RECENTLY ON TOL:
- A tumblr site dedicated to the people and places that make up Oregon and Southwest Washington.
- Send me an email if there is activity in this thread.
The connections kept going after Monday's unemployment show. The hour was about the ways events in one person's life affect others, and how that's magnified during this painful recession. Our final guest was Herb Smith, a single dad with two kids still at home, whose unemployment benefits are about to run out. He was connected to another guest who'd donated to an animal assistance program; Herb received food there* for his family pets, Smoky and Shadow.
Just past 8 AM the next morning, my phone rang. It's crunch time for the show and not a great moment for extended conversations. But when the man identified himself as one of my former high school teachers, I slowed down.
Doug Sherman taught at Lincoln High School, in Portland, when I went there in the 1980s. Before that, he taught Herb Smith at Cleveland High, also in Portland. Doug wanted to get back in touch with Herb so later I called Herb to pass on the number.
Herb remembered him well. "Doug Sherman," he said. "He and Bill Farber changed my life."
Herb told me he started ninth grade with basically a 4th grade education. "I wasn't able to read when I went to high school," he said. A short time with Doug and Bill — in an alternative program at Cleveland called The Option — changed that. Herb said the two young teachers gave him the motivation to educate himself in ways he hadn't imagined before.
"It was a difference between a teacher trying to teach me how to read from a book, opposed to almost like a friendship type thing," Herb remembers. "It wasn't them coming down to my level, but trying to bring me up to theirs. I didn't feel like a stupid kid."
Bill was in his twenties then, just a few years older than the kids in his class. He remembers Herb basically teaching himself to read, once he found material about music and sports. He also remembers Herb helping the program succeed as much as succeeding in it. Doug says even as a freshman, Herb brought a clear sense of right and wrong that resonated with other students.
"We were working tails off trying to engage students," Doug says. "We understood that kids with lives in turmoil weren't going to love all we did. But this was an academic program, so we pushed stuff. It wasn't unusual when we were stuggling to make a lesson work for Herb to say to the other kids, 'Hey, settle down.'"
The program exposed Herb to photography, and after high school he rose from driver to the darkroom to general manager of a local graphics company. He later became part owner in another graphics company and found he was really good at sales.
Now he, Doug, and Bill are planning to get together for a meal. The renewed connection may help out in other ways; Herb could end up doing some odd jobs for Doug's wife, a potter. I got a connection out of it — back in touch with a high school teacher. But what really struck me was how often what people do, even if it seems small, can make a big difference to someone else down the line.
*The group is FIDO, Friends Involved in Dog Outreach, in Clackamas County. Herb, a dog lover, first went there with his 12-year-old son to offer to volunteer. He went back last month to ask for food for Smoky and Shadow, when he realized he could no longer afford it.