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Monday, June 25, 2012

Standing by water

When I stand by the pier looking out at the water, I close my eyes feeling the cool breeze. When I open them, I can see the sun’s presence in the background. The horizon seems endless. I can’t see that far away. I can only imagine what lies behind it, if anything at all. I like to observe the water’s current. As it moves, I imagine it carrying away my thoughts. The water is my constant counselor. I can share anything and everything to “her” and it’s never revealed to anyone. The clouds, if present, are like pockets where I store ideas, goals, and wishes about things ranging from careers to love. The sun is interesting. Depending on the mood, she can be very hot, or warm enough to know she’s there. There are times she hides behind the clouds. When this happens, I imagine those ideas, goals, and wishes being processed and released back to the water. These are the things I daydream about when I’m by the pier or any type of waterfront. After this happens, I return to reality and focus on how I’m feeling at that moment. I always pray because I appreciate the time spent by the water. I allow my thoughts to roam and whichever one that lingers I focus on more. I think about my family, I think about my friends. I think about those I love. Then I think about me. I feel I’m reaching another crossroad where decisions have to be made. The irony is whichever way it goes it’s still something to smile about, thankfully. I hope water’s current will lead me into the right direction and carry me to where I need to be.  I trust she will provide me with an answer soon. For now, I will continue to go by the water and reflect. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I made it to the boardroom

It's not every day the general public can go to MTA headquarters, especially their boardroom. I am one of the lucky ones. Today the MTA held a public hearing on their 5th floor boardroom, the same place reporters and members of the media congregate at press conferences. The room seems so big on TV but it's actually small. The board members look more stern on television than they do in person; they are friendly. The MTA chairman wasn't present at today's hearing but other board members were in attendance. Testimony from the public was given about proposed projects that will improve NYC Transit. The hearing lasted from 4:30 to 6pm. As I took notes, I remembered all the reports I watched my friend and PIX 11 reporter Greg Mocker did in the very same room. I imagined him being there and wondered what he would say if he had to give testimony. I smiled at the thought. I also remembered that a year ago I wanted to have the chance to do a story about the MTA, and visit their headquarters. I'm happy my wish came true.

Here's my story on Examiner:

A "hmm" moment

For the past few days, I've been saying "Hmm" with thoughts of where I am in life, what I'm currently doing, and where I'm heading. Although I feel confident I'm going in the right direction, the question of how to bring all this[teaching, writing and social work] together has popped up in my head. I don't mind wearing many hats or at least pursuing them. I have my goals set and thankfully I'm working towards them all. But I often wonder if any of it will lead me to where I want to be. With the economy being such a mess (sorry but there's no other way to put it) and being unemployed, I have to think about taking care of myself financially. Money is something I don't like to focus on, because I don't want to lose sight on my purpose in life which is to help others and make a difference. Of course I need to take care of me, but I don't need to be rich to do that. It's hard living in a city of such high expense.

Rent is high, finding a job is difficult, and just to be comfortable may require two jobs and a roommate to make ends meet. I don't mind working, actually I enjoy it, but would like to work a job or jobs I enjoy, pays well, and can provide a roof over my head. With the constant cutting of ESL programs throughout the city, it's hard to land a full time job as an ESL teacher. The same goes for the social work profession, writing, just about every profession is going through some form of downsize. Patience and faith is definitely tested. I've been asked recently, "What are you going to do now?" and I haven't come up with an answer yet. All I know is to put everything in God's hands, and believe that opportunity will present itself in its due time. Despite my concerns, I'm stubborn. I won't stop what I'm doing. Every effort I make now will eventually pay off later.

I enjoyed my volunteer work last Saturday. Hearing my client express the many difficult obstacles she's faced and overcame is admirable. I helped her in job search, she helped me remember the importance of inner strength. She told me I'm a good listener. That made me proud. I know how important it is to be heard. I'm happy I gave that to her. Sunday I spent the day at my friend's house talking, and giggled over her cooking outfit. She cooked dinner for us and her husband. She looked adorable and the food was good too. Tuesday I went to an interview to apply for a volunteer grant writer position which I got. This is a skill I need to learn since I worked in non-profit for years, and I find it interesting.

So far so good. I will continue to try my best and keep going. 

