Monday, October 25, 2010

Here's Johnny! A Closer Look At The Man Behind The Scenes!

Anyone who has spent time in the North End has probably run into John Rodriguez.  The lifelong resident of the North End recently told me about some childhood memories, reflections about the North End today, and why he loves Project Coach.

John was born in Springfield’s North End in 1964, and remembers the neighborhood as family oriented when he was a boy.  The parks were always filled with picnics and kids played baseball after school and on the weekends. 

John went to school at Brightwood Elementary, down the street from the fields now used by Project Coach.  North End children today, he says, are not like they were in the ‘70s.  John sees too much drug and crime activity on the streets now, and observes that kids today are more street smart.  They have learned to adapt to their environment.  He observes another difference: growing up in the North End is tough on a lot of kids because their parents aren’t around.  John estimates that in any crowd of 20 kids, only 3 live with both parents.  And then he shakes his head.

I asked John why he works as a School Monitor at Gerena Elementary School.  John’s answer was much more complex than I anticipated. John is quiet and friendly man who defies the image of a School Monitor.  For years he worked in a nearby juvenile jail.  He saw a lot of good in the kids he worked with there, but also a lot of despair. The job was tough.  He gravitated to Gerena because he wanted to work with kids and give back to his community.  But he also wanted intercept these kids and help them chose the right path so they would not end up at the juvenile jail. 

John believes in Project Coach.  He values it because it offers consistency and a foundation to kids who do not experience much routine or comfort outside of school.  And he especially appreciates the confidence that emerges in the children.  At the beginning of John’s first year working with Project Coach, he remembers a shy small elementary school girl standing at the fence watching kids play soccer with the program.  He went over to her and invited her to play.  “Oh no, I’m too shy,” she answered.  With a little persuasion she joined the program.  John beams as he reflects on the way that little girl blossomed in Project Coach.  He chuckles as he tells me that she’s a confident and popular middle school student now.  His compassion shines through, he can’t hide it.

By Kuna Tavalin - Project Coach Fellow 2010-2011

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