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Matt Sabin is a patient and hopeful kind of guy.
A first glance at Matt, you wouldn’t peg him as such. He’s got an imposing stature of 6’1” and a strong build. But his bright blue eyes and broad smile reflect his disarming demeanor – he’s as calm and chill as they come. Get him talking motorcycles, and enthusiasm pours out.
What does patience and hope get him? For starters, it got him his first motorcycle – the bike he rides now, a 2000 Harley Davidson Road King Custom.
“I bought my bike new – after being on a waiting list for 4 years.” It was the mid- 90’s, all the big bikes were sold out. There were very high manufacturing standards, and production could not keep pace with demand. So in late 1995, Matt put down $500, got his name on a waiting list, and in 2000 got the call. He got his Road King.
And what does his Road King give him?
“Peace of mind. Calmness. There’s nothing like having a crazy day at work, and bam, bam bam getting through all those gears and just rolling. I don’t like going fast on bikes, 40-60 mph is enough. But just hitting it and getting up to speed, go to one-hand steering and relax. Those first five gears — everything releases, and I just go.”
You could also say that patience and optimism are critical job qualifications for his job. As the shop teacher at Hennepin County Home School in Minnetonka, Minnesota, Hennepin County’s s long term juvenile correction facility, he works with 13-18 year old kid are in “the system” because they have committed an offense – mostly felony level — theft, assault or high-level drug sales.
What inspires him?
“I know what it’s like to hate school. I was learning disabled in written language, but I was gifted in comprehension. In understanding. My teaching gift is that I understand things well but I can explain things at a level of not understanding — I can sit down with a kid and explain it in a way they really understand.”
And why these kids?
Matt grew up in the inner city of north Minneapolis, and so many of kids he teaches now grew up in his childhood neighborhood. “I had a very different life, very supportive life and both parents had good jobs, and both were active parts of my life. These kids are growing up very different, but they are still in my neighborhood. It’s the population I understand. It’s the population I grew up with. I want to help.”
On the day we talked, Matt had done a rocket project with the kids, and explains why a rocket blasting into the air matters so much:
I taught three laws in the rockets segment – science, math, and social studies. We are going to launch, and what should have taken 30 minutes takes us three days. The kids get angry, distracted. So today, we go outside and we launch – we hit that button and the rocket takes off. These students, so many are typical hard-ass, screw-the-world kinds of kids, they watch the rocket take off, and all of the sudden, they are smiling and happy. They are kids again. It took a lot of time, a lot of headaches, but in 15 minutes it’s all worth. All the struggle, it goes away for just a second and they get exposed to those things that they never get. Those life experiences turn us into who we are.
Matt doesn’t teach these kids for kudos and pats on the back – because there really are none.
“You never hear thank you, but you know, you give them a moment. And they remember the moment. And you hope that you gave them a little something that later on, just might change their life.”
Matt epitomizes so much what I, and perhaps us all, aspire to bring to each day: Hope.
It’s the essence of his work, and I suspect his own personal challenges as a kid:
“It’s the ultimate in hope. You don’t personalize the tough parts. You have to let a kid totally go off on you, go crazy. You hit them hard with compassion. Sometimes they are ready for it, and sometimes they aren’t.”
Every day he walks through the school doors is a new day to give hope.