July is National Make A Difference for Children Month

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Some years ago I directed a jobs program for urban teens. Penny was one of our bright stars. Her appearance was a little startling at first. It was the mid-80s, and she embraced every 80s fashion trend short of the Madonna-wear-your-undies-outside-your-clothes thing. She loved bright blue eye shadow and wore tons of black eyeliner. Her hair was black and spiky, full of various mousses and gels. She looked hard and tough, but the truth is she was one of the sweetest kids I knew. She worked hard, helped her coworkers, stepped in to solve conflicts, you name it.

So you can imagine how surprised I was one day when the kids were coming in after school and I overheard Penny outside my office. She was telling her friends about an argument she’d had with a teacher, and that she’d really stood up to him. In the vernacular of the day, she called him “everything but a child of God.”

Oh dear. Our program required kids to maintain good grades. If Penny was getting into it with teachers, her grades would soon reflect that. I knew better than to bring it up in front of her friends, so I waited. Just before quitting time, I took her aside and explained what I’d overheard. “Did this really happen?” I asked. “Oh, yeah,” she nodded.

“Penny, I don’t get it. Why are you being a hell raiser at school and you’re such a joy to be with here?”

She cocked her head to one side and smiled, as though I were a small child. “Oh, Maaaary,” she said. “C’mon. You know me.”

It took me a moment, but then I realized what she meant. I did know her. I knew her family. I’d visited their home many times. I knew about her absent father who never called, and about her mom who worked long hours to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. I knew how on the edge they lived, and that an unexpected car repair or medical bill would bring down the delicate house of cards that was their daily existence. I knew about Penny’s older brother who’d been in trouble with the law. I knew all of this, and Penny knew I knew all of this and that I didn’t judge her for it the way some others did.

Penny could just be who she was when she came to the youth program. She didn’t have to be tough, she didn’t have to put up a front, because we’d created a safe place for her to be. She understood that the guidance we provided wasn’t an attack and therefore didn’t require any defense on her part. At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, it is clear that what we did at that little program made a difference for Penny and for many other kids.

“You know me.” What human being doesn’t crave the sweetness of being known in a way that allows us to relax our defenses?

July is National Make A Difference for Children Month. This is a month often marked by family gatherings, picnics, reunions and vacations; it is a month when families get to spend more time together. Whether you have kids or not, I urge you to take some time to consider how precious our children are.

As adults, we have enormous power to affect the lives of children in positive ways. This month—and every month—let us dedicate ourselves to creating a world where they can flourish. For July, consider doing these three things:

1. Commit to do one special thing with a child in July—make some kind of positive difference for that child.
2. Support an organization that focuses on children—there are many from which to choose! Support them with what you have to give, whether that is your time, your talents or your treasure.
3. Communicate with your elected leaders to make children a priority in policy and budget issues they address.
It has been said that children are one-third of our population and 100% of our future. That future begins now. Small steps can make a huge difference!

Mary Armstrong-Smith, PCAIN Community Partners Director

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.