I met many heroes

| Staff Columnist

Spring break is typically fun, or relaxing, or just not long enough. Spring break isn’t typically inspiring, but mine was. I spent my break shadowing various arms of Great Circle, a collection of local social-work organizations devoted to educating and assisting children and families. After the first day, I was overwhelmed. By what? Partly by the new faces and names, partly by the extensive terminology of social work.

But what affected me most were the stories I heard—stories of children cycling through foster homes and of parents who simply abandoned their unwanted kids. During the week, I saw a boy, less than 1 year old, whose mother allegedly punched him in the head. To be honest, I came home a couple of times frustrated and angry. Who treats a child like that? What kind of parents would ever run away from their own flesh and blood? I felt like God had flipped a coin; heads for me meant I was blessed, while tails for these kids meant they were screwed.

Yet I soon realized that countering everything bad was someone good. Someone like Angela, who sacrifices time with her family to visit and counsel foster children at their homes. Someone like Pam, who puts what is best for a child in need above all else. Someone like Jen, who assists devoted parents in reuniting with their kids.

My spring break was inspiring because of the people I met—people I wouldn’t hesitate to call heroes. I met John, a teacher who has dedicated 21 years—longer than most of us can remember—to helping children with severe behavioral and emotional challenges. I met Maria, a principal whom her students love as much for her encouragement and kindness as for her little basket of chocolates. I met Ed, an administrator who insists on helping all troubled children and promises to be the first adult not to abandon them.

I don’t intend to take away anything from soldiers, firefighters and others society ordinarily considers as heroes. These men and women demonstrate the greatest caliber of heroism, putting their lives at risk to ensure the safety and well-being of complete strangers. Nor do I intend to dilute the significance of the term “hero.”

Rather, I want to expand the schema of a hero to include those who take on the toughest problems, those who are truly committed to making the world a better place. Heroes include scientists and entrepreneurs, advocates and mentors; these men and women are the catalysts of improvement in this world. The educators and social workers I met last week are the ones impacting the lives of individuals who need their strength and love the most, and for that these heroes have earned my admiration and respect. Spring break isn’t typically inspiring, but mine was.

Cyrus is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at cfbahras@wustl.edu.