Devotions - Gregg Heid

Life at the Academy


I started the year with an Ice Breaker activity, a way to get the kids to interact and to know each other better. Each student would write three statements about themselves, two true, one false. The others would guess which statement they thought was false. The more classmates fooled, the greater the interest. 

Marcos was the first student to volunteer. He stood and read to the class:           

     “I have eight brothers and sisters.”           

     “I’ve been arrested twice.”            

     “I like tamales.”           

It turned out he didn’t like tamales. He fooled three-fourths of his classmates.           

Esteban stood with pride:            

     “I drive an Escalade.”

     “I have a son named Miguel."

     "I work at McDonalds."     

His son’s name was Marcus, which elicited lots of groans from the class. They thought he cheated by making his false statement insignificant, like a spelling error. It led to discussion. I was pleased.           

Next, Veronica stood:            

     “I’m getting married at Christmas”           

     “Mi novio tiene 22 años" (My boyfriend is 22).           

     “I love math.”           

The others guessed that one with no problem. She hated math.           

Sylvia’s statements, however, fooled all but one.           

     “I just moved here from Texas.”           

     “I’m pregnant.”           

     “I go to church every Sunday.”           

Most of the class, myself included, guessed the false statement to be, “I’m pregnant.” Since she was a petite 80 pounds, only her best friend knew she was expecting. She had never been to Texas.           

Working at Summit Academy in Denver was an eye-opening experience. The student population at this west-side, alternative high school was 85% Hispanic. These were kids who either dropped out, were kicked out, or flunked out of other Denver high schools. Life on the streets, having babies, being in and out of gangs and unemployment hardened them. Our goal was to educate them and get them off the streets. My part, I taught Financial Algebra. This was their last chance to make up credits and obtain their high school diploma.

Tony, small but tough and muscular, threw out his statements with animated gang signs:           

     “I don’t have a dad.”           

     “I shot someone in another gang.”           

     “I’m 20 years old.”           

After some discussion and a show of hands, most didn't think he was 20 years old. His lie, he did not shoot another gang member.

A few weeks later after we’d gotten to know each other, Tony was hanging out in my office. “Mr. Heid I didn’t cap that Crip. He shot me.” He glowed with pride as he showed me the scar from where the bullet went through his thigh. “The cops never got him, but I ended up in custody. Now I wear this.” He beamed anew as he showed me his ankle bracelet, a band of acceptance among his friends.

Later in the semester I encountered Maria in the hall. She had been out of school for two years and had a small child.           

“Maria,” I asked. “Why did you quit school over at Lincoln?”           

“I didn’t, I was kicked out because of truancy violations.”           

“You’ve been doing great here.” Checking my computer, “I only see one absence for you so far.”           

“I want to get my diploma and have a better life for my daughter. Plus, I can bring her to school with me cuz there’s day care here in the morning.”

Carlos had made good money selling drugs on the streets of west Denver. He also lost two friends to gang shootings. The path he’d taken tore his family apart, so he too enrolled at Summit. He struggled with my class but the help he received from fellow students got him through. He told his homies, "Those five credits are sweeter than five G's on the streets."

Projects and Power Point presentations of their results were requirements of the class. One such project was to “buy” a car and calculate all expenses for a month. Tino, gloated as he showed photos of his new Corvette.           

“My monthly payment for this chick magnet is $590. My Insurance is $240. Gas tires, oil and scheduled maintenance, another $320. My total monthly costs are $1150.”           

Laura showed photos of a used SUV with over 150,000 miles. “My monthly payment is $149. Insurance is $100 and gas, tires, oil and maintenance are $180. My total monthly expenses are $429.”           

“That’s not fair,” whined Roberto. “She only has to pay $100 for insurance.”           

That led to a discussion as to why older vehicles are less expensive to insure. Plus, young men pay more for insurance because they’re bigger risks. After completing this assignment, most realized that, at this stage in their lives, they could not afford the car of their dreams.

