A Christmas Story from My Own Backyard: Help a Kid, Change the World

About a week ago, I stopped by to visit with a neighbor. She was outside so it was easy to wander over and check in.

I knew she was struggling. Working, but in some financial stress that includes trying to save her house, and a divorce that impacts her economic state.

One of her children, a son, is a promising high school student. I know how divorce impacts lives, and I can attest that kids know exactly when stress is occurring in the household. His dad isn’t particularly present in his life.

His mom described to me her recent call for help for her son. She knows all kids need positive influences in their lives.

Her son had told her he was interested in working in a fire station, maybe being a fire fighter some day.

She mobilized. She sent letters to a few stations in the area to see if he could volunteer or get experience in some way. No reply from some. But she and her son smiled when they recalled the almost immediate response from one location just north of us.

The fireman who responded called and asked her to explain what was going on. She did. He immediately suggested the fire fighters at his station become his mentors.

What an impact it has made, they said. One day, he spent 13 hours there, performing all sorts of tasks. His mentors are even working with him on nutrition and health issues.

I walked away amazed at the generosity that goes on in the course of each day. It is a good feeling to know that even though we have deep problems in our world, there are wonderful solutions in the form of people who step up to help.

A guest contributor in the Courier-Journal on Dec. 9 wrote, “Every child needs to be connected to at least one caring, supportive adult to encourage them on their path in life.” The writer, Dale Brown, a former superintendent and current administrator at a Kentucky university, wrote about the fact that 1 in 8 of the Commonwealth’s children live in poverty; 1 in 5 are in single parent families.

He wrote, “We have to ask the question: how many children across Kentucky will leave school today without one encouraging word made to them: I would argue that each of us has a role to play and responsibility to make sure they have the support needed to reach their full potential.”

I know my neighbor found a positive, encouraging adult for her son. She was proactive about it, however. There are so many children who need support, and may not even have an adult in their lives that will ask for help.

Often, you don’t have to go far to find a place to connect with kids who need you. The local school, a church program, many nonprofit opportunities. Find a way to help a kid.

The opportunity may just be in your own neighborhood.

About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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