I’m going to tell you a scary story.
I warned you, so prepare yourself. When I was a child, my aunt used to watch me sometimes. And to keep me and my siblings in line she used to tell us that for every “bad” thing we did, an angel would come down when we slept to pull back our scalp and leave a black mark on our skulls. God would count those black marks someday to determine if we could get into heaven. See? I told you it was scary.
Why did I share such a terrible tale? Well, I want to talk about the stories we tell our kids, and especially our teenagers. Kids do dumb things. As your new Supervisor, I have already been exposed to some of the issues, and I’m troubled. I’m especially troubled about the levels of drug and alcohol abuse on Grand Island. The survey data produced by One Island One Team (a local organization to stop substance abuse) is frightening. We need to understand and deal with these facts. But we also need to tell ourselves that there are other stories to tell—stories of hope and restoration.
I understand that many are struggling.
Much has been made of Western New York’s economic revival, and there are surely signs of positive change all around us. There are new buildings going up in downtown Buffalo, and new life in many old buildings that have long been shuttered. I’m hoping we can bring some of that here to Grand Island. But the benefits of this renaissance have not filtered down to every family. Many Western New Yorkers are struggling. Many Islanders are struggling.
When I was a child, my family struggled too.
I was raised by a single mother after my Dad died when I was 3. I know the fear that comes when you run out of food before the next payday. And I know that when you are stuck in dire economic straits, the first thing you lose is your sense of hope. Discouraged parents pull away emotionally. Scared kids look for solace or acceptance in drinking, drugs, irresponsible sexual behavior, or other forms of self-destruction. And believe me, I don’t think drug abuse is limited to financially struggling families – I know it happens in every socio-economic class. But good communities offer support so our kids can find solace and acceptance elsewhere.
I’m not here to raise your kids.
I’m not here to raise your kids, or to tell you how to raise your kids. Government is here to build a public works infrastructure that attracts new businesses and economic growth. Government can help build quality schools, well-stocked with adequate resources and outstanding teachers, to ensure your kids get the best possible education. And Government can help provide you with well-tended parks and quality recreational programs, to help you ensure your children get the exercise and social interaction they need.
Culture and sports builds strong communities.
I am thinking hard now about this last point. I think it is time for Grand Island to think about a new Community Center near the center of our town to enhance the offerings of our Recreation Department. Sure, it’s an audacious goal. And I know it's been tried before. But given the problems facing many of our young people and the demand for a Recreation Center that I have heard from residents, the time may be right. I strongly believe that sports, done right, can help improve self-confidence and self-esteem, build lasting friendships, and draw attention away from self-destructive activities that ensnare many young people. But we cannot forget that not every kid loves sports. Other programs, like a community theater for example, have proven tremendously popular and a tremendously effective means of drawing in children who have interests other than sports.
But above all this, forgiveness first.
The best community programs in the world won’t ensure the safety of every child. Drugs are a problem on Grand Island, as they are in every community in America. There isn’t a family alive that hasn’t been bruised by dysfunction or abuse or alcohol or drugs. The difference between the happy families and the unhappy families is that the happy families face the problem, forgive one another, and keep loving each other. The unhappy families don’t.
You, or a loved one, might have a child who’s acting out; who’s breaking your heart. Be strong. Be patient. Don’t stop loving your child. There are, in fact, NO black marks being doled out by angels! Mistakes can be fixed and pain can heal. My heart goes out to the people who have lost kids to drugs, alcohol and bad decisions. Unfortunately, there will always be some we can’t save, but we must never give up hope.
With sincere regards,
p.s. There is a meeting for One Island, One Team – Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition on Thursday, February 11th at 6 pm in the Grand Island High School Professional Development Room 137. Please join them – for information, for sharing ideas and for getting involved and making a difference.