We have all heard the phrase, “It takes a village…”. It is usually in reference to community support for young people who do not have the structure or oversight that is needed. The axiom has persisted because we know that the breakdown of family has been, and continues to be, a contributing factor to many of our societal problems – in particular among our youth.
Even after all these years of working and living in communities plagued by extreme poverty, I am amazed at the ability of our young people to maintain some sense of daily life. There is, truly, a great deal of strain and struggle in the lives of so many youth.
Larry is a kid who participates in almost any program he’s invited to take part in. Even as others might balk at an education program or a “community clean-up day”, Larry is always willing to join in. He is so cooperative and easy-going, that often we overlook the depth of his loneliness. Our attention seems to focus on those who obviously cry out for support and intervention.
A staff member recently called and asked if I could help Larry with some food. It was a Saturday and she wasn’t in the office that day. Of course, I agreed.
Within a few minutes of the call, Larry was at the Center. One of the young men, Shawn, who is training to be a chef, was in the kitchen preparing a meal for our Mass and event the following day. I asked Shawn if he would help me get some food out of the pantry for Larry. We packed up a bag of soups, pasta, cans of ravioli, and other items that would be easy to heat up and cook. As we were leaving, you could tell Larry wanted to take some cereal as well, but not much good with no milk. I told him I would take him home and on the way, we would pick up some milk.
On the way to Larry’s house, Shawn, Larry and I stopped at “Food for Less” to up some milk and a few other things – peanut butter and jelly, etc. During our “shopping spree” I asked Larry about his upcoming graduation from 8th grade. He almost immediately asked Shawn and I if we would like to have a ticket to the ceremony. Apparently, no one in his family was going. Shawn immediately said, “Sure, Bro”! I was not as quick, but said if I could, I would.
Shawn thought about his own graduation and, then, asked “What about those shoes?” He said it in the way a big brother would watch over his younger sibling – with care and concern. It was obvious that Larry didn’t have shoes or any of the clothes necessary for a graduation ceremony. So, sure enough, from Food for Less, we are off to the local shoe store to get some shoes and a few other necessities.
While shopping is certainly not my thing, I was both grateful and proud of Shawn. I was grateful that Shawn took Larry on as a “brother” and became the “village” that he so needed. I was proud, too, that with all his own stress, Shawn took great care to ensure that Larry had the support and care he needed.
We might not be able to move mountains or change systems, but this was a day to rejoice. It was an honor and privilege to be a part of the “village it takes”.