In October of 2008, in a moment of passion, community good-will, and the energy of a full-time mother of five who was ready to return to career outside of the home, I pledged to renovate the library of the Marion-Sterling Elementary School. At that time, I had little vision for what the project would entail, the obstacles that would be faced, nor the extent of the partnership that would amass on its behalf. Two and one-half years later – and following untold volumes of grant- and advocacy letter-writing, networking conversations, solicitations for in-kind and financial assistance, appeasement of the school trade unions, collaborations with Central neighborhood organizations and school district officials, deliberations with an unpopular principal, and a school left without any leadership when the principal was absent on sick leave for three months – the renovation work has been completed.
Clearly, the library project emerged from a rash comment and good intentions; it was fueled by a stubborn refusal to accept anything less than success; it benefited from a powerful network, the ability to capitalize effectively on these connections, and a sincerity of intentions; and it was certainly assisted by trust, serendipity, and a dose of good luck. While I joke that the commitment to take on the library highlighted my own need to return to the workforce, it truly did serve as the impetus for me to overcome my own fears about returning school and thus my matriculation into MSASS as a part-time student.
There is obviously no perfect time to return to school, particularly as a “non-traditional” student who has had a previous career and a long stint as a full-time parent. In fact, while I thought that I had chosen the “perfect” time, I was gravely mistaken: my husband was transferred to Milwaukee at the end of my first semester and continues to travel all week, every week. And yet, in hindsight, my commitment to my MSASS learning came at the best time for my family. As we gather around the table for communal paper-writing sessions that last far into the night, my children witness first-hand the value which I place on education, the importance of determination and focus, and the dedication needed to fulfill one’s dreams. Yes, I am living far more hours in the day than I might otherwise choose, but the direction which MSASS provides helps to assuage the exhaustion.
The insight which I have gained from my classes at MSASS – and particularly from the independent reading project which I undertook in conjunction with the completion of the library — has directly complemented my efforts at Marion-Sterling. As I now seek to transform the power of the library project into the catalyst for even greater community engagement within the Central neighborhood, I am guided by the thinking and exploration that I have done on multiple levels within the classroom and by the recognition of the value of hard work and commitment which MSASS instills in its students. I know that as I slowly move through my MSASS experience, I will continue to develop and hone critical social work knowledge and skills that will enable me not only to translate the passion behind the library into waves of energy throughout the Greater Cleveland community but also to increase my effectiveness to serve my community at the micro- as well as macro-level.