Project: VISION

Chicago, Thoughts

Last week, I went to an open house hosted by Project: VISION, a local Chicago nonprofit that I began supporting this fall. PV provides after school programming to youth aged 12-18 in the Chinatown and Bridgeport neighborhoods; most of the students attend Chicago Public Schools and many are from first-generation immigrant families.

At the open house, I got to ask some of the students what they’d been up to over at the center. Some were receiving mentoring from Chicago professionals; others were being helped through college applications and FAFSA. A group of students told me about a recent exercise they’d completed that pushed them to think about their 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year plans.

“So what did you say was your 10-year plan?” I asked, curious to understand the mind of today’s 17-year-old.

“A stable job,” said one. “A doctor, lawyer, or a teacher,” replied another. “I want to be a father,” answered a third, as his friends laughed and elbowed him in the ribs. I noticed an easy camaraderie among them, three seniors in high school who were semi-anxiously awaiting the start of college admissions decisions. These didn’t seem like kids who just came to a center once a week to receive homework help; they seemed like friends, true friends.

“You guys said you go to different high schools, right? Would you say you’re better friends with your school friends or each other?” I wondered.

They smiled – somewhat bashfully – and all pointed at each other.

In that moment, I understood the power of a place like Project: VISION. It is a place full of resources to help middle and high school students navigate the next stage of life; it provides opportunities to learn, lead and serve – and yet it is so much more. Between the logistics of life that have to be completed, there is a space at PV – literally, and figuratively – that allows for relationships, for community, for belonging.

Some teenagers are able to find these friendships at school; others at places like Project: VISION. And still others are unable to find it at all. It could be due to a shyness that creates anxiety in social settings. It could be due to the lack of alternative opportunities like PV. It could be due to priorities like babysitting the family, priorities that take precedence because of the necessity to survive. It could be due to any number of different factors – but every young adult who wants the safety of community, who needs the comfort of belonging – they deserve a chance to have it.

I’m incredibly proud to support Project: VISION and all the work its staff does to provide students with the help and the skills they need to succeed. That the students I met at open house could point to each other as close friends is a beautiful testament to PV’s power in creating an alternative space for community. As these students begin their journeys to a stable job, a doctor / lawyer / teacher, and to becoming a father, I can’t help but smile knowing that they’ll have each other’s friendship through it all.

If you’d like to support the work at Project: VISION, click here to donate or message me to learn more! 

On My Roarin’ Twenties

Thoughts

I saw the musical Cats on Broadway a couple of weeks ago with my mom and my sister in New York City. I’d seen a version of the musical before when my high school put on a production and was pretty familiar with the songs, but when I watched Cats this time – a show I had previously thought of as a series of fun dancing cats in cool (but also kind of creepy) costumes – I felt pretty moved and even got goosebumps (and maybe shed some tears).

The musical’s most well-known song is a piece called “Memory,” sung by a sad old has-been reject cat. I’m usually one to listen to melodies of songs more than the lyrics, but I actually paid attention to the words this time and realized how incredibly haunting and beautiful they were. In fact, “Memory” was one of several acts in the show when older cats reminisced about their younger days – glory days, if you will – and it really made me think about my own life.

I often fail to remember this, but I know that as a mid-twenties young professional, I’m currently living some of the best years of my life. My responsibilities are minimal: I have only myself to support, and I don’t even have home or car payments to worry about. I’m working (yes, I’m working now – update on that later!) in an incredible city that I wanted to be in, with my earnings free to be used for food, travel, and all the other pleasures life has to offer (after paying taxes and rent, of course). My long-term boyfriend and I are looking for our first apartment together, ready to start the next chapter of our lives as we finally end the long-distance portion of our relationship.

Best of all, I’m young enough in my career and my life where I have some experience – but I have so much more ahead of me. This means that the opportunities are still endless; there’s so much I can and want to learn; I can try, and fail, because I have the flexibility right now to do so. I love this about being in my mid-twenties: I love having that chance to work for what I want to achieve later on. I know that I may not have this luxury of time later on; I may not have the room for failure when I have a family to support; I may not have the freedom to take spontaneous travel breaks when I want them. I know that I’m in my personal Roaring Twenties right now, but I also know that it doesn’t stay this way forever.

There was something tragic about the way those cats on Broadway sang about their young selves: the pride with which they sang of their glory days were marred by hints of bitterness at realizing those days were over. It’s terrifying to wonder what it’s going to be like when we’re old: if we’ll feel anything like those cats, whether we’ll be badly wishing to relive those glory days again. We’ve all heard it from our grandmas and grandpas: “When I was your age…” But what we often forget is that someday, that will be us.

I know I can’t fight getting old: it’s just how life goes, and I also know that with age come other experiences that are amazing in their own ways. While watching the cats reminisce did make me fearful of getting older, it also spurred me to put in a greater effort to treasure each life chapter as it is. I will only get to live my twenties once, and so I want to make the most of this time. I want to work my brain to build greater skill sets and to learn new things from people who are better than me. I want to work my body to be in good shape while I still have the metabolism of a relative youth on my side. I want to work my heart to spend time with those I love most, and to contribute meaningfully to society.

I’m excited to wrap up this year with these thoughts in mind. I will only get to live my twenties once – and I’m going to make damn sure that I live them to the fullest.