What started as a community service requirement for school has turned into a volunteer stint at a Holyoke nonprofit and career inspiration for one HCC student.
Andrea Beaumier is volunteering this summer at The Care Center, a school for teenage mothers on Cabot Street in Holyoke that helps them earn their GEDs. Every Monday afternoon, Beaumier attends a poetry class there, assisting the instructor, Tzivia Gover, who is also an adjunct professor of English at HCC.
"I just basically sit in on the class and help out," says Beaumier, 28, of Southampton. "I write my own poems and interact with the young ladies and try to offer them some hope too. I just really love the program. I fell in love with it."
Beaumier was introduced to The Care Center through a Learning Community course she took at HCC last spring, "Healing on the Page: The Power of Writing in the Human Services." The class, a combination of English 101 (Language and Literature) and Introduction to Human Services, is taught jointly by Laura Larson, professor of Human Services, and Gover. The course explores different styles of writing and journaling and how writing can be a tool for working with clients in the human services field. In particular, students in the class learn how writing has helped the teenage mothers at The Care Center cope with the stress and emotional challenges of their lives, which often includes growing up in neighborhoods plagued by poverty, violence and drug addiction.
The course includes a Community Service Learning component where the HCC students visited The Care Center and taught the women there about human services while also participating in the poetry class and working one on one with the students. The women from The Care Center course also had the opportunity to visit the Learning Community class at HCC.
"We're always looking for ways to give our students here college experience while they're still at The Care Center," Gover said. "For HCC's side, we need opportunities for students like Andrea to work with community organizations, so it's a perfect fit."
What particularly impressed Beaumier about The Care Center, and brought her back this summer as a volunteer, is the "holistic way they help girls get their GED." More than merely offering classes in math, English and social studies to prepare them to take a test, the center offers support services, including day care for their children and transportation to the facility. The center has an onsite nurse and a rowing team. In addition to the academic subjects, The Care Center also offers electives, such as art - and poetry.
"They provide everything possible to try and help these girls succeed," she said. "It's just a really really awesome program. And the women, they're just inspiring, to want something so much, not just for themselves but their children and at such a young age, given the struggles they have to face."
Beaumier has had her own struggles too. She was put into foster care just before her 17th birthday because of domestic issues that included foreclosure on her family home. Growing up without a lot of money, she says, college never seemed like an option for her. Nevertheless, at some point, she realized education could be her gateway to a better life.
She studied health technology at Smith Vocational School in Northampton, which helped her get her certified nursing assistant (CAN) license, and she graduated in 2003 with three scholarships. She had her own apartment, was working as a CNA and started classes at HCC that fall. "I thought I had it all together," she said.
But then a client fell on her and she broke two discs in her back. She couldn't work and she had to withdraw from school. She reenrolled again later and was forced to take another semester off to deal with some family matters.
Now, after nine years, she is on track to graduate in December 2012 with an associate degree in liberal arts. She plans to transfer to the University Without Walls program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and pursue a bachelor's degree in health and human services and then a master's degree after that. She's still undecided about a career but sure she wants to inspire young women the way the young women at The Care Center have inspired her.
"I want to be helping people in some capacity, especially young people who have faced adversity and have had some serious challenges in their lives," said Beaumier. "I really want to inspire young women to find their power. I'm trying to find exactly what my passion is. I'm going to school. I'm figuring it out along the way. This is my third time back. I need to make it happen. No matter what happens in my life I just need to keep going."
Photos: (Left) HCC student Andrea Beaumier talks to Jailenne Perez, 19, of Chicopee, a student at The Care Center. (Right) Care Center instructor and HCC adjunct professor Tzivia Gover, left, leads a poetry class at The Care Center while Andrea Beaumier listens in. (Thumbnail) Andrea Beaumier at The Care Center.