Tag Archives: teens

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.



Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues

Back to School in New Orleans

It has been said that two keys to rebuilding New Orleans are a re-built, solid levee system and a re-built, solid public education system. It’s ironic how both failures wreaked such havoc on our community. One took the blink of an eye and the other took decades.

I’m no engineer. I don’t own a bulldozer. But I can do something about public education in New Orleans. And together, you and I and our friends can make a real difference. If you care about New Orleans. If you care about the City’s renewal, about its rebirth. If you think public education is an integral component of a healthy, vibrant community. Please take some time to learn what New Orleans Outreach is doing to make public education in New Orleans something we can look upon with pride.

-Mike Boyle,  Director of Development for New Orleans Outreach

It’s Back to School time again. School starts here this week or next week, depending on the district, and everyone is gearing up for new schedules, routines and activities and events. It can be argued that each education system has its own flaws and issues. However, in the case of New Orleans, there has been systemic failure in the public school system for years prior to the devestation Hurricane Katrina wrought in 2005. Since then, there have been several bright spots in the educational system.

One of those bright spots have been the work that New Orleans Outreach has been able to do through community partnerships, volunteers, mentors, teachers and afterschool arts and academic programming.  Like Mike noted in his commentary above – it takes a lot of skill, know-how and materials to fix a levy system, but it only takes one person who cares to make a difference in the life of a child.

For the next six weeks, you’ll hear stories of success from those closest to New Orleans Outreach as we focus on going “Back to School in New Orleans”.

In the meantime, we encourage you to check out this video on YouTube or these photos, which gives a glimpse into the amazing work Outreach is doing for children in New Orleans. Take the time and share them with a friend or family member who also believes in improving education.

It only takes one to care and collectively, we can all make a big difference.


Leave a comment

Filed under Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, Project updates

10 Back to School Tips

One of the tenets of our Whole Child philosophy is education – we believe that it is an absolutely critical component to overcoming many of the major issues facing children today. Last week, I wrote about heading back to school and our upcoming campaign for New Orleans Outreach. In preparation, I’m neck-deep in reading about the impact of education on poverty, economics, health and community. All of my reading is reinforcing my belief in the enormous importance, and the direct impact, that parental involvement in a child’s education has as well as the imapct of communities and community organizations (like New Orleans Outreach) on public education.

The great thing about education, however, is that one parent, one teacher, one child can make a big difference. With that, I’d like to share a list, compiled by readers of the Dallas Morning News, of the “Top 10 Tips for Parents” to make the upcoming Back to School transition a bit easier.

1. Ask your students if they have homework, and don’t believe them when they say no.

2. Make sure you give good phone numbers to the teachers.

3. Visit the school and meet your child’s teacher/s. If you get to know the teachers and staff, they will be more likely and able to contact you if there is an issue.

4. Manage your child’s television time and have them read to you at night.

5. Buy boy’s pants that fit and aren’t five sizes too big. A lot of time is wasted telling them to pull them up.

6. Your children model themselves after you. Be respectful and honest in front of the teacher and at home, and they will be more likely to follow suit.

7. Don’t try to give too much information to the teacher at Meet the Teacher night, the first week of school. Give them contact information in writing and then call to schedule an appointment to discuss just your child.

8. Monitor your child’s use of a cell phone and explain to them the importance of having their phone turned off during school. Don’t text or call them during school hours because they will get in trouble. Call the office if you have an emergency.

9. Teach your kids to use a planner. They often include a packing list for what to take home, a to-do list once a student gets home, and, a list for what comes back to school the next day, as well as signed slips, etc.

10. Get email addresses of all your child’s teachers. It’s easy to type a quick note about issues as they arise and keep parents informed with short emails.


Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues

Back to School 2009

It seems almost blasphemous to be thinking about Back to School already – it’s not even August. Yet with sales on and many of the year-round schools in the area starting their new school years this week, it’s hard not to think about the fact that summer ends in a month.

It is for an entirely different reason, however, that my mind has been pre-occupied with the thought of Back to School over the past couple of weeks. For the last two years, we’ve been involved with several organizations in New Orleans – working to help improve educational, athletic, childcare and other facilities and programs for the children who call the Crescent City home. This fall, we are gearing up to work with one of the organizations, New Orleans Outreach to help them raise funding and awareness about their programs.

From the very beginning, I’ve been enormously impressed with New Orleans Outreach – a 16-year-old program designed to improve public education in New Orleans. Education is one of the most important things a child can have, and even before Hurricane Katrina struck 4 years ago, education in New Orleans struggled. What is most impressive, however, is that New Orleans Outreach can prove that their programming – which ranges from academic, to artistic, to after school programming to mentoring and tutoring – actually works. In a study conducted last year, they found that students involved in New Orleans Outreach miss fewer days of school each year, score an average of 27 points higher on LEAP/iLEAP math tests and 24 points higher on LEAP/iLEAP English and language arts test. 96% of parents feel that New Orleans Outreach is making a difference and being successful.

It’s so exciting to work with an organization that is making a quantitative, measurable difference in a city where public education reform has been so desperately needed. As I watch footage of interviews taken of administrators, teachers, students and parents who participate in New Orleans Outreach, I am touched by their stories of success and achievement. I am touched by the student at Sophie B. Wright school who not only learned his multiplication tables by being involved in the New Orleans Outreach program, but also learned to read music. I am touched by the little girl who proudly talks about what she’s learned about science and plants and nutrition through the after school gardening program. I am touched by the principal who says that New Orleans Outreach has given her students the ability to participate in arts education programs – something that previously was unavailable due to funding.

