Question 3 of Developing a Good Neighbor Policy: No Strings Attached.
Community-based programs are built because people who share common hopes and expectations learn how to work together. In many cases their backgrounds and life experiences have already prepared them for the task at hand. Please make a list of at least seven experiences that changed your life in a positive way. Think about it deeply and ask if these experiences have also motivated you to become the person you are.
As I reflect on this thought for myself I started to make a list:
1. The Gladstone fire department
2. McDonough housing project
3. The Maplewood Police Department
4. John Glenn Junior High School
5. The Boy Scout choir
6. The YMCA camp
7. The Ober Boys Club
1. It didn’t take long as I started to make a list to think about experiences that left lasting impressions on me. The Gladstone fire department came to our door one Christmas Eve just as our parents were beginning to tell us some realities about Christmas. We never heard a word our parents had to say because the fire department people had been so generous and brought toys for all of us. Their timing had been impeccable.
2. The McDonough housing project held an annual community sale. I have never forgotten my first experience being a part of that sale. Hundreds of people came and made donations. At the same time the prices were so affordable, a person could buy what they needed and they could also buy something they wanted. It left a vision that instilled hope.
3. One day while in school a police officer came and gave a talk to all the students. I was in grade five. After the talk, this police officer recognized me. He and other police officers had been called to pick up my father from the bars when he was drinking too late at night. It was not uncommon that I would be at the bar with my father. The policeman dropped my dad off at the station and then gave me a ride home. This time in school, at the end of the day, when all the kids were getting on their school buses this police officer called me by my name and asked if I wanted a ride in the squad car. I ran to the police car got in the front seat. The officer looked at me and said, “Go ahead Carl, turn the siren on.” The smile on his face told me he understood. The next day in school all the kids asked, “How did you get permission to do that?”
4. One day Mr. Ellis came to me. He was the art teacher at John Glenn Junior High School. He asked me to come to the parent teachers meeting and demonstrate how to use the potter’s wheel. I was so stunned I didn’t know what to say. He had announced in class two weeks before that he would choose the best potter in class to do the demonstration. When he came to me, he said, “Carl, I want you to be my first choice to do the demonstration.” I was so surprised. He smiled at me and said “You’ve done really good work.”
5. When our family lived in McDonough housing project a man came knocking at our door. He asked if my brother and I wanted to join the Boy Scouts. He explained this to my mother. He called us all together and said this troop was going to form a boys choir and we were going to sing in the state capitol building. Week after week we practiced. Each week he would tell us we were going to sing in the state capital building. Each week he would tell us the call had not come yet. Then just before Christmas he drew us all together and said, “I am sorry, we did not get chosen to sing with the other choirs at the state capital.” He said, “I will not give up, we will sing at the state capitol.”
Each day we waited with anticipation. Each day we practiced, he would not let us quit. He would go door-to-door to our homes and say don’t give up. Each day Christmas drew closer and closer. Then one night the phone rang. It was one of the mothers. She said, “Call all the guys; meet at the community center NOW!”
We all arrived and within minutes our scoutmaster looked at us and said, “Tonight a very special bus is coming to pick us up. We’ve been asked to sing for the governor and his special guests.” Persistence won out.
6. I remember when a social worker showed up at our door. I think I was about eight years old, maybe a little older. She said, “The YMCA is holding summer camp and we would like you to go.” I was afraid and told my mother I did not want to go. The day came and they loaded all of us children on the bus. I remember sitting feeling all alone. For some reason I didn’t know any of these kids. I wasn’t scared, I was just afraid. I did not know what to expect. When we got to the camp one of the counselors came to me and walked me to my cabin. He explained that this is where I was going to be for the next two weeks. As he turned and walked away I began to cry. The first day was long and lonely. The second day seemed even longer and lonelier. One of the camp counselors came to me and asked if I could go with him. He took me to each of the events and stayed with me. Then he asked another camp counselor to go with me and work on some other events. Then the counselor gave me to another counselor. All of a sudden I fit. I did not even see or feel the fear dissolve. Compassion and caring worked.
7. One day after school something happened. I don’t remember what it was. All I remember is that all of a sudden I was in a fight. Within a few minutes a school bus drove up. On the side of the bus were the words Ober Boys Club. The driver said he had finished his run and he saw us. After getting off the bus he pulled us apart and he said, “If you boys are going to fight you better learn how to fight right!” He said come with me. He put us on the bus took us to the club. We went inside and there was a boxing ring with boxing gloves. He took the gloves and told us to put them on. He taught us how to stand, how to throw a punch, how to duck and how to breathe. After he was done, he let us box one round. When it was all over he said, “There’s a time and place to fight, there is a right way and a wrong way.” He then took us back onto the bus and drove us home. I still remember the words, “There’s a right way, and a wrong way.”
If you are going to develop a community program it will be very beneficial to work with people who share your values and have similar life experiences. At the same time it is important to have a broad base of values and multiple experiences in order to build broader-based programs.