In many ways, and most ironically, the only thing that’s consistent in life – the only thing we can truly count on – is that everything is always changing. We search for stability, only to find peace in temporary, fleeting moments. Through my work with The Summer Learning Collaborative, I’ve learned the most important skill and lesson in life – how to find peace in change.
Two years ago, I sat in a Teach For America conference room to be interviewed by an extraordinary woman: Catherine Lindroth, otherwise known as “Cat,” a Yale University graduate, college athlete, world traveler, and executive director of her own startup educational nonprofit – The Summer Learning Collaborative.
As Cat sat down at the table with me, she looked at my small, shy Catholic school 17 year old frame and saw something that I had yet to see in myself. She engaged me like an adult – but it wasn’t even that – she, this amazingly accomplished woman, talked to me like I was on her level – like I was an intelligent individual.
The interview opened with the daunting question: how do you believe we can change our education system in Delaware? I certainly had opinions about this topic, but I never thought how I answered this question, on this day, could in any way impact reality.
I was wrong.
Fast forward two years. As I think back to who I was when I sat in that office all that time ago, I am the same in so many ways, yet the way I believe in my own agency, the potential of others, and the capacity of the human spirit, has drastically changed.
Last summer I worked as an Operations Specialist at a community center in Wilmington and witnessed our Summer Collaborative team reverse summer learning loss for 1,200 children. And what was most personally astounding about this feat, was that I, a high schooler, who wasn’t even trusted to vote at this point, was a critical part of this impact that literally altered the lives of Wilmington’s highest need youth.
I saw kids learn to write their names and begin to develop a sense of identity. I saw them create their own blueprints and business models and science experiments. I saw them open up and learn that even though I’m not from the same neighborhood, it doesn’t mean I can’t be a shoulder to cry on. It doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. I know we all learned that summer that differences don’t have to divide, in fact they can bond individuals together in a way that transcends any perceived bounds.
These kids took a risk. They trusted, even if it was hard, and loved, when it was even harder. If they could take those big risks, I knew I couldn’t give up on them. This morphed from being a summer endeavor to a life endeavor – from a job to a family.
Cat welcomed me onto their administrative team during my senior year, and if it was possible, she made me feel even more empowered. She trusted me to fill out grants, analyze data, and work on decks – never once doubting I was capable and never giving me enough time to doubt myself.
One evening she invited me to a dinner event at a funder’s home – I will never forget this night. The event was at the nicest house I perhaps had ever walked into, and out of all the wealthy, intelligent, and accomplished people there, when Cat gave her pitch, she made sure to mention me. No more did I feel like the shy 17 year old just trying to get through high school – I felt like that intelligent individual whose opinion about our school system mattered.
The evenings I spent interning for Cat made my week – I always walked out of the office feeling as if I had accomplished something that would truly have an impact. I finally understood the age old sentiment everyone hears from their parents “when you’re older, it’s not about the money, it’s about doing a job you love.”
Well I, as a teenager, was doing it right now. And as I continued to look to Cat for countless guidance, she gave me faith that someday I could have an ounce of the passion and drive that she possesses for the SummerCollab – she gave me the gift of learning so early how it feels to be a part of a meaningful mission and I have hope that whatever I do in the rest of my life – I will not settle for any less than walking away with that same exact feeling.
This summer, Cat gave me an unparalleled opportunity. She sat down and asked me a much simpler question than last summer: “what do you want to do with your life?” My answer was immediate – a journalist. Her response was, “well then I guess the SummerCollab has a new in-residence journalist.”
So that is what I have been. Before I go to college, I am able to confidently say – not “I want to be a journalist” – but “I am a journalist.” The experience I’ve gained, the people I’ve talked to, and the SLC team I’ve had the privilege to work for, have changed everything for me. Cat, has changed everything for me.
Through this experience I have been empowered to say that if our society works together in the way I’ve learned to with the Summer Collab, there are truly no limits. I have been empowered to believe that I can change anything I set my mind to and inspired to dedicate myself to improving others’ quality of life.
Even though I have a much better sense now, as opposed to two years ago, of who I am and what I want, everything is still about to change for me, as I move into college in less than ten days. Change is difficult, but I’ve come to realize that change is the reason we’ve been able to positively affect the lives of so many children. Change lies at the core of what SLC stands for, and what I, myself, have adopted, without even fully realizing it.
So, if 1,200 kids were impacted this summer by the Summer Learning Collaborative – make that 1,201 – because I learned something big. I learned how to find peace with change.