Not all Summit students were success stories. Angela dropped out after getting pregnant which was not the norm. At one time Summit had five pregnant students. None of them quit.           

Damian started out every term with "ganas" (desire) but never finished a class.         

“Damian,” I looked him in the eyes. “You’re not going to make it if you don’t come to class.”           

“I know, but I have to take care of my two younger brothers while my mom works.”           

Two students, Ernie and Anthony, who were always fighting were expelled. Their last chance to get a diploma would be online through the GED program.           

Most of Summit’s faculty members were young and caring. Mr. Lynch was like the older brother most of these kids never had. “Who hasn’t missed a class this week?” He would ask every Friday before lunch. Three students hands went up. “Are you sure Rolando? I thought you missed on Wednesday.” His hand went down.

“Let’s go get in the car.” He took them to Teresa’s Taqueria with smiles on their faces.

Rosa was always at school when I arrived in the morning. “Why are you here so early? Classes don’t start for another hour.”

“I don’t have anywhere else to go. Mom drops me off on her way to work, so I have to come early or not at all.”

“Come on in. You can wait in the hall lounge until Mrs. Washburn arrives.”

She always had coffee brewing or hot chocolate ready for the many students who would hang out in her comfy reading lab. Mrs. “W” was the mother who listened to their stories without judging.

Break-ups were common at Summit. Sara came to school on Monday crying.

“What’s up sis?” Consoled Marta, as she put her arm around Sara’s shoulder.

“Ricardo thinks he’s a player. He took Keila to the movie on Saturday.”

Marta and two other girls walked her down to Ms. Frank’s room for some wisdom on how to handle “two-timers.”

Teachers and students spent lots of time together. Students stayed after school to get extra help with assignments. We played games at holidays, took excursions throughout the city and had potluck picnics in the spring and fall. During lunch we played touch football or ultimate frisbee. The days were long, but they seemed short.

“What’s the number one rule of money management?” I asked the class at the end of the semester.

“I know that one,” boasted Esteban, “Spend less than you make.”

I smiled, “See you on Monday.”

The Passing of Time
   The four of us got off the bus in front of the Motel Peringo in San Ignacio, Paraguay. When we checked in we discovered that the motel manager knew Daniel Martinez. He was a student, and close friend in my English class 40 years ago when I served in the Peace Corps. She dialed her cell phone, there were no phones at all 40 years ago, and handed it to me, “Daniel, como estas mi amigo?”
   “Gregorio eres vos? Where are you?”
   “Aqui en San Ignacio, en el Motel Peringo.”
   “Esperame, I’ll be there soon,” he responded in his heavy accented English.
   Fifteen minutes later he drove up in his little SUV “Wow, Daniel you have a car.” Back in the 70’s only 10 or 15 vehicles existed in the entire town of 4,000 inhabitants.
   ” Si, Gregorio, now there are hundreds. San Ignacio is a city of over 50,000.”
   We hugged and introduced my wife, her sister and brother-in-law. We climbed into Daniel’s little SUV. Our first stop was at the high school where I use to teach English. I encountered two of my students. They were teachers now and recognized me, even though I didn’t recognize them.
Next we found two of the farmer’s sons I worked with on the outskirts of town. They were still very poor and didn’t know me. When I told them about their fathers we became instant friends.
    The pension I had lived in for two years was gone and a new hotel was under construction in its place. Following the custom, Daniel clapped his hands to announce our arrival. When Keña appeared from behind the construction site, I was filled with emotions. Forty years earlier she served my meals, cleaned the rooms and did the wash by hand. What a bittersweet time it was to hug her and learn about all the people who had been there with me that had died or moved on.
We sat with Sylvia’s and her family on her patio and talked about times past. She was a young lady I worked with at the Ag Extension office. She is now in her 60’s with three sons and numerous grandchildren.
   At the art museum in town we encountered Felipe, who spends his days restoring the old paintings and statues. He talked and talked about things I did back then, none of which I remember.
   People told us my Ag Extension boss, Julio, had died a couple years ago. But when we visited the church where I attended Mass, we saw him across the street sweeping the sidewalk in front of his house. After refreshing his memory, we shared stories of those bye-gone days working with the farmers around San Ignacio. It was hard to say good bye to him, and the people we saw that day. I knew I would not see them again in this lifetime.
   Forty years is a long time. Everything is changed. The town is bigger, we all have gray hair, motorcycles and cars have replaced the horses and bicycles, tractors have replaced oxen in the fields and the highways are full of trucks and buses.
   One truth, however remains the same; “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Because Christ died for us we will be together with Him for eternity. We were together 40 years ago, we were together last month and we will be together in Heaven. (John 6:40)
      See you on the other side Daniel, Keña, Sylvia, Julio, Felipe and my other Paraguayan friends.
The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving


