A community of mothers
They say it takes a village to raise a child and, I think, in the neighborhood where I grew up the moms there all must have agreed. What brings all this to mind is that just recently I was invited to attend the ninetieth birthday celebration for one of my childhood neighborhood moms. As I sat and watched her mix and mingle with the folks who had come to honor her, I couldn’t help but reflect back on the old neighborhood and the precious childhood I was privileged to have.
Growing up I held great respect for all the moms. After all, they had the power and authority to make or break you if they wished. It was never just your own parents you had to answer to and receive correction from, it was all of the moms. If a mom, any mom, saw you do something not allowed, or heard you say something bad, even calling another kid a “bad” name, they would take it upon themselves to correct you no matter whose child you were. All moms kind of came into one category. Mothers, all mothers, were the enforcers of law and order where I grew up. I still have memories of giggling and whispering to my friend while sitting in a pew only to have a single glance from one of the community mothers bring it to an abrupt halt, like right now. All it took was a look. And boy, if you didn’t straighten up and fly right, your own mom would also know about it, before dinnertime. Many of our childhood decisions were prefaced with “I gotta ask my mom,” or “Go ask your mom and see if you can.” Or, “Will your mom let you?”
The flip side to all that was you knew you could also go to any one of those mothers, at any time, for help or comfort. They were cookie baking, Band-Aid toting referees who defended and aided. And when you did “good” they were all right there beaming with pride and happiness for you because after all, you were somehow a part of all of them and their community. Just like I was beaming with joy watching this mom who was somehow a part of me, celebrating her ninetieth birthday among all these familiar faces from our past and present.
In a way I can’t explain, I claim her. She’s a part of me, my childhood, and the morals and standards I grew up with. The interesting thing about her particularly is that to hear her speak, she sounds so soft and gentle. She is not big in stature and almost has a vision of delicacy. But she didn’t live to party on her ninetieth because she was a softy. Under that “sweet older lady” façade was a tough old gal who still carries the power and authority to put you right if you need righting. Several times during the festivities I just sat and watched her. She was grace, beauty, history and toughness in one package. She is one of the very few matriarchs left from my childhood, and represents so much to me. I felt inspired with respect as I looked at her sitting high on a stool like Queen Bee on her throne.
I’m probably overglamorizing her a bit. But at ninety years old I think she deserves it. Her kids will probably laugh if they read this. But when they finish laughing, I know they too will agree; she’s a very remarkable woman. And she represents all our moms, loving and strong. They guided us through childhood teaching us to become good citizens and respect the consequences of wrongdoing. They stabilized our world. Sometimes all a threatening situation needed was the warning of “I’ll tell your mom.” Nowadays I hear many young people use such vulgar language in public and I want to ask them, “Does your mom know you talk like that?” I wonder if it would hold the same weight as it did when I was growing up.
Living in a small town, you quickly learned all the moms. By the time I was in my early teens, I could walk around pretty much the whole town and tell you who lived in each house. I knew what both parents looked like and for the most part could tell you the names of all the kids in each family and what grade they were in; and some were pretty big families. Not only that, but over the years I myself had been in each house too, for one reason or another. Sometimes it was stopping in to see whether a friend could come out and play, or I was delivering the local newspaper, or waiting for them to scrounge up some cans for me during a Silver Echo Drum Corps can drive. I loved growing up in a small town. And I’m glad I had all those moms. Even some I might not have appreciated so much as a kid.
I’m a mom now and a grandmother as well. I don’t think I am anything like the moms of old. Sure, I told my kids and their friends to remove their hats at my table and wipe their feet when they came in my house. I even threatened that they’d be “in big trouble” if they weren’t good, as they walked out my door. But I doubt any of them really trembled much when I said it. They usually just laughed and gave me a hug. Though I like to think I did and do carry some weight as the mom. It’s hard to imagine me sticking around until I’m ninety, but I’m going to give it my best try. I figure if she can do it, I might be able to also.
GED sponsorship program takes off
The basic needs in life so many of us take for granted often are the determining factors that keep students without a high school diploma from taking their GED. Money to take the GED tests and transportation to and from the testing site are obvious setbacks, but food, shelter and simply having a mentor who believes in them are real issues for students the MAPS GED program works with every week when offering testing.
As many public entities face a financial crisis in terms of being able to continue to fund programming adequately for community members who need help in order to get ahead, so does the Marquette Area Public Schools Adult Education GED program. As public school budgets shrink, a program that once was completely funded through the district’s general fund now is looking to get a little help from community members to keep it going strong.
