By Will Orlowski, Ticket to Read Program Coordinator/AmeriCorps VISTA
When I asked Rochelle Todd if I could interview her for this piece, I did not expect her to say yes. Not because Rochelle is a difficult person, or because she would be too shy to tell her story; I was pessimistic because Rochelle is one of the hardest working people I know. She had just finished class (every Monday and Wednesday, 9:00-10:30 AM) and was hurrying off to get to work as she always does. But the moment I asked her for her help, before even explaining what I needed from her, she said she would make time for me.
“I can give you ten minutes,” she said with a smile.
As I was to find out, this is typical of Rochelle. Born and raised in Kansas City, she has worked hard for years to help others. She has three daughters, two of whom are in high school, and a four-year-old grandson. Sitting down with me in my office, I asked her what she did in her time outside of work and school.
“Mom stuff. I’ve got my daughters that are still in school and I just do the best I can to be a good mom. I go to the gym sometimes, but most of the time I’m working to learn more or to support my family.” She said this while fidgeting with the hem on her scrubs; Rochelle works in childcare at the Learning Curve, an organization that specializes in early-learning for Pre-K children in the KC Metro area. Clearly this was a woman who had priorities higher than herself, and knew what she was working to achieve. I asked her how she was able to do so much.
“I try to stay consistent. It’s about not letting anyone get in your way. That’s what I’ve learned here: have faith, you can do it.”
Having brought up her time at Literacy KC, I asked her to further explain what her experience as a student has been.
“Well, I’ve been here off and on since it was just me and a tutor. I’ve been here two straight terms now; I love my tutors, especially now since we have groups. I like that.”
Despite her tact and humility, I could tell that she was proud of what she had accomplished so far. Spending the time I do in all of our classes, it is not hard to see why. Despite the hectic nature of her schedule, Rochelle almost never misses class. Every one of her tutors had nothing but good things to say regarding both her personality and her work ethic, and when I informed her instructor (Julia Wendt) that I would be writing about Rochelle, she was ecstatic.
In fact, Rochelle is so well regarded by the staff at LKC that when applications began to circulate for the new Student Advisory Committee, we jumped at the chance to recommend her. Once again, despite her already-full plate, Rochelle was eager to participate.
“It’s important to me that I have a voice,” Rochelle said when I asked her about the committee’s first meeting. “It’s really good to see that because it lets me know I’m improving. Things are opening up for me — usually I’m like a box, all closed off. But as I’ve grown I’ve come out of my shell. I feel like I can’t be ashamed anymore, and I’m not the only one. As long as you’re getting help that’s all that matters.”
“And how did the meeting go?” I asked.
“It went fine. We talked about a lot of things, and we’ll ask the classes for two goals to talk about with the committee.”
“I’m curious what some of your goals are for the committee? What are some things that you want to see them doing?”
“We want people to come out and get help,” she said. “We want people to not feel so bad that they can’t read or write. And just being able to talk to people, the younger generation that’s struggling and doesn’t know how to get help.”
I was desperately interested to hear more regarding the Student Advisory Committee (or “Together We Stand,” as they’ve named themselves), but having covered her past and present I felt I needed to learn more about her future, and I knew I did not have much more time before she had to leave for work.
“So Rochelle, I know we only have a few more minutes. What is it that you ultimately want to achieve?”
“I want to be able to read more, and to write,” she said. “I want to advance. I’m trying to get my education while I can, it’s definitely my priority right now. And I want to work in education. Maybe a school setting, like preschool or early childhood.”
Just like that, my ten minutes were up. I wanted to talk about so much more, to learn from this person who knew what she wanted, understood who she is, and was dedicated to accomplishing her goals no matter the effort required. But I was out of time, and so with one last question as she packed up her books and bag, I asked her what one thing she would say to a potential student, if given the chance.
“I would say come. It’s a good environment. If I was someplace else, I might not ever have gotten what I needed. It’s homey, it’s comfortable.”
With that, Rochelle went to work.