I can imagine that working in social services could easily turn you into a Republican. Not that I’m personally becoming a Republican, but my job has certainly caused me to see some things differently.
In my position I see young adults in some heart-breaking situations. Some of those situations are completely out of their control–mentally ill parents, addicted parents, parents who just plain don’t want to be parents. And some of the situations are self-induced, built on a sense of entitlement and a pattern of self-sabotage. It’s easy to think you know who should and should not receive help and protection, but you can’t build a system that awards assistance based on motivation and personal commitment to change.
The job has also given me insight I sometimes would rather not have into social issues. I was working with a young woman a while back who really needed some help. She was a great candidate for our program–motivated, working, dedicated. Struggling with learning disabilities, she didn’t quite make it through high school, but she sat in my cubicle and worked on the required essay for about 30 minutes. When she was finished, she only had a paragraph, barely understandable. It was her dedication despite the obstacles that gave me home she would succeed. We did the application, and everything looked promising.
A few weeks went by, and she hadn’t gotten me the last piece of the application that I needed. I called her a few times, leaving her voicemail messages. Finally she called me back. Her voice was quiet, and she told me she was pregnant, and her mom no longer wanted her to participate in the program. She wanted to keep the baby, and live with her mom. She wasn’t sure what her boyfriend would do.
It was devastating. The future we were planning for her disappeared. That same week the state I live in brought up a bill to ban abortion again. It failed the last time around, but it came back. As it was brought up, there were numerous letters to the editor, emphatically shouting that all babies are a gift from the Lord. The writers described the blessings a baby could bring, and I couldn’t help but think of this girl.
Now I know this may offend some of my friends, and people who read, but for this girl the baby wasn’t a blessing or a gift. Not that it couldn’t become one, but having a child at her age, in her situation, and deciding to raise it, virtually locks her into a cycle she was attempting to get out of.
I haven’t heard from her since the phone call when she told me she was pregnant, but I think about her a lot. The route I drive to work goes through one of the poorest areas of my town, an area I didn’t know existed until I started this job. It’s the home of a youth center we hang out at every week, and from being there I know that the youth in the neighborhood are the definition of “at risk.” I see some of the kids from the youth center on my way to work, and I can’t help but wonder what goes on behind closed doors in their homes.
The answer to all of this? I have no idea. I’d like to hope that Barack will help, but I’ve got no illusions that human suffering will end in the next 4-8 years. For now, I’ll do my part, knowing that there are others working toward the same goal.