November in 800 Words or Less

Where have I been all November?

Happy Halloween! Happy Birthday to me! Happy Thanksgiving! :)

I’ve thought about writing many times this month, but haven’t made the time to do it, partially because I’ve been busy and partially because I’ve been lazy. Getting used to a new work routine that changes every week has not been fun. I do enjoy some things about my job, but I don’t get to do those things very often. I really want to find a better job that will pay me more than minimum wage.

To celebrate my birthday, my sister and best friend went out to dinner and drank wine. I got Caged, which was hilarious. This was followed later that week with a family dinner that was surprisingly pleasant. No one was fighting or drunk, there was an ice cream cake. Success.

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On the 19th, I spoke at a Faces of Homelessness panel at Elon, my alma mater. I met with the other speakers and some current students for dinner before the panel. One formerly homeless man asked me how many times I had spoken and he looked shocked when I said this was my first time. Then I learned the event was being filmed. I suddenly grew really nervous. I didn’t really know what I was going to say. I had printed out the Pendulum article I wrote in the spring and the blog entries I wrote as well, which I thought would help. The truth is I have often doubted whether what I went through was actually homelessness or something else. One of my former professors blatantly told me I had no right to use that term, so speaking about my experience on a panel about homelessness made me feel a bit like a fake. Hearing the stories of the other speakers made me think what I had gone through was not really that intense or tragic, even if it felt that way to me at the time.

When it was my turn, I started with something about invisible homeless and then spoke about what and how it happened last year. I honestly don’t remember what I said afterwards. It was so difficult to say those things in front of my peers, some of which I had classes with last fall. Did I mention the room was packed? People were sitting all around on the floor and near the door. I didn’t know where to look. I finished by saying that what I went through was only a fraction of what the other speakers had been through and could only imagine how much more difficult it would have been had it not been for my friends and church.

There was a short question and answer session after we shared. I was asked what the school said when I told them. I answered by telling her that there wasn’t anything they really could have done but that was an area of improvement for the school.  Another person asked me what kept me going through the experience. I told her that I was plain stubborn and knew that if I didn’t push through, I wouldn’t have graduated. I also mentioned that my faith in Christ was a huge source of hope and comfort as well as solution for my situation.

After the event was over, people came up to me and shook my hand thanking me for sharing. One guy kept saying how “gusty” it was for me to talk about that in front of my classmates “especially at Elon”. The wife of Elon’s president also spoke to me and said she remembered reading my article in the spring and wished me luck in the future. One student gave me a hug and said that my story moved his friends deeply, even though he had dragged them to the event and they had previously made fun of homeless people. It was so reassuring hearing things like that from the audience. I could tell a lot of them were close to tears, although I can’t claim credit for that. This has given me the courage to claim my experience and speak at further events about homelessness.

I haven’t had the courage to watch the video yet, but I believe there is a video in this Pendulum article.

There are two more things I want to mention in this post. (1) Starting a diet and workout regime during Thanksgiving week is probably the worst week of the year to start anything requiring physical activity and calorie counting. #getswole (2) I APPLIED TO GRAD SCHOOL!!! I should begin to hear back from schools mid-December. Let us pray.

Beck

PS: My friend and future brother-in-law, Andrew, started a blog this month. Check it out y’all. He’s super well-read…like, better than me. #jealous

News Items and Leftovers

I was approached by the Director of Community Organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless about my article in the newspaper. He invited me to speak at a panel called the Faces of Homelessness in November at my school. Anytime you get approached by an organization that calls themselves a “coalition”, you say yes; that shit is cool. I guess I’m a cover girl for homeless people now. Homelessness never looked so hot; or as my sister would say, “You’re like the Kardashian of Elon.” Except that I’m getting noticed for not having a place to put my clothes, not for taking my clothes off. Hahaha

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A friend and classmate asked me if she could post my story on the blog, Elon Awareness. I said yes, of course, and I was grateful for the invitation. It’s a really great blog, you should read some of the posts; they speak so much truth.

I’m applying for jobs, which I guess is not really news considering I’m a senior. I thought I would mention it since it’s taking up so much of my time. I’m really glad I don’t have a full schedule this semester; otherwise I would struggle to find time to do it. I’m looking for positions in nonprofits, higher education, and secondary teaching. I’m also researching graduate schools, but I won’t be ready to apply until early fall. There’s a residence life fellowship that I’m really interested in as well. Not that I don’t want to get away from my college, but it’s a really great opportunity to explore higher education as a career. I’m completely torn between secondary and higher education! My dream job would be at Project LIFT Charlotte. It’s an amazing nonprofit organization that deals with education and I really want to be involved in some way next year. They are doing some great things in my hometown.

