Church in Carate Brianza, Italy. Wikimedia Commons

The Paradox of In-presa

The In-presa Association, founded by Emilia Vergani in 1997, today hosts 150 young people, offering them help in their studies and training as electricians, computer maintenance technicians, and assistant cooks, to enable them to enter the work world.
Alessandra Stoppa

Marianna is happy that the teacher is grilling her today. A classmate is happy because more math homework has been foisted on him, though if there’s one thing he can’t stand, it’s numbers. “Look, it’s the most beautiful thing that can happen to me, to be called on by the teacher,” Marianna repeats, clearly and uninhibitedly. “In the school where I went before, they didn’t even give me a second thought. My teachers only called on the good students. Here, instead, they pay attention to me.”

The big industrial warehouse in the heart of Carate Brianza that hosts the In-presa Association is full of such paradoxes. The new math teacher was thanked by a student for assigning extra homework. “I’m happy to have to do proportions,” the student told her. “At the hotelier’s high school, they didn’t even give me homework any more.” The teacher is amazed, and you are too; it brings to mind the words framed and hung at the entrance, with which Emilia Vergani (who died in 2000) spoke of the work she began as a place where “the kids are taken seriously.” You understand that this isn’t an unfulfilled wish, as you look at Marianna and her friends with chef hats in front of the stove in the cooking workshop. Riccardino speaks of his desire to become a mechanic. A score of fourteen-year-olds set the table with the attention given to the creation of a work of art.

Insufficient disciplinary measures
They are called “at risk” teenagers, but they’re simply used to jumping from one thing to the next, “because they’re afraid of really getting engaged in something,” explains Stefano Giorgi, Director of In-presa, a fellow who gets furious when he hears teachers talking about disciplinary measures, as if education started there. “Our kids know about punishment all too well,” he goes on, “just like they know all about failing.” The new fact for them is passing, “being looked at as people capable of doing something good.” In-presa is all about this, all about gestures of esteem, and every year it enrolls 150 kids, offering academic support for those struggling to finish middle school; 600 hours of training to become electricians, computer maintenance technicians, and culinary staff; internships for entrance into the world of employment; and a three-year program to become assistant cooks, as well as a variety of proposals for free time.

Stefano, Evelina, and Ian can’t stop talking about their kids, about how they’re incapable of sitting still at a desk for 600 hours like the others, how they just need someone to tell them, “I’m not afraid of your desire. Do you want to be an auto-bodymechanic? To the devil with all the rest–I’ll help you do it.” Ian finds an auto-body mechanic willing to train Andrea (for free), and Andrea goes to work for four days but then stops showing up. Some time goes by, and Andrea returns to Ian, and says, “I want to be an auto-body mechanic.” Ian takes him back to the employer, who meets him with his arms at his sides and a severe expression, gives him the company work clothes, and tells him, “I expect you Monday morning, on time.” “This is an embrace without measure,” declares Stefano.

Point of departure
Insertion in the world of work is the true origin of In-presa. Methodologically, it is the point of departure for the educative proposal of the entire undertaking, because work helps the kids like nothing else. Evelina explains, “It asks them to follow precise rules”–punctuality, first of all. “When a kid arrives late at the garage and the employer gets mad, that’s the greatest occasion for the kid to understand that his presence or absence makes a difference. This has even more impact in the case of someone who makes a bigger mistake, or abandons everything, and then returns,” Evelina says, smiling in complicity with Ian, because between the two of them they have seen the whole gamut. They see Massimo who, after five years, shows up again at In-presa because he has left the nth job or has gotten into the nth jam. And at times, “I think no, I can’t handle it anymore,” Ian bursts out affectionately, “because it’s like with children, you know when you start, but you never know when you finish. Actually, you never really finish.” So at times “it seems like you don’t have the energy to deal with the kids, to help them to get a grip on their out-of-control lives. Then, fortunately, there’s the coffee machine. That’s decisive. When we meet there, among us, we look each other in the face and help each other start again, every time. The day one of us can’t make it anymore, another one will do it. And vice-versa,” they recount, in a natural and profound way.

Educative challenge
“The educative challenge isn’t just for the kids; above all, it’s for each of us,” adds Stefano, and for all the people who collaborate with the work, especially the artisans and entrepreneurs who take responsibility for the kids’ internships. These are people who welcome the kids in their own companies, giving them gratuitous opportunities, forgiving their shortcomings, even those who steal, and who don’t fire them on the spot at the first error. These are the same ones who, following the kids, come to the point of asking questions about themselves, about their own work and its value. “One entrepreneur from Brianza always asks me, ‘Are you asking me to be a professional or an educator?’” explains Stefano, talking about the friendship that is flowering among some of them, about the times when “you go to dinner and you don’t even talk any more about kids doing internships, but you compare experiences and ideas about life.” And about the gastronomist who always thanks him for entrusting a kid to him, because, he says, “I have re-discovered what it means to be a father.”