|Addressing children’s needs: Plenty done — but plenty left to do |
| Published in The Messenger |
Kids need a lot of stuff.
If you haven’t figured this out yet, it means you don’t have any.
I have “any.” Five any — to be exact — and they still need stuff. Even though they are all adults.
Kids don’t, of course, need lots of the stuff they think they do: new vehicles, cell phones, iPods, computers, designer jeans, $200 footwear, TVs, unlimited personal decision making authority, unfettered freedom to “be themselves” — none of these are real needs. Most of them aren’t even valid “wants.”
Try convincing them.
Try convincing us.
You already know we’ve made little gods of all the wrong things and we come dangerously close to selling our souls on a daily basis to obtain them for our children — and ourselves. Yet, still we pursue things that are all going to pass away and leave us searching fruitlessly for something more.
There are some valid needs, however: love that sets limits while encouraging limitless thinking; nourishing food for body, mind and spirit; a safe place to sleep each night, wake up each morning and spend each day; friendship with people who want to see us achieve our potential, not squander our abilities; someone to provide aid when illness or disaster strikes; protection from the elements; clean air and water; wise counsel; peace for today; hope for tomorrow.
Perhaps one of the reasons we yearn and strive so — and thereby teach our children to yearn and strive — for the things that will not last is that we lack the courage and the faith and the will undergirded with long-term commitment and sometimes difficult effort to secure those things that are of permanent and lasting value for our children. And for the children of others.
Now you get to hear about some efforts aimed at securing those real needs our children have.
For more than 10 years — nobody wrote down the first date it happened and the group has never kept records — people of faith from a variety of backgrounds and church families have been coming together at 7 a.m. each Tuesday in the sanctuary at Union City First United Methodist Church to pray for the children of this community. There’s no dress code. No focus on prayer style. No artificial denominational boundaries. No concern about race or ethnicity or social status.
It’s just people who believe our children need prayer who have faithfully met for years to address that need.
A core group has held solid. Others have come and gone as their schedules and circumstances have allowed. Some are pastors. Some are teachers. Some are business men/women. Some are retired. Some are homemakers. Some are involved in law enforcement or emergency services. Some punch a clock.
Through the years there have been Methodists and Baptists and Episcopalians and Catholics and Church of Christ and Cumberland Presbyterians and Assembly of God and Church of God and non-denominational believers. They kneel at the communion rail before the altar if they are able, or stand or sit nearby if they are not. They read aloud together from a compilation of scriptures that remind them of God’s will and His promises. They repeat the Lord’s prayer in unison. They share specific concerns. They pray — aloud or in their hearts — as they feel led. They cover lots of territory or they focus on some particular tragedy or concern, but always they keep the children of this community at the forefront of petitions undergirded with praise and thanksgiving. They join hands and sing a couple of verses of “This Little Light of Mine,” just to keep them focused on their own commitment. They embrace and leave.
God alone knows what they accomplish in those few minutes each week.
That’s fine with them.
Join them at the church if you can, whenever you can. Use the parking lot behind the building at 420 East Main St. Come in the door at the top of the ramp. Come believing that prayer can change things for our children.
Boys & Girls Clubs
of Northwest Tennessee
It seemed a dream too big for such a small community to see through. But the dream is a reality. More than 700 children from the Union City area alone have become members of the Boys and Girls Club that opened its local doors less than three years ago.
One of the questions Ron Green, who was subsequently hired for the chief professional officer position, asked during his interview was whether the area would be able to supply the number of children that would make such an undertaking feasible. He mentioned a figure of around 100.
The board of “amateurs,” whose unifying purpose was providing a safe and “growing” place for children to spend time after school and during the summer months, assured him they would come up with 100 members by the end of the first year.
Today those optimistically promised 100 are not just names on a membership roll. They are 200-plus living, breathing children and youth who show up every day and make the club a vital part of this community. Those numbers need to grow, not because of any commitment the board made in hopes of hiring an effective leader, but because there are still children with too much unsupervised time on their hands and youth with no positive place to hang out.
The numbers will grow as soon as more space becomes available.
And the youngest members of our community are looking with hope-filled eyes to see if that can happen.
