I shared with you recently about our partnership with South Baltimore Learning Center and their summer 2009 semi-annual graduation. Thirty-one adult students received their high school diplomas, fifteen coming from men at Helping Up Mission. What I did not tell you was that one of our men was chosen to give the graduate address. In my October 3, 2008 blog I shared with you about a couple of essays Ervin wrote in his External Diploma Program (EDP) work:
Three months ago Ervin got pretty discouraged in the class. Unfortunately, that is pretty common among men who have been out of school for awhile. The good news is that most work through it. At that point, Ervin was assigned to write a paragraph and this is what he wrote:
I dropped out of school in the 10th grade. In 1982, I went to Dunbar at night to get my GED, but I didn’t finish. Last year, I went to BCCC for my GED, and I did not finish. Now I’m here at Helping Up Mission, and I’m trying again. My diploma is very important to me not only for employment but also for personal reasons. There is so much I need to do and so much I need to learn. I am afraid I can’t do this. I want to give up.
To his credit, Ervin let the class read his paragraph. Then other men decided to share their struggles, letting Ervin know he was not alone. Class that day was a miracle. Guys supported and encouraged each other to do the next right thing. Ervin decided to stay with it and to get extra tutoring, which helped him fill the gaps in his knowledge of the subjects where he was struggling.
Now, three months later, he has almost completed the External Diploma Program. He is doing so well, and feeling so good, that he is even taking an advanced computer class in the evening these days. Recently, Ervin wrote another paragraph as part of his entrance into the External Diploma Program. Here is what he wrote:
This is the time in my life to finish the GED I never finished. I dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. In 1982, I went to Dunbar High School for my GED and didn’t finish. Last year, I went to Baltimore City Community College to get my GED, and I did not finish. Now I’m here at the mission and trying it again. To receive my high school diploma is very important to me. This is my time to finish.
Well, I am happy to report he did finish and earned the privilege of being the graduate speaker. Here is a copy of his speech:
I’ve never done this before, I’ve never talked before a large audience before, and I’m very nervous and excited at the same time.
My diploma means a lot to me. It has taken me 30 years and three tries. I did it this time because about 13 months ago, I had a change of heart in the way that helped me look at life’s challenges in a new way.
About thirteen months ago, I found myself chemically addicted in Baltimore city central booking. I had been to central booking on several situations, and I always told God that if he would get me out, I’d do better the next time. Obviously, since I was there again, I hadn’t done better. However, 13 months ago when I was in city jail, instead of asking God to get me out of the situation, I just thanked him, because I believe I understood what he was trying to tell me. So I decided to challenge myself just to do the right thing for just one day, no matter what. I would make better decisions for one day. And that day led to another and another and another. After all, tomorrow is not promised to us. If we do the right thing today, then we don’t have to worry about tomorrow.
Once I got out of jail, I needed a place to go, so I decided to go the Helping Up Mission. I had known about this place for many years, but my pride would not let me be involved a mission.
So I had to challenge myself again to let go of my pride and become a member of the helping up mission spiritual recovery program.
In my early days there, the first couple months, I had to attend a bible study/recovery class given by the spiritual life director, Pastor Gary. I believe he challenged every one of us to strengthen our faith in God. So I did that. That was probably the most important thing I have done in the past year. I had gone to church while I was growing up, but I had never really trusted that if I just did the right thing everyday, that God would take care of all my needs.
Then I met another challenge from the life prep counselor, Barry Smith. He knew that in my past I had not finished anything, and he challenged me to finish the program. He challenged me to stay the whole year and graduate from the recovery program. And now I am a graduate of the program.
During that time, I found out I could get my high school diploma. The mission has a learning center and we are challenged to go down there and get our high school diploma or if you have a diploma, you can go there to improve on your reading skills or maths. It was there I learned about the external diploma program at south Baltimore learning center. My attention span is very short, and when I heard about this other way, I said Ok, I’m game. We started out brushing up on my skills, reading, math etc, but when I t came down to writing and spelling, this is not one of my best qualities so this was an opportunity for me to do what I was good at doing, just quit, just give up. This was a very depressing time for me and all I wanted to do was do what I had always done, just give up.
Fortunately, some of the other guys in the class were struggling also, and I talked to them. They encouraged me, and I decided to keep going forward. So this was another challenge. This year has been one challenge after another. And I have to tell you, Dr. J and David Glassman stayed on my butt and pushed me until I completed it. Now I am a high school graduate. A year ago, none of this was even conceivable. I couldn’t have thought that I could have done it.
It is like my life stopped 30 years ago, and for 30 years I was standing still. It is like this past year, I woke up and 30 years had gotten behind me. But, I learned that no matter how much time has passed, God gives another chance.
I want to thank all the teachers whether you are a biblical teacher or spiritual teacher or math or reading teacher. Where would our world without teachers. I want to thank all the teachers and staff at SBLC and all the teachers and staff at helping up mission.
I want to say something to everyone out there who is working to get your high school diploma, or trying to do anything even like getting a job. Don’t give up, don’t quit. You are going to come to bumps in the road, but don’t just stand there for 30 years like I did. Find some way to get around it, go over the top of it, just believe and trust and God will make a way out of no way. Man if you just believe, you can do anything. Have faith. Greater is he who lives in us than he who is in the world.
Pastor Gary Byers
Spiritual Life Director