SYF VP’s internship experience leads to career in education
The following blog post was written by Tamra Wright, SYF’s Vice President of Programs.
It’s funny how the people you come across can change the course of your career.
Growing up on Long Island, New York, the daughter of a Correction Officer and a Registered Nurse, I always imagined I would become an attorney. From a very early age, I was fascinated with the law and the criminal justice system. I remembering asking my father one day around the age of 7, why Supreme Court Justices were allowed to have lifetime appointments and both the Executive and Legislative branches had term limits. Predictably, he gave me a very perplexed look and I distinctly remember him encouraging me to ask one of my teachers at school as he shook his head and laughed.
So, for many years I was on this path, and becoming an attorney was all I could imagine. I wanted to focus on civil rights and fight for those facing injustice. When I got to college, I was that student who while knowing what she wanted to ultimately be, dabbled in a few majors before becoming a speech communication major.
During undergrad, I had the opportunity to do an internship with the Executive Office of the Mayor in Washington, DC. Several months into my internship, I was truly questioning what contribution, if any, I was making and was pretty underwhelmed by the entire experience. Then, to my surprise, I was asked to supervise the Mayor’s Welfare to Work program, where I met Erica.
Erica was in her very early 20’s and had gotten pregnant as a teenager. She shared with me that she never thought she would be on welfare because she saw her parents struggle when they came to America from Mexico. She was a good student in high school but when she got pregnant, everything quickly changed. The dream she had of not only being the first person in her family to go to college but graduate from high school had become just simply a dream.
After dropping out of high school to find work, she became pregnant again in the hope that a second child would get her boyfriend to commit to marriage. It did not and only made him run further away from his responsibility as a father to her two kids. So, with very little money and support from family, she had no choice but to sign up for welfare benefits. While in the Welfare to Work program, she displayed a level of commitment and drive unlike anything I had seen. She was determined to complete the program, get a better job and leave the life she knew behind for something better.
My internship ended before she completed the program, so I don’t know what ultimately happened to Erica. In my heart, I believe she is somewhere happy with that white picket fence, a great job, a dog and a great husband. If not, I know it is not from a lack of effort or determination on her part.
Working with a disadvantaged group of women in need of someone to believe in their hopes and dreams had a profound impact on my life and put me on the path to work with those most in need and “at risk” in our society.
Spending my career in education, I feel like I am making a difference. I’ve worked with students at the K-12 and postsecondary level, urban and rural students, government and nonprofit sectors.
The work of Simon Youth Foundation is aligned with the work I have been doing my entire life, so what I do never seems like a job to me. It is just a part of who I am and it is work that truly feed my soul. Working with “at-risk” students is not for everyone but for someone reason it was for me.
I would like to think I would have been a good lawyer. But the path that brought me to SYF was the right one, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. So, while I am not in a court room advocating for justice and civil rights, I still consider myself an advocate for justice and civil rights, it’s just that I am doing it in a different way and in a different setting.