I was touring Halawa Correctional Facility the other week as a class excursion for the Pacific Century Fellows, which I'm proud to be a member of this year.
The tour left a lasting impression on me. The staff who talked to our class mentioned that the best way to stem the criminal population is to help at-risk youth before their teen years; around puberty is when the attitudes set and become harder to undo.
I think being a mother makes me more sensitive to this because I feel sorry for children who don't have strong guidance or healthy relationships.
The staff said the common denominator in making a difference in children's lives is one - just one!- strong adult role model. I asked what organizations do that really well, thinking the answer would be something like Big Brothers Big Sisters.
To my surprise, they said public schools, because that's the least optional thing in a child's life. Parents don't have to enroll kids in charities like the aforementioned, and they don't have to put them in after-school activities (particularly not if they lack the funds.) But kids have to go to school.
I have personal connections to a public school, so I reached out to that one and asked how I can help. Now, here's the conundrum. If I give my time to mentor a child with reading, I take that time away from my own daughter. So now is not the best time for me to do time-heavy volunteer work.
What I did, instead, was ask the top administrators what needs they have on an individual level and how I can donate money to that cause. They said 30% of their student population is below the poverty line. I was really surprised.
I'm sure you've seen the annual fall campaigns in all the media asking people to help buy back-to-school supplies. What I didn't consider, though, was smaller things, like: poor students need money for field trips, or for covered shoes which are required for field trips.
The principal directed me to a parent/community network organization which is the fundraising arm of the school. I'm working with them to see how I can donate money, and how to earmark the funds for specific use (not just capital improvement projects.)
It's not much; I'm just one person. I have a child in school and I'm not rolling in dough. But I also think it's a priority, so I'm going to do it.
I've decided that, since I stopped drinking coffee, I would donate the equivalent amount of a daily Morning Brew Hawaii drink. Breaking it down to a small dollar amount gives me a benchmark and makes it seem do-able.
The school staff told me this is an unusual gesture because people usually think a state-funded institution is stable, so most people's giving is directed at charities; yet, there is a great need at the state schools. I can understand this truth. If not for the prison staff, I wouldn't have thought about giving to public schools.
I'm sharing this story in the hopes that you might think twice today about a way to make a difference in the community. I firmly believe in the ripple effect of our actions and I also believe in "paying it forward." We are only as strong as our weakest link. What will you do to make our wonderful community better?