College: Christian Brothers University, Mempis, TN
What do you do?
With Necie Kennedy, I staff the Academic Support Center – a place for the students of La Salle Academy to receive extra help with their coursework. Most of my time is spent tutoring students in math and physics, or helping them write essays.
Why did you choose to become a Lasallian Volunteer? Have your hopes about the Program been realized?
Why did I choose the Lasallian Volunteers program? I guess because I thought it was the right thing to do. I was educated by the Christian Brothers for eight years – four years at Christian Brothers High School and four more at CBU. The Lasallian Volunteers program presented the opportunity for me to continue this engagement with the Lasallian world in a more active role. In other words, now I feel like I’m contributing in some small way to the Lasallian mission, rather than just benefiting from it.
So far, the program has been so much more than I expected. Community living is great, I love my work, and I get to live in the heart of New York City. Most of all, there is a sense of belonging that comes from being with the Brothers. I feel like I really am part of their mission – part of this global effort to uplift the poor through education.
What have you discovered about poverty from your work?
In the few months that I’ve been working, what strikes me the most is just how deeply affected our students are by their environment. For those that are poor, their poverty influences every facet of their lives – and their education is no exception. How can a young man stay focused on something as trivial as trigonometry while his parent(s) are worried about paying the next rent check? Of course this is an example, and each of our students has his own difficulties, but what is universal is that anxiety from home affects academic performance and attitude, which are what I see on a daily basis.
In college, professors talk about the institutional causes of poverty – how such and such social structure served to disenfranchise certain groups and led to their economic decline. It’s all true, important, and an integral part of a well-rounded college education. But it’s too detached. The Lasallian Volunteers program has given me the opportunity to experience the personal side of poverty; how it affects the lives of individual people, particularly their happiness and their ability to be successful.
Have you noticed any signs of success in your work? What are they?
I’m a tutor, and there are several students that I see every day, for various reasons. With these students it’s always encouraging to see that they remember what you talked about the day before. This is especially the case with math, which is the kind of subject that builds on itself, and each chapter takes for granted that you understood the chapter before it. So, when I talk to a student about factoring trinomials, and he comes in the next day and can factor trinomials, it makes my week.
What would you say to one of your students who came to you discouraged about a particularly troubling problem?
Something like this actually happened to me recently. A student that I see fairly often quieted the room and asked me a question: “Mr. Latta, have you ever been in love?” He wanted my advice on some problems he was having in his relationship.
If there is any more troubling problem than love, I can’t think of what it is, but I did my best to answer his questions and I’m happy with the way I handled the situation. I spoke to him sincerely, from the heart, and I made sure it was clear that I haven’t the faintest clue what I’m talking about. And I think that’s the appropriate way to handle any situation like this – tell them what you think is right. You can’t do much more than that.
Of course, more serious and/or destructive issues would have to be reported to the school counselors. That’s what they’re for, and, no matter how honestly I try to address a student’s concerns, sometimes I’m just not qualified.
What would you say to a friend from home who questioned why you chose to live with the Brothers?
Why not? Anyone who knows any Brothers understands how diverse and interesting they are. It’s just like living with anyone else, except that the Brothers are almost always more fun.
Why would you recommend the LV program to a college senior considering volunteering?
Because, as cliché as it sounds, it changes lives, and does so from the most secure, supportive environment possible. If a college senior wants to do something to make a difference in the world after graduation, there is no better way than to join the LVs. As a volunteer, you are placed in situations that offer opportunities for you to do good – to care for and nurture those in need – and you are given an entire community of people whose only wish is to see you successful.
Why would you recommend a contribution to the LV Program from a prospective donor?
Because the LV program is special – it’s not like any other volunteer program out there. We dedicate our time to the Lasallian mission, work hard to contribute something to that mission, and are given the opportunity to live with and be encouraged by those Brothers who have dedicated their entire lives to it. And the mission – that everyone, especially the poor, should receive a quality education – speaks for itself.