Victors for UM-Flint logo


Barbara Cherem
Lecturer II, Education
School of Education & Human Services

It's been a full decade that I've been involved with UM-Flint's School of Education and Human Services since arriving here in 2006; first as a Teacher Ed. faculty and then a LEO II.

Having worked at another university that was located in a small town a decade earlier, I was impressed at the differences in both students and staff at UM-Flint, as the campus had the feel of a small town, but the students were more practical and often older. They frequently financed their own schooling through their loans and part-time work. It appeared they frequently had a “can do” mentality.

In 2011, I began working in a new program called the Detroit MAC program, and have been teaching the fall cohort in that program for five years. I met students quite different from earlier teacher ed. candidates in this program, and grew to learn so much from those committed to teaching the teen in the urban setting.

Usually in the past, our family giving was from extra monies, that extra “grace” beyond our basic needs. However, by and large, these Detroit MAC teacher candidate students introduced me to a newer concept which reminded me of what I’d heard about giving at the Salvation Army kettles near Wall Street at Christmas in NYC.  It was said that those in the more modest area of New York collected much more than the paltry sum of the kettles poised on Wall Street corners. In other words, the poorer gave proportionately more than the economically wealthy, at least to the Salvation Army kettles on the street. This repeated itself across the nation, but NY pretty much epitomized this phenomenon.

I noticed that these UM-Flint Detroit MAC students lived more from day to day and had never had any financial security; they always had something to give, usually in community class food!  It was a very different world, where having “enough” allowed you then to give to those who were really needy, both financially and personally of your time and resources. As the saying went, “We were wealthy, we just didn’t have a lot of money.”

Giving wasn’t from excess, it was giving from the heart.  About half of the teacher student candidates in the Detroit MAC program were coming from circumstances not all that different from those students they anticipated teaching. Urban poverty was double digit in all the schools they were placed in, it was only a matter of degree, not of actual neediness.

I recall one UM-Flint student who had lived in his car, and at one time said that he hadn’t known there was anything beyond food stamps as a child; cash had become a novel concept. He was smart, resilient and committed, and he worked full-time during this demanding program. I was inspired, and a bit ashamed in my thoughts about giving from excess. It was not only “rich” people who could give and make a difference in lives, but rather even modestly paid college professors who could make such a difference.

I realized that the saying and book title of Hillary Rodham Clinton of “it takes a village” was more real than merely figurative. Thus, I decided I needed to “step-up” and do something about those students with the modest goal of becoming a teacher, who didn’t have $500 for books by spring semester. The Detroit MAC program was a two year cohorted program so these candidates could work while studying on Fridays and still be in the schools during several days a week.  However, towards the end of the first year, and start of their second year, things often began to fray a bit.  There was no absence of talent, skills and commitment, but often a scarcity of resources.

We decided to establish the Teacher Emergency Fund (TEF) for those small amounts of “book money” (under $1000) that can be just that modest amount that makes a dream become real. It would be a brief application for a gift to complete that goal of serving others through becoming a teacher.

Seems to me that after the thousands of students I’ve worked with over the four decades of working in varied capacities in schools, that giving is an opportunity to help the future. Our schools have really hurt over the past decades as government cuts have severely reduced general fund dollars, and financial aid is difficult to fund the higher costs of higher ed. Are we only going to have economically privileged complete college degrees? If that is so, our future will have been robbed of so much talent and resilient people.

That is a particular loss to communities who aren’t occupied by such privileged people, as they have few models with whom they can identify and easily empathize. The teacher candidates that the UM-Flint disproportionately educates are “can do” sorts of students. They are not whiners or “privileged”, but rather scrappy doers who really work hard and are so pleased to commit themselves to others, if only they can.

I once heard from Allemu Beeftu, an MSU professor in community development, that all development work was motivated by one of three emotions: pity, mercy or compassion.  I am not motivated by pity or mercy, but rather compassion. What would I want were I in their shoes, if I was their parent?  I’m pleased I learned this from those I try to serve, as they taught me, we best give from our hearts, and not from security of overage that we might have. This is why I give: it builds an expanded open-heartedness.  What a gift that’s circled around to be to me.

[W]e best give from our hearts, and not from security of overage that we might have. This is why I give: it builds an expanded open-heartedness.  What a gift that’s circled around to be to me.