I wholeheartedly believe our future lies in the quality of education children receive today, and it is one of the reasons I believe so much in the work and mission of New Orleans Outreach. Over the next few weeks, as we begin launching their campaign to help raise awareness of the work they are doing – and funds that will continue to sustain the work – we will be highlighting success stories and glimpses into the lives of students, parents and teachers whose lives have been changed by those who believe that public education is a critical resource we must all work to improve.

As you prepare for Back to School season at your house, I ask two things:

1. What can you do to help improve the quality of education in your community?

2. What can you give to organizations like New Orleans Outreach to improve educational quality, programming and results? Whether it is time or resources, each of us have ultimately a much bigger impact than we realize – not just on our own children but on the lives of those in our community.

And with that, I’m off to finish reveling in my few short remaining weeks of summer.




1 Comment

Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues, New Orleans

Best Buddies in New Orleans

 Nancy and Tara - Best Buddies Louisiana

As part of the final stage of the Operation Kids Rebuilding Dreams in New Orleans campaign, funding was provided to re-launch the New Orleans chapter of Best Buddies. As we assessed the needs and priorities of giving in a community that needed so much, you may wonder what the motivation was to include Best Buddies.

According to research, approximately 53% of people with intellectual disabilities will never receive a visit from anyone outside of a paid caregiver or a family member.  In Louisiana, this means about 155,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities may never have a friend. And with all the focus on reconstruction, many other things were set by the wayside and forgotten.

Through the funding that Operation Kids and Drew Brees’ Brees Dream Foundation raised and provided for Best Buddies Louisiana, friendship programs throughout the Greater New Orleans Area have been set up to facilitate approximately 400 one-on-one friendships between children with intellectual disabilities and a mentor.  Through this program more  than 2,000 children will be impacted statewide.

The impact of a one-to-one mentoring relationship is an amazing thing. Yes, the person with the disability is benefited in many ways, and that warms the soul. But equally benefited are the mentors, often richly blessed by their relationships with their buddies..

As adults, many of us have found our way into volunteering and making charitable donations. Whether in church groups, local chapters of national charities or a cause or issue of personal importance to us, many adults give of their time and resources. But part of the magic of Best Buddies is the fact that these mentors, these “Buddies,” are not adults. They are middle and high school age students, and in some chapters college students, who at an unusually young age have caught the vision of putting the needs of others first. This is remarkable. It has been our observation over the last 10 years that actions like these put a young person on a path of service and caring in a unique and profound way throughout the rest of their lives.

In keeping with out desire to realize a “multiplier effect” from our giving – helping as many people as possible through each donation, the multiples on this gift seem obvious: children in need benefited, young people with capacity and a little time changed forever, and a community raised up by the effort. The math on this project is very strong indeed – hundreds of children and teens in New Orleans are taking advantage of the expanded program and reaching out to those who are profoundly grateful for their friendship. Hundreds of intellectually disabled children and youth in New Orleans and Louisiana have been able to expand their horizons through friendship, mentoring and other opportunities made available through these relationships.  The benefits gained from these relationships spread far beyond the buddy pair – into their families, their neighborhoods, their schools and the community at large.

We salute the young mentors of New Orleans and the people involved with Best Buddies Louisiana who keep this program thriving, even through challenging times.


Leave a comment

Filed under New Orleans, Project updates

The Impact of Your Giving: An Update

Whom do you have to thank for helping ease your transition into the real world?

For most of us, that person is a parent or, at the very least, a relative. When I left for college, my parents outfitted me with mis-matched sheets, fuchsia towels, 1970s Tupperware and more advice than I knew what to do with. I could call home anytime I needed to via a pre-paid calling card and there was never any doubt that I had a support team behind me that would help me should I need it.

At 18, I’m not sure most of us truly appreciated how much our parents or other relatives did for us to help us ease into life as an adult – largely because we expected it. However, I can tell you that my experience, while it felt like the norm, is only a dim dream for the more than 24,000 teens who age out of foster care each year. There are no expectations there – only tenacity and hope.

In October, we began working with New York Times bestselling author, Richard Paul Evans,  on The Christmas Box Lifestart Initiative– helping raise awareness and funding around “Lifestart Kits” – essentials these youth need when they transition from foster care to life on their own.

There are no parents to help them. No mis-matched sheets, no calling cards (or cell phones), no one to be there when they need help. It is them and the state transition-to-adult-living caseworkers, who do their best to make sure these kids succeed.

Over the last three months, I’m excited to say, we’ve raised in excess of $50,000 (not including the Operation Kids matching donation) so far toward this program – through  primarily $25, $50, and $100 donations. Every dollar is going to provide a kit to a youth to help ease the transition to life on his or her own.

One of the youth who received a Lifestart kit this past year tells donors:

“I can’t believe there are so many people out there who don’t even know me, but still want to help me.” (Eddie, 18)

He was stunned by the generosity – that there are so many people out there who want to be that person who eases a teen’s transition into adulthood – much like their own parents did years ago.

Best of all, there is progress. The funds raised to date, while by no means even close to solving the entire problem, are going to allow the program to expand to several new states, and already will help to TRIPLE what the organization was able to do in 2008.

Do you owe your success to someone who gave of their time? money? him or herself? If so, I urge you to pay it forward somehow – through this program or another one. Because for each of us reading this, there is likely another person who helped us as a youth.

And, while I’m at it, thanks mom and dad for giving me a great start.


Leave a comment

Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues, Project updates