Friday, March 27, 2015

LA Fellows Shows: There's No Replacement for Personal Interaction

On Friday, March 13th, the LA Fellows program celebrated the graduation of its 11th Cohort (class) of job-seeking professionals. Two individuals from the class were chosen by their Cohort to speak at the ceremony. The second speaker was Barbara Ige, who agreed to let us post a transcript of her thoughtful and uplifting speech:

Good morning everyone. I believe that I speak for my fellow Fellows--current, past, and future -- that we cannot thank the LA Fellows’Advisory Board enough for understanding the ever shifting economy, and for your progressive and innovative vision to create a program like the LA Fellows, because no one is immune to the economy’s fickle and unstable nature.
We would also like to thank the Worksource Centers for providing the funding for a much needed program that should be the model for community colleges across the country. If it were not for you, we, but here, I mainly speak for myself, would be in a very different emotional space. This space, was one of a fractured spirit. We---Fellows---came together not out of desire, but of need, and for me it was the reintegrating of a sense of self, the rebuilding of my soul.
The LA Fellows drew us out of our isolation---be it emotional or mental---to provide us with the tools and structure to rebuild, heal, and move past what some described as “mourning.” We wept for our former selves, the selves that identified with a job, a career, and how others saw us---in the admiration of a superficial construction---in our titles, offices, and paychecks. After our careers were stripped away, we wondered, “What’s left?” This is when we could have let the world pass us by, waited for someone else to solve our problems, stayed in our old patterns without recognizing that we had become broken records that skipped---sounding of dissonance and discord in our hearts and spirits asking---“What did we do wrong?”
I was broken. In a rut. Unable to push that needle forward, because as time passed I felt more comfortable in this rut, but it devolved into an emotional, personal, and employment trench warfare. I could not see out. I lobbed blindly, resume-after-resume, cover letter-after-cover letter, applying for jobs that seemed to fit my criteria: a paycheck.
Asking others for help either seemed like admitting failure, or it sent friends and former colleagues running away as if unemployment was contagious. This response only turned us into “sad, tired, and angry” job seekers. What we did not realize was that we needed a different type of help.
Into our lives by fate, email, recommendation, or flyer, We few, We happy few, We band of LA Fellows, for he that day filled in the application and committed to 100 hours of volunteering, 140 hours of classes, guided by our compassionate but unwavering commanders--Allison Silver and Mary Turner--to guide us, to give us our plan of action, or in our case, Action Plans.
Allison and Mary put together a stellar team of instructors who pulled us out of a seemingly unwinnable battle of fruitless job hunting to turn us around.
We looked inward and “peeled the onion” of our selves. But this time the tears were of self-discovery, examining how we were describing ourselves in respect to the roles we held and played in our past jobs, and how, or if, we wanted to “re-language” our futures. Under the humorous, expressive, and determined mentoring of Lynnette, I took to heart, what she said on the first day, that, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be Kind. Always.” She beautifully set the tone for the cohort and so my rebranding, re-languaging, and healing began.
The seamlessness of the courses created building blocks upon which we rebuilt our battle scarred selves. Just as children acquire language, they react to the way the parent intones a question verses a demand. Sam provided us with linguistic tools to avoid confrontational work situations by understanding when to “inquire” rather than “advocate” a position. As we - okay I - struggled in class with this seemingly simple model, at home I noticed that I advocated the heck out of my husband, and so, another onion was peeled and I asked myself, “What Would Oprah Do?” I then became a more patient and inquiring partner. Sam and Lynnette, my husband thanks you.
Language is just one component of our rebuild. Another level is emotional and group intelligence. Enthusiastically taught to us by self-diagnosed ADL -- Attention Deficit Lecturing -- Jim. He changed and challenged our perceptions: encouraging us to think like Navy Seals, and realize that to survive and flourish, we needed to play at work and in life like Happy Fishmongers. That getting the last word does not mean you won the office argument. You may have just stranded your life boat, because you chose the wrong leader (I still think Mr. McKay is the best choice, but I digress).
As we honed our soft and not-so-soft skills, our Henry the V reciting instructor, Larry, helped us to recognize our strengths and refine our job searches. We wrote down our likes and dislikes of our past 3 positions and then we shared them. One of the observant Fellows noticed a pattern in my assessment. A pattern that I had been denying for years. “Hmmm,” she said, “You keep saying you are not going back into the classroom, but at the top of your ‘Likes’ you list ‘working with students.’” As is my wont, I quickly changed the subject. Denial isn’t just a river.
Someone who will definitely pull you back into a conversation is grant writer extraordinaire, Queen of the High Desert, Andrea. Her thorough class on grant writing was so thorough, you could write a book on it, in fact someone else actually did, because that is how good she is. When she suggested I pursue grant writing, I quickly said no, but not because I was unable to do it, I finally recognized and accepted that I wanted to be back in a community, where students are the priority.
Insight is an amazing quality in all of the instructors. One in particular, Keri has the photographer’s eye. She wanted us to see ourselves, literally, so she video taped us during a mock interview. This, I must warn you, is not for the faint of heart. I will forever be attentive of anyone clicking a pen during an interview: this is kiss of death. But we, Fellows now know how to avoid the dreaded clicking pen, because Kim has shown us that if someone moves our cheese: Will we go back to our ruts? Our trenches? Or starve? No, we will not. All we have to do is imagine a Hammer with a Bow hanging over our heads, telling us to “Embrace change,” and “become the solution to solve their problem.” Be their Advil.
Unfortunately there were times when we were unable to solve problems: computer problems. But never fear, Doug Card was here! He is the inverse of cigarettes: he adds years to your life, by showing you all of the Microsoft shortcuts.
And the program was not without other surprises. If you want to learn about organizational bonding and the Super Bowl Shuffle (that’s right, the one with Walter Payton and Willie Gault), meet Roberto, the only person on this planet who could get me to write a rap, recite it and tell you which instrument I am and why. That man has powers. I saw creativity, enthusiasm, and excitement as the cohort rapped our way into Fellows’ history. What happened that day with drums, noise makers, and our spirits was something you had to experience, a video or short story would not truly capture its essence.

Barbara Ige (right) poses with classmate Valerie Kamaya during training
Having taught for many years at universities and colleges, I know the importance of being in a classroom: of being with and part of a rapping “cohort”, listening to Attention Deficit Lecturing, working in groups, and creating a network of friends. There is no replacement for personal interaction. I could have read books on job hunting, in fact I did, lots of them.
But you can never replace the classroom where I watched as Fellows came out of their shells and found their voices; as Fellows addressed frustrations and past wrongs; as Fellows helped and supported one another. These are things you cannot do online, with a book or an article.
You cannot replace a volunteer experience with a PBS special. Walking into the Ronald McDonald House, to be greeted by a smiling boy in a wheelchair, who is left without any hair because of chemotherapy, who handed me a piece of chocolate and told me, “this is your chocolate for the day.” This was priceless.                  
The cohort, the instructors, the directors: the LA Fellows…..priceless. Thank you.

Barbara Ige is an education and training professional, and is currently providing 100 hours of volunteer service at the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House as a Communications Audit Manager. She will be teaching an English 028 class at Los Angeles Valley College this Spring semester, starting on April 13th. 

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