Wednesday, December 16, 2009

But What Can I Do?

I work with a group of 5th grade girls at my church. We meet every Wednesday evening for group time with all of our first through sixth graders where we sing, dance, and have a great time before heading out to our individual small groups by grades. My group is probably fairly typical of any smattering of 5th grade girls in the nation – boisterous and energetic, from various socioeconomic situations; some with both biological parents still together, but many are part of a blended or single-parent family. Some of the girls love Taylor Swift and Hannah Montana and aren’t altogether sure what they think about boys.  Some love sports or school or baking Christmas cookies with mom and still carry a stuffed animal with them everywhere they go. Some are aspiring fashionistas with highlighted ponytails while others wear the same hand-me-down hooded sweatshirt or ripped jeans week after week.

Despite all of their differences, however, there’s one thing I’ve noticed all of these girls have in common. They all crave attention. Early on when starting to work with this group, I decided to go around the room during a craft activity to talk one-on-one with each girl. I’d never seen eyes light up the way they did when I took a couple of minutes to ask each one individually about herself  – what she likes or doesn’t like, what scares her, what makes her happiest. Since that one evening, the girls make a point to come over and talk whenever they see me anywhere. While I’d like to think that’s because I’m pretty amazing, I’m smart enough to realize that it’s simply because I gave them the one thing they needed and desired – someone to take an interest in them.

In the work we do at the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, there are many stories we hear of young girls who got pregnant because the first person to show attention to them was interested in more than just what their goals and dreams for the future were.  Since that first Wednesday night when I pulled up a chair to sit next to each anxious 5th grader, I can’t seem to get that thought out of my head. Add to that the endless asks we get this time of year from charities of all kinds needing donations to help those less-fortunate than ourselves and I have to wonder – what are we really willing to do to make a difference in the world around us? Are we willing to write a check or drop some coins into a kettle? Are we willing to pull up a chair, get our hands dirty, and make a true investment in the lives of young people? Are we willing to be the one who will shower healthy affection and positive attention on kids who desperately need it?

I must say, it’s not easy. We get busy. We get sick. We get distracted. We mess up and have to explain to someone who we didn’t realize was paying so much attention how she should do differently.  But we still need to make the commitment to be a mentor, even in the broadest definition of the word, to at least one young person – whether your own child, your niece or nephew, a neighbor from down the street, or a group of kids at church. Because at this time of the year especially, I am always reminded that one person can make a difference.  

by: Dana Becker, Technical Assistance Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
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