BY Candice Delgado, Community Engagement Fellow
I have lived in North Carolina for almost 10 years. I was drawn to this area to settle down for a number of reasons ….the Triangle’s sweet southern hospitality, prestigious universities, vibrant & colorful seasons, and living in a prime location being nestled only a few hours away from the mountains and beaches. While I have enjoyed the perks of living in this area, my life has been devoted to a career as an elementary teacher.
For the past five years I have been honored to teach 4th graders at a public school in the Triangle. Working with 9 & 10 year old children is refreshing, encouraging, and eye opening. As I write today, I am humbled by all the lessons and life experiences I have learned through each child I have taught.
I look back on my years as a teacher with happy memories, and many moments I will never forget. It’s hard to forget when your own student walks through the classroom door looking disheveled and lost as they explain that that they don’t have a home to live in anymore, they don’t have anywhere to stay, and they’re scared. It’s hard to forget the heartbreak of looking into the eyes of a child that has not had a meal in over 24 hours nor do they know when their next meal will be and they tell you they are just hungry.
Homelessness, hunger, and family stability are just a few of the problems that became a regular concern for many of my students. These problems became so frequent that my heart led me to look outside of school walls and seek out places that help in the community to meet these needs. That is when I came across an opportunity for a Community Engagement Fellowship at United Way of the Greater Triangle.
In my first few days at UWGT I learned so much about the exciting new things going on, but truthfully I was overwhelmed with emotions when I learned about the Triangle Paradox. The paradox shows that yes-the triangle is the #1 happiest place to live and one of the top two best places for young professionals, but it also shows the cold facts that each and every day there are at least 100,000 children that are food insecure. I was saddened to learn that on any given night there are over 2,000 homeless people in the triangle. These facts are hard to digest, but even more so they are hard to forget about when you live, see, and work in this community. I was drawn to United Way of the Greater Triangle for their collaborative approach to supporting the community’s needs. They have agencies working collaboratively, to address families-both children and adults together. That means that agencies can come together and work on the family as a whole and put them on a pathway for success.
After thinking about the needs in our community I am reminded of a quote that I often shared with my students, which comes from a TED talk by Pearl Arredondo, called My story, from gangland daughter to star teacher. Pearl says, “Everyone has a story; everyone has a struggle; and everyone needs help along the way.” This quote stays with me as I begin my first few weeks as a fellow, because my heart continues to lead me to want to know other people’s story. I feel encouraged that I am surrounded by people at this organization that are passionate about their community, they want to impact individuals that need help, and they want to foster a community united for transformative change. I am thankful that my heart has led me to this fellowship opportunity and I’m excited to build relationships out in the community and share the exciting things that UWGT is doing in the Triangle. I am truly looking forward to the next few months of being a Community Engagement Fellow!