Investing in kids

November 09, 2012|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

I have friends whose family photos look like mini-meetings of the United Nations.

They have biological, foster and adoptive children, and they take in exchange students.

The array of races and ethnicities represented in their home is noteworthy. But even more striking is the assortment of temperaments, bents, talents and aptitudes of the brood.

Everyone has something to bring to the table, whether it’s athletic ability, artistic skill, academic prowess, a quick wit or a helpful nature. My friends — the biological, foster, adoptive, exchange parents — quietly assume a responsibility to cultivate and nurture not only these gifts, but the spirits of the kids who have them.

The couple is pretty nonchalant about what they do and they graciously accommodate curious people who question them. But attempts to commend them are generally met with a shrug, a smile and a change of subject. They just see it as worth it to invest in young lives, to make an impact by giving love, support and encouragement.

Not everyone is cut out to be a biological, foster, adoptive, exchange parent. But many of us could add good measure to a life or two if we would make it a point to show that we care.

I think back over the years to adults who acted like they cared when I was a kid. I had a good Mom and Dad who provided for my material needs and gave me time, affection and attention.

Still, I was impacted by a music teacher who “got” my passion for poignant sounds and who went the extra mile to take that as far as I was willing to go. I remember being surprised and inwardly delighted by an English teacher who said that I could really write. I felt a precious contentment just sitting with my grandpa while he played solitaire, patiently letting me call plays he would have gotten anyway while he asked and listened about my day at school.

There were other parents, family members and even acquaintances who smiled, spoke or acted in ways that didn’t escape my notice. Each of their gestures fortified me and made me feel more equipped to face the world, especially when it was scary.

Studies show that kids who have mentors working in their lives tend to learn to make better decisions, develop healthy values and have a comparatively greater sense of worth.

Some young people need more than others. But what they need is usually not that hard to figure out. A child with a disability might need someone who knows how to communicate with him, someone who is patient and who understands how he thinks.

Kids with troubled family situations might need the most basic provisions for a start — clean clothes, a coat or a good meal. Beyond that, they might need someone who represents tangible evidence of what they can become.

Even kids with stable homes need solid role models to offer challenges and enthusiasm and to reinforce parental guidance.

Maybe you will choose to mentor through an official volunteer program, to take a kid to a church youth group or to tutor at a school. Maybe you’ll provide a much-needed pair of shoes or simply offer a kid a smile and an uplifting word. Maybe it’s just slowing down and listening more intently to your own child.

Every little bit invested in a young person is money in the bank of hope and possibility.

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her email address is

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