Category Archives: Initiative: Children’s Issues

Operation Kids is issue-driven. It is about helping kids in the most measurable ways.

Understanding Dissing

Note: Today’s post is written by guest author John A. (Jack) Calhoun, who directs the Network for the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families.

 It had been a long day, beginning with a crack of dawn speech to the Salinas/Monterey Community Alliance for Safety and Peace followed by day-long meetings with the mayor and chief, local academics and a two-hour training I led for Court Appointed Special Advocates volunteers.

I was in Salinas for a site visit.  Salinas participates in the California Cities Gang Prevention Network, a 13 city initiative designed and run by the National League of Cities and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.  In addition to Salinas, Network cities include Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Oxnard, Richmond, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Stockton.

Toward the end of the day, two teenagers were shot in East Salinas.  One of them, 16-year old, Manuel Perez, a “B” student at Salinas High School, was gunned down while waiting for a ride to football practice. The other, 19-year old Santiago Ortiz, a known gang member, was shot and wounded.

The shootings affected me profoundly.  They shouldn’t have.   I’m a vet.  I was deeply moved, perhaps because I was tired after a cross-country trip coupled with a day packed with back-to-back meetings; perhaps because I know so many good, competent and caring people in this city, people from all key sectors of the Salinas community—police, schools, the faith community, the mayor’s office, social services and more—all  pledged  to stop violence and to build a Salinas that does not produce violence.  Perhaps because I witnessed first-hand the manifest hope and commitment early that morning, soon followed by the shootings and then by a collective sense of worry, of how daunting the task.

I needed a break before my evening dinner meeting. The cross-country flight, a day beginning at 7:00 a.m. and ending with training, had drained me. 

I took a brief bar break. Jacqui, who was cutting limes and plucking fresh mint leaves for my mojito, was, she told me, working at the bar to help support her fledgling music career.  Lydia from Western Siberia who served me appetizers, attended the local university in Monterey, where she was enrolled in the graduate linguists program.

The day before, a member of the hotel staff, Betsy, had given me a walk-though for our upcoming thirteen city conference, showing me the meeting rooms and other facilities.  A dietitian from Rochester New York, she, deciding to start over, packed up and moved to California.  She landed a job with the hotel, soon becoming its events planner.

It is future, a sense that you can take a street that leads out: Jacqui cutting limes to sing.  Lydia moving from table to table, gathering tips to pay for her university courses, her road having covered thousands of miles.  Betsy, freed from Rochester’s snows, coming across the country to settle in her sun-strewn home.

Each confident.  Each traveling well beyond the street where they began. Each striding confidently  into a new future.

Bryan Contreras who directs Salinas’ “2nd Chance Family and Youth Services,” a program for street kids told me later that night that most of the East Salinas kids rarely get out of their neighborhoods.  “Jack,” he said to me after the shootings, “Most of them have never been to the beach in Monterey.  And it’s only a few miles down the road.  Their ‘corner’ is where their world ends.  End it does—often too soon, tragically.”I thought this:  if Brian and I are walking in separate directions and we happen to bump into each other, we say a quick “Excuse me,” and move on.  Brian and I each have somewhere to go.

If I live in East Salinas and bump into someone on the way to my corner, it could be death for one of us, because, all-too-often, that is all there is, just the corner.  It is not an accidental bump.  It is “dissing”.  If all I have is the corner, I’ll defend it with my life.  Dissing is not the presence of something.  It is the absence of future. My corner.  My turf, which I will protect with my life.  Nothing beyond.

How desperately I want kids to know of long streets, streets that don’t kill, people that don’t u-turn at the end of the block, returning to spray bullets.

I want them to know stories of long streets, stories of people who have walked long streets, people who will walk with them down those streets, with them beyond the corner.

I want them to know they can be Jacqui, Lydia, Betsy, Brian.

-John A. (Jack) Calhoun

John Calhoun, who directs the Network for the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families, was former CEO, the National Crime Prevention Council, and under President Carter, Commissioner, Administration for Children, Youth and Families.

Jack also serves on the Operation Kids Whole Child Committee. You can read more about Jack here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues

Perfection Not Required

I’m well aware of the pressures parents put on themselves to be perfect – though fortunately my children are too young to roll their eyes at me or tell me that I humiliate them every time I put the trash out in my bathrobe and fuzzy slippers. Yet, as I potty train my toddler or get up to feed the baby at oh-dark-thirty, I am constantly critical of how well I’m playing the role as the adult who shoulders the incredible burden of bringing up the next generation.

