“Your children need your presence more than your presents.” -Jesse Jackson
Since 2006, I have been actively involved in the lives of young girls in the West Baltimore community of Sandtown. As I hear stories from hundreds of girls across Baltimore, a common strand appears: the absence of parents. This problem of parental absenteeism is about as detrimental as school truancy. It is the wealth of parental presence that is missing in our impoverished neighborhoods. Yes, our schools need more funding and our communities are severely lacking in youth programming resources. However, it is the adult and mature bearing of parents that has been a treasure lost in our communities, leaving our neighborhood homes lived in, but empty.
However, there is an answer that is more than just leaning on the durable shoulders of grandparents. As the proverbial saying goes: train up a child the way he should go, and when he gets old, he shall not depart from it. Neighborhood organizations need to tie each school and church together, with the organization being the catalyst and center of youth activity. The organization could help to foster one-on-one relationships between young people and willing and able mentors. These mentors would not replace parents or engage in “surrogate parenting.” That would be a huge mistake. On the contrary, these people would reinforce the values and principles cherished by the family members of that child. Of course, this kind of support is not unfamiliar, it is as old as the African proverb: “it takes a village to raise a child.”
This idea (something I like to call “one school. one church. one neighborhood”) has been utilized in the efforts of Young Life GEMS. This organization’s mission is to help young girls, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, discover their self worth and reach their full potential. GEMS has connected to several local churches in the Sandtown-Winchester community of West Baltimore. GEMS has created a room full of female mentors for over forty young girls, who have testified to its impact on their lives. In many cases, there was a missing presence of parents, due to a number of circumstances. However, the active presence of supportive persons through community efforts has provided an energy that has made a difference.
Young Life GEMS is not the only organization in Baltimore city that is trying to create those “village ties” of support for young people today. The fact remains that for every missing parent, there needs to be an active and supportive village. Are there enough “village minded” persons in Baltimore to cover the absence of parents today? Ask yourself and others this question, and then go and do something audacious about it. In fact, if you want to start today, contact Young Life GEMS at 410-728-4100.