Friday, January 13, 2012

The Poverty of American Youth

  The Poverty of American Youth 

By: Theresa Oliver

     For my first blog, I was debating on the way home today what topic I could address, what wonderful bits of humor I could convey, a writing workshop, or perhaps a touching or alarming personal experience that might help inspire, or entertain others.
   Then I thought of my students.
   As a teacher, I am in the blessed and unique position to see society from the perspective of a child. And poverty affects the lives of many of our youth today. Perhaps more than you know, right in your own backyard.
   I’d like you to meet a few of my students and another teenage friend of the family. All of their names have been changed.

·         About a month ago, Annie came to me with a smile and told me that her father had just gotten out of jail. I smiled and congratulated her. She was so very excited to have her father back that my heart went out to her. Then a few weeks ago, Annie came to me frowning and told me that her father was back in jail. I consoled her, telling her that I was sure he’d get out soon. My heart again, went out to her, amazed that this second grade student would have to be faced with a situation that many adults would have difficulty with. Then, she approached me last weekend, telling me that her family had no water in the house, but her mom was trying to save the money to get the water turned back on. I asked her how long they had been without water and she said, “Since my dad went back to jail.”
   “What do you drink?” I asked, and she replied that her mother bought bottled water. “How do you take a bath?”  I asked, but she only shrugged her shoulders. Needless to say I phoned the powers that be immediately.

·         Yesterday, I was waiting for the buses to be called with a student, Sam. The first round of buses had already been called and there were only four of us left in the classroom. Sam approached me and told me, “Guess what?”
   “What?” I asked with a smile, expecting something cute to come from this little angel.
   “My little brother wasn’t going to get a Christmas gift this year, so I saved my money and got him one,” Sam began. “He’s only four.”
    Trying to keep my composure, I asked in a low voice, “Oh, he wasn’t going to get a Christmas present this year?”
   He replied, “No, only clothes, but he wanted a toy. So I saved my money and got him one,” then he added happily, “no one in my family was going to get Christmas presents, but my brother and I saved our money together and got a present for everyone in my family.”
   My heart went out to him. Most children his age are wondering what they are getting for Christmas, but here was this little angel thinking of others instead of himself.

·         Now meet Mary. She is a little thing, a pixie of a child who comes to school with clothes that are two sizes too small. She came to school the other day literally busting out of her shirt and her pant legs were very high. I called the powers that be again, and the next day, she had two brand new shirts. Today, she came to school, proudly wearing one of her new shirts, very appreciative, but still wearing the too-small pants.
   “What size pants do you wear?” I asked privately, whispering, away from the other students.
   “I’m not sure, but these are a 6,” she quietly replied.
   I silently vowed that I would bring her the jeans my children had outgrown.

·         Here’s Bob, a teenage boy who lives in a house where he rarely has a meal. His father’s depressed and his mother works two jobs. His father works, too, but, somehow, there is barely enough money to pay the bills and food is not a priority. I watched weekly as his weight steady began to decline. When he comes over to our house, we told him to help himself to anything in the cupboards or in the refrigerator. At first, he was much too timid for that, but now helps himself, and has quickly become a part of the family. He also wears old clothes. He’s a teenager who wants so much more out of life and is working very hard to achieve it, despite the fact that academics have always been a struggle for him. For Christmas, we got him a gift certificate to Burger King for $30, a restaurant down the street from his house, and you’d have thought we gave him a million dollars. We also gave him a new t-shirt and he was so excited he was shaking. The first thing he said was, “And here I didn’t get you anything!”  We quickly assured him that our present was just seeing him succeed in life and to be happy.
   Also, his cousin died recently in his arms shortly after being born, as a result from abuse of the father to the baby’s mother.
He, too, is dealing with so much more than any child, or teen, ever should.

   In addition, the school where I work is a Title I school, within which many families live at or below the poverty level, despite that it’s a good school in a good neighborhood. In fact, many of our students live in hotels. However, there are programs set up at the school to aid these children, such as sending food home with them over the weekend so they can eat and providing school uniforms. They also hosted a toy drive and distributed these toys to needy families for Christmas.
   Last year, 60 Minutes covered a story at our school, as steps were made to help over 70 families to move from hotels and into regular housing.
   In a community where there are many rich businesses, such as Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World, and much more, it is hard to believe that so much poverty exists right in our backyards.
Youth Living in Poverty:
   According to the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, 15 million children in the U.S. live in poverty, that is, over 21 percent of all children live in families with incomes below the national poverty level of $21,050 annually for a family of four. Studies also show that on average, families need twice this amount to live. According to this information, over 42 percent of all children live in low-income families. Many of these families have parents that work in low-income, unstable jobs, causing difficulty in making ends meet.
   According to the NCCP, poverty can hinder children’s ability to learn and contributes to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Poverty also contributes to poor mental health as well as poor health. In addition, risks are greater for children experiencing poverty in his or her youth. Research shows that “poverty is the single greatest threat to children’s well being.”
   However, studies show that effective public policies and interventions and providing learning experiences for the children can make a difference. According to the NCCP, investments in our most at-risk students are critical.

