Computer Lab

My second computer job was working for The United Way as their Computer Instructor for disadvantaged children.  The program I was helping with gathered children at The Learning Center after school and the employees and volunteers helped children with their homework.  If they were successful they could do arts and crafts or the computer room where I would administer educational software. If they were particularly good and completed the assigned lessons I would let them play computer games.  We had a fairly new set of 3 Commodore 64 machines some with floppies and one with a tape drive input and cartridges.

The children had to go through a screening process to determine need and any potential behaviour problems.   This job was one of three part time jobs I had at just above minimum wage and I understood poverty pretty well.  But even though we were well matched in income we were not matched in class.  I had many advantages they didn’t, not the least of which was being the right sex and color.  I had lots of encouragement.  All my family, all my friends, all the people in my church and people I met in the grocery or buying gas;  all the authorities, teachers and coworkers thought if I wanted to do better I would and didn’t write me off.

The people I was helping were on the wrong side of town, sequestered in low rent housing and relegated to only a few activities that they had time to participate in and even less money to work with.  Any disruption to their lives like a medical problem, a layoff or the betrayal of a loved one would send them sinking even lower.   It is *very* hard to crawl out of that and be successful and many don’t make it.  Many are not encouraged and even the institution I was working for might exclude them if they didn’t have the resources to be sure their children and their own commitments could make it through the screening process.

Not everyone is an entrepreneur.  Janitorial duty is not romanticized in books and theatre.  Nanny work is often just written about in passing to show the wealth of an employer or as a foil in an illicit affair.  Basic clerical duty is very difficult but there are few heroes.  Being a chef is finally getting some respect but I was always told to go to college to avoid working in fast food.  Now if I got laid off I’d be asked why I feel like I’m too good to work fast food.

There area  lot of people in poverty.  Many of them children.  Helping them is not trapping them in a cycle of poverty.  It’s simply helping them.  If the government does it that doesn’t somehow taint it and delivers an effective method to allow everyone to contribute including the very wealthy.  If we’re going to break the cycle of poverty, we have to break through the barriers that separate us by class.

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