Saturday, July 12, 2014

Build a caring community; become "un-stuck" .... By JIm Stevens

I am the CEO and founder of the SouthCoast volunteer organization, GiftsToGive, I speak only for myself.

My personal context is simple: I am a son of the greatest generation. I am an original baby boomer. I was a corporate manager, then serial entrepreneur. Now in my encore career, I am a social entrepreneur and a philanthropist. I find myself at 65 years old, embarrassed for the legacy of my generation.

Our social context is not as simple: We're "stuck."

What is going on? Who are we as a people? Who are we as a nation? Who are we as a community? Where are we going as a society?

Climate change, pandemics, narco-trafficking, human slavery, species loss, human rights, demographics and terrorism. Plus of course; our political system, Wall Street, our food supplies, our energy supplies, our health care, corporations that pay no taxes, and the silent elephant in the room — child poverty, to name but a few.

In America, over 24 million children live in poverty, another 24 million children live in low-income households. These numbers are staggering! They translate to — in America, one of every two children (50 percent) live in poverty or low-income households. In the developed world, the United States of America has the second highest percentage of child poverty — right behind Romania! I cannot get my mind around 48 million American children being at-risk.

On the SouthCoast, from Newport to the Upper-Cape, over 25,000 children live in poverty, and 25,000 live in low-income households. What did these 50,000 children do wrong?

I've become convinced that the solution for child poverty is public education and healthy families. In a perfect world it's a no brainer. In the world we currently live in, generations of poverty have created a dynamic that has totally collapsed what a healthy family looks like and has wreaked havoc on public education.

I see New Bedford as a city on a hill, a place where there are tens of thousands of loving and caring people — ultimately a place that has all the ingredients needed to redefine and to ultimately define a more caring community.

Our differences are important but our common humanity matters more. These problems that we face, we must solve ourselves. The solution is us. It's obviously easier said than done and on the face of it — it's overwhelming! How do we impact child poverty? How do we build healthy families?

How do we support public education and on a much simpler level how do we support our teachers?

With all the turmoil in the public schools, what I worry the most about are the students and the teachers. While all this dysfunction, polarization, positioning, re-positioning and change is going on — the students and the teachers are at ground-zero, every single day. Who are their champions, their advocates, their partners?

A majority of an urban teacher's time is taken up by remedial and behavioral issues. I've also come to understand that generations of child poverty have created seriously dysfunctional families. We've got thousands of children living in upside-down families, where they are not really held to any serious expectations and when they come to school they're nowhere close to being ready to learn.

What can we do to help teachers? What can we do to rebuild PTO's? How do we support building healthier families?

We're committed at GiftsToGive to initiate several events in the new school year to honor teachers and to start to rebuild PTO's. We're actively recruiting retired teachers and para-professionals to help us lead and organize this effort.

We must begin now and it does not need to be daunting. We do lots of simple, small things first. Supporting adult volunteers in early literacy initiatives is critical, so is volunteer tutoring and mentoring. We have the people we need to make the change.

I think we owe everyone a certain presumption of respect until they do something to forfeit it and we should all be listening. Then we should start acting/volunteering.


Anonymous said...

well said!

Anonymous said...

Very well said and so true. Thank you!

L. Chevalier said...

Thank you for your thoughtful essay! I could not agree more.

Anonymous said...

What people and families really need is money.....whether it's given to them or they earn it there needs to be at least an amount given to every individual so they can adequately take care of themselves and their families...