December 14, 2014 – Emerge

Minute for Emerge – 14 December 2014 – Ralph Jones

What’s ¾ ÷ ¾ ? Who remembers how? Let’s see some hands…

OK — for me, that was a long time ago and far, far away! So fractions were one of the first things I learned — relearned, actually — at the Emerge program. Not the most important, though.

First, a word about the guys. (And while we’ve been there, all but one have been guys.) Most are in their twenties, though recently I’ve been working with a man in his fifties and at least a couple are still in their teens. Some live in “half-way houses”, some as far away as Waterbury — meaning they get up very early to ride the bus trip to a start as early as 7 AM. (No, our tutoring doesn’t start then!)

Emerge is a non-profit corporation that is rather distinctive in that it both provides support services to people involved with the criminal justice system and also functions as a business employing those people. Some are in fact “emerging” from prison; others are awaiting trial, or are on probation. A number have families of their own, and parents who need their care.

On the business side, Emerge contracts with a variety of developers and others around New Haven — providing demolition and other forms of construction work, landscaping, and such. The guys get paid for their work (a vital aspect of successful reentry) and gain work experience, skills, and an improved understanding of what it takes to hold a job. While also supporting the guys, these contracts supply over a third of Emerge’s funding.

Because Emerge is an employer — more precisely a transitional employer — the guys are interviewed for their willingness and promise to do the hard work of turning their lives around. Let’s not forget Dan, Mark, Alden, and Nick, the Emerge staff, who make the program work.

Along with “real talk”, parenting training, group sessions and other opportunities, tutoring is a part of the support aspect of Emerge. When they’re starting, the guys are tested for their read’n and ‘rithmetic skills. Most Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings, Art, Betty, Bonnie, Teddy, Mary, and I meet with those who need help with this. Much of the time is spent on arithmetic, including fractions, percentages and word problems — practical matters (except maybe the fractions part 🙂 — and essentially training in stopping to understanding a problem before jumping to a conclusion.

I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up to try this. What I’ve found — what we’ve found — is that we’re working with a bunch of pretty regular guys. Most of them don’t really like math, or the multiplication table. Some days they are exhausted. Some days they are stressed for all sorts of reasons. Some are comedians. Some are quiet. Some are demonstrative. Some are creative in their efforts to duck the studies. A few have messed up and left the program. Many have passed tutoring and either continue to work for Emerge or have found other jobs.

So what I’ve learned is a bit about myself, and that working together is a great way to build community. Indeed, there would be many blessings if only there were more opportunities to work together across our cultural expectations. If you think you might be interested in helping, speak to me, or to any of the tutors. Do keep Emerge in your prayers!

Oh yes…. the answer is 1. Remember: to divide fractions, you flip, multiply, reduce and simplify.

Ralph Jones