It is a promise we can keep for them if we commit whatever we can give to refurbishing the former Central Elementary School. On May 15 the mayor and city council of Union City entered into an agreement with the board of directors of the club to give them a 50-year lease on the building, provided it be used for the club’s purposes and that the necessary money to make the structure safe and usable be raised within 90 days of that date. Once the city has completed its commitment to remove the east and west wings of the building, which were in the worst state of repair and which were not needed by the club for the immediate future, efforts to refurbish and equip the main portion of the structure for use by the Boys & Girls Club can begin.
Green has specific plans already in order, with rooms and spaces carefully assigned on the drawing board to programs and activities for children and youth.
Someone has already agreed to undertake the necessary repairs on the kitchen area and gymnasium. Others have promised funds for other areas of the building. Still, the $1.5 million it will take — according to official estimates — to make the structure safe and functional has not been raised. Large gifts toward that end will be highly valued. Small gifts will be blessed God-sends.
You need not offer a specific amount and it need not be committed all at one time, but the board needs to know, within the next 60 days, what to count on, since the city’s commitment hinges on the club’s being able to secure the commitment for funds for renovation within a rapidly-shrinking framework of time.
Review your own resources. Talk to your neighbors. Bring up the issue in your Sunday school class. Take a look at your company’s capabilities.
But call 885-0883 soon and tell Ron Green or Sherri Puckett or Tracy Boucher or Betty Carlton or whoever is available that you want to help. Better yet, drop by the present location of the club at the former Miles School at 1015 East College St. any weekday and see the possibilities.
Then help make them happen.
(Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Tennessee is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation and all contributions are tax deductible. Donations for the project of making the Central building usable may also be mailed to Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Tennessee, P.O. Box 868, Union City, TN 38281. Checks may be made out to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Tennessee Building Fund.)
“Sometimes a book I know came from the Reading Railroad program is the only thing a child has to play with,” a friend told me recently.
She is in and out of lots of homes of preschoolers. While she visits, she encourages children to “show and tell” the things that are important to them. Sometimes that list is pitifully brief. Sometimes, the only thing they can share is a well-worn and much-loved book that arrived mysteriously in the mail and had their very own name on it.
Few of the children who receive the books can read them for themselves. After all, none of them is even five years old yet.
But they can understand there is something special about the gift. They can treasure the brightly colored response to their natural curiosity. They can pour over the pictures. They can share valuable time with someone older who takes the time to sit with them and turn the pages and read the words or describe the pictures.
They can begin to read and to love doing it.
It is a gift that will go on giving throughout an entire life.
Reading Railroad is the Obion County affiliate of country-music entertainer Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The effort to provide a free, high-quality, specially-selected book each month for every children from birth until their fifth birthday in her hometown of Sevierville gave rise to the concept. Reading Railroad signed on to the program when there were only 25 or so other communities across the country who had seen the value for their preschoolers.
A generous gift from the Fern Verhine estate enabled the local board to fully underwrite the free books program for children living in Union City, in accordance with provisions from the Verhines that their assets be used only for Union City residents. Another gift from the Cultra family took care of Rives’ infants and preschoolers. And lots of hard fund-raising work made it possible to get the program up and going for every child in Obion County. The fact that Gov. Phil Bredesen embraced the ideal and offered some additional financial assistance from state coffers recently has been a help, too. But still, funds are needed if every preschool child is to be served. And with the cost of postage for mailing the books likely to rise significantly, the needs will expand.
Needed, too, are the names of children who should be enrolled in the program. It is the local goal to sign up every child from birth to five years old, but it can sometimes be difficult to make contact with the children who would benefit the most.
So if you have some funds that could buy some books, or if you know an Obion County child who needs books, contact Obion County Reading Railroad. Brochures are available at the Obion County Public Library.
The list is not complete. It contains only those efforts I am familiar with because I am involved and feel I can speak of with assurance that these outreaches are actually meeting needs. Lack of space prohibits me from giving you all the details even about those attempts I know so well and value so highly. But I’m only a phone call away. Dial 885-0744 and I’ll fill you in on the details. I’ll put you in touch with someone with more answers than I have. I’ll be a link between your gift of time, talent or funds and a child who would truly benefit.
It’s children who need less “stuff” and more commitment that makes me write.
It’s this forum that makes me crazy about my job.
It’s those of you who are already involved — or soon will be — that makes me love my community.
I know I will hear from you soon.