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Our children are invited to feast: We plan the menu

Our children are invited to feast: We plan the menu

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2008 8:51 pm
By: By GLENDA H. CAUDLE Special Features Editor

I’m grateful for children. Mine. Yours. Theirs. I raised a few and now they are having some of their own, so little people have been a major part of my life for many years. When my own were young, I worried about everything from the overwhelming to the mundane where my son and his four little sisters were concerned. Did the strange pain they complained of herald a catastrophic disease? Would they be snubbed by the class prima donna or — worse — would they try to emulate her? I wasn’t much concerned about letting them play outdoors on pretty days in our small-town middle class America neighborhood, though. And while their father and I were accused — sometimes quite dramatically — of censorship, we laid down ground rules about TV viewing and acceptable music lyrics and then did spot-checks with occasional corrective measures. But we didn’t lie awake nights worrying about any lasting effects on their lives if our vigilance fell short. We performed behind-the-scenes detective work on new friends before we let them visit in a home where we did not know the adults and then formed bonds with as many of the “new” parents as possible, entering into what my children frequently termed “conspiracies” to monitor their activities when they were away from home. We tried to balance the teaching of good Southern manners where greeting adults was concerned with instruction in avoiding strangers. We spent a lot of time being where the five of our offspring were and overseeing the things they did — not as much as we would have liked, but far more than they deemed necessary. We did some things right. We did some things wrong. They grew up and out and appear to be responsible adults — perhaps in spite of me and their father. The cards were stacked in our favor, however. Had circumstances been even slightly different — or were we raising those same children in a world that has changed dramatically in the last 10 years — we might be mourning the direction their lives have taken. Because today, for mothers and fathers and grandparents in even this small, family-friendly Southern town, predators are no longer simply a favorite Tennessee hockey team. Predators may be next door neighbors. Predators wear friendly smiles as they lure children into character-destroying, life-threatening practices. They hawk “belonging” and “fun” and “popularity” and “good times” to the children of our community — many of whom buy the product with their very futures, leaving them morally, mentally, spiritually and physically destitute as adults. And that is assuming they live to adulthood. There was a time when children roamed the neighborhoods where they lived with impunity, always under the eye of a watchful grown-up who had their well-being in mind. We took care of each other’s sons and daughters. The reasons why this has changed are numerous — everything from a diminishing number of adults at home to serve as watchdogs, to a new nervous uncertainty about “interfering” in someone’s life or family, to a technology-centered free-time activity list that moves children into private interaction with the predators outside the watchful eye of interested adults, to a genuine and understandable fear of becoming involved in the life of a child already under the influence of a predator who may act on that individual’s instructions to put a violent end to any unwanted oversight. Things are different now. Recently, I heard a young man talk about some of those differences. He told a room full of adults that he felt he had escaped the snare of the predators who stalk the streets of his home town — those who throw out carefully baited hooks that “catch” children and youth and introduce them to drugs, alcohol, sexual activity, gambling, gang violence and more — because he had found a safe place to be. And in that safe place, he has discovered positive guidelines for maturing and encouragement for plotting a successful future. His concern now, he said, was for his little brother. The handsome young man who shared his story is a member of the local Boys & Girls Club. He is one of more than 1,000 children and teens who have come through the doors of the club, currently housed in the former Miles School building on East College Street, over the past four years. He is one of the hundreds of our own who will be served when the club moves to its new location in the former Central Elementary School building, just down the street from the current location, but light years away in terms of space and potential for development of programs. The building has been secured and the plans have been drawn up, with each room in the structure that served children in the public school system for so long carefully designated for a variety of programs for all school-age children in after-class and summer programs throughout the year. Ron Green, the Chief Professional Officer who was hired by the Boys & Girls Club board more than four years ago and who has made his presence felt in every activity in this community that involves children and youth, has put together a team of adults to direct a variety of daily activities that not only provide our children the supervision they need but give them a safe place to grow and develop and discover their interests and potential. A first-class Boy Scout troop has developed from the club membership. Children are being encouraged to take part in organized sports programs and are provided the opportunity to hone their skills daily. Opportunities to talk about responsible choices and the consequences of poor decisions are offered in thought-provoking sessions with trained adults — both for young ladies and the young men they interact with daily. Supervised homework sessions with capable tutors are a part of each day’s activities. Scholarship is encouraged and positive behavior is modeled by young adults the club members look up to — including the club’s own specially-trained professional staff and volunteers from the University of Tennessee at Martin. Art and music are introduced in ways that encourage children to discover their own gifts and use them joyfully. Technological resources are provided and harnessed to positive pursuits — such as researching school projects and assignments or completing college scholarship applications. Yes, some things are very different for children growing up in our community today. Some things, though, are essentially very much the same. Some things are simply elemental parts of our make-up as human beings. Just as you and I did, just as our own children did only a few short years ago, today’s children are starving for attention. They hunger for a place to belong. They crave affection. They are yearning for a feast. Be assured their appetites will be nourished. One way or the other. We decide how. Let’s feed the force for good. Let’s starve the predators. Boys and Girls Clubs of Northwest Tennessee-Union City is the positive place for children to be. Donations may be mailed to Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Tennessee-Union City, P.O. Box 868, Union City, TN 38281. Gifts may also be directed online to Visit the club’s Web site at Published in The Messenger 11.28.08


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