I watched Mary Poppins for the first time. It was a prerequisite of sorts. See, my wife and I we’re going to see Saving Mr. Banks at the cheap theatre, and though I grew up watching TV with a cupboard full of VHS tapes, Mary Poppins never once stopped by my house. “A spoonful of sugar” is a lot of sugar. That’s all I’m going to say.
Okay, I’ll say a little more. While watching Poppins, I realized that I am a Bert of sorts. In the film, Bert (Dick Van Dyke) never seems to be doing the same thing twice. He has four different jobs: one-man band, chalk-artists, chimney sweep, kite salesmen. He’s an unpredictable cockney, and I couldn’t help but love him.
SIDE NOTE: Saving Mr. Banks was a wonderful picture. You see it?
As the blog title suggests, I’ve had another “vocational realignment.” I’ve pulled a Bert (awkward), working where I never have before: the inner-city.
White Boys Can’t Hump
Last semester, I had a job at Wegmans (a New York grocery store chain) making coffee in their “Buzz” cafes. Wegmans is a great place to work and shop. There’s a strong sense of local pride that permeates off the walls, and it makes you feel like you’re apart of something special. While the coffee itself was not very good (Northwest coffee snob, ova-heer!), the job was a good one.
A new job opened up in a social program that works with inner-city youth, encouraging them to graduate high school and go to college. Yes, coffee can be a worthwhile vocation, but bad coffee is bad coffee, and I needed something a little more meaningful. So I learned about the program. I realized it would be like mentoring, like working in a youth group again (which I loved!), minus the cheesy Christian songs and dealing with “visionary” pastors and elders. Sounded absolutely wonderful to me.
Only one problem. I’m horribly nonathletic, white and nerdy, and one of the first events we did was a basketball game: high-school guys vs. college guys. My wife laughed when I told her: “Do you even know what a basketball looks like?”
“It’s round and ball-like?”
Every new job comes with its struggles. Usually, there’s a hump to get over. You know, “the hump.” The awkward time when you don’t know what you’re doing, you walk in circles or follow your supervisor like a shadow; you hide in the cubicle because it’s safe in there.
Well, my hump came in the form of getting over myself. Yes, I’m white and nerdy (need proof? I started this blog talking about Mary Poppins!), and yes, the kids are of color and have a “street” mentality. But what I realized while eating a meal with them was that none my preconceived racial dividers really mattered. They’re just teenagers. They’re goofballs and hilarious and more respectful than I was at their age.
Some didn’t talk to me a whole lot, at least at first. One case in particular, after ten minutes of sitting together without a successful conversation, the kid finally stood up and left the table. I sat with myself and felt I had failed. But he came back a few minutes later with big plate and a smile on his face. He talked for five minutes about his favorite type of food. Awesome.
I ended up not playing basketball. I got to watch comfortably from the bleachers with a few new friends who forgot their permission slips.
Social work is new to me. Any advice for the new job? I’d love your input!