     Last week during our Christian writers’ group I asked the members to write down what they were thankful for and share with the class. Common answers were given by many. We’re all thankful for our mothers and fathers who brought us into this world and gave us our names and heritage. For loved ones who give us joy and help us through difficult times. For this country with all its freedoms and beauty, especially the blue skies, snow capped mountains and the new growth of spring in Pagosa’s meadows.

     We're thankful for friends, especially those who sit at our table and share stories from times past. A friendly neighbor we can count on for sugar or just a friendly “hello” in City Market. The kindness of strangers, like those we meet at the Springs Resort or Wolf Creek Ski Area.

     Specific answers were personal. Jackie is thankful for her home and a bed to sleep in, waking up today, and for the time God has given her.

     Jesse is grateful for inner peace in the midst of all the world’s turmoils. 

     Rich is thankful for his gift of writing and the pains of life which allow him to appreciate its joys. 

     Mike is thankful for hot water, clean air and his senses, especially his eyes to see the beauty of God’s creation.

     Elaine said she was thankful to be alive, even if some parts of her do not function well, She’s still alive. 

     Diane is grateful for a simple and humble life, family, especially children and grand children who hug her whenever She’s with them. 

     Hank focused on the little pleasures of life, the smell of bacon and eggs cooking next to a pot of coffee, the fun times and fond memories with brothers and sisters.

     Carmen is thankful for children, a baby’s smile, a child’s laughter, a teens wit, and wisdom that comes with age.

     Betty is thankful for being able to listen to music, hear a loved one’s voice or a meadowlark’s song. Some said, to be able to bike, ski and run, or take an evening walk with my spouse.

     Our youngest member, Jessica, is thankful for her horses, dogs cats, chickens and goats, all of whom give her immense joy by exemplifying God’s unconditional love. 

     We’re all thankful for growing older as not everyone gets to do this. Aging with grace is a beautiful gift.

     And most important were these: Our blessings from God, His mercy, how He takes care of us and provides for us, and our Nation. Our bodies, souls, and spirits with which we can think, read, write, play and pray. God’s peace and Joy in times of stress and turmoil, 

     For the trials of life, which draw us closer to Him and remind us Earth is not our final destination. His word gives each of us comfort, and hope and guides us toward His Son. Everyone wrote, “For Jesus, in whom I have my forgiveness and salvation.”

     We can choose to be thankful any time. I like starting my day feeling grateful while still in my bed. Oprah Winfrey said, “Be thankful for what you have, you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you’ll never have enough.”

     Some people keep a gratitude journal and write a page of things they’re thankful for each week. Others keep a gratitude rock in their pocket, which reminds them to be thankful at the moment.

     Being thankful is more than an attitude, it’s a sacrifice (Psalm 107:22, NAS). Sacrifice in the Old Testament did not mean to give up something or undergo a hardship or suffering. It means to give of our best, an unblemished animal, a tithe-or ourselves in Holy Communion. A sacrifice of thanksgiving gives God thanks for all He has done for us, at the start of the day and throughout. “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good” (Psalm 107:1a).

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery, today is a gift from God, which is why we call it the present.” (Bill Keane) Open it and give thanks.