I have a laundry list of parenting faults – I’m a little high-strung, I hate to mop the kitchen floor (negating any 30-second-rule for fear my kids will die of whatever has taken up residence there), I don’t find the emptying of an entire roll of toilet paper or tube of toothpaste particularly humorous and sometimes I put the pillow over my head and mutter, “if I ignore you can I sleep just 20 more minutes?”

And yet, my kids are lucky – they have parents who love them and are fiercely devoted to giving them the best life we possibly can. And that is enough perfection for them.

It is also the reasoning behind this month’s National Adoption Month theme: “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent: There are thousands of teens in foster care who would love to put up with you.”

Last month, President Obama declared November as “National Adoption Month”, to “honor those families who have strengthened America through adoption, and we recommit to reducing the number of children awaiting adoption into loving families,” and to “renew our commitments to children in the foster care system.”

The observance of National Adoption Month is more than just a celebration of adoption, it is a cry for more than 120,000 children who are in foster care awaiting a permanent family and an end to a life of turmoil. These are children who are not in the “system” by their own choosing, but have become without permanent home, family or support through tragic circumstances and the unfortunate choices of others. National Adoption Month aims to focus on the needs of these children, nearly 25,000 of whom age out of the foster care system each year and to remind each of us of our responsibility to the rising generation.

Every year, we are losing alarming numbers of these young adults who have “aged out” to cycles of poverty, crime, incarceration and death at far above the rate of their peers. Without a support system to prepare them for life on their own, many face an uphill battle that is rarely won.

It is this alarming fact that has lead AdoptUsKids, a  cooperative agreement between The Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children & Families and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, to highlight the message of “anti-perfection” – that even the quirkiest of us have something to offer a teen in foster care. Their PSA campaign reminds us all that each of us – foibles included – can make a difference in the life of a child in foster care by being a mentor, a foster family or by giving a foster child into a permanent, loving home.

We work with many individuals and organizations who champion this same message. This past year we helped Christmas Box International with their Lifestart initiative to help arm teens aging out of foster care with basic necessities. We champion the ideas set forth by Judy Cockerton of The Treehouse Foundation for their ability to make an impact. And we embrace the idea of reminding us all about the “forgotten children” who live among us.

At the very least, we ask that you hug a child in your life today. You’re a far greater parent, example or mentor than you realize. After all, you don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent.

-Sara

3 Comments

Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues

Stopping Internet Predators

Operation Kids presents $200k to ICAC to catch online predators

Operation Kids presents $200k to ICAC to catch online predators

Money changes everything when it comes to stopping Internet predators. That is why Operation Kids was proud to present Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff  $200,000 on Monday to help fund undercover operations targeting online child abuse.  Shurtleff accepted the donation from Operation Kids on behalf of the Utah Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force.

It is easy to forget that there are children being victimized in our own neighborhoods. The Utah ICAC Task Force initially received $50,000 from Operation Kids and used it to mount two month-long undercover operations.  These two operations resulted in charges against 33 suspected child predators and child pornographers. Now when ICAC ran their sting operations this spring, we were not so much shocked by the number of arrests, as saddened to learn they could achieve equal results during most any 30-day period of the year.

Unfortunately, the ICAC Task Force is experiencing the same budget reductions as other state agencies. Notwithstanding, the task force has logged a nationally unprecedented 40% increase in arrests and convictions over the previous year.  This increase is due to the dedication of ICAC investigators to protect children and families and to the additional staff hours funded by these donations.

For those you of you who attended our gala honoring John Walsh last year, this donation is result of private and corporate pledges made that evening. Walsh, as we all know, is the dedicated host of America’s Most Wanted and has been instrumental in the apprehension of over 1,050 dangerous fugitives and in bringing home more than 50 missing children in the past 22 years. And we made a decisions that all funds raised during that night would benefit organizations serving child safety initiatives, as a tribute to Walsh.

Through this second donation to the Utah’s ICAC Task Force, we are honored to support  law enforcement and are proud to do our part in capturing more of those who prey on our most vulnerable citizens…our children.

