Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mentoring our Youth: Get Involved

Day 64 of 100 days of Blogging

In the late 90’s, I was a stay-at-home mom with two daughters in elementary school and two babies (first Cooper, then Hannah). Summertime was filled with arts and crafts and trips to the library and field trips to swimming holes, museums and parks.

My daughters were sociable and creative and our home was a natural hang out for girls in the neighborhood with sleepovers and activities.

One summer I heard a story through the grapevine about one of the neighborhood girls. She was seen down at the park, taking off her shirt and showing her breasts to the boys. She was 11 years old and at the time it was more an issue of safety than morality for me. I felt that a group of teenage boys all focused on the nudity of one lonely girl was unsafe and could only lead to problems.

I also knew that she had very little supervision. She lived with her three siblings, father, uncle and grandmother. The father worked nights and slept during the day. The uncle was an alcoholic with a gun. The grandmother was old and senile. The mother was absent.

When I heard the story, my immediate reaction was to pull her and her sister in closer to our tribe. I knew that I had to open the door to our home wider. Surround her with attention and love. I invited the girls to come to the house earlier in the morning. I kept them in the house later at night and even invited them to spend the night regularly. For several summers, the girls knocked on our door when the sun was rising. They ate breakfast, lunch and dinner with us. They were frequent passengers in our orange and white striped Suburban, the vehicle that took us on adventures!

I encouraged all of the girls who came to our house to organize and innovate and create. One summer a “cheerleading” club. They organized lemonade stands and did chores to raise money. Then a trip to a discount store to try on clothes until they found the “uniform”: yellow shirts and shorts. They practiced cheers and routines every day. 

One summer a “pretend library” set up in the house with frequent trips to the Summer Reading Club at the public library and new books to read together. There was art, song, dance, plays and cooking.

The summer routine changed by the time the girls were in high school. Now it was time for all of us to move. The girl and her sister moved away to live with other relatives and we moved to another house 30 minutes away.

Ultimately, I couldn’t control their destiny and choices. But, I know that what I did gave them a glimpse of another way of living with a space for conversation, connection and supervision. I know I kept them safe during a portion of their childhood.

There are huge challenges in the world today. None of us can do it all, but we can all do something. And there are so many simple things we can do.

Stop and buy a cup of lemonade from a child-run lemonade stand. Take a moment to look a child in the eye and let them know you see them. Make dinner or have take out food delivered once a week to a single parent household. Volunteer your time. Donate money. Start a program or organization. Or support people who are doing that.

Wake up to what is happening around you. And instead of closing a door, open the door wider.

Get Involved!

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