In these troubled times when it is easy to feel negative about so much, and when the tendency of many is to retreat into themselves and dwell on their own fear of the future, I'd like to offer a word of praise and gratitude to our children.
What a wonderful example of strength, enthusiasm and caring is being set by the young people of America! Even as recently as a couple of years ago, would anyone have guessed that this new generation would — could — so admirably lead the way?
Their potential was apparent during the presidential campaign, when hundreds of thousands of youths, many not even old enough to vote, got passionately interested in the outcome of the race. It doesn't matter which of the candidates they supported. They read voraciously, posted their opinions to Internet forums, attended rallies, sent their allowances off to campaigns and signed up as campaign volunteers. They cared.
But it isn't just politics firing up the young. As adults in this nation have retreated from community involvement, youths have been stepping up. Some of the growth in numbers may be because of requirements by high schools and colleges that teens demonstrate community involvement to qualify for scholarships or entrance to college. But young people as a group also seem to have a growing social conscience. The signs are everywhere: blood-drive buses, sometimes two or three, parked outside high schools; teenage volunteers running cash registers at thrift stores operated by charities; youth-initiated projects to raise money to send to faraway places like Darfur; youngsters handing out donated food at food banks and participating in charitable walk-a-thons.
Only a Grinch would not be touched by the gesture of 7-year-old Megan Maguire of Belleair, who was the subject of a story in the St. Petersburg Times last week. For a year, she did chores around the house for nickels and quarters, and dropped the money into her bowling ball bank. This month, she counted it and had $131. She donated every penny to the RCS Food Bank in Clearwater to buy baby food.
Megan, her mother, Amy, and her 5-year-old sister, Molly, volunteer at the food bank, which often struggles to stock enough baby food and infant formula. Megan understood the need and willingly put some of the burden for filling it on her own small shoulders.
Speaking of assuming burdens, consider the Boy Scouts of Troop 404, who agreed to take on the big responsibility of cleaning up litter and maintaining landscaping in the 33-acre Largo Central Park Nature Preserve, sparing the local government the costs of doing so during these times of tight revenues.
And there is 8-year-old Madison Burns of Palm Harbor. Last year she saw a segment on The Oprah Winfrey Show about a project to collect warm pajamas for needy children and decided it was something she could do on her own. She sent e-mails to friends and relatives and put donation boxes in local fire stations. She collected 200 pairs of pajamas and called it "the happiest day of my life."
There are thousands of stories like these repeated in communities all over America, and at their core is a child or teen who had the interest and the heart to do something to help.
Today, on Christmas Day 2008, let's not forget to be glad for the blessing of our children. It is one reason we can look to the future with hope.
Diane Steinle's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org