I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what community means to me, and something that happened at the school a couple of days ago got my wheels turning. (And I think it’s about time I got in a post about who I was before I was a Minerva Fellow…)
I was raised in what some would call an unconventional environment. It was a truly special place and I should thank my parents more often for building a life that nurtured so many people. For those of you who don’t know me, I grew up on a horse farm in northern New Jersey. Three Sister’s Farm (named for 3 generations of three sisters in my family), is home to Pony Power Therapies, an organization started by my mom in 2000 that provides horse-assisted activities to people with disabilities. My days were spent outside in every weather condition: splashing in water tubs in the summer, and sledding down frozen manure piles in the winter, and some part of every day was spent on the back of a horse. I was happily dirty from sun up to sun down. While other kids spent their early mornings playing instruments in zero period, my sisters and I were up early bottle feeding our newborn pygmy goats. I grew a love for nature and a found respect for the environment early on. I came home everyday after school and rode my horse, but unlike others in my sport, I trained for horseshows alongside children with autism and cerebral palsy, teenagers with anxiety disorders, wounded war veterans, and hospice patients.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are from summers in Vermont, where Pony Power ran a week-long retreat for women and children living in domestic violence shelters in urban New Jersey. These individuals had likely never seen anything outside of a concrete jungle, and here we were bringing them to a quaint, 600-person village where the only remnants of civilization were the run-down general store and a rustic inn stuck in the year 1800 (yeah, we’re a little crazy). The weeks were filled with lots of horses, farm-to-table food, and fresh air. As a ten-year-old, I was blissfully unaware of their difficult pasts, and I became fast friends with kids vastly different from myself. I was just excited to show them my favorite swimming holes and places to go “frogging.”
Pony Power is a place where people can come and forget about the ailments they faced earlier in the day, or the ones they will face after they leave. My mom always says being on the farm forces you to live in the moment. It’s truly the greatest medicine in the world.
I’ve said it before (in my MF application) and I’ll say it again: horses don’t care what color your skin is, who you voted for, how badly you screwed up on your midterm, or even if you can walk. This attribute, however, is hard to say about most people. I learned this lesson from an early age from the most noble of teachers.
That being said, my friendships knew no bounds of age, religion, color, ability, or species. I learned everything I know from horses (ok…and some people): acceptance, kindness, trust. My childhood was purely inclusive, and the person I am today is 100% tribute to the nature of my community.
So where am I going with this?
I feel a similar sense of community at TGC. By now we all know that the students all come from tough backgrounds. But every kid in a TGC uniform can be whoever they want to be within our gates. They can feel welcome and smart and proud despite the fact that they may have been begging on the streets a few years earlier. Or that their siblings still may be. Or that their parents can’t read or write. The kids have respect for their peers and for their teachers. The school has genuine regard for our planet.
This past week, the school welcomed a new music teacher. The school had been struggling to find a replacement for the last teacher for some time now, and the students had been longing to pick up their guitars again. I was in class and heard laughter and strums of guitars coming from outside in the eating hall. I was surprised because the music room was right across the hall from my classroom. After class, I noticed that the new music teacher had held his class outside. This young man was situated on a wooden bed with wheels, laying on his stomach holding a guitar in the front of the class. The kids played without any regard for the fact that their teacher was a disabled man, who was abandoned by his family as a child and grew up living in an NGO. The students were just happy to be learning guitar again. TGC is a wholly inclusive environment, and it feels a little more like home everyday.