Friday, June 15, 2012


What does it take to be confident? I guess there are many ways to reach that point, that place you’re comfortable with self. It’s when you know what you’re doing and don’t look for approval from others. In my opinion, confidence is when you can look in the mirror and be happy with what you see. To me, confidence is like putting on makeup. You don't know how it's going to make you look, but you try different types, colors, and ways to apply it until you reach the finish product. Through trial and error, you find what works for you and stick with that. You feel accomplished, you feel pretty. Confidence is when you don’t rely on material things to make you happy. It takes inner strength and courage. It’s that feeling you get when you are faced with a challenge and can still smile about it. You can walk with your head held up high. And when the naysayers or haters make a move, you can ignore them, laugh, or even say “It’s not about you, it’s about me.” That’s when you know confidence has presented itself. It’s not easy being an individual in a society when following suit is encouraged. Individuality is what makes a difference when taking a stand, following your dream, and walking away from things and people that don’t make you happy. You learn to smile more, strive harder, and move forward. Confidence is a great feeling to have, but it takes work. It’s an asset in pursuing your goals, seeing your potential, and enjoying the process.

My motto: keep smiling, keep striving.

Speak up! Be heard and be recognized

Monday, June 11, 2012: “Be recognized” 

I attended the Women In Need (WIN) volunteer recognition reception at Baruch College. As a New York Cares and WIN volunteer, I felt honored to be in attendance. As I walked in, I was greeted by WIN members, as well as my team leader. A photographer approached us asking to take our picture. I love being photographed so I smiled at the opportunity. For a brief moment I felt like a celebrity. Inside the auditorium, there was a power point presentation. As each speaker spoke, slides of pictures displayed all the work volunteers have and continue to do at WIN. My team lead gave a speech about her work with WIN and the success stories she’s received from clients. She also gave thanks to the volunteers she's met along the way. As she said, “And some of them are in attendance here tonight, Dara,” I waved feeling proud of the recognition, and the pictures we (my team leader and another volunteer) took two weeks ago. Although I’m a newbie with WIN, I admire the great work they do for families in need. I look forward to be more active in this effort and make a difference.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012: “Be heard”

A friend of mine called me “Detective Dara” on Facebook. I really liked this comment because lately I’ve been feeling like one. Inspiration really goes a long way. I attended a MTA public hearing regarding a free Metrocard proposal for paratransit riders. This is my second story writing about the MTA, but my first covering their public hearing. Riders expressed concern to MTA board members about the lack of accessibility in train stations, the insensitivity received from bus drivers, and unreliable express buses in parts of Brooklyn. Testimony was open to anyone who wanted to speak. As I jotted down notes from each testimony, I felt sadness for these riders, agreeing with many of their concerns. It wasn’t too long ago I was one of them. The MTA is proposing a free Metrocard to riders who use Access-a-Ride which would allow them to take the subway, for free, at fixed routes. Although many who spoke said the idea was “Okay,” many felt the bigger issue is having all subway stations and buses accessible for wheelchair bound, visually and hearing impaired riders, as well as disabled elders. This proposal is planned to be implemented by next year. My hope is their concerns are heard, and their needs met.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012: “Speak up!”

Today at City Hall, a rally was held in support of restoring adult literacy funding. As an ESL teacher, this is not only an important issue but a personal one. This was the first rally I attended where I was with no students or fellow teachers from my previous agency. I was there to show support and cover a story. Since becoming a writer for, it has been my mission to bring adult literacy and ESL to the media forefront. This is an issue that tends to be forgotten about. Now is the time to speak up and let our voices be heard. Seven thousand students will lose the chance to take ESL, GED, and basic adult education classes because of pending budget cuts. It’s a fight that we in adult education face each year. I was happy to see the huge turnout. Many Council members spoke showing support, as well as students and teachers.
I interviewed a student from a non-profit agency who expressed anger towards her GED program being cut. A coordinator from another agency told me he had to lay off all his administrative staff, and his ESL program discontinued. I met policy analyst Kevin Douglas from United Neighborhood Houses, and interviewed him about his involvement in adult literacy advocacy. The crowd stretched down Broadway, our chants of “Education is our right” were loud, and banners reading “Restore Adult Literacy Funding” were waved in unison. Live music was also performed. During the rally, it started to rain but we didn’t care. The rain didn’t dampen our mood, it increased it. The message was clear, save adult literacy programs, restore adult literacy funding.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Try your best

Monday, June 4, 2012: “This isn’t goodbye, just a see you later.”

