Welcome to our e-newsletter
Minds in Motion
August 2020
Issue 80
This issue is all about being thankful—even in hard times and moments of change. We pour out appreciation for the incredible Irene Salas and her immeasurable impact as Classroom Assistant and share gratitude practices from 2nd Saturday participants. Plus Alumna Chenetra Houston reflects on her year since graduating from Free Minds. Happy reading!
Big Thanks to Irene Salas
For the past six years, Irene Salas has served as the Free Minds classroom assistant, supporting over 100 students on their journey through Free Minds and taking on everything from picking up bagels to envisioning future programming.

This summer marked the end of Irene’s formal role with Free Minds. The classroom assistant position will now be offered through ACC’s work study program.

During her time with Free Minds, Irene became an ambassador for the program and for higher education in general. One student who met Irene at the Goodwill Excel Center shared that she would not have had the confidence to apply for Free Minds without Irene’s welcoming spirit. Irene also brings her passion for education home. She encouraged her teenage son to begin taking college classes and her husband Benny to start back to school as well. Benny earned his associate’s degree from ACC this past May.

In 2018, after Irene graduated from ACC with her associate’s degree, she served as a keynote speaker at the Free Minds commencement ceremony. Speaking to program graduates she said, “Please do not deprive the world of your much-needed voices. Be relentless in your pursuit of your goals, for it is not the situations that change your belief but belief in yourself that will change the situations.”

In June, program faculty and staff gathered over Zoom to reflect on the difference Irene has made at Free Minds and how much she will be missed. Fellow Free Minds graduates weighed in with their appreciation for Irene as well. Marcella Chiron, a 2020 graduate, called Irene a cheerleader and an encourager, saying she will not forget the way Irene challenged her to continue with school after being injured in an accident. "Irene told me not to stop, to keep going, and to do the best I could." Another graduate shared, “Irene showed me so much care and love. Her interest and support for me to succeed as a student was far more than what I could have asked for.”

Free Minds faculty, staff, and students are grateful for Irene’s countless contributions to the program. Please do not deprive the world of your much needed voice, Irene. We look forward to celebrating your future accomplishments.
Program Updates
Due to health and safety recommendations related to COVID-19, and decisions made by partner institution Austin Community College, Free Minds will start a one-semester humanities class in January 2021.

Visit our website to apply or find out about eligibility guidelines.
Call 512-610-7961 or email freeminds@foundcom.org with any questions.

The updated application deadline is November 16, 2020.

During the fall semester, Free Minds is focusing efforts and resources on supporting graduates of our program through an online English 1301 Composition course for alumni.
2nd Saturday Participants Practice Gratitude
On a hot summer day, Free Minds graduates and prospective students gathered to read aloud Ross Gay’s poem “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude”—a conglomerate of life’s joys and sorrows. Ross Gay’s poem and much of his work as a poet, gardener, instructor, and activist is about looking for what Gay calls "adult joy," the kind of mature joy that comes with acknowledging pain. Through this work, he has learned that thinking about delight awakens our awareness of delight, like a sixth sense.

After our Free Minds chorus filled the virtual space with Gay’s awe-inspiring words, the group practiced cataloging our own thankfulness.

2020 alumna Vickie Cantu shared her belief that gratitude is about tuning into others' experiences and cultivating relationships. We took a moment to consider the ways ancestors—both living and long gone—love us.

Another attendee, 2018 alum Amanda Hickey, reminded us to give thanks for the failures, mistakes, and trespasses of our loved ones. It is the seeds of their struggles from which we grow. She suggested that one way to slow down and engage with delight is to send silent blessings to strangers, a practice that reminds her to be present in all interactions.

Liz Holder Crawford, a 2020 graduate, appreciated the role that gardening plays in Gay's poem. She prompted us to spend time in the garden, a place to slow down and glean lessons from the earth. Her favorite garden is the community garden near M Station, a place she has spent many memorable moments with her family.

As we closed the session, the group talked about the ritual of asking questions to help bring about mindfulness—questions like, what am I grateful for today or how have I recently shown or received kindness? Participants came to the conclusion together that practicing joy is not something we do in spite of hard times. Instead, it can be especially important as a way to live intentionally through adversity.

The session left us feeling grateful for our community of alumni, students, and program supporters who continually inspire us with their insights and presence.
The Final Word
2019 Alumna Chenetra Houston marks one year since Free Minds graduation
When I started Free Minds, I was at a crossroads. I was out of work and had three angels looking up to me. I decided to take a shot and thought about what going back to school at that point would do for my life. I first looked at Free Minds as “something to do,” a way to pass time until I found work. God had other plans. His timing was right on time. Free Minds became more than something to do. It was more like an awakening.
 
Sitting around the table, having dinner, checking in with others mentally and physically was like a breath of fresh air—seeing faces that didn’t look like mine but had similar life experiences. It was a space where I didn’t feel judged, and nothing I said was wrong. The feeling of love, belonging, community, and support was what I needed at that moment.
 
As I did the assignments and attended class, I began to feel a sense of accomplishment. Free Minds freed my mind from bondage and freed me from what was holding me back from pursuing my dreams. I graduated from Free Minds in 2019 with a new sense of confidence, hope, and a network of friends who are now family.
 
During the year I was in the Free Minds class, I went back to work and learned how to utilize time management. I set a schedule for just about everything! If my children have homework, why not use that time to sit down, bond, and do my homework with them? When I read a book or story I am no longer just a reader, but an analytical reader trying to understand the message and goal.
 
I am a year out and pursuing a degree in social work and participating in College Hub programming which has helped me with paying for classes, money management, and applying for scholarships. When I take the limits off myself and entrust my future in God, anything is possible.

A program of Foundation Communities, in partnership with The University of Texas at Austin and Austin Community College, Free Minds offers a two-semester college course in the humanities for Central Texas adults who want to fulfill their intellectual potential and begin a new chapter in their lives.

Free Minds Project
Foundation Communities
5900 Airport Blvd.
Austin TX, 78752

Academic Director: Amelia Pace-Borah
Community Liaison: Dallas Klein

Ph: 512-610-7961  F: 512-447-0288