Monday, March 15, 2010

Charlotte's youth need YOU

Posted By on Mon, Mar 15, 2010 at 2:42 PM

On March 26, the Charlotte Area Health Education Center is hosting their 5th annual conference on youth violence. This year they plan to focus on the need for adults to mentor Charlotte's youth.

You're welcome to attend the conference, which will be held at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. Breakfast and lunch are included in the registration fee ($70 if you register by the 19th).

But, I'm sure you don't need a conference to lead you to conclude that Charlotte's youth could use some guidance ... unless of course your professional license requires continuing education credits, which some professionals will earn through attendance.

You probably also don't need a formal organization to get involved with the youth in our community. All you need to do is step outside, look around and pay attention. Is there a young person in your neighborhood that could use some guidance? A kick in the butt? A helping hand? Is there a child in your life that needs a little advice or a friend?

I believe we create our community through our interactions with each other and our willingness to participate, share and give. Time is one of the easiest things to give your neighbors and acceptance and understanding are two of the most effective ways to affect positive change in others. All of those things are free and easy to share.

Now, I'm not knocking the conference; I'm sure it will be helpful and I applaud the AHEC for bringing the topic to everyone's attention. All the same, not everyone can go. Don't let that hold you back, though, because the fact remains: Charlotte's youth need you.

And, don't think I'm not practicing what I preach. Here's what I'm doing in my own community in northwest Charlotte; it's not much but, in the three short years I've lived in my current neighborhood, I have noticed a difference:

There are a group of children in our neighborhood who wander around unsupervised. I make a point of waving at them and introducing myself when I find them in my yard, which is a regular occurrence. They used to be kind of rude but soon learned I was just looking out for them. For instance, when I explained that pulling each other down the street on skateboards tethered to a bike wasn't the smartest move in the world they agreed and found something else to do. Now, these kids aren't perfect — they still find their fair share of inexperienced trouble — but they are a lot more friendly than they once were and a lot less destructive. I consider this ongoing effort a victory in process. In fact, the day their ringleader waved at me first I felt the victory was just beginning.

Then, there are the two young men from a neighboring community who walk through our yard to a friend's house at least once a day. They've been a little more difficult to reach. They've cursed at us, thrown trash in our yard, threatened my husband and kicked in our fence. All the same, I haven't given up hope. Now, when they damage our property or break the law in some other way I call the police because some lessons aren't mine to teach, but their destructive tenancies are beginning to wane (I hope) and one of them actually made eye contact the other day. With any luck, I'll eventually shake their hands.

There's also the little girl next door. She's only five-years-old and is already a pistol (I've witnessed her wrestling her peers to the ground in my own living room). We're hoping to get her involved in our newly sprouted multi-family garden where we hope to focus some of that wild-child energy on something productive. We'll see how that goes. Point is, instead of gossiping about the kid next door we're stepping up in an effort to guide her toward being a more positive community member. Another plus: She'll learn something as she witnesses her package of vegetable seeds turn into something she can eat for dinner.

Now, I don't know if any of this effort will really make a difference in these kids lives but I can't help but try. All I need to see is evidence that our community is coming together more than it's being subdivided by fences and doors to feel my efforts are bearing fruit. As with most things, every little bit helps and only time will tell. What I can report is that these kids are calming down, being more respectful and are many times more friendly. In my book, that's huge progress.

It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to mentor a child, just a little compassion and time, a lot of understanding and a willingness to recognize that big changes don't happen overnight, they bloom gradually and with care.

Now it's your turn: Look around your community. Whether it's a child, a new family or an elderly widow: Who can you mentor? Trust me, mentoring might cost you a little time, but you and your community will be rewarded many fold for your efforts.

Maybe you're the one who needs a mentor, or maybe you can use this information to teach others how to interact with a mentor:

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