Leave a comment

Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues

Keeping Children Safe

Now that kids are back in school, authorities are asking parents to be extra-vigilant about their children’s activities online and via text. Our local Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce reminded residents that “Back to School” also means a spike in Internet crime targeting children and teens.

“Every year when school starts back up and goes back in session, we always see a spike in crimes where children are targeted or children are contacted by individuals,” said ICAC Capt. Rhett McQuiston. “Sometimes they are other kids who are contacting them; a lot of times they are adults who are pretending to be kids.”

I mention this, because Sunday, September 27, is Internet Safety Day – a day set aside for parents to discuss Internet and texting safety with their children. This year, the organizers have a goal of getting 100,000 parents to pledge to talk with their child or teen about staying safe online.

One of the components of the “Whole Child” is safety – as an organization who has been close to several organizations and individuals involved in cases of missing and exploited children or Internet crimes against children, we are all-too-aware of how little information it takes for a predator to strike.

If you are a parent, or know a parent, Sunday is a good time to sit down and talk about safe boundaries online and via text. Talk about what information should not be shared, talk about photos and the impact that sharing a photo with someone – known or unknown – can have. Talk about blogging and “sexting” and social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Talk about where to turn if something seems “off” about an online friend or contact. Most importantly, just talk. Be aware of what is happening and what your children and teens are involved in.

Need more resources? You can download a free Internet Safety Parent’s Guide to get you started.

-Sara

1 Comment

Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues, Uncategorized

Celebrating Those Who Take Action

I received an e-mail this morning from New Orleans Outreach, one of our partner organizations. The beginning of the message began this way:

“There is an old phrase, ‘Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.’ I suppose it comes from our need to discuss (usually gripe about) problems that we don’t think we can change, that we are powerless to affect.

“For years, for New Orleanians, the ‘weather’ was public education. It was so bad all we could do was gripe and bemoan. No more. Last year, more than 2,000 people decided to change the weather. They came to volunteer in a New Orleans school or they made a donation so that New Orleans Outreach could bring in professionals to enrich students’ education.”

As I read that, it struck me. There have been a lot of people in the past few years talk big about enacting change in the Big Easy, but many of the talk falls empty and the intended actions lie fallow. But not these more than 2,000 people referenced above. They had finally had enough and put their time, and their money, into affecting a major change – one student, one school, one program at a time.

A couple of months ago, I sorted through hours of video footage to compile a short video about the work New Orleans Outreach and their supporters are doing (see the video here). As I was compiling the video, there was an interview with a child who talked about Outreach’s afterschool programs – where he learned to read music and learned his times tables. I was struck that he was able to learn two things, things I learned during my regular school day as a child, only because thousands of people got together and decided to make a change.

Has it revolutionized all of New Orleans? Not yet. But has it revolutionized one child’s life? Absolutely. And there are thousands of kids just like him who face a better future because someone took action.

Another New Orleanian who is taking action and affecting change is Drew Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints. When he and his wife Brittany moved to New Orleans several years ago, they vowed to make an impact in their adopted hometown. Rather than talking big and nothing more, they worked to make a real difference. In fact, one of the blogs on NFL.com today gave the “Gridiron Good Guy Award” to Drew Brees for his work in New Orleans, saying,

Three Pro Bowls, comeback player of the year, offensive player of the year, and Walter Payton Man of the Year. Is there anything that Drew Brees CAN’T do!? You might as well add “Superman” to this list. Brees supports Operation Kids and started his own charity, The BreesDream Foundation. The guy was pivotal in helping to rebuild New Orleans. Oh, and how about six touchdown passes in Week 1!

We are proud to have been a part of Drew’s efforts to help revitalize New Orleans through improving educational and athletic opportunities for the city’s children.

It has made me think about the changes I have tried to affect in my life, in my community. Do I sit and complain and fail to take action? Am I merely all talk? What about you? What have you done? Do you lament about the “weather” only to sit back and accept it, or are you the kind of person to get up and get involved?

One of my favorite poets, T.S. Eliot, said,

“It is in fact a part of the function of education to help us escape, not from our own time – for we are bound by that – but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our time.”

I couldn’t illustrate how important education is any better than that. I am confident that the work of New Orleans Outreach is so valuable that they are improving the city of New Orleans, through its youngest residents, every single day Every day they leave the city and its children better than they found them.