This brings me to another preoccupation I’ve had this week: I miss teaching. I really miss teaching and talking about education. I’ve been helping my sister with her TEACH Charlotte application and interview and have realized just how much knowledge I have about pedagogy and classroom management. But it’s all going to waste. I’m not using any of it and it makes me sad. When I think about how I could be student teaching instead of taking classes, it makes me angry about everything that happened last semester. I took all the classes and, even though I did not pass one or two, I learned the content, but I’m not getting credit for any of it. When potential employers look at my application, all they will see is a low GPA and that I was kicked out of my program. I’m afraid no one will give me a chance. I can’t even ask my education professors for letters of recommendation because I failed. Who wants to recommend a student who failed their class? I feel that if ever my name is mentioned between professors, they shake their heads and say, “What a waste of potential.” I hate that, because it’s not true. I guess I shouldn’t care what they think, but I don’t like the idea that I disappointed them. Okay, so I’m still working through leftover feelings from last semester, but there’s no set mourning period for broken dreams, I’m still within my rights.

Let’s end on a high note, shall we? A few weeks ago, my boss over at Duke asked if I was available to go to China in August to be a Teacher Assistant for a Leadership class for high school students. I said I was available and very interested. I don’t speak Mandarin, so I’m not a prime candidate, but I do hope I can go despite that. I would love to learn more about Chinese culture, and it would be great to have the opportunity to see some of my former residents that live there. Cross your fingers!

Beck

Editing Me Out

I wrote an article for my college newspaper recently about my experience last semester. When I read it today I was a bit shocked with how much they changed. It felt weird, like I was reading someone else’s article. It just didn’t sound like me. I feel like I’ve been edited out of my own article. I want to be angry but I know this is just how media works; that doesn’t make it okay though. Along with the cuts and edits changing the message of the article (my ending was stronger), they changed the tone and voice as well. Ew. Haha Below is my original article with the major cuts in italics.

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Being homeless is not something you usually want to admit, especially at Elon, but it is an issue that needs more attention and awareness on campus. For most people, it is not even on their radar. It seems strange to think of Elon students sleeping in cars, but the truth is, it happens, and it’s a more widespread problem than you might think. Homelessness doesn’t happen all at once; it’s a process. For me, the process started late last August when I received an email from the Bursars office that basically told me I needed to write a huge check if I wanted to come back in the Fall. I’ve received this email every year, but while our cost of attendance continued to rise every year, my financial aid package slowly shrunk, and now that I was starting my senior year, I was out of money and out of options. After being tossed between the Office of Financial Planning and the Bursar’s Office for days, it was decided that in order to stay at Elon, I would need to find a place to live off-campus, which for me meant finding a job. Taking seven classes and working a part-time job is not easy, so I was sort of relieved when I lost that job due to my limited availability. I was not so relieved when I realized this meant I had to move out of my house. With nowhere else to go, I found myself, at the end of October, moving back home to Raleigh, NC.

I knew trying to finish the semester would be difficult with a two hour commute every day, but I didn’t have any choice. I woke up early to make it to Elon for my 8:00AM class, and drove back to Raleigh late at night. To save gas, I slept on friend’s couches or in the library. My closet, bookshelf, and cupboard was the back seat of my car. I didn’t have a meal plan, so I became really good at improvising meals. I attended free events with food, found faculty lounges with coffee makers, and made friends with dining hall workers who occasionally gave me leftovers. I made being homeless a science. I planned out my days and worked out the details, so that I could stay in school. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving Break that I finally found a place to stay. My church has a program that allows families to “adopt” college students so they can have home cooked meals and a place to stay during holidays; I was in need of both. When they learned of my situation, my adopted family invited me to rent out their spare room for the rest of the year, an invitation I accepted gratefully.

Along with the physical and psychological effects of this homelessness, my academic performance also suffered. It should come as no surprise that students cannot do well when their basic needs are not met. I was treading water for weeks and I felt like I was drowning. For me, being homeless affected me so much as to change the course of my college career. That’s why this issue is so important. It’s not just a place to stay; it’s giving students the foundation they need to reach their potential while in college. I know I have not been the only homeless student at Elon. I wasn’t homeless for long, only about four weeks, but what long weeks those were. I can only imagine how much more difficult that semester would have been had I been homeless the entire semester and not able to commute to Raleigh at least partially. My question is: Where are the resources on campus for those students that struggle to find affordable housing? Where could I have gone for guidance and support when I saw this coming? I believe if you admit a student with financial need, which Elon wants to do more of in the future, you should see them through, and make sure they receive enough financial and academic support to graduate.

