjective. Maybe the way of changing the world is by finding your passion, your fuel, and giving it 100% through your job, relationships, community, volunteering, education, or for some maybe even blogging (FYI really not my intention with this blog).

That’s my motivational statement for the day.

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