Thursday, October 28, 2010

You Know What You Know,You Don't Know What You Don't Know

When asked about their childhood, most people respond about all of the difficulties they had or about how bad their parents were. I fall into that category as well. We all have stories to tell or situations that happened that molded us into to people that we are today.

My story mostly revolves around my parents. They cared about us kids and, although it may have been a little misguided at times, they did love us kids. I grew up in Niles, Michigan during the 70's and times were tough. The 5 of us were crammed into a small 800 or 900 sqft house. My parents were high school graduates, but really did not have a lot of skills. To date, I am the only one from my family to actually graduate from college. My mom worked at the JC Penney in Niles after Grants closed up, which was another retail store in the same location. After getting out of the Air Force, my dad worked in a factory called Clark Equipment in Buchanan until they started to move their operation down south somewhere. When that happened, it left my dad unemployed in a lousy job market with little knowledge of how to do anything other than the factory work he was just laid off from.

You Know What You Know

With the job market the way that it was, we were on Food Stamps and Welfare. I remember standing in Government Cheese lines with my parents (great tasting cheese by the way!) and I remember that we had Powdered Milk because we couldn't afford the real thing. Most of the time for dinner we would have fried bologna sandwiches, spaghetti or anything else that was inexpensive to make. Because of the money situation my family was in, I was in the free hot lunch program at school.

Growing up this way, it was all that I knew, it was all that my family knew. You struggled to pay bills and put food on the table. Good paying jobs were a myth when you grew up, and when you did have a job, you had to work hard at what ever it was in order to keep it. I knew that I didn't want this when I got older, but I had no idea how I would avoid it. You know What You Know, You Don't Know What You Don't Know.

You Don't Know What You Don't Know

As I got older and into high school I always tested out at high levels in math. The problem was, I had no idea how to enhance the way I studied. I was on my own. My parents knew nothing about the subjects I was taking, let alone the proper ways of studying. So, despite "testing out" well, I struggled at times. But I knew I needed to stick with school, even though it was VERY frustrating. When I saw successful people, they all seemed to have college degrees. So, I figured my goal should be to go to college and get a degree. "You have to go to college!" my parents would say. They were right, but I really had no idea why at the time. They wanted something better for me. I wanted something better for me too. I just didn't know what. You Don't Know What You Don't Know.

So, off to college I went. My grades in high school were average, something like a 2.6 GPA. The only money that I had was from the paper route that I delivered for the South Bend Tribune and from the part time job I had during my senior year. I saved and saved and saved. I had about $3,000, which was not nearly enough to pay for college. And, since my parents had no money to contribute but made just enough to disqualify me for certain types of aid, I applied for Student Loans and Pell Grants after being accepted to South Western Michigan College (SMC) in Dowagiac and meeting with financial aid counselors.

I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I felt that I had some good common sense in my thought process, and since it seemed that 90% of business decisions seemed like they were just good common sense, I decided business was what I should study. SMC made a lot of sense. They had an extension program with Ferris State's business program, so, I could get a 4 year degree and stay local so that I did not have to pay room and board like I would have to if I went away for college. I was still a little short on money for books and such, so I worked 2 jobs to make up the shortage while going to college full time. I remember one semester where I took 21 credit hours while working a 42 hour schedule between my 2 jobs. I would get up at 6 a.m. and go to bed at 2 a.m. Nothing but work, college, studies and trying to build a relationship with my then girlfriend and now wife Kimberly.

You Know What You Know, You Don't Know What You Don't Know

I know that, in part, I am where I am today because I knew I wanted something different than what I was used to as a kid. But I also know, that if it were not for programs like welfare, food stamps, pell grants and student loans, that I would not be where I am today. When you grow up in the kind poverty type of environment that I did, it is all you know. You know nothing else, because that is all that the people around you know. You Don't Know What You Don't Know.

When I hear political candidates talking about cutting these programs, or worse, eliminating these programs. It's upsetting.

It's upsetting because these programs enabled me to lift myself up.

It's upsetting because there are people out there that want what I now have and people are trying to stop them from getting it.

It's upsetting because these candidates might as well be saying to me "We wish you were still at that level of poverty you were at as a kid."

Maybe these candidates that are against these programs just don't care about people like me. Maybe they just Don't Know What They Don't Know, which is all the more reason that I will not be voting for them.

Think about who you are voting for, and what that person stands for, before casting your vote on election day.

My vote will be cast for people that are trying to help those less fortunate. I hope that's where your vote lands as well.

1 comment:

Andrew @ South Bend Realty Photo said...

Hi Barry - thanks for sharing this part of your story. Personal stories are so important to hear, because they take abstracted policies and budget forecasts and give them the human context that really matters. I know of political leaders who have changed their political ideological position when they come face-to-face with the actual people the policies affect on a day-to-day basis. Stories impact people.

Thanks also for not telling us who to vote for.
But, I would like to know... in your opinion, in the different elections, who are the candidates who you think are likely to be looking out for the needs of the less fortunate?

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