The seed has been planted for a new grass-roots “non-organization” at Riverside
By Amanda Adams
Above the Radar is not like most clubs. It was founded on the conviction of one student who, in order to heal her past, had reached out to others.
Kep Barsotti was a victim of domestic violence for ten years. She slept in the back of her car and hustled to get by for a whole year before enrolling at RCC in the spring of 2008. Her two sons lived with their father because she felt it necessary to improve her circumstances in order to avoid being “one of those parents who cling to their children when it should be the other way around.”
That year, Barsotti said, was very difficult and she would not have survived it without the support of others. As a result, she feels compelled to pass along that compassion to others who are down on their luck. Barsotti intends to achieve this by seeking out those in need: veterans, the disabled, those in drug rehab programs, and those on probation or parole.
Recently, Barsotti was approached by a young woman who asked to bum a smoke. She recognized the look in the girl’s eyes — one she hadn’t seen in fifteen years. Since then, Barsotti has tried to communicate the value of recovery.
“Life doesn’t have to be what it has been. You can be whoever you want, not just a product of the B.S. in your past,” Barsotti said. “As long as she is making attempts to improve her situation, we’re here to help.”
When the young woman first approached Barsotti she only possessed what she could carry — including her 20-month-old child. She is now clean and sober and hopes to attend RCC this winter on the Bright Futures grant.
“We are trying to help above the radar — as opposed to below the radar — which is the effect we had on society before becoming victim-free, addiction-free and conviction-free,” Barsotti said.
Above the Radar, as she calls it, is not confined to the titles and restrictions imposed on most clubs or organizations because they are not technically affiliated with anyone. They are a network of people who are willing to “give to get.” The group has only two rules: it will do nothing illegal and cause no harm.
Above the Radar has already fulfilled a number of diverse needs, ranging from textbook exchanges and peer tutoring to providing a warm meal, a shower, or a couch to sleep on for the night.
When a fellow student told Barsotti that his financial aid would not be coming in time to cover his textbooks, she sought out like-minded students who agreed to donate their math textbooks if Barsotti promised to connect them with free textbooks next term.
“It’s about being a positive influence and helping others to do the same, giving people a role-model to follow to help themselves and others,” Barsotti said.
Barsotti and her friend Mona Beers know how hard it can be for someone to accept help from the same system they have been fighting for so long. They discussed a mutual friend who is attending RCC after 26 years of incarceration.
“His thought process is different than most people,” Barsotti said. “It’s hard to relate to people unless they’re been there [too].”
They hope that, by acting as a liaison, Above the Radar will be able to assist those who would otherwise not receive aid from the system.
Although she hesitates to get involved in advocacy and butt heads with student government, Barsotti said she does plan to amend the attendance-based grading criteria that RCC has in place. She is currently enrolled in a class that automatically assigns a “D” to students who miss three classes — regardless of academic performance. Barsotti believes this contradicts the college’s request that students remain at home if they show flu-like symptoms.
“I’ve missed two and a half days this term between my kids and me getting sick and now I’m looking at a non-transferable “D”,” Barsotti said. “If it affects me, it can affect others. We’ve got to do something to protect each other as citizens of this community.”
Barsotti is now pursuing a Human Services Degree at RCC and lives in a three-bedroom house with her children. She enjoys a victim-free, clean and sober lifestyle.
Above the Radar would like to challenge RCC students to reach out to strangers and offer assistance, even if it means making a sacrifice. It doesn’t have to be a student — it could be something as simple as raking leaves for an elderly neighbor.
“I’ll probably die penniless, but I’m not someone motivated by what I can get,” Barsotti said. “I just want to help. If the student next to me is struggling, then I’m not doing all I can. It’s about people reaching out just because it’s the right thing to do.”
For further information, or to seek help from Above the Radar, contact Kep Barsotti (aka “Info Girl”) at the Information Desk in the lobby of G Building at Riverside campus, between 9:30AM and 2:30PM, Monday, Tuesday and Thursdays, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Above the Radar” in the subject line. All requests will be considered and, Barsotti says, if she does not have the resources to help personally she’s “got a guy.”