Elon prides itself on being a residential campus. We’ve spent millions of dollars creating one. But if we have the facilities and not the resources to provide access to those facilities, that’s not something to be proud of. We are missing something from our Elon Commitment. This is not me waving my finger at University officials and administrators for letting this happen. This is a wake-up call. There are students at Elon who are homeless and need the support of their institution in order to finish their education. This is me saying, please, pay attention to your students; genuinely care about where they sleep at night, because if they are here, but are not set up for success, you do them a disservice, not a favor.

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Read the published article online. There’s also an audio interview if you want to hear how weird my voice sounds when recorded. Readers, I want to know what your reaction to and thoughts on this subject are! Comment below!

Beck

Dear Professor

Dear Professor,

If it’s possible to be a completely different person from one month to the next, I can say with confidence that I am not who I was last semester. The reason I know I am a different person is because of those two small words, “with confidence”.

But first, I want to apologize. I’m sorry for letting you and myself down. I’m sorry for not being able to finish my assignments on time and not performing to the highest standard. I’m sorry I had to work during the semester. I’m sorry I was homeless. I’m sorry I wasn’t reliable and doubted myself. I’m sorry things turned out the way they did.

I’m also not sorry. I’m not sorry for the things I couldn’t control. I couldn’t help that I needed to work to afford to stay in school. I couldn’t help that I lost my job and didn’t have a place to stay. I couldn’t help that I was spending two hours every day commuting instead of doing work. I couldn’t help that I found a place to live too late in the semester to give me time to catch up. I also couldn’t help that my course of study required me to take five classes, two of which were capstone courses, complete a practicum, and study for a huge standardized test.

I’m tired of being sorry. I’m tired of regretting my actions and feeling bad about my failures. Because I learned from them. Who I am is not what I have done. I am not a failure. I am an intelligent, capable, responsible student. I have fears, but I don’t let them stop me from trying my hardest to achieve my goals. I have confidence in my ability to be not only a good student, but a successful professional. Failure is giving up when things get hard. I do not give up, no matter what. That is who I am.

You once told me that teachers make poor students, but I think teachers must be good students in order to learn from past mistakes and grow as individuals and professionals. I may or may not teach in a high school classroom, but whatever I do, I will be a teacher, because that is who I am. I don’t need a license to invest in those around me and help them grow. As you said, I have a lot to offer the world. I may do one thing or many things in life, but what I won’t do is limit myself because one person told me I couldn’t do it.

Sincerely,
Beck

How to be Homeless in College

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I was stranded at my friends apartment last week while NC was in the middle of a snow storm. This reminded me of last semester when I was staying there almost every week because I had no other place to go. I learned a lot about how to go without last semester. Becoming homeless is a process that makes you realize exactly what you do and do not need to live. It’s a painful process.

I started the semester in a small apartment attached to a house nearby campus. The rent wasn’t bad and I had just gotten a job as a barista at the local B&N cafe. After about a month, I moved out because my landlady didn’t want me to keep my cat in her house, and I wanted to live with my cat (don’t judge me).

At the beginning of October, I moved into a house with a student couple, their evil cat, smelly dog, and loud chicken. (Yes, I did say chicken.) I settled in and then…I lost my job. Apparently, my availability was not working for them, even though I told them I could work anytime I wasn’t in class. With no job to pay rent and a new landlord asking for a deposit, I found myself, at the end of the month, moving for the third time that semester…home.

My Mom lives in Raleigh, about an hour from campus, and I had a full schedule with seven classes. I was so scared and I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had no choice but to keep going. For weeks, I woke up at 5:30am so I could drive the hour commute and be on time for my 8am class (and I’m not a morning person in the least). To save gas, I asked my friends if I could alternate sleeping on their couch, but I didn’t want to be a burden, so most of the time I slept in the library or took naps in my car.

I had a system. I would go home every Tuesday and Thursday night to get more clothes and food. I would shower in the gym locker room and do laundry on the weekends when I could stay home. I would work in the library and then drive home to sleep in my room with no bed. And I would student teach and try to finish my projects on time. Part of me knew this meant I wouldn’t be passing all my classes, but I’m nothing if not stubborn, and I thought I was strong enough to do it all.

