“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”
— Diogenes Laertius
College is a no-brainer for some people. It’s a no-brainer that kids will go to college in some families and some college students certainly act like they have no brain.
The irony is that for every college student that goofs off, there’s probably another student that could change the trajectory of their life if they only knew that they college was possible. Just knowing that college is possible is a start. Another help is having someone to guide you through all the mazes that is modern education. TRIO helps with both.
Run by the U.S. Department of Education, the TRIO program (A combination of three programs – Upward Bound, Educational Talent Search, and Student Support Services) is one of those government programs that directly touches the lives of students and their families. It’s goal is to help the students graduate from college who could be the first in their family to do so. Upon acceptance at participating schools, they are given special guidance throughout middle and high school in understand scholarships, grants, and GPA’s, among other complex things.
Another key component, and the most fun, are the field trips. That’s where today’s story starts.
The TRIO kids at Whitford Middle School were given an opportunity to visit the Oregon Food Bank today. About 20 fidgety, but quite polite, middle schoolers boarded a leaky bus that took us and the two program coordinators in Beaverton, Melinda and Ann, up to the sparkly facility. The goal, Melinda told me, is to get the kids out of the school and into the community to experience volunteering and civic involvement, even for just a day.
When we arrived, a friendly young gentleman named Matt, who sported a good Oregon winter beard, gave us our assignment – For the next two hours we would be packaging frozen green beans.
Because we would be handling food, we all needed an entirely new outfit – hair nets, gloves, aprons, and for those directly handling the beans, special plastic sleeves. In a large clean room, we were led over to what looked to be operating tables with scales on them. The setup was two kids to scoop the beans, two kids to weigh the beans (1.95 – 2.05 lbs, no exceptions!), two kids to tie the beans, and one kid (me) to box the beans (10 bags per box, no exceptions!)
We set about to work, and the kids at my table really dove into the job – scooping, weighing, re-weighing, bagging, sealing, and packaging. It was a true assembly line production. Everyone caught on quickly, and with fifteen minutes I heard more giggles as the kids started competing to see who could fill their bag fastest, who could bag the most efficiently, and (probably) who could come up with the best bean joke. The last category was definitely not won by me, as no one got my clever ‘bean counter’ quip. Oh well.
As we worked, I got to talk to the kids at my table, especially Jocelyn and Natalie. Both were shy and courteous, had little sisters, liked school, and loved music. When asked, Natalie said that Justin Bieber was ok. Jocelyn said she liked math and homework. (A future bean counter?) I hope their futures are as bright and lively as their eyes.
In the end, according to Matt, we bagged 3,308 pounds of beans. That averaged out to 59 meals per volunteer. Not bad for two hours work.
TRIO and it’s predecessor programs have been around since the 60’s. As I talked with Melinda, I got a better sense of the power of the program.
Melinda herself was a TRIO program graduate. She told me that she was one of the “first in the family” kids to go to college. Hers was a large family, eight kids. And they were in survival mode a lot of the time. Not really liking high school, she stuck it out with TRIO’s help and gave college a try. Starting off at Portland Community College, she discovered that she liked college and the choice in education she was offered. Ultimately, she graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Multi-Ethnic Studies and a minor in Education. After that she came back and fulfilled one of her wishes, to help other kids with her background find a path to college through TRIO. I got the impression that if there wasn’t a counselor from TRIO guiding Melinda a few years ago, she wouldn’t be counseling these kids today.
These are the kinds of programs you don’t hear about on the evening news. For every governmental budget cut, these are the programs that get axed. For every swing of the axe, more kids are chopped out of opportunities. I know we have a budget gap, and there is waste. Yet, perhaps if we all could spend a few hours working side-by-side with the young recipients of some of our tax dollars, we might see government in a new light.
I started the day knowing nothing about a tiny government program called TRIO. I ended the day knowing the names of a lot of the kids at my son and daughter’s school, helping feed some struggling families, seeing the direct result of government dollars, and getting to meet an honest-to-goodness role model.
And that is worth much more than a hill of beans.
Today’s gift of time … Took 1/2 day of vacation to help chaperone a group of kids in the TRIO program become bean counters. Who knows, maybe one of those kids will grow up to be an accountant.