Saturday, January 19, 2013

Thank You, Sandie Adelman

                Of the thousands of people who have passed in and out of my life for over a half century, Sandie Adelman may very well have had the most profound effect on me.
                I was 30ish, somewhat lost, and very unemployed when the Department of Labor sent me one fateful 1990 day to the Queens Adult Learning Center. I had already burned through two careers- a failed common branch teacher and a laid off associate editor in educational publishing. Told again and again I had too little experience to be a senior editor and too much to be entry level, I was “falling through the cracks.” Groping at straws, the Labor Department suggested I improve my then barely existent computer skills.
                That’s when I met Sandie.
                Sitting at her cluttered QALC desk, she was chain smoking, while furiously typing away at the computer. I timidly approached her.
                “Have a seat” she said in a welcoming manner.
                “What can I do for you?” she straight out asked.
                I told her my sad tale of walking out on a bottom sixth grade class the day before Christmas vacation, weary from a principal who intimidated rather than nurtured. There was a brief pause as if it had taken time to sink in.
                “You’re a TEACHER?” she asked somewhat incredulously.
                 Well, I had been some five years earlier, anyway.
                Then, after a lengthy chat, from out of left field she hit me with something totally unexpected.
                “I may have a class for you to teach. Let me make a few calls.”
                Fear pierced me to the core. Teaching was something I did in my past that felt like a gaping wound. It was something that was over. Done.  Never again. The last time I had taught I staggered out reeling , was making a whopping $21,900, and the kids were certainly no bargain either. There wasn’t much motivating me to ever return.
                Then she broke me out of my trance.
                “It’s called IRCA. Citizenship. It’s like teaching history. I think you’d be good at it.”
                She clearly had more confidence in me than I did. Somehow, in spite of my trepidation, that felt nice at least.
                The next thing I knew, I was somehow, miraculously a teacher. Again.
                And it felt better than good. The adult students wanted to be there. They listened and asked questions and took notes.
Hell, they even thanked me.
It was teaching in its purest sense.  But it was still just a “night job.” Part time. A band-aid. I still had bills to pay and a life to rebuild.
Then, once again, it was Mrs. Adelman to the rescue.
Summoning me into her office she told me, “I need a new E.O.”
Now I barely knew what an Educational Officer did, let alone if I could do it, but it suddenly dawned on me that she was offering someone with zero experience a full-time job.
With much trepidation I accepted. What did I have to lose?
I was now an office manager. And in a very real sense, working hand in hand with Sandie Adelman.
As the four or so year stint progressed, I most certainly saw her tough side, but how could she not have been tough with her having taught at Riker’s Island Prison? Yet time and again I saw her sit untold numbers of students down, listening ever so patiently to their harrowing tales, and witnessed firsthand her doing everything humanly possible to help them change their lives.
One after another after another, the students got jobs and GED’s and moved on. And nobody was prouder than Sandie Adelman.
And there were so many times I sat in that officer or when she’d drop me off at my door after a long day at work, where I’d tell her about my own issues outside the job. And she listened and advised and counseled and even consoled me like a second mother.
On other occasions she riveted me with tales of her travels to exotic lands- and her adventures that went far beyond those of mere tourists. I was fascinated and maybe even a bit envious. Hey, I sure wasn’t going to sleep in an igloo or do some of the wild things most of us never dared to do.
The woman knew how to live.
                And upon her return from yet another corner of the globe, she’d sit at that incredibly cluttered desk where she was indeed a force. 
Eventually, I returned to the classroom full-time, Sandie retired, and life moved on. And as hard as it is to believe, hers has ended. But I will never forget that Sandie Adelman believed in me, gave me a new start in life, and all the while treated me like a second son. Because of her I have had a wonderful career that has enabled me to also give service to others. Because of her I own an apartment and have the security that a nest egg and ultimately a pension will offer me. At a function a few years back I am most grateful that I had the opportunity to thank her for all this and more.
That this one woman so profoundly changed my life is remarkable. And that she helped change the lives of so many others who crossed her path attests to a life well spent.
To the day I die, I am in Sandie Adelman’s debt for every door she opened for me.
Thank you so much, Sandie. Yes, thank you.

--Evan Ginzburg

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