Perspective

Last night, like I have been doing once a week for a year and a half, I spent an hour tutoring at a Downtown Indianapolis homeless shelter with the organization School on Wheels.

This fall, I realized that one hour a week is not nearly doing enough for the kids I see, and so I decided that I would become more involved with the young professionals group. People who know me might be surprised to find out that I have a somewhat philanthropic heart. They might be even more surprised at the state I am in when I leave my shelter Tuesday nights at 7.

On my drive home to the uncrowded, clean northside suburbs, it is impossible to put the shelter and the students from my mind. I think about the homework we didn’t finish in that hour time slot, and I wonder if they will complete the rest or hand in blank worksheets to their teacher the following day; I wish I could give more of my time. I would sit there for as long as it takes to complete all of the reading, language arts, and math.

Last week, I worked with a third grade girl who kept repeating to me that she didn’t have any confidence in herself. I didn’t ask who had put that notion in her head. Instead, I told her that she was rocking her spelling words that we were practicing and that she was flying through her math worksheet. She responded with a sheepish smile and an excited nod. I hoped an hour was enough to instill at least a little confidence in her.

The week before that, I came into the shelter tired and stressed. There was a huge event going on at work that was taking most of my energy. I was paired with a sixth grade boy. I try to avoid grades higher than fourth, but I was the last tutor there and was unpaired when he walked in. Immediately, he pulled his math textbook out and I panicked. I can’t do math; I can barely do basic multiplication and division. This student flipped to his lesson and homework problems, and I quickly realized I had no idea what he was learning and I couldn’t remember the last time I would have been faced with the content of that chapter. I wanted very badly to say that he could work on it later and that I could help him with his language arts, but that one hour a week is not about me. The students come to the School on Wheels tutoring hour because there isn’t someone who can help them later. I am there as a resource to students who might otherwise have none. So instead, I spent a frantic ten minutes re-teaching myself prime factorization and then doing my best to teach the student next to me. When we did finally move onto his language arts homework, math completed correctly, I think we both felt a sense of pride in what we had accomplished.

I have tutored at both a long term shelter, where families can stay for roughly two years to try and get back on their feet and integrate back into the normal demands of day to day life, and an emergency shelter, where women are fleeing potentially dangerous situations, often with their children. For one whole year, I worked with the same little girl every week. That shelter was shut down due to lack of funds. I now work with a different student every week and sometimes I come back the following week and learn that student is gone.

On my drive home, I think of the house I went home to everyday after school. I think of both of my parents with their college degrees, who would sit next to me and work through homework with me at the bar counter in our kitchen. I thought of the good grades I got because they checked my homework and even more because of the stress free life I lived. There was no food uncertainty in my life, no question of where I would sleep ever, and I knew if I couldn’t figure out a math problem someone would help me.

My mother and I at a School on Wheels fundraiser

As an adult, I come home to the same place every day. On Tuesdays, I don’t wish it were bigger or fancier. I am glad it is warm and my own. I sit and talk with Chris, who has never more than play wrestled me. The things I complain about and wish for quickly come into perspective on Tuesdays. It makes me soft and hard at the same time. I no longer have much time for others around me to complain about their work, their relationship, the general stresses of millennial life. I try to bite my tongue when I am about to complain about something trivial. I try to take stock of my situation in comparison to what I see at the shelter. I try to be more grateful.

February is #SharetheLove month for School on Wheels. It is the month where tutors, and even individuals who aren’t involved with the organization, advocate for the kids at the shelters and raise funds. It takes $1000 to provide tutoring for one student for a whole year. To many, that’s not a lot of money. To one student, that gets them me trying to learn and teach them sixth grade math, which I guess is not a lot of bang for the buck, but there are better tutors who know math so don’t worry!

When you see my fundraiser go live tomorrow, please consider donating. Every little bit helps. Not only does it provide homework assistance, but it provides them with certainty. They can go to the tutoring room and there will be someone waiting on them, ready and eager to help.