Many of the women who attend Caroline Center enter this world with the deck squarely stacked against them. Many, but not all. Take, for example, Caroline Center graduate, Quy’an (pronounced Kwan-yun) or “Q” as she is called by just about everybody. Q grew up on Long Island, New York in a relatively stable family environment. Though her parents divorced when Q was 12 years old, to this day they remain “best friends” and – more importantly – strong and positive influences in Q’s life. She describes her mother as a “hard worker” and recalls (with a smile) how her father constantly nagged her about schoolwork and admonished her to “keep her head in the books.” Their good example and advice paid off.
“My potential will carry me to a great place.”
Because so many of the women who attend Caroline Center come from similar backgrounds and have similar life experiences, the tendency to lump them all together under one label might be considered understandable. Understandable perhaps…but wrong.
Because the women of Caroline Center have experienced more of life’s ups and downs in their short lives than many people 2 and 3 times their age, you forget just how young these women really are. Most of them are under 40. The majority are in their twenties and early 30’s. Some are barely out of their teens. Yet, when you listen to their sagas, it’s as if they’ve each lived a hundred life times. It’s impossible not to be moved by their stories of struggle and survival. Not to be won over by their courage and determination or overcome with love and admiration. And then there are those like Charlene who, upon hearing her story, you just want to wrap your arms around in a tight and protective maternal embrace.
On more than one occasion I have been told that if you really want to witness generosity, you only have to observe the poor. Conveyed to me by those who live and work among the poor, I have always accepted this idea at face value and as a lesson in humility. Then I started to think about all the incredibly generous people I know and all the beautiful acts of kindness I have witnessed in my own middle class life.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A young, twenty-something office worker with a prep school background and a college degree – who got her job through a friend of her father’s – went home crying to her mother after her boss gave her a bad review. His criticisms? The young woman was always late for work, didn’t get her assignments done on time, and generally had a lousy attitude. The mother called the boss to complain, explaining that he wasn’t being fair, underestimated her daughter, and could hurt her budding career with his bad review. This, of course, is wrong on so many levels as to be laughable. What’s even more horrifying is…it’s a true story.