Tag Archives: youth

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.

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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

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Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues

The OK List of America’s Best

As we congratulate Bill and Kathy Magee and Senator Orrin Hatch on their well-deserved recognition in November’s U.S. News & World Report, we are mindful of other great leaders with whom we have had the privilege of working during the past year. With that, I’d like to contribute an “Operation Kids: America’s Best Leaders in 2009” by highlighting additional leaders who have made an enormous impact in their communities and, due to their commitment and influence, the world.

Anthony Kennedy Shriver: In 1989 Anthony created a mentoring program on his college campus. That project turned into a life’s work. Today, through his stewardship and entrepreneurial spirit, Best Buddies® has grown into a leading nonprofit entity with increasingly international reach across six continents. It has established a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They positively impact more than 400,000 participants every year.  The organization is active in each of the 50 United States, and operates accredited international programs in 44 countries.

Drew Brees:   When Drew left the San Diego Chargers and signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2006, he and his wife Brittany took a higher view of the situation. They believed that they were directed to New Orleans for a reason, and committed to become part of the community. They immediately sought way to help rebuild post-Katrina. Today, Drew and Brittany have rebuilt nearly a dozen successful projects including athletic facilities, day care centers and critical education programs. Their adopted city of New Orleans have hailed them as true “Saints” in the city.

Steve Young: With an NFL Hall of Fame career behind him, Steve maintains a broadcast career, participates in a private equity firm, and continues to provide leadership of the Forever Young Foundation. Forever Young Foundation is a non-profit organization that serves children facing significant physical, emotional, and financial challenges. They focus on efforts to provide academic, athletic, and therapeutic opportunities to at-risk youth. They have expanded beyond their historical focus on Northern California, Arizona and Utah, to include development projects like the Forever Young Zones, Youth Education Town Centers (YET Centers) in each Super Bowl city and now, international initiatives including the building and expansion of schools in Ghana, Africa.

John A. (Jack) Calhoun: In his “retirement,” Jack manages the 13-California City Gang Prevention Network for the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families. In 2007 and has published a book, Hope Matters: The Untold Story of How Faith Works in America. He has spent a lifetime attempting to improve the lot of children and families and the communities in which they live. President Carter appointed Jack to the nation’s top children’s job, Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families, where he oversaw such programs as Head Start, Child Welfare, The Center to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect, the Office of Domestic Violence and the Office for Families. For 20 years he served at the National Crime Prevention Council as its President and CEO. He also has served as Vice President of the Child Welfare League of America, was the Massachusetts Commissioner of the Department of Youth Services, and chair of both the Adolescent and the State of the Family Task Forces.

We give our deepest gratitude and respect to these great Americans who have truly made an enormous impact on their communities and the world around them.

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Filed under Initiative: Thought Leadership

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.

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Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues

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

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Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues, New Orleans

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.

-Sara

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Filed under Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, Project updates

Giving Time.

Last fall, it was easy to get bogged down and think that the brink of economic disaster was upon us. At the same time, it was easy to become jaded as story after story ran about companies and people serving their own self interests, which helped spiral into one of the worst economic recessions in world history.

Nine months later, there are glimmers of hope – Standard and Poor reported today that the housing market might be showing the first signs of coming back, stocks have stabilized and the job losses have slowed some. What gives me the most hope, however, is realizing that humanity is still alive – that we as people aren’t letting the economic times get us down, but rather are reaching out to lend a hand to others.

Earlier this week, The Corporation for National and Community Service issued a report on the state of volunteerism throughout the U.S. in 2008. Last year, 61.8 million Americans donated 8 billion hours of service to organizations, neighborhood causes and community action groups, up 1 million from the prior year.

What is most startling – and exciting – however, is the number of people who joined together to solve community problems in less formal ways. Last year saw a more than 30% increase in the number of people joining with neighbors and community members to solve local problems – at a time when many were likely on less-than-solid economic footing themselves.

It is inspiring to hear, it is even more inspiring to see. We are lucky to be based in the state that had the highest rate of volunteerism among every state in the nation – 43.5% of residents donated their time in some fashion to a cause or community endeavor. More than a third of the population of Salt Lake City were actively engaged in volunteer work in 2008 – the third highest rate among large cities. The spirit of people helping people is contageous, and we’re grateful to be based in a community that is so committed to helping others.

Another thing that inspired me as I read this week’s report was the increase in the number of teens and college-aged youth who are volunteering – kids giving back to communities that have raised and nurtured them as they begin life on their own. These survey results and others indicate that the millenial generation really means it when they say they want to see change – they are willing to roll up their sleeves and work alongside everyone else to make an impact in their corners of the world.

With the economy and traditional nonprofit funding sources still on shaky ground, nonprofit organizations are more dependant than ever on people giving of their time – helping keep operations and programming viable as charities shore up reserves and work to help an fill an ever-increasing need.

I have been involved in a number of community organizations over the years – from literacy to helping the blind to youth programming – and my life has been richy blessed as a result. I issue a challenge to all of our readers and supporters to take a few hours of time out of your day this summer and volunteer – in your neighborhood, your community or for an organization that could use your help. Besides the warm fuzzies and feeling of accomplishment you get, it is also a great way to network, meet others and become more aware of what difference you can make as a single person.

Let’s make August a month of giving back – in gratitude and appreciation for everything we have.

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