Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
LaTonya and LaToya Mesidor know they must one day go their separate ways, but for now, the sisters from Sheridan are celebrating their graduation from Indiana State University together.
So far the identical twin daughters of Haitian immigrants have done everything together — including attending college, initially majoring in special education only to switch to a major they didn’t know much about until arriving at Indiana State. Each is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies.
“I’ve always loved being around children because of my grandma,” said LaToya. “After she came to the U.S. she would get clothes and shoes and stuff and take them back to Haiti because she had seen how kids in Haiti suffered.”
The twins applied to Indiana State after a teacher at Sheridan High School told them of the university’s excellent programs for future teachers. During their first year of studies, though, a friend told them about the field of human development and family studies and how it prepares graduates to help people “from birth to death,” LaToya said.
“I can work with the elderly or I can work with the youth. I love that and how it’s based on family life and informing families about development,” she said.
“Just seeing that and the passion I have for kids and working with inner city missions, I saw that I can do that with this major,” added LaTonya.
In conjunction with their Indiana State coursework, the twins served practicums at Ryves Youth Center at Etling Hall and McMillan Adult Day Care Center. LaTonya served an internship at Ryves this spring while LaToya interned in a pre-school class at the Union Hospital Child Development Center.
“It was good to see the difference in students who come from families with different incomes and backgrounds,” LaToya said. “They’re (all) here to learn.”
“It’s amazing being able to work with these kids and seeing that they desire to be loved,” LaTonya said of the inner city youth at Ryves. “It’s hard working here with the kids but at the same time it’s enjoyable because they just want someone to look up to. When you give them that attention they’ll reach out to you. That’s one of the main reasons I like working with the kids at Ryves. They don’t have much but what they do have they cherish.”
At the Union Hospital center, 17 3-5-year-olds sat perfectly still as LaToya read to them from the children’s book, “A Weekend with Wendell,” about a mouse who is used to being in charge but learns during a visit with his friend Sophie that sometimes it’s OK for Sophie to be in charge.
“LaToya has been a great asset to our program,” said pre-school teacher Christy Frye. “She’s always very eager and dependable. She very much enjoys being here with the children. She shared with us that she most wants to reach those that may come from impoverished areas or families that are broken or kids that have a special need. She has a special place in her heart to reach those children that are less fortunate.”
LaTonya devoted part of her internship at Ryves to organizing a prom attended by about 40 youngsters, building on a simple ceremony put on by a previous intern.
“I wanted all of (the girls) to have dresses, which Goodwill donated” she said. “Some of the sorority sisters came in and helped. It really went well.”
Sarah Bruce’s face brightened as the 14-year-old Terre Haute South Vigo High School sophomore described the event just a few days after it took place.
“They worked really hard on it and they let all the girls get their hair and make-up done. It was fun,” Bruce said.
Bruce said she likely would never have had such an experience had it not been for LaTonya. But lest anyone think the Indiana State student was there just to help the youngsters have fun, Bruce pointed out that LaTonya also tutored her and other students with their homework.
“LaTonya and LaToya both are very special young ladies,” said Jim Edwards, director of Ryves Youth Center.
At about the time the twins arrived for their practicum last fall, the youth center’s cook left and the twins pitched in and helped Edwards prepare meals, though that wasn’t supposed to be part of their assignment, Edwards noted.
“They instantly bonded with all of the staff and the children,” he said.
While the twins love working with children and young adults, their practicum at the adult day care center proved they made the right choice by switching majors to complete a degree that prepares them to work with people of all ages, said LaToya.
“I love kids, but later on, I might want to work with the older people,” she said. “I loved the environment (at McMillan). People there are wiser because they’re older. I love listening to their stories or even just their encouragement or just to see how humble they are.”
Linda Behrendt, associate professor and coordinator of the human development and family studies program, said working with the twins has been a joy. Behrendt noted that they held down part-time jobs while taking a full load of classes and had to walk to off-campus practicum and internship sites because they didn’t have a car.
“LaToya and LaTonya have been very serious about their studies, and they have met every challenge without complaint,” she said. “Their compassion for people who are hurting or in need has been evident in the activities they have been involved in both in and out of the classroom. I am confident that as they go out into the world of work in the human services field that LaToya and LaTonya will make significant change in the lives of others.”
As they celebrate graduation, they agree they made the right choices — both to attend Indiana State and to change their majors.
“I’m grateful for the teachers that I got to meet and the people I got to interact with,” LaToya said. “They’ve prepared me for the real world. I thank Dr. B for that because I definitely see with my major how everything I’ve learned applies to the real world.”
For now LaToya and LaTonya plan to move — together, of course — to Georgia, where their mother and an older sister live but sooner or later they know their days of doing everything together will end.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll eventually separate,” LaTonya said.