It’s why I am so excited that, to help give an added boost to Outreach, Operation Kids is going to double any donations received for their program this week. We too are serious about affecting change – but we need you to be as well. Together, with people like Drew and organizations like New Orleans Outreach, we can do it.

-Sara

Leave a comment

Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues, New Orleans

Report from Ghana

I had the privilege of spending last week in Accra, Ghana. It was an opportunity to see first-hand the efforts of two of our fine Operation Kids Charities: Right To Play and Forever Young Foundation, in addition to a new micro-credit effort by the KOMART Foundation.

There is more to tell than I can cover in several blogs, but I wanted to start with this. As part of our client service of managed giving, we are typically conservative when it comes to international aid; certainly not because we do not care, but rather due to the extreme potential for fraud and various levels of misappropriation. Africa is general is an area where an ability to deliver aid effectively has been questionable at best.

I have been asked many times by many donors about the solicitations they see on TV and via direct mail, if those “faces of need” really receive the donated help? Sadly, the answer is, “Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.” Anyone who follows this blog or any of Operation Kids’ activities knows that this inconsistent outcome is simply not good enough for us.

In regions such as this, it is even more critical that we get on the ground and observe unfiltered, the delivery of aid efforts and the tangible results. In the case of Accra and the aforementioned charities, I am very pleased to say, the report is good, and the results are real.

First let me comment on Right To Play. The concept of using sports to teach certain skills and attitudes may seem simple on the surface and for those in developed countries you may associate the teaching aspect of sports with sportsmanship, teamwork, discipline, etc.  While those are all real and valid byproducts of a well-coached sports experience, in developing countries the effort takes on an entirely new and life-saving dimension.

Trained Right To Play coaches have the trust and confidence of the children they coach. Based on that relationship and the innocent distraction of “play,” a soccer ball can be used to represent a virus – say HIV – and a simple game can show a child for the first time how the virus spreads. The games address other critical issues such as peaceful conflict resolution which can, in regions where children are forced into military duty sometimes as young as 11 or 12, be the difference in whether some of these children experience a childhood in any sense, or go on to a normal adulthood. The simplicity of the Right To Play model is the genius of it, and to see it first-hand is inspiring to say the least.

As far as the other programs we observed, including the work of KOMART and Forever Young Foundation, I would prefer to address their efforts with individual stories. Over the next couple of months I want to explain in detail, how they have overcome the major issues that are blocking effective aid in so many regions of Africa, and introduce you to some of the individuals who live in Ghana, are Ghanaian by birth, and have not only elevated their own lives, but the lives of thousands of young Ghanaians. I think you will find their stories fascinating and the images compelling.

-Rick

2 Comments

Filed under Initiative: Charitable Giving & Accountability, Initiative: Children's Issues, Initiative: Thought Leadership

Do You Know What Your Kids are Doing Online?

Do you know what your kids are searching for when they are online?

In today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, there is an articleon a recent survey by Symantec’s OnlineFamily.Norton service on the top 100 web searches by children.

The surprising results? “Sex” and “Porn” were two of the top search terms, coming in at #4 and #6, respectively. The entire Top 10 include:

1. YouTube

2. Google

3. Facebook

4. Sex

5. MySpace

6. Porn

7. Yahoo

8. Michael Jackson

9. Fred (A popular fictional characterwhose YouTube channel has become a hit among kids.)

10. eBay

With back to school season right around the corner (or  already here, for a handful of school districts across the country), now is the time to re-evaluate children’s computer usage – where the computer is located, what the ground  are for its use and what kind of monitoring will be used to ensure safety – not only from content, but from online predators.

Last fall, we focused heavily on Internet Safety among children as we honored John Walsh for his work protecting children from predators both on- and offline. As Internet Safety Day 2009 approaches (on September 27), we encourage all parents to take the time to get to know what their children are doing online and talk to them about safe behavior online.

Not sure where or how to start? Last year, we listed several resources from the FBI and others that give excellent advice on keeping children safe, how to have the tough conversations and suggested ground rules for Internet usage among children. You can also download the 2009 Internet Safety Day Parent’s Guide here for additional information.

Even if you feel like you are aware of what is going on with your children and the computer, we urge you to continue to have the conversation, to emphasize safety and to keep a vigilant eye on your most precious resource – your children.

-Sara

3 Comments

Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues