Report from for-profit's front lines
The trailer homes are set at angles. There are porches built around them and gravel driveways separate the lots. There are mailboxes at the curbs. Several have swing sets out back and chain-link fences enclosing the properties.
Nearly every car or truck parked alongside the trailers are American made. Home by home, there are more American flags than you see in an ordinary suburban neighborhood, sans Independence Day.
The belief in our nation apparently runs deep here – much deeper than you might expect for a place where fate and fortune, and even dreams – appear to have passed over.
I drove slowly through the park looking for lot 25, where I’d agreed to pick up a little boy on my son’s flag football team for our Tuesday night practice. The main streets through the park – as you follow them east to west – stop every 200 feet or so at intersections. As I came to stop at every crossroad I looked at the trailers, initially, with a feeling that these were temporary places to live. Though most of these homes weren’t designed for it, it was still possible that they could be loaded onto a truck and driven away somewhere – to another park, maybe – to a different yard.
But as I drove looking for the right lot number, I gradually absorbed the details. These homes aren’t temporary. And most of the people aren’t necessarily here momentarily.
I’ve heard these places used as punch lines and talked down. The local law enforcement will tell you that the area’s largest gathering of sex offenders reside on these streets. I also knew this one was notorious for domestic abuse calls on weekends. Last month, an escaped convict from a nearby prison was picked up here. A helicopter searchlight shot down into these living spaces for the better part of an hour. The police found the escapee in an abandoned unit – and the discovery did little to boost the perception of the people who live here.
After realizing I was headed the opposite direction I needed to go, I found the lot and the boy – Steven – came out to the car. His mother wasn’t there to see him off. Instead, it was his grandmother who thanked me for picking him up, and as she waved us off to the main road, I wondered … where were his parents?
Steven’s grandmother had arranged his pick up, and I’d remembered meeting her after our first practice. But I hadn’t heard from his parents or bothered to consider his living situation. When you’re introduced to a team of 11 seven and eight year-old boys, you are doing well just to learn their names.
After our first game, Steven’s mother found me and we talked for a moment on the sidelines. She thanked me, first, for my help in getting Steven to practice. Then she told me that she lived apart from her boy while pursing an online psychology degree through the University of Phoenix. She said she lives in an apartment in a suburb closer to the city, and Steven, who is as energetic as 8 year-old boys come, splits time living with her and at the trailer home.
While she didn’t say so, I knew she needed an occasional break from parenting to focus on her studies (and maybe to deal with other challenges in her life). Evidently she’d been sidetracked from pursuing a degree after high school due to early motherhood. Without that temporary pause between high school and beginning college, she said she couldn’t be sure that psychology would appeal to her or not. But it has. And she’s close to finishing her degree and already looking forward to a new life with a “normal” job, and regular hours.
In America, we have our freedoms – and one is to be content in the circumstances that make you happy. In fact, you might say that’s a very generalized and less exciting way to describe the American dream. You have to want to better yourself before any real change can take place. Until then, self improvement is just an unlikely daydream.
This motivation is particularly important before you can pursue an education. So many students – for-profit or otherwise – start out in circumstances they want to overcome. They may spend part of their lives after high school facing challenges they didn’t intend, as new mother or fathers trying to find a way to provide a home for their child.
Or they might not have the confidence to pursue a higher education and find themselves on a couch in a living room, finding themselves being spoken to by ads for career colleges. Ads that encourage them to change their lives. Those students who follow through by enrolling in a career college take the first step in overcoming those challenges. They leave those lives behind with a realization that where they begin is not as important as where they finish.