Gathering Data — And Community

I started my work day with a conversation about the news. Not a particular story, but the overall sense of depression it induced, the ‘I don’t want to watch, but I have to keep informed’ dilemma, the ‘this climate is so awful and fraying our community’ feeling.

“So, back to work, I guess!” we concluded, with false cheer.

I turned to email and spreadsheets, glum.

I’m fortunate: I do work I believe in — coordinating volunteers who help adults return to school — and get a lot of flexibility to make the work, work for me. But still, like any job, there are gloomy gray days in early winter and to-do lists and voice mail and paper jams.

As our volunteers well know, one of my responsibilities is to send an email each month and say “I know you have approximately 700 other things on your to do list (including volunteering every week) but would you fill out a form about your tutoring hours because the state wants to know I’m not wasting their money” (or something to that effect. I add some interesting links to try to sweeten the deal. )

And I get reports back that this one tutored 4.5 hours, and that one for 6, and another volunteered for 9 hours this month. A few say 12 or 16, but most are in the single digits.

On that gray, low-energy day, fraying community on my mind, I started gathering these reports in an excel sheet.

And those little reports somehow added up to 474.25 hours given that fall.

I did the math (and checked it) and still, I was surprised that enough 4.5’s and 9’s can add up to 474.25.

(On the days since, it’s continued to grow, in 3s and 7s and 4.5s past 500, 700, 1000. I’ve learned to celebrate them, but none quite as jubilantly as 474.25)

Because, on that gloomy, sun-less afternoon, it hit me what that number meant.

Barnraising By John Boyd, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s the work of three dozen or so individuals who quietly come in, do their thing, and leave.

‘Their thing’ being “offer welcoming support to immigrants trying to learn enough English to get a job or talk to their children’s teacher” or “help a student who struggled so much in school they dropped out, finally learn that thing they thought they never would.”

It’s an education system that welcomes these students — the dropouts and the immigrants — with open arms and offers a second chance.

It’s the potential of combining our individual 4.5’s into something larger.

It’s the ongoing, necessary work of weaving a caring community.

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