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When I think about all the things we adults can do to help the children of our community be all that they can be, at the top of the list is to always love them. Love them in a way that they can see, feel, and fully understand.
Early this month I visited our Family Engagement Liaison at the Normandy Kindergarten Center. Beyond Housing has thirteen Family Engagement Liaisons in every Normandy School and their job is to support the children and their families so the children can fully access the educational opportunities the district has to offer. They help with food, school uniforms, school supplies, and connectivity to other resources when families need assistance. My entire one hour stay at the Kindergarten Center was filled with glowing examples of loving the children of the 24:1 Community.
I walked through the door into the school and was met with a parade of kindergarteners heading to their next class. They walked in a single file line all shyly, looking up at me as they walked by. One bright eyed young man asked me if I was going to be the principal for the day. Their eyes beamed happily and many were smiling contently. Two teachers were gently shepherding them through the hallway. The teacher's eyes were kind and their patience with the children was evident in their voices and body language.
I was guided up the best flight of stairs I have ever seen. Each stair had the title of the many iconic books I either knew as a child or I read to my children over and over again. What a great symbol to see multiple times a day. I reached the principal's office suite where our staff person, Katherine, is located. Katherine's desk is next to the building's secretary who had three little girls draped over her like a beautiful quilt. She hugged all three of them with such ease and grace I knew it was a regular occurrence. The three girls had to be coaxed away from the loving embrace to get to their class. Before they left the office, they ran to Katherine and received the same type of loving embrace and were kindly nudged to their class to start their day.
Katherine and I spoke about her daily activities in this building with over 300 innocent, filled-with-grace kindergarteners. She told me about trying to ensure that all the children had everything they needed to be successful and how difficult their lives could be. At five and six years old the sweetness and innocence of the children just leaps off their precious faces. Over and over again, I was waved at and smiled to as I walked through the building. Jonathan Kozol in his great work, Amazing Grace, speaks about the eyes of young children like those in Normandy Kindergarten Center as windows into their souls of pure innocence. Kozol, however, goes on to say that children living in difficult situations can quickly, by age ten or eleven, become traumatized, hardened, and lose their sense of what it possible.
What I saw in every adult in the Kindergarten Center was an outpouring of love to each and every child, at every moment. I am not naïve to think that every child in that building is an angel in their behavior. But I do know that if they are not, it is because of something outside their control. Katherine, the school secretary, the teachers, and the other not-for-profit staff members who provide clothes, books, and other basic needs once a week all show these 300+ children that they are loved and this place is not only a safe haven but a place to learn and grow. I would be remiss if I did not make note of the parents I saw dropping off their children. They held their children's small hands and walked them into the building, most saying as they turned to leave, "I love you, have a good day."
The work of community building is long and arduous at times. Projects are complicated, funding is always a challenge, and public policy does not always work for our folks. But the one thing I know we can always do is something that costs nothing extra and makes a world of difference, even if we can’t always see it. And that’s to love the people we serve. Especially our children.
I’ve been working in community development in the St. Louis area for 25 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Beyond Housing since 1993. While I’m proud of our accomplishments, I don’t claim to be an expert. At Beyond Housing, the experts we listen to are the voices of the community members we serve. I’ll be raising issues here that I believe matter to our community. I hope you’ll join the conversation. We do reserve the right not to post comments containing offensive language. To paraphrase Dr. King, we can disagree without being disagreeable.