What is the Sequoia project?

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Wausau, Wisconsin, United States
The Sequoia tree is one of the largest in the world. The seed is the size of a grain of wheat. One kind act will often seem unimportant but has ripple effects across humanity.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New horizons for some.

This week I was able to do something that has always been on my “bucket list “. I wanted to someday help someone learn how to read. Why? As a writer I struggled in my youth with learning how to read. The highest grade ever completed was 7th grade. Life tossed to me some real fastballs and education became lost in the shuffle. When I accomplished my goals, as a writer, I wanted to give this gift back. Not as a teacher but maybe as a mentored. I didn’t know where I'd find the time but wanted to someday do this.

Before I knew it I was walking into a school and doing exactly what I had wished for. It wasn’t a “regular school” in any way. The young lives here didn’t fit in well with traditional classroom learning. I thought this was pretty cool. These are the people who need to learn the power of what reading can bring. A person can travel anywhere in the world all with one book. Not only to learn but for pleasure. As a kid I use to read Reader’s Digests and Life magazine like a little addict. To this day I spend hours a day reading.

When I first walked into the school I questioned what I had gotten myself into! It seems that each project has a point where I question this. I had spoken at the school a year earlier and was expecting kids about 14 to 18. What awaited me was 11 to 14 year olds! They are still rugrats in my eyes. Curtain climbers. When I thought about it I knew I was at the right place. These kids were at crossroads in their lives. This was the last stop before education can cease to exist for many.

I was able to squeeze in about 8 hours with the students. I watched as they had fun learning. The teachers tried to respond to what the students real needs were. It was a rowdy bunch at times! My elementary schooling had nuns who dished out a slap or a ruler if you got out of place. A student knew this so either learned or sat up straight pretending to. I think that was the way a lot of schools operated 40 years ago.

The experience was rewarding. I was able to work with two of the most disruptive kids. I spent about an hour listening and reading to one of them. He was “tough guy” who didn’t want to show that he was just a kid. I shared with them my story about why they had to make the right choices concerning education. Both were fascinated with gangs and looked up to the lifestyle. Kids that had no clue how these groups would chew them up and spit them out. No clue who would be taken by a bullet or locked away for a life time. These are the things I shared about that life.

I had to get back to my regular work so could only help out for awhile. Sandi went with me (wife) on one of the days. After she had tears in here eyes. They do bring out real lives and emotions. When asked why she was moved to tears she replied “ I felt so bad for them. Adults were the ones who let these kids down most and it felt good to show them that not all of them will”. I liked that and it was so true. I also had a new respect for the adults who chose to spend their lives teaching others. They love the challenge and were doing what they probably always wanted to be a teacher for. These are the students that need to be picked up the most. These are the lives that will be our neighbors and are already.

Did the time spent on this project matter? We think so. If one minute is spent making another strong, through knowledge, then that person might go on to later help 100 people, and then 200, and then maybe into the thousands. There really is no limit to how far learning how to read will go in another’s life.