What You Can Do To Help
   Having read this, you might ask, what can I do to help? The best thing that you can do is to go to your local school or school district and see what you can do to help. Making a small donation, donating school supplies, clothing, food and more can make a difference in the life of a child. It is my prayer that every child will one day be free of the chains of poverty, for we don’t have to go to foreign countries to find needy children. We can look right in our own backyards. Please contact your local school’s school counselor to see what you can do to help. 

How to Be Cool on a First Date

   How to Be Cool on a First Date
By: Theresa Oliver

   My son’s best friend, Adam, has been talking about a girl at his trade school that he liked. Each week, Adam excitedly comes over, telling us about this girl, whom we shall call Mary. He tells us how nice she is, that he kissed her one day, they talk each day in the lunch room, etc. But this girl is a welder, and tough, despite her beautiful exterior appearance: a slender build, long brunette hair, and blue eyes. Tonight, he came over and excitedly told us they finally had their first date.

Hence the title, “How to be Cool on a First Date.”
   However, at the beginning of this date, he neglected to tell her that he is deathly afraid of spiders. Spiders, or any aratoid, sends Adam into a tizzy guaranteed to top the screams of any five-year-old little girl. I’ve seen it first hand and, believe me, it’s not pretty.
   You see where this is going?
   Well, first he picks her up at her house, trying to act cool despite his impending nervousness, and she asks him to come in and wait for her in the living room. Nervously, Adam follows her into the house to wait, trying to look macho. This in itself is funny, as Adam is of slight build—meaning skinny—with brunette curls and brown eyes. Shortly, Mary comes out and asks, “Adam, would you mind doing me a favor?”
   Excited but trying to be cool, he looks at her and grins. “Sure! What’s up?”
   “I need you to come into my bedroom,” Adam perks up with a devilish grin until she continues, “to kill a spider.”
   He takes a deep breath, summoning his courage, then says, “Sure, where is it?” Pushing his fear aside, he tries to act macho for her and follows her into the bedroom.
   Picking up one of her sandals, he wonders to himself what he was going to do with it, then tells himself, Be a man and suck it up. Summoning his courage, he bravely grasps the sandal in one hand, ready to brave the big bad spider, then bravely swings at the wall where it’s perched, seemingly mocking him.
   But it’s a jumping spider.
   No sooner had he taken a swing at it than it jumps onto his chest. Immediately, he lets out a blood-curdling scream and jumps around the room like he’s in a Zuma class screaming, “Get it off me! Get it off me! Where is it? Where is it?”
   After a minute of jumping and screaming he finally comes to his senses and remembers where he is. Okay, act cool. It’s not that bad, act cool …
   As he’s telling himself this, Mary is watching him with a smile on her face and calmly asks, “Why didn’t you tell me you were afraid of spiders?”
   Adam quickly thinks to himself, you gotta save this, buddy, then replies, “Me? Afraid of spiders? Huh! I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
   She grins and watches as he once again summons his courage, and ends up bravely killing the spider, regaining his image and self esteem in her eyes.
   He thinks.
   Then he takes her to Universal Studios and which ride do they go on? You got it! The Harry Potter ride! He said he was fine until they came to the room with the giant spider. He proceeds to scream in a very high-pitched voice like a five-year-old little girl as they go through the ride, but he ducks his head to the side, trying to hide it from Mary. On the ride, he caught glimpses of her, but Mary is preoccupied with the ride.
   Thank goodness!
   Then after the ride, she asks, “Why didn’t you tell me you were afraid of spiders?”
   “I have no idea what you’re talking about!” Adam lied, again, trying to save face before this girl.
   “So, then why were you screaming like a little girl?” she asked with a smile, raising an eyebrow.
   “Me? Screaming?” he tries to cover, “That was the little girl on the ride beside me screaming. Not me.”
   “A little girl?” Mary asked, laughing, as they walked to the next ride. “I didn’t see a little girl.”
   “Yeah! The little girl that was sitting beside me! Didn’t you see her?” he quickly tried to cover.
   There had been no little girl beside him.
   “No, there wasn’t!” Mary said, laughing, “Because I looked.”
   “Yeah!” Adam replies with a smirk. “When did you look? You just didn’t see her! It was dark in there!”
   “When I leaned over onto your shoulder hoping you’d protect me from the giant spider!” Mary replied, laughing.
   “Protect you from a giant, eight foot spider?” Adam replied, finally relenting, then added, “Woman, you’re on your own!”
   He didn’t even know she leaned over onto his shoulder, much to his dismay.
   Mary laughed, then punched his shoulder as they continued on to the next ride, Revenge of the Mummy.
   You guessed it!
   On Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster, you literally are raised up from your seat during the course of the ride. Adam once again resumed his little girl screams and Mary is openly laughing by this time. Adam once again tries to cover in an effort to save face in front of Mary.
   Next, they went on the Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket and Terminator in 3-D. And each ride was scarier than the last. Needless to say, he gave up his cool facade about halfway through the date, but they had a wonderful time and are planning another date.
   But hopefully the next one won’t be as traumatic … for Adam, at least.

   **Warning: Adam’s hilarious and I’m sure will be fuel for other future blogs!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012



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