I assigned homework last Friday asking the students to write about their experience taking level 4 class. They did and shared their thoughts in tonight’s class. I was moved by the thank you and “I love you my teacher” messages. Many said they are more confident speaking English, and feel they can now pursue their goals. One student shared that she can now speak to her son’s teacher without having an interpreter. Unanimously, my students said “We will try our best” a message I told them in the beginning of class. I was touched. Afterwards, I thanked them for sharing and appreciated their comments. The students smiled and nodded their heads. I smiled briefly as I took a deep breath. “I have something important to tell you. This isn’t easy to say, but unfortunately this will be my last week here. I am leaving CPC.” As I looked across the room, I saw their faces drop; some holding their heads down, some looked surprised. I began to cry but kept talking. “Due to personal reasons, I have to go but want you to know this has nothing to do with you or anything you did. It has been my great honor to be your teacher. I appreciate you being so dedicated and come to class every night. I know it’s not easy to work full time, take care of family, and come here at night just to hear me talk talk talk. I am proud of each and every one of you. I thank you for allowing me to be your teacher.” At this point, a student came up and gave me a tissue. I wiped away tears as students remained silent. After a few minutes, one student yelled, “I will miss you!” This echoed throughout the room. I said, “I will miss you too but this isn’t a goodbye, just a see you later. We will keep in touch.”

After class, a student walked up to me smiling. Suddenly she said, “I will miss you my teacher,” and hugged me. I could tell she was crying. I cried too. We exchanged emails and I told her, “I appreciate you so much; you are not only my student but my friend.” She said thank you and left. The door was open, blackboard erased, empty desks, I stood looking around. I remembered how many times I stood after class and reflected. This time was different. I couldn’t control my tears from flowing. I knew this was the end. I began unplugging the radio when my co-worker walked passed and said, “Hey!” I replied, “Hey,” and sniffled. He came in and said, “What’s wrong, are you okay?” I told him what happened. He looked unhappy and said, “I’m sorry to hear that, what happened?” I said, “I’ll tell you later” as I grabbed my things and walked out. We stood by the bus stop when I told him how happy I am to have met him. He shared the same sentiments and hugged me. As he left, I waited for the bus. I stood against the school’s gate and reflected.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012: Building my writing skills

I attended a grant writing seminar at the Foundation Center where I learned how to write grants for non-profit organizations. I always wanted to learn this skill, and believe it’s a step up in my writing pursuits. The class was great and so was the instructor. I networked and learned a lot. I look forward to attending more seminars.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012: NASW and class party

I attended the 44th annual addictions institute hosted by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) at Fordham University. It was an all-day conference discussing how to best help clients who suffer from addictions such as substance and drug abuse. Walking in the university and picking up my name tag and folder of information I felt great. Although this event was out of my comfort zone (I’ve only attended teacher related conferences), I didn’t feel out of place. After all, I am a member of NASW. I had a chance to meet other social workers and express my goal to become one. I received some good advice, and additional information about getting involved in the field. I enjoyed the plenary where I gained new perspective about people who suffer from both an addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I did a paper on this topic in college. Before leaving the conference, I received a free tote-bag. That’s always a bonus!

5:30pm: We had a class party celebrating my students’ successes, enjoying each other’s company and taking lots of pictures! I brought my pulley bag filled with dictionaries, journals, and miscellaneous school supplies. They laughed when I told them I lugged this bag around at the conference. I also shared that one exhibitor thought I was a presenter at the conference. Maybe someday I will be (It’s a dream of mine to present at a conference). The students all loved their gifts and asked me to autograph their dictionaries. One student yelled, “Superstar!” I thank them for making me feel like one. The food was great, the pictures came out nice, and we all wished each other well. I didn’t walk away in tears that night, I walked away proud that in the six years I taught at CPC I accomplished my goal; to teach English and make a difference in the community. I walked away with a smile.