Okay, so technically I wasn’t homeless, but I was constantly moving between my car, my friends’ apartments and public spaces like the library and gym. I felt homeless, and that anxiety really affected me and my ability to work. I learned how to get through the day by getting “free” coffee from faculty lounges and attending school events with free food. I ate a lot of pizza that semester.

Having no where to go makes one anxious and alone, and I very quickly fell apart. Every single one of my professors emailed me or “had the talk” with me about my low performance (some more than once). What could I say? “Sorry I didn’t finish the paper, Professor, I was busy trying to find somewhere to sleep last night.” I felt tired all the time and it wasn’t from the mountains of work I stayed up doing. I knew I needed to do something about my living situation and fast.

That’s when I remembered that I had been adopted recently. My church has a program that allows families in the church to “adopt” college students so they can get a home-cooked meal, and have a place to stay if they can’t go home for breaks. I emailed my “family” and asked if they knew of anyone that had an extra room to be rented out until May. I received a quick response offering a room in their own house for the year. It felt weird accepting help from people who were essentially strangers, but I wasn’t in a position to say no, and a 30 minute commute is better than an hour commute, so I said yes. I’ve been living here ever since. I won’t say it wasn’t awkward, really awkward, at first, but God has put me in a good home and I’m so grateful that He has provided a place for me to live during my senior year. I hope I can do the same for someone else one day.

What my adopted family did by taking me in reminds me of this passage in Matthew 25.35-40 (NIV)

‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I was a stranger and they invited me in, and that’s pretty awesome.

Beck

The Flower Man

What kind of a name is Soul Gastrolounge? It’s a bit weird, I’ll admit, but it is a really cool place for eats and drinks in Charlotte, and is where my friends and I started our Saturday night last weekend. It was really dark, but the bar was impressive and we all know that’s the most important part of the restaurant. The place was really busy, so we didn’t end up staying to eat or drink, but it’s definitely somewhere we want to come back. Once they told us the wait time was an hour and forty minutes we decided to leave.

Beneath the lounge there is a neat art gallery called Twenty Two (Check out this great review!). As we passed by, a man accosted us and asked us to come in and check out the show. He turned out to be the artist on display. We got drinks and walked about. The space is small but the atmosphere was really laid back and fun. I really liked the paintings of the artist, John Hairston Jr. I couldn’t find any pictures of the paintings we saw that night, but below is one of his that I found online. I’m no art critic, but I really like his style and use of color.

CapturePicture Source

Our next stop of the night was Dharma Lounge, another place we didn’t stay because the cover was $13 dollars. I’m sorry, but if the cover is that much, the floor better be made of gold and the drinks free all night. We ended up at Nan and Byron’s which by day is a super cute restaurant, and by night a classy lounge and bar. The drinks were overpriced and there was hardly enough room for dancing, but you can’t beat the price (zero dollars). Also, those “train wreck fries” were delicious. We had a good time. There was a guy that was really fun to watch drunk dancing. A weirdo even hit on my friend with the line, “Are you a bar tender?” Haha.

On the way home, my friend had a sudden undeniable urge to eat a donut at 2am. We found NOVA’s Bakery and while they didn’t have donuts, they satisfied our appetite for baked goods and sweets. I got a muffin and some bread. As we were eating, a man came up to us and handed my friends and I a white tulip each. He introduced himself as The Flower Man and then said he was homeless and would appreciate some help (aka money). We didn’t have much, but I gave him some cash. He seemed really nice and I wished I could have done something more for him. He didn’t leave the shop immediately and later I went up and offered him my extra loaf of bread. He looked surprised when I asked his name and shook his hand. If it wasn’t two in the morning and I was slightly more sober, I would have liked to talk with him more. I’ve always wanted to be friends with a homeless person. Not because I feel like it’s my job to help them or make them un-homeless, but just because I think they would have interesting stories and experiences to share. People who are homeless are often ignored by everyone and I can imagine they feel invisible a lot of the time. I like making people feel visible and heard. If I can’t give him a job and a home, at least I can do that.

This seemed an interesting way to end the night. The intersection of my lifestyle and that of The Flower Man made me realize that while I call myself poor, I’m actually richer than many in the US. At my school, I’m surrounded by students from the upper middle/ high socio-economic class and I feel poorer than I really am. I’m really just lucky to be in college at all, even if I did have to take out thousands of dollars in loans to make it through. I really hope I meet The Flower Man again.

Much more to come
Beck