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A student who sleeps on a park bench? This is unacceptable: Margaret Bernstein.
You're not alone if you sat stunned after reading the story about Senior Standout David Boone in today's Plain Dealer. If you despaired, if you wanted to lash out at his parents, if you had to put the paper down and wipe your eyes, I'm right there with you.
A child so neglected that he had to sleep outdoors on a park bench?
Come on, this is not acceptable. It reminds me of "Jimmy's World," the notorious story concocted by Janet Cooke, then a Washington Post reporter, about a heroin-addicted boy in Washington, D.C. Her Pulitzer Prize-winning article was found to be a hoax after Washington's mayor insisted there was no way a child in his city could be living a life like Cooke described.
Only, David Boone's story isn't fictitious. Reporter Patrick O'Donnell checked it out and found that it's painfully true.
While you and I slept with roofs over our heads, this child was stretched out in a park and using his bookbag as a pillow. His parents were too unstable to raise him, and so he fended for himself.
I give thanks for the school personnel and friends who did step in to give him a home. And now he's been accepted to 22 colleges, including five Ivy League universities.
It's a success story beyond belief, but I know many readers will agree that it's also a sobering wake-up call. David, like every child, deserved a caring parent in his life to protect him, but he was cheated of that.
His is an extreme story, but other kids are suffering from neglect and abuse, too. It's certainly not fair to expect them to all be like David and find the power within to survive a terrible childhood.
So what can we do? In Cleveland, we have a lot of ways to help youngsters. Here are just a few that I recommend:
Mentor a child. Opportunities abound, but one effort that seems fitting is Adoption Network Cleveland's mentor program aimed at youths in foster care. The program matches kids who've been abandoned or abused with a "permanency champion" to teach them life skills, encourage them to reach goals, and take them on fun and meaningful activities. "Often this is the first time someone has volunteered to be in their life," says spokeswoman Linda Schellentrager.
Mentors receive ongoing training and guidance. More information is available online or contact Patricia Hill, director of programs, at 216-325-1000.
Donate to college-pipeline programs that target at-risk kids. Here are two that enfold youngsters in a blanket of support:
Ohio State University's Young Scholars program is offered to low-income youth in all of Ohio's major cities. It starts in sixth grade and puts selected students through a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum that involves and empowers the entire family. Students who complete the program receive scholarships to Ohio State University. Donations can be made online, or checks can be mailed to Young Scholars Program, Ohio State University, 281 W. Lane Ave., Student Academic Services Building, 3rd Floor, Columbus, OH 43210.
The four-year Bridges Program takes high school freshmen, usually from families where no one has completed college, and provides guidance and, ultimately, scholarships to attend their choice in a network of private Ohio schools including John Carroll, Baldwin-Wallace, Lake Erie, Oberlin and Hiram. More information is available online. Donations can be made to Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges, 250 E. Broad St., Suite 1700, Columbus, OH 43215; write "Bridges" in the memo line.
Get involved in community-building efforts. When I think of David's homeless nights, theChildren's Defense Fund's well-known slogan, "Dear Lord, be good to me, the sea is so wide and my boat is so small," leaps into my mind. This national organization, which champions policies and programs to lift children out of poverty, has an active outpost in Cleveland. Last year, I wrote about its Freedom Schools summer sessions, which inspire character-building growth in local youth.
Its national conference will be held in Cincinnati July 22-25. Youth and adults are invited to attend and get acquainted with Children's Defense Fund strategies for community organizing, with such topics as youth violence, child welfare, health and nutrition, and actively engaging parents and churches.
"This is not a talk conference, this is an act conference," is how founder Marian Wright Edelman describes it. Details and registration information are available online.
Following the conference, action teams will be put in place locally, says Joe Worthy, national coordinator of youth leadership and development. "There needs to be a groundswell of energy to fix these problems, there's no simple answer. But the first step is coming to the table. That's what we want for Cleveland to do.
"Keep the picture in your mind of the other young people who aren't as innately talented [as David] who are still out there," he says. "What kind of men or women are they going to turn into? Are we going to turn around and blame them when the next generation comes of age?"