The Seeds the Farmer Sowed

Rudy Chounoune ‘08
Children’s Home Society

First Year
I feel that in order to fully grasp my transformation from this Dartmouth Partners in the Community internship I needed to revisit some part of my beginning. The starting point for me is the first day of First Year Orientation, the night I returned to campus from my Dartmouth Outing Trip. I felt lost. My mother was not strict in her approach to raising me. I have always had the freedom that most experience when they reach Dartmouth, but something felt different. I realized that I would soon have to determine what the crux of my life was going to be. Oddly enough, I played no role in determining my future goal.
I apologize but I have to fast forward to the spring term of my first year at Dartmouth College. The middle, though important, is not integral to this experience. As many of my friends had internships, which paid handsomely, lined up for their summer vacation, I did not. I never searched for an internship and to this day I still do not know why. My friend, who led a DOC trip in my Group, suggested that I work with SuperKids Summer Camp in Baltimore. He normally would not suggest this job to anyone because of its requirements; however, he felt that I fit the build. He thought that I would be able to handle the demands of the job and get a good response from the children. On a side note, SuperKids Summer Camp is a program designed to help third and fourth graders who are performing below average in their classes raise their performance levels. Although my application to this position was turned in late, the interviewer felt that I had a lot to offer to this program and allowed me to be a teacher.
While I entered this program with the understanding that I was going to be a teacher, I did not expect to be a savior. This understanding saved me from the heartache most of the other teacher experienced. I feel they had difficulties because they were not invested in the job emotionally/spiritually and worked only for a pay check. Sadly, they did their students, as well as themselves, a great injustice. On the other hand, I grew from that experience. I learned that I should be thankful for what I had. While what I had was very little it was enough; enough to sustain myself and enough to be looked at, from these students, as a role model. Thus, the seeds the farmer sowed were planted within me. In terms of abilities and opportunities which surface due to these abilities, I discovered that I was given much. Consequently, much was required from me. I owed a lot to the community that I came from.

Sophomore Year
I finished the summer invigorated because of the personal growth I felt. I also was excited to go back to school to share my experience with the friend who suggested the program to me because I promised I would, and felt that I should. I also was eager to tell others about the experience in hopes that truly invested people would take this responsibility on, in order to avoid robbing the students and teachers of a fulfilling experience. After my second term back, I stopped suggesting the internship because I was trapped in the Dartmouth bubble. I did, however, speak about the program when ever I was asked. During the end of my spring term of my sophomore year an acquaintance of mine suggested that I take part in SEAD. SEAD, Summer Enrichment at Dartmouth Program, is a summer program that expands the educational opportunities for promising high school students from selected under-resourced urban and rural schools while offering the Dartmouth community a unique opportunity for service learning. Again, the application was past due, but she felt I would really be a benefit to and benefit from the program.
I was initially told that SEAD had a minimal time requirement. There was about one mandatory session a week, which was about an hour long. I found myself hanging out with my SEAD mentee and the other SEAD students every day for a few hours. They were a breath of fresh air to my hectic summer experience. I also learned a lot from them and felt that they benefited from my presence, partly because I was one of the few black men who volunteered whole heartedly to that program. Some considered me an older brother and I felt honored to be called such. I felt the seeds begin to grow within me. I partly doubted what I could do for my community, but knew that something was required for me. I felt that I needed to open a community center at some point in my lifetime before I reached the age of forty or do something equivalent to opening a community center. I felt that I needed to make the biggest impact (or impact the greatest number of people possible). I know now that this need/want to do something on a grand scape, in many regards, was very naïve.

Junior Year
I told those who I felt would be great mentors about the SEAD program because I felt a connection to that program through the students. Consequently, I wanted it to be better. I felt it could improve in the mentor areas because there were mentors who never came to any of the programs. Consequently, these people were committing an injustice to these students by not allowing them to fully experience the program.
I had a new resolve in the beginning of my junior year. While I still felt obligated to contributing to my community, I felt that an internship similar to my other two experiences would be to rob myself of a complete “Dartmouth” experience. I had the desire to do something corporate, either with a law firm or a bank. I believed that, like the other Dartmouth students, I needed to build and diversify my resume. Even with these feelings, I took a lackadaisical approach to searching for an internship that would diversify my resume. Innately, I believe that I felt that doing a corporate type of job was not a necessity for a successful future. Moreover, I feel as if I was drawn to applying for something more community oriented. When else, but in undergraduate school, would I have the opportunity to do what I wanted? This brings me to my DPCS internship with Children’s Home Society, which is a foster care agency designed to improve the living situation of children, whether that be moving them to a foster family or improving the current home life. Sounds altruistic, doesn’t it? While I knew there would be hardships with this job, I still felt that the overall experience would be positive (not including the growth factor). However, reality does not always agree with slight idealism/romanticism or what one projects.

