A week ago, one of my students had a face to face meeting with the governor of Oregon. She was part of a group that’s been fighting to get the Family Preservation Project refunded, and to get legislation passed (SB939) to support keeping incarcerated women (and men) connected with their children. She’s also a graduate of my program, was my clerk, and I watched her grow and transform as a result of programming that addressed her needs as an individual and as a mother.
Every time I’ve had students who have concurrently participated in both types of programming, the effect is extraordinary. They build a solid core of individual skills and habits, actively grow their sense of self-worth and self-esteem, then they learn how to be more loving, effective mothers and the change becomes exponential. They develop a self-assurance and confidence that individual work alone cannot give, they think of themselves as good parents for the first time.
None of the words I’ve written can adequately describe this transformation, it has to be witnessed, or they have to tell it from their perspective. Seeing this student participate in our community, engage with our state government, and strongly advocate for other women like her, and children like hers, in a way she would never have done before makes me almost giddy.
I drill students on the importance of civic engagement, on becoming valuable members of their community, of their responsibility to discover ways to give back after having taken so much. This is part of their lives now, seeking ways they can create and build, instead of destroy and tear down. This is true for themselves, their families, and their society. But to see it in action brings a profound validation to work that no one but me ever sees. My program inside the walls is low profile, we aren’t written up in the paper, or interviewed on the news, or otherwise recognized.
But I have faith that my students will leave and BE the kind of people and women the governor is willing to meet with and listen to. I know this because it’s already happened.