The Hoff’s on Tour

Michaela Crawley, WIP Class 2012, talks about her service opportunities in Week 5

This week I was given the wonderful and surprising opportunity to accompany the Crowell and Moring Summer Associates on a sort of service tour through my host, Mama Hoff. The firm has been running the, affectionately known, ‘Took Tour’ for thirteen years. Ever since one of the named partners, Took Crowell, had the idea to expose their Summer Associates to some of the powerlessness that exists in one of the most powerful cities in the world.

Our first stop was Bright Beginnings, which is dedicated to meeting the immediate needs of children and families living in homeless environments. It is also an educational environment that prepares children for kindergarten, as well as supporting homeless parents to stabilize their home lives and become self-sufficient. The children’s ages range from 6 months to 5 years. They are like any other child, with the exception that they have to face a few more challenges early on. It is hard to accept that anyone should have to live with such challenges let alone an innocent child. The organization itself does a wonderful job, but they can only do so much and for a few. Which begs the question; how many children of homeless families are there out there who do not have even this level of support? I am frightened to think of the answer. One is too many.

In keeping with the mornings activity we traveled onwards, though not upwards in terms of the social scale, to So Others Might Eat. SOME aims to restore the hope and dignity of one individual at a time, by helping people get off the street, transform their lives and learn how to live independently. The organization achieves this through the provision of a variety of services, such as feeding and clothing DC’s homeless and poor; treating ill, homeless people at their medical, dental and mental health programs; training people for jobs and finally housing homeless families and single adults. This is a long-term process, which requires a great deal of commitment on the side of SOME’s providers and clients. My contribution for the day, helping with the lunch service, seems meager by comparison.

The last stop was Thurgood Marshall Academy, a public charter high school whose mission is to prepare students to succeed in college and instilling in them an understanding of US democracy and the ability to advocate for themselves and others. It serves almost 400 students, of which almost 100% of their students are African-American. They come from communities with the most poverty and fewest resources in the Washington District. The education that students receive at Thurgood Marshall Academy extends far beyond the classroom, supporting a strong alumni network. The teachers that we came into contact with were clearly extremely dedicated and innovative in the way that they approached their teaching and the classroom. Circumstances mean that they have to be.

Washington DC has more services in place to attack poverty than any of its neighboring states and even this isn’t enough. There are plenty of good and charitable people in DC and the US, but there are plenty more in need of goodness and charity. Coming from a European perspective I cannot help but advocate for more government intervention. I understand the concept of equality of opportunity, but it is not a reality. Someone born into a homeless family does not have the same opportunity in life as someone born into a wealthy family. In the US opportunities vary from state to state, in terms of resources et. al. The placard of ‘Equality of Opportunity’ seems like little more than an easy out.