This is just the beginning for me. Let’s see what next week will bring. I predict it to be a good one.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Rollercoaster week

This week was an interesting one. I learned a lot through stress, reflection, friendship, and taking a stand. Lack of sleep played a role in this too. Despite the rollercoaster of events, I believe through adversity there’s relief. Today is June 3rd, a new month, a new beginning. I look forward to turning things around for myself. It won’t be easy and I expect challenges, but I have to do it.

I’ve been going to the dentist for two weeks dealing with a bad tooth and its pain. Luckily I have a nice dentist, who not only took me in as a walk-in, but is very caring of my well-being. I went in on Friday, which started out as an adventure since I got lost getting to his office. Being in front of a cemetery and a large intersection wasn’t the place I was at a week ago. I ended up retracing my steps and found my way. After the exam, the dentist thanked me for doing a good job (I didn’t flinch when he inserted a large needle in my mouth. Looking at it made me nervous!). Then he said, “Come let me give you a hug.” I never say no to a hug. We embraced.  I told him how I appreciate his kindness and hug, because I’d woken up feeling down. I didn’t get into the details, but he said, “I’m glad I could make you happy.” Afterwards I got a coffee and banana nut muffin from a nearby bakery and took the bus. I couldn’t feel my mouth so drinking the coffee was a challenge. I still enjoyed it.

Classes have been going well. My students have learned a lot, and I’ve seen the progress they made. I’m proud of them. I’ve been networking a lot these days, and promoting my writing more especially on the journalistic side. I started an online newspaper called Advocates of Adult Literacy and ESL: It’s a newspaper that focuses on issues in adult literacy and ESL, and advocates for its programs and overall importance to our society. All content is generated from contacts I follow on Twitter or direct tweets to me. I am excited to see this come to life, and happy to see people promoting and reading it on Twitter and Facebook. I haven’t stopped there. I recently became a member of the Society of Professional Journalists! I want to learn more about the journalism business, and how to better market myself as a freelance writer. Let the networking begin!

I became a volunteer for New York Cares this week, and started yesterday. I’m working at a women’s shelter helping women in job search and resume writing. It’s every Saturday. Getting to the place was a challenge since I had to take a train underpass to get to its location. It was creepy and not well lit. I won’t be taking this route there anymore. Once I arrived, I met other volunteers and our team leader. All were nice and eager to help. It took a while for people to come to the computer lab. Actually, only one person showed up. She had a son who quickly gravitated to me. We played games on the computer, and talked about his interests. He is five years old. When it was time to leave, he ran out the lab crying. I went after him where he was laying on the floor crying. I picked him up and explained why we had to leave. He rested his head onto my shoulder saying, “Don’t leave.” I felt sad for him. When his mom asked for him, I put him down. He grabbed my hand and pulled me in the direction his mom was walking. He said, “You come to my house.” I smiled telling him I can’t do that, but promised him we would continue our game session next Saturday. He nodded his head, and I told his mom how I adored her son. She said thank you and they went inside their apartment. The team leader looked in awe saying I had a way with kids. I smiled saying, “I had a nice time. I will be back next Saturday.”

Later, I met with my friend whom I haven’t seen in months. We laughed and caught up on our life’s adventures. One of the things I enjoy most is when we drive into the city. I love watching Manhattan’s skyline, especially during sunset. It’s beautiful. Taking pictures is always a favorite, especially going by the pier. He likes it too. In sitting by the waterfront, I began sharing some things that’s been on my mind lately. Suddenly, I felt a tear drop. I kept talking. When I felt another drop, I said, “I didn’t come out here to do this.” My friend embraced me as the tears flowed. I was surprised that happened since I didn’t feel sad. It was unexpected. I’m happy I cried in front of him, because despite all we’ve been through I know he truly cares about me. Sometimes I hold things in and tell myself I’m fine when deep down inside I’m not. For me, talking is the best way in dealing with things. I try not to cry much. I guess those tears were waiting to come out. Traditionally when I’d cry, we would go to Dunkin Donuts and have something to drink. Last night was no different. I appreciate him listening and being there. As I admitted to him last night, sometimes I feel alone. I feel I’m not understood or heard which can be frustrating. I’m not where I want to be. Maybe someday that will change.

I hope next week will be a good one. I will work towards that.