By: Zach Boutin
There’s something uniquely heartwarming about hearing a 10 year-old articulate their logical pathway to becoming a veterinarian, or hearing a 3rd grader evaluate college options in real-time. As I sat at my station for Catholic Charities Labouré Center's Career Night this past Wednesday, I had the chance to see all these scenarios play out and offer what little wisdom I have to young learners with eyes intently fixed on their personal horizons.
Service to youth is fundamental to Catholic Charities’ mission and plays a key role in the Labouré Center’s activities. Through its Youth Tutoring Youth program, high school-aged tutors work alongside students in grades 3 to 5 to offer comprehensive academic support and types of supportive bonds that have been proven to inspire long-term academic success for all involved. Labouré also offers its TEAM program (Together Engaging Adolescents through Mentoring), through which youth can build meaningful relationships with adult mentors. These offerings bring so much vibrancy to the building and are critically important to leveling the playing field for young learners growing up in challenging environments.
Now, I should start by saying that I enjoy my job as a grant writer. However, when one of the other panelists announces at the start of the event that she works as an exotic animal trainer, you know right away that you do not have the coolest job in the room. Sure, I may help support homeless shelters and play a role in feeding hungry families, but she has cobras and scorpions. Cobras and scorpions are awesome. Also, the gentleman on my right has not only been a mentor with the TEAM program for 8 years, but he also just got elected to be a state representative for the 4th Suffolk district. Nevertheless, I did my best to present my work with enthusiasm, knowing that a bronze medal was probably the highest prize available.
I was happy to share my experience working in both education and the nonprofit sector. I chose to focus on Catholic Charities’ work with immigrants and refugees, challenging those I spoke with to offer definitions of these terms. I had several conversations about the frightening obstacles families face when they come to the United States and how we as an agency remain steadfast in our dedication to welcoming all newcomers. One young woman looked back at me with a mix of wonder and apprehension and asked “what if they’re illegal?” I responded that we don’t see people as legal or illegal, but instead help everyone in need of help. The answer seemed to resonate with her. The kids also liked it when I threw dollar amounts around. Made me seem like a big shot, which is particularly funny if you know me.
All the young career aspirants I spoke with grew up in similar neighborhoods and shared a desire to make a difference in the world. Manny*, a high school sophomore who recently took an after-school job at Labouré as a tutor, expressed his vision of studying criminal justice to help those whom justice may otherwise overlook. James*, an enthusiastic fifth-grader boasting a stunningly wry sense of humor, identified MIT as the natural port-of-call on his voyage to becoming an engineer. Undaunted by the challenges they knew they would face, the children I spoke with demonstrated the youthful enthusiasm that successful people do not abandon but instead cultivate throughout their lives.
In all honesty, I think I probably got more out of the experience than the youth I met with did. While I hope I was able to share insights into how to meet the rigors of education and the professional world, it was revitalizing to speak with individuals so unencumbered by doubt. I’m proud to be part of an organization that works to cultivate these hopeful worldviews in the young people it serves.
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Zach Boutin is a grant writer for Catholic Charities of Boston.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the students.