Hello from a whole new world…

Thursday, March 7, 2013.

Hi everyone, my name is Claudia. I was out of the country for the two weeks before Senior Projects, so I never made an intro post. I am living at home and working with the Latin American Community Center in Wilmington, DE for my Senior Project. I went in offering to do whatever they needed me to do and I ended up assigned to one of their Family Resource Coordinators. I have been helping her with whatever she needs me to do with managing her clients.

The work is totally different from anything I have done before. The actual tasks are, for the most part, simple. I do a lot of photocopying and file reviewing. The context, however, is totally alien. Westtown exists in a bubble of privilege. It doesn’t matter where you come from originally; when you arrive at the school you are one of the privileged few. We are incredibly lucky to have that opportunity, but given that I come from a stable nuclear family with enough money to live comfortably, I had never really seen what that meant. Poverty and unemployment are hot topics in the current economic situation, but news coverage is an abstract. People living below the poverty line, people who live hand to mouth, people who wonder how they’re going to make rent next month. Such people have never been a concrete reality for me, until now.

I read files on people in the First State Family Self-Sufficiency Program. People whose income is barely 50% of the poverty line are not uncommon. There are people who have been looking for jobs for over a year. People who send out their carefully edited résumé multiple times a week and get rejected repeatedly because their work record isn’t perfect. Part of my job is to edit résumés for Iris’ clients and I have worked on several for people whose work histories are so broken they haven’t held a job for much more than a year. Yesterday I attended a job fair hosted by four Delaware politicians. It reminded me of a college fair, with hundreds of people pushing their way to the front at booths but the atmosphere was much tenser. I traveled with two 20-something men and one in his early 40s. Many of the booths were related to financial institutions, government agencies, and the military. Most of these institutions are offering good jobs for decent wages, but for men with criminal records, even minor ones, their doors are closed. It was astonishing to see both the variety of jobs on offer and the limited options for people who have nowhere left to go.

Today I was assigned the task of preparing two files for closure. They are people who have been in this program for too long without demonstrating real progress toward the goal of self-sufficiency. I am in charge of creating a timeline of the involvement with FSS in case they contest the decision. It is a giant puzzle of pay stubs and government documents, of handwritten letters and fax cover sheets. The process is fascinating and exhausting. The experience so far has been just that. It makes me simultaneously feel unbelievably grateful that I was born into privilege and incredibly guilty for thinking that. I am entirely out of my comfort zone. I start to think that I’ve almost blended in, that my clothes aren’t too expensive and I’m not too stuck up. But I then I notice details. My hiking boots cost more than some people make in a week. Even the notebook and pen I took to the job fair could have told anyone there that I belong to a household with income to spare. I am entirely out of my world, and it’s really uncomfortable. I am also learning more about the tenacity  and strength of people than I have at any other time in my life.

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