There are many things I could write about Safe Passage this afternoon. I could write about the energy radiating from the students happily dancing (some quite literally) their way up and down the hallway to art, sports, or tutoring as I sit here planning out my next English class.
Or, I could write about the many "power volunteers" (a term often used to describe one another's feats of education here) and their commitment to breaking the cycle of poverty.
Alternatively, I could write about about the enormous, far-reaching effects of the conglomeration of the programs Safe Passage is constantly implementing, improving, and growing. Indeed, in my few short weeks here I have been awed and inspired by the worthy work being done here by students, volunteers, and teachers alike.
But what I really want to share in this post is the endurance of Hanley Denning's legacy, particularly as it is vividly seen through the stories of her many children.
When I was fourteen years old, I had the enormous privilege of meeting Hanley while volunteering at Safe Passage for the first time. At this point in my life, I did not know Spanish, nor much about anything for that matter. But I did know how to play! I spent the week chasing kids in wild games of tag and giving as many piggy back rides as I could manage. I created a particularly strong bond with one young student named Marvin. After a week of friendship I headed back to Maine. Hanley had become my hero and I returned twice more during high school to contribute as best as a high school student can. Each time I tried unsuccessfully to find my friend Marvin. In an adolescent moment of loss, I may also have named my pet fish after him.
Eight years have passed since I first met Marvin, and I have since became a high school teacher and decided to return to Safe Passage as an English teacher. As I began to be introduced to my new students here, one teacher asked each person to stand and share his/her name. Half way around the circle, a young man stood and said, "Hello, my name is Marvin". I blinked. I blinked again. I thought to myself "Marvin? Marvin!? Is it him!? It looks like him… but all grown up. Could it be true!?
Though bursting with excitement with the possibility of finally finding Marvin, I kept my emotions to myself. I didn't want to awkwardly confuse two students named Marvin, or otherwise make him feel bombarded by some gringa's enthusiasm. So instead, I tried to be a bit more stealthy. I casually wandered around class as students began doing their homework, inquiring about their names and ages. Finally, I reached Marvin (THE Marvin!?). He said he was 20, which would have made him 12 when I was here. Despite his very small size when I was 14, he had told me he was 12! I took this as a very promising sign. Not sure as to how to proceed, I decided to just come out with it.
"Do you remember me?! I was here eight years ago and I think we were friends!"
Marvin nodded his head and smiled.
Now, how to navigate the reviving of a friendship eight years old? Where to even begin sharing about our lives since then? All of a sudden the Spanish I had worked to acquire could not quite express the significance of finding Marvin, and of becoming his English teacher. Indeed, what I most wanted to say in that moment was "Thank you Hanley! Thank you for starting such a powerful program that volunteers and students eight years separated can still find each other within your school walls. Thank you for keeping us all tied to your dream!"
While I did not say these words out loud that morning with Marvin, I have thought them repeatedly since that day, especially when Marvin and I have English class together. We're still good friends and we've smoothly shifted our friendship from piggyback rides and tag to English games and vocabulary lists. Marvin is a wonderful student; his gentle nature has not changed, but thanks to Safe Passage, his education is forever altered by the many opportunities here. To see Hanley's work so beautifully lived out through Marvin's eight years of education here confirm what I have believed since I was fourteen: Hanley is my hero and I am so lucky to be here!
Safe Passage English Teacher