"Oh, The Places You'll Go"

I couldn’t help but think of the inspirational and whimsical Dr. Seuss book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, when Terron came by my office the other day. Terron graduating from Eastern University, May 2012.Home from college for spring break, he stopped in to make sure I had his upcoming graduation from Eastern University on my calendar.  I wouldn’t miss it for anything.  Terron was one of my first students when I began UrbanTrekkers eight years ago. (UrbanTrekkers is a program at UrbanPromise that focuses on expeditionary, hands-on learning.) The two of us began to reminisce about the locations to which we had traveled during his years at our high school,UrbanPromise Academy.  We shared about the first ever UrbanTrekker spring break trip to Mt. Washington, NH—the challenging hikes, moose, and amazing vistas; our journey to Vancouver, BC and Terron’s first time on a plane; the Olympic Peninsula where we came so close to hitting a deer with our van; Florida’s Everglades and their ever-present alligators; our annual end-of-summer trips to Maine that included kayaking off Port Clyde; and that final week before high school graduation, the Senior Rite of Passage, in upstate New York. terron_3.jpg I’m often asked by friends and supporters what impact UrbanPromise has on the students with whom I work—city kids like Terron, who likely would never experience the travel adventures that have become an integral part of their high school.  What are UrbanPromise’s program outcomes? people ask.  It’s a fair question, yet not always easily quantified. Thinking of such questions, I asked Terron, “What did those experiences do for you?”  He reflected for a moment, and I could tell he was giving my inquiry serious thought.  He finally responded, “Mr. C, when I was getting ready to begin my studies at Eastern University, what I feared the most was not if I could succeed academically; the scary part for me was whether I’d feel like I belonged.”  Eastern is a private Christian university located in Main Line Philadelphia, PA. It’s a world away from Camden, NJ.  Terron was incredibly nervous as he imagined trying to fit in with the school's students and culture—both so removed from everything he knew. He went on to say, “Everyone knows your story when you say you’re from Camden; it's a story of drugs, violence, and poverty. You are the 5 o’clock news! But I had other stories, too. UrbanTrekkers gave me my stories.” Our conversation returned to his Senior Rite of Passage trip to the Adirondack Mountains and Saranac Lake.  During one afternoon, my friend Bob Harris and I left each senior student on a small island with just the bare essentials; the students were to spend 24 hours in quiet reflection.  There was a severe storm the night they spent alone in their tents on the beach.  Away from the students, Bob and I began to feel anxious as we realized the magnitude of the storm from our camp’s distant shore. Fortunately, it passed quickly and rain began to fall with less intensity.  We were able to get to the beach in a small boat to check on Terron and his classmates.  Terron‘s tent had lost the fly (rain cover) and had two inches of water in the bottom.  We helped him re-situate the tent, find and re-attach the fly, and told him we’d see him in the morning.  I’ll never forget his surprise when he realized we wouldn’t be rescuing him from the island that night.  But more importantly, something else he said stuck with me.  He told me not to worry about him, adding, “I know how to take care of myself. I’ve done it all my life.” Jim Cummings Director of Experiential Learning