There's one name that's been filling my Facebook feed recently: Joe Maddon. Being that he is from my hometown of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, everyone seems to have a story of how they know Joe. Although I can't say I know him personally, I can say that the work he has done within my community has greatly impacted me. This is the story of how Joe Maddon changed my life.
People often fear what they don't understand. I live in an area where this is particularly prevalent. During the recession, the price of living greatly dropped in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. This lead to an influx of people from New York and New Jersey, locations where it was very expensive to live, looking for jobs and cheaper housing. Many of these people were Latino. This change in the population demographic led to a ripple effect that I still witness every day.
It is extremely difficult to see a sense of community when the people of said community are divided by misunderstanding and racism. I grew up seeing a divide in school, and have also come to see a divide in the workforce. Joe Maddon had also witnessed this divide within the community that he grew up in. His goal was to "transform Hazleton through integration." And so, along with his cousin Elaine, Joe started the Hazleton Integration Project within the Hazleton One Community Center.
The only idea of community I ever really knew was the basic description defined by my social studies textbook; I'd never fully seen it for myself. That was until the summer before my junior year of high school. I began volunteering at the Hazleton One Community Center, which is a summer and after-school program for children of all ages. The program is open to all children; however, it is primarily attended by Latinos. Prior to this, I had always considered myself to be opened minded, especially compared to those around me. It wasn't until I realized the good that was occurring in my community did I truly open my eyes to my surroundings. The community center offers services to people of all ages and races. There is tutoring and Rosetta Stone and meals - all at little to no cost. It was not only the services that astounded me. I met the most wonderful, genuine people. How was it possible that the people that I'd grown up hearing people complain about would end up being some of the best people I've ever come to know? People that had been categorized as lazy and unintelligent were some of the most hardworking people I had ever met and had overcome more hardships in their lives than anyone I'd ever met.
I entered the community center on the first day excited to make an impact on the lives of others. What I never expected was how strong of an impact others would have on my life. The lessons I've learned from my time at the Hazleton One Community Center, and the lessons I'll continue to learn as I continue my work there, are lessons that I will take with me throughout my life.
So to Joe (and Elaine), I say thank you. Thank you for giving the children of Hazleton a safe, fun place to attend. Thank you for providing important services to those in need. Thank you for seeing the best in our community, and for never giving up on it when so many others had. Most importantly, thank you for making me a better person. No matter what the result of the 2016 World Series is, Joe will always be our hometown hero.
If you would like to learn more about the Hazleton Integration Project, please visit http://hazletonintegrationproject.com/. This is an amazing organization run by amazing people and I am so unbelievably lucky to have been involved with it.