Calling a region home feels a little silly, but that’s where I am these days: the Midwest. A handful of Midwestern cities have sections of my heart, and that’s okay.
I lived in Kansas City for a chunk of time post-college and poured my heart out at my job at a community nonprofit. My key area was Development: I wrote grants and wrote copy for brochures and the web and helped plan events and built donor relationships. Every day was a flurry of activity, and I loved it. These tasks didn’t come easily, but my passion is communication and so diving in head-first brought me much joy and excitement. Fulfillment, some might say.
Working with those we served, however, was a different story.
I had no training in education, no training in working with high school students and no training in working with those in poverty. So that intersection, blended with my anxiety and deprecating desire to succeed . . . a perfect storm. A perfect, ridiculous storm.
Once a week, I showed up in a classroom full of students to teach journalism. A recent J-School grad, and high school newspaper veteran, I thought this would be fun and engaging and transformative for the students. Wrong.
I stood in the front of the class and shook in my pencil skirt and flats. Speaking in front of other adults brought little stage fright. But these students were another story. They were impressionable, and they were harsh critics.
Blank stares followed me as I went through the curriculum. Whispers and chatter encompassed the class and maybe three of them were listening to what I was saying. I couldn’t get their attention and I couldn’t control the classroom. We talked – tried to talk, I guess -- about news and why it mattered. And they didn’t agree. They didn’t think it mattered and didn’t want to be convinced. They left the classroom and I cried.
I wanted these kids to like me. And their love and approval wasn’t going to come easy.
As the semester went on, I tried to grow a thicker skin. I tried to build a shield around my heart and I failed. I tried to let them into my heart and I failed. I tried to teach them and I failed. I went in with a full-hearts-clear-eyes-can’t-lose attitude, full of youth and vibrance.
And I left that job with a wounded, painful heart.
In retrospect, I should have talked less and listened more. In retrospect, it couldn’t have been less about me. But tears are tears and there’s no underselling emotion.
I carried that experience with me during my time in Indiana. How fruitless it felt.
Fast forward. Fast way forward, to September 2012. Life takes us crazy places, yes? I left Kansas City in December 2010 and moved to Indiana, where my husband was a grad student. Work brought him back to Kansas City. And anxiety was brought back to my heart.
So I found myself in Target a few weeks back. Nothing fancy in my cart, just hand soap and paper towels and a shower curtain. You know, the things you need when you first move. I steered the cart to the checkout line.
“Hey,” said the woman wearing the red t-shirt at the checkout counter. “I know you.”
Before I could jump in, she continued.
“Miss Koci, right? Journalism?”
My heart swelled. Yes! Miss Koci! Journalism! Just one blink and I realized what was happening. The woman loading my items from the conveyor into bags was a former student of mine. She was a girl then, and a job-working woman now. I looked down, grateful that I hadn’t run errands in yoga pants and a college t-shirt.
She asked why I was there. “Didn’t you move?”
Well, yes, I explained. I did move. And I just moved back. Life is crazy, I said.
“You remember me, right? I was in your journalism class.”
Yes, I said. Yes, I remember you.
She was in college, she told me. Studying hard. That was the whole goal of the nonprofit where I worked: getting kids to college and preparing them for success there. We chatted for only three minutes, but in that time, it seemed the organization had done its job.
I smiled big and said goodbye. I told her how glad I was that she was in college, and how grateful I was to have bumped into her.
She may never know what an impact that simple interaction had on me. For the first time since that job, I felt redeemed. Those tears, that rejection, that purposeless-ness . . . in a simple interaction, meaning returned.
About the Author: Sarah Koci Scheilz
Sarah is inspired by community and creativity. She's a young professional in the communications, writing and nonprofit fields and can't get enough of it. Sarah appreciates a good cardigan, cherishes a great cup of coffee and gets a kick out of painting her nails red. She loves her fantastic husband, Mr. S., and living together in the Midwest. Connect with her on her blog, Inspiration-Driven Life, at Facebook and on Twitter