This will be my final post about the DC Summer Institute on Leadership & Community Engagement. It’s been an invaluable summer in Washington DC. Even though I made no money this summer, the relationships I forged, the people I’ve helped through my work, and the internship experience at DC Central Kitchen are worth far more than anything I would have gained at any other internship. This was the perfect fit for me.
I love the amazing people in the Culinary Job Training Program of DC Central Kitchen with whom I have become friends. They are some of the most compassionate, committed, and savvy people I will ever meet in my lifetime. When you come from a troubled background like mine, where your mom gets busted for dealing/using drugs, you grow up in bad foster homes, where your savior adoptive family turns out to be child abusers, you fail to successfully commit suicide at age 16 to escape the abuse but nobody notices, where you never had a best friend growing up, where the majority of your 20s are wasted while battling untreated/undiagnosed bipolar disorder, you spend nearly three years homeless, where you get arrested and imprisoned for being homeless, you squander life-changing opportunities, and where you find out who your father is while Googling yourself – when you come from that kind of background (and I don’t write that to elicit your pity), you never really fit in with anyone.
Who could possibly relate to or understand you? Where and with whom do you fit in? Well, for the first time in my life, I actually feel like I fit in somewhere at DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training Program. It wasn’t instantaneous, but as I learned about the background stories of the CJT staff and became familiar with the culinary students during the interview process, my investment in the staff, program, and students grew. I put aside my introversion to build friendships with my co-workers. I became unusually at ease with my new friends – a word I never use lightly. I was drawn into the work I was doing because it was valued and praised by everyone. I was eager to see the staff and students each day. My heart told me that I belonged there, that these people could relate to me. It felt like something I never really had growing up – a family. It’s been an honor working with the CJT team, and I hope to continue the friendships I’ve built there for years to come, even if I do not work there after graduation next May.
I also met a great group of W&M students from the Leadership Institute that I know will grow to be good leaders in our communities and nation. Thanks to some insider information, I know that they were all thinking what the hell is this old dude doing in the class? (I AM NOT THAT OLD!!). As a non-traditional student, when I sit in a classroom and look around, three things always go through my mind: 1) Damn, I’m getting old and fat; 2) These kids are so immature and naïve; and 3) If I hear the word “like” one more gosh darn time, I’m going to go insane. I am pleased to say that only #1 went through my mind as I learned and experienced the summer with these students. 🙂 We learned a lot in our intense schedule of site visits and our regular discussions, blog posts, and reflections on leadership. Leadership is something easily botched (just turn on the news) and hard to master, but thanks to Professor Drew Stelljes I feel that I am more capable of being a good leader after this summer course.
To those who have not taken a DCSI course, I highly recommend it. Even as a rising senior and “old” student, I am certain that this experience is more valuable than anything else I could have done this summer. For my fellow LCE classmates that read this, I have three questions for you now that our time is coming to an end:
- Having gained this new perspective on what it means to be a leader, what is your philosophy of leadership?
- What have you learned about yourself this summer?
- What has been your favorite moment this summer? Worst moment?
I salute my fellow LCE’ers and my brothers and sisters at DCCK CJT!! Thank you for the wonderful summer.