Outsider Looking In, to Outsider Fitting In
If you told me five years ago that I would be attending a high school-aged jazz concert, I would’ve laughed at the absurdity. Being a single woman with no children, in my 30s, I thought I was immune to events such as baby showers, soccer games, or music recitals, and yet, for the past six weeks, I felt compelled to attend Center of Life’s Thursday night concerts.
What was this hold that this nonprofit had over me, and why did I have the sudden desire to understand this organization and Hazelwood — the community this nonprofit resides in and grows with?
Growing up the youngest of five kids, I had the pleasure of babysitting my nephews and nieces. Because of this, I knew I was not destined to have kids of my own. Today, more people are waiting to start families, putting their careers, and some end up not starting a family at all. With so many new opportunities, a person doesn’t have to follow the old tradition of marrying at a young age and starting a family. Because I was in that same boat, I became an outsider when it came to who children are, what toys and shows they like, and as I grew older, the connection gap between me and children widened. I was under the impression that I did not have a responsibility to children, that it was up to the parents to support them physically, financially, and mentally. It wasn’t that I didn’t like children. We just didn’t have much in common — and during my 20s, I made sure to keep it that way.
Yet, as I got older, I noticed a change in my behavior and the pleasures I once enjoyed. Staying home on a Friday night and playing board games with my friends’ children and enjoying their company replaced the all-night partying, and I was OK with it. It turns out children are bright, inquisitive, and unfortunately, some are desperate need of attention. As I began to reflect on my past, I realized that my early years were spent selfishly indulging in a lifestyle that wasn’t mentally lucrative. I only cared about what made me happy, and I neglected to have a human connection with the people who will, one day, be in control of my future. How did I get here? But more importantly, how do I change it?
Once a woman who spent little time around children not in my family, I now craved mentoring at-risk youth in my neighborhood. In doing so, I began to see the effects that the absence of mental health awareness was having and being an avid supporter of boosting mental health, I decided to head to grad school with the hope to, one day soon, start a nonprofit in my own community that brings affordable counseling to my neighborhood and other low-income areas. Still, I didn’t know much about nonprofits or the proper steps to acquire a 501(c)(3). It was then that I knew I needed more hands-on experience. I went online to look up internships and within a few clicks, I found an internship opportunity at an organization that held multiple programs “to empower and equip families to bring economic revitalization to their communities.” Their mission and vision were in line with what I want to do in the future, and I immediately sent my cover letter and résumé. Within a week I had an interview and internship where I would learn some of the ins and outs of how to run a successful nonprofit. I started writing a series of short articles to capture what I learned from a community-based organization which actively listens to its members and strives for continuous growth.
At Center of Life it’s said that “the next thing is the best thing.” And with the growth of student enrollment, a proper space will be needed. From the perspective of an outsider who was once looking in to an outsider who is now fitting in, I look to capture, with testimonies, what exactly Center of Life is, what makes this organization unique, and why the Gladstone project will not only be a safe environment for current students, but a stable foundation for the expansion of Center of Life and the Hazelwood community. What I didn’t realize is how much more Center of Life would have a drastic impact on my life. During my eight plus weeks here, I’ve interviewed staff, parents, and students who have strong ties to Center of Life and realized that this nonprofit is more than a community organization, it is an extended family.