“Helping children in adversity to transcend their difficult circumstances is hard and often painful work. It can be depressing, discouraging – even infuriating. But what the research shows is that it can also make a tremendous difference, not only in the lives of individual children and their families, but in our communities and our nation as a whole. It is work we can all do, whether or not it is the profession we have chosen. The first step is simply to embrace the idea…that we can do better.” – Helping Children Succeed
Most people understand what poverty is – we all have images of children we may believe suffer at the hands of significant lack of basic needs in far-away third-world nations. What many of us may not realize, however, is that poverty-level hardship floods our very nation – reaching our own backyard: Memphis, Tennessee, Agape North’s home base. A recent census study showed that Memphis has the highest percentage of children living in adverse poverty in the country, ringing up a total of 45%. In other words, as Memphians – as Americans – this is OUR problem.
Many of you might be saying to yourselves, “Yes, suffering children is terrible, but what are we supposed to do about this, and how?” Some of you may feel as if your head is already spinning with ideas, plans, and even more questions on how to save every child from hard places. Paul Tough wrote Helping Children Succeed as a continuation of sorts to his previous work, How Children Succeed. In this sequel that we read as a staff over the past several weeks, Tough encouraged us to think in a brand new way about the challenges of childhood, particularly in urban areas. Rather than trying to “teach” skills like grit and self-control, he argues, we should focus instead on creating the kinds of environments, both at home and at school, in which those qualities are most likely to flourish. Mining the latest research in psychology and neuroscience, Tough provides us with insights and strategies for a new approach to childhood adversity, one designed to help many more children succeed. Though filled with in-depth research findings and helpful strategies for teachers, administrators, and parents – those on the front lines, if you will – this book stirred the hearts of every person on the Agape North staff, which is proof that this is an US issue, not a THEM issue.
It may sound trite, but the truth is that we cannot save every child alone. What we can do, however, is 1. Get educated on the situation 2. Find ways to get involved with people already working towards breaking the poverty cycle, and 3. Show up.
1. Get Educated
Helping Children Succeed served as a call to action to our staff – a call to give of ourselves, to step out of our comfort zones and embrace uncomfortable situations to comfort the uncomforted, our most vulnerable – children living in poverty. And we believe that very same call could stir the hearts of all of you: our friends, clients, partners, and supporters.
When faced with the less-than-stellar statistics, some may blame their caregivers, saying something along the lines of “One who doesn’t work doesn’t eat.” Despite popular belief, though, the majority of our nation’s poor earn wages - sometimes multiple jobs to try to make ends meet. This is known as our nation’s “working poor”. The University of Memphis released a report showing that 77.4% of Memphis households bring in some sort of legal, taxable income, apart from any governmental assistance. Yet, still 45% of our children – the “901 Forty-Five” live in poverty. Many factors contribute to this truth, but when it comes to practical, sustainable change, in order to care for our 901 Forty-Five, we have to find ways to care for and partner with their caregivers.
2. Find ways to get involved
We get it – most people don’t have the opportunity to spend the entirety of their days with children in need, and even those who do cannot be expected to heal the hurt in every underprivileged, under-served, under-funded schools. This fact does not, however, disqualify us from doing something to help. Plenty of the schools we partner with are looking for after school tutors, coaches, program volunteers, even story time readers. Cadarius Buckingham, a Agape North friend who works full time for Communities in Schools, offered sage advice from ground zero: “Tough discusses building a community around the child, using the saying we’ve all heard before, “It takes a village to raise a child.” As well intentioned as parents and guardians may be, sometimes they alone aren’t enough. Once a child enters the school system at the age of 5 until he or she graduates high school, they spend most of their time outside their home environment. This is even truer for our children living in poverty. Remember, their parents work - some at traditional 9-5 jobs, some working multiple jobs nontraditional part-time or full-time jobs. Sometimes, school aged children who live in poverty may only see their parents or guardians for 2-4 hours a day. That means some 12+ waking hours they are in the community – at school, an after-school program, or neighborhood community center. These are the places P. Tough suggests we implement research driven tactics to assist our kids in navigating life.”
Cadarius brings up a brilliant point: most underprivileged kids are spending a majority of their days outside of their homes – which means during these hours, they belong to the community. Which is why Agape North strives to empower our community to meet students where they are – their schools – and go the extra mile to provide children with tangible, often life-changing resources in the form of a school uniform. When our partners come to a donation event, they get to spend precious one-on-one time with children in under-served communities, which is no small thing. But let’s take it a step further..
3. Show up
When you come to a donation event with Agape North, that’s all we ask that you do – show up. These events are never a “hand out” – they are a hang out. It is true that many of the students we see on a regular basis face immense challenges, but at a donation event you can offer something we all long for: connection, friendship, and our most precious resource: time.
When we recognize need, look for ways to help, and show up, we can make an impact. Let’s do better, together.
Account Manager, Agape North