And so we bid adieu…
With heaviness of heart, I sit here the night before my very last day at Get On The Bus thinking of how to address you. After an amazing going away lunch yesterday with my colleagues and the Pope (well, not exactly but his head was part of a lazy Susan in the middle of our table), I was sent out in Get On The Bus style complete with a travel bag with things for me to do on the road trip, a stay connected bag with ways to keep in touch and a teddy bear and an actual letter from my parents, which was pretty incredible. Not only was this a creative gift, but more than ever I was able to feel the way that our children must on event day: Loved and special.
In the spirit of GOTB and in the interest of limited finances, I would like to do the same for all of you. Since I was essentially the mother hen of GOTB for the past two years, I will address all of you as my own. Here it goes:
To my GOTB children, friends, volunteers, partners, and colleagues:
Wow, this has been quite a ride to say the least. When my father was sentenced to prison 5 years ago, I thought that I was living in my own personal nightmare. I couldn’t believe any of this could be happening to me or my family. This was probably one of the first times that I started to question why? Why did this happen to my dad? Why my family? Why did someone hate my dad so much that they mentioned his name just to get him into trouble? Why now?
I remember one day in the visiting room of the Morgantown WV Correctional Facility being asked by another person who was visiting her husband, “Maria, what are you going to do with your life?”
Now as every 20 something year old, this was not the first time I had pondered this same question. I am not sure if it was in haste or by the grace of God or the universe, but my response was so quick and so definite. I said, “I am going to help the families of people who are incarcerated.”
To be honest, I don’t know why I said that. I had no training in this, no experience, no expertise. I think it was probably the first thing that came to my mind. However, given her ogled response to my question, I knew I must have said something right.
As many of you know, I met Sr. Suzanne Jabro, the ED of our agency and founder of GOTB, very shortly after we first moved to California. Not only was she able to help make my dream of helping families of the incarcerated a reality, but she was able to offer me something that I desperately needed a shoulder to cry on, a heightened sense of self and many good laughs. Suz always says that people follow energy and once I met her, I immediately wanted to follow her. I started out small as a volunteer and now am leaving you as the Program Director.
My past six years with the program have been some of the most formative years of my life and all of you are a part of this. Many of you have watched me grow up professionally from some kid from a small middle class suburb of Pittsburgh to now a cosmopolitan professional that speaks her mind about injustices in the criminal justice system and surprisingly, people are starting to listen. Who would have ever thought?
On behalf of Get On The Bus and most importantly me, I want to say thank you to all of you. Without the love and support you have continually given me, I know that I would have never been able to do what I have been able to do. Because of you, just this year, we were able to help almost 1300 kids in every major city in the state of California to see their parents. Because of you, we were able to shed light on the children that everyone else turns their backs. Because of you, we were able to overcome every obstacle to make our events special. Because of you, you have helped to make a priceless memory for a child. Because of you, you were able to bring about positive change in our society. As the proud mother hen of GOTB, I want to tell you how proud I am of each and every one of you.
Although we bid adieu for now, our paths will cross once again soon. Until then, keep your eyes on the prize.