Children’s Home Society
While I did not have a romanticized view of what this job entailed, I did not expect it to be overly difficult. For a moment I will diverge and instead of relating my experiences with the children, which was definitely positive, I want to relate my experience with the internship as a whole.
There was a case where two immigrant parents with expired green cards had children with them. The mother was caught and sent back to her respective home country. The father hid, I’m not sure where, with the children and provided for them the best he could. Supposedly he did a good job. I believe the children were American born. Anyway, Children’s Home Society felt that he was not providing enough for the children, and so they sought to remove the children from the household. He pleaded that they send his children back to his home country to his wife, however, CHS would not. They took his children from him and engaged in a courtroom battle. The lawyers on the CHS side withheld information from the man’s lawyer, which led to them losing the case. In light of this information, the case worker decided to tell the lawyer the information that was withheld, in order to get some sort of mistrial, which would send the children back to the father. This lawyer did nothing with the information passed to him. Furthermore, the situation was sort of a Catch-22 because if the man appealed the decision due to his gaining of the new information, he would be arrested and deported on site (at the courthouse) since his green card expired. Subsequently, his children would still be placed into foster care. It’s sad because people in his position see his children as his life and to lose them causes them to act in ill-mannered ways. Although the case worker tried to help him, he threatened to kill her and/or her children so that they could feel what he has gone through.
This situation has made me question many things, some of which I have questioned before. Most importantly, I question a system which claims to act in the best interest of children but does not, and some would argue rarely does, act in the best interest of the children. There are times when the children they “help” by removing from their homes and placing into foster care/group homes fare worse off. Although some of these children were removed from druggie parents, their overall situation was better. They were used to the situation and could live comfortably. Furthermore, they were not totally ignored. Whereas, in some foster homes and especially group homes, they are placed in unfamiliar situations, which they never adapt to, or are influenced by deviant children. Consequently, marring any future progress they will make. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t feel that most of children should stay in the homes they are removed from, but the alternatives should be better. There should be a new system which guarantees that the alternative will be better. Furthermore, it was discouraging to find out that government officials would partake in deviant behaviors, such as keeping information which results in a parent losing his/her child(ren), especially when the conditions in which the children were living under were not bad. At least they could have sent the children to the mother instead of taking a chance with an unsure system, which could potentially result in unsafe environments and the splitting of the siblings.
Another aspect of my internship was the sibling/sibling visitation. There children were elated when they saw and played with their siblings. One could see in their eyes that their souls were crushed when they had to part ways and wait a week to see each other. A system which does not seek to avoid such occasions is suspect to me.
Undoubtedly, all experiences were not bad. I was present for the adoption of three children into one family, which is a rarity to say the least. At times like these one can sense the system working. Consequently, I’m torn between the criticism of or the appraisal of this system. Then I realized, I do not need to have an either/or mentality to my feelings of this system; rather, I can have a both/and mentality. Thus, I am both a critic and an avid supporter of the system. It is human-made and consequently, subject to the same faults as humans.
Interestingly, I met a brother of my fraternity who worked in the mentoring division of Chilidren’s Home Society. Through our conversation he found out that I wanted to go to law school. He said that my projected goal was a good one because “we need more lawyers who are willing to help out.” Oddly, another woman said the same thing to me about a week and a half earlier. I never thought about being a lawyer in he social work field primarily. I have considered doing pro bono work on the side. I wondered whether those two comments were premonitions on whether I should devote my law career to that sort of work. I realized that would not be necessary. However, it was necessary that I devote some time to that field because of the misrepresentation that occurs. This realization made me comfortable with my final epiphany over the summer, which was that helping one person – although I plan to help many more – is successful. My want/need to help the masses was, in a sense, me stroking my own ego. If one person benefited from interactions with me, then my purpose in life was fulfilled. I feel like sharing one of the most important poems in my life. It is Will Allen Droomgole’s “The Bridge Builder.”

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast and wide and steep,
With waters rolling cold and deep.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide—
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.”

Undoubtedly, there will be others who cross this bridge the old man built for one. And in that way he would have affected many. It was naïve of me to believe I could start a community center. My efforts would be put into just as much good use if I got involved with already established centers and helped to make them better. I could help out one person, who in turn would help out another, etc. and in that way I would help many. Of course, I want to help out as many people as I can, but I would be content if I could only help out one. That was the biggest realization I made through this internship.

Mentoring
The biggest disappointment of this internship experience was the mentoring component. I tried to contact my mentor two or three times but never got a response. I received an e-mail from him towards the tail end of my internship but I was about to leave the state. Consequently, we could not meet. Our inability to coordinate a meeting was because the e-mal he used was not the same as the e-mail that was given. Thus, my messages went unanswered or even, unnoticed. I have heard from some that they had wonderful mentors. I have heard from others who had horrible mentors. Unfortunately for me, I did not have a mentor so I was never given the option. I suppose everything happens for a reason though. I was looking forward to the mentoring component though, so that I could expand my network. From my time at Dartmouth College, I have realized that this school is good for networking and that would have been a benefit for me. This is due to the fact that I do not know of any Dartmouth alumni in my home area. We have made plans to meet when I get back, but there is no sense of urgency. I feel that the time has passed. The fact we had not met was indicative of there being no necessity for us to meet.