The MAPS GED Sponsorship Program emerged last fall as a new and innovative public-private partnership in which any individual or organization can feel good about helping a community member who may be struggling to get back on his or her feet. Most people know at least one person who has obtained a GED instead of completing high school, and many others know people who currently are in limbo without a high school diploma.
The MAPS GED Sponsorship Program aims to connect students who have dropped out of school and need funding or transportation in order to complete their tests with individual community members or organizations willing to help them take that first step.
Each of the five GED subject tests costs $40.00 and, for many students who don’t have a job, coming up with $200.00 in order to receive their GED certificate is tough, if not discouraging. A community mentor can be that source of hope and a second chance for students. For GED students who have received sponsorship so far, they are humbled and taken aback that a stranger would want to help them out. The sponsorship now becomes a driving force for the students staying on task and completing their education.
The program’s largest individual supporter to date has been Dr. Mark Ulrickson, a doctor of optometry at Upper Peninsula Eye Specialists in Marquette. When asked why he became a sponsor, he said “I wanted to help others who might not otherwise have an option they desire as far as getting a better education or career opportunity.”
When asked what he hopes the students take with them from his sponsorship, he said, “I would hope that they are encouraged to pursue their educational and career goals with persistence and appreciate that others are cheering them on.”
Leading by example, Ulrickson has one other important goal for being a part of the MAPS GED Sponsorship Program: to demonstrate to the public that professionals do care about the community and are actively stepping up to make a difference.
Although Dr. Ulrickson is considered the program’s pioneer of individual giving, he is not alone in wanting to inspire other professionals to do the same for members of our community who need our help. The Marquette Firefighters Local 643 also have stepped up to the plate and sponsored a student.
A portion of the money raised from the Marquette Firefighters Association Local 643’s Charity 5k Run/Walk held in August was pledged toward the MAPS GED Sponsorship Program this year. The race, which had nearly 200 participants, raises money to donate to local organizations that focus on youth development and support. It is an honor to be considered for one of the organization’s youth community scholarship awards.
Since the beginning of the year, the program also has been working with the 96th District Court Probation Department and attorneys within Marquette County to make sure students who are in trouble with the law are finishing their GEDs as a requirement of their probation. By working together with other local agencies in 2012, we were able to help sixty-six students between the ages of sixteen and twenty-three work toward obtaining their GEDs, compared to just forty students in the same age bracket in 2011. With greater oversight of the program and collaboration from many community groups, the number of students who completed their GEDs through the MAPS program in 2012 was eighty-one percent. In 2011, only seventy-three percent finished.
Looking at the increase in the number of students testing at the MAPS GED site and the recent increase in phone calls for GED services from both Marquette and Alger counties, the need for individual and community sponsors is more important than ever. Because of this, several people at MAPS who work with the GED program are willing to step up and help raise money for those students who were unable to complete high school and who have dropped out. Last month, the idea of holding a fundraiser for the GED sponsorship program surfaced, and this month a plan was put into action.
Andrew Crunkleton, Marquette Alternative High School principal, came up with the idea to support the program through a MAPS GED Final Four Basketball Tournament in the Graveraet gym.
“Marquette Alternative High School is based upon self-ownership, community involvement, and family ethics. We strive to learn through authentic life experiences. I find that whenever our kids are presented with a means to help others or better their community, they rise to the occasion. This sentiment of pride is resonated throughout MAPS,” said Crunkleton.
Jeremy Ottaway, who runs the men’s basketball league at Graveraet on Thursday evenings, also has played a huge role in supporting the fundraiser by pulling together a coed team of all-star community basketball players who will be one of four teams competing in the Final Four basketball playoff. Ottaway has been instrumental in reviving the Marquette City Basketball League and was more than willing to help out for a great cause. The other teams participating will be the MAHS student basketball team and the MAHS staff team. Organizers hope to make this an annual event and double our teams and supporters next year.
The tournament takes place May 14 at 5:00 p.m. with the final game starting at 7:00 p.m. Advance tickets can be picked up at the main office at Graveraet or at the door. Sponsorship pledges can be made by calling 225-4210 or 225-4213. All donations will go to the MAPS GED Sponsorship Program to assist those who cannot afford to pay for the GED tests or who need help with transportation.
Together, public-private partnerships will extend our community resources even further, allowing us to keep vital adult education programming that truly makes a difference in the health and well-being of our area as a whole. We are all in this together.