Seth Connelly (pictured below with a student), Coordinator for the YWCA’s Support Our Students (SOS) program, recently shared the following story about a participant. This story is long, but well worth reading…
Climbing Past the Crux
We have served many students whose’ stories stick out in my mind. This is one of those stories. We have served a young man over the years; we will call him “Tom”. Tom has faced numerous challenges in his life, but has yet to give up on the challenge to not become another statistic.
To begin, school social workers have told us that Tom’s mother is a chronic drug user. She has either been physically or emotionally absent for much of his life. Tom lives with his grandmother in her home near a public housing project. This housing project is known amongst community members to be a crossroads of drug and gang-related activity. As Tom has spent most of his life in or around the project neighborhood. This challenged community has been one of the few constants in his life.
A bit more about Tom; he has a severe speech impediment. It is difficult for him to communicate his needs or even carry on basic conversations. At the time of this writing, Tom was 17 and still in the ninth grade. Needless to say, he has had plenty of challenges with limited resources to meet those challenges.
Tom had been attending SOS regularly. He was engaged and helpful. Whether it was holding a peer accountable for their behavior or sweeping the floor, he showed a genuine appreciation for what the program offered. He was willing to confide in staff, whom may have had nothing in common with him, other than being in the same room. He was a pleasure to have at SOS. He was a student that we felt we were reaching.
With all of this being said, success takes many different forms. Success isn’t always measured in credits earned or dollars saved. Success for a student like Tom is invaluable when he has not earned much in school or at home. One of Tom’s successes that I was witness to, was on a trip to a local recreation center for indoor climbing.
Climbing can be an intimidating sport. Staring upwards at hundred of holds, over hangs, and other obstacles can make a completed route seem impossible. As the students put on their harnesses on and got the safety talk, I saw Tom starting to smile and get excited. We all talked about what routes we wanted to try and Tom immediately picked one with a steep overhang and holds placed far apart. The route he picked was one I would likely not even attempt.
As I tied the rope onto his harness, I asked him if he was nervous or wanted any tips. “Nah man, I got this”, he said in his own special way. His confidence shined through his speech impediment. As he climbed, I fed the rope through the belay device. The higher he climbed the more I realized the importance of this moment. I knew that whether or not he got to the top didn’t matter. I knew that every time he made a move upwards, he was gaining confidence and valuable life skills.
As Tom reached the crux (crux= make it or break it move), he stopped for a second. I wondered what he was thinking about. Right then another student shouted, “You got it, keep going”. Tom reached with one hand and pulled himself up and over the man-made wall. In a few more seconds he was at the top of the wall, nearly 50 feet off of the gym floor. He leaned back in his harness and yelled “I did it, I did it”. The whole group of students and staff erupted in whooping and hollering to celebrate Tom’s success.
As I carefully lowered Tom to the ground I thought about how important this moment was. It wasn’t important because he made good grades or had few absences, which he didn’t. It was important because a young man saw what he can do if he tried. He showed determination and follow through. He embraced a challenge that many would shy away from. It was an important moment because Tom was part of a group doing new, fun, and safe activities. He was part of something bigger than just an after-school program. I am confident that he took more from that experience than what I could put in a brief writing.
Tom no longer attends SOS, as he has “aged out”. I see him from time to time at school or the park. I am not sure that his priorities of being a teenager have changed. Though, I am sure that his problem solving skills and willingness to take on challenges have grown through the experience you have just read about.