They make a difference (a call for good news stories)
On the Bright Side
August 31, 2019
In the early 80s I was Recreation Director for Big Sisters of Marin, which meant I planned and implemented a variety of cultural, educational and recreational activities for the big and little sisters and brothers. Some of our activities included the siblings of the kids in the program, some included their whole families.
Occasionally I would take a little brother or sister to the day's festivities if their own big sister was unable to attend. So it was that I went to pick up 9-year-old Rachael and her younger sister one Saturday morning.
Rachael and her three younger siblings lived in a motel room in San Rafael with their mom. I found the address and parked in front of their door. I got out of my van and approached the door, noticing that the front drapes were shut tight but someone was peeking out a small opening. I knocked on the door and heard furniture scraping and a lot of whispering.
Rachael's mother opened the door and pulled me inside, shutting the door behind me. Rachael was still peeking out the window, but once I was fully inside she dropped the drapes and came and gave me a hug while her mom explained that someone had been shot in the parking lot the night before and they were scared the shooter might come back. They had pushed the dresser in front of the door to feel safer while they slept.
I was as cool and calm as I could manage and invited them all on the field trip to the coast. Mom declined, so Rachael and one of her sisters came outside with me and got in the van for the day's planned tide pooling adventure. The girls were not shy in talking about what had happened the night before but they also managed to have a great time with all the other big and little sisters we spent the day with.
I don't really remember all the details they told me, but I remember vividly how animated and how scared they were at first, and how worried for their mom and sisters left in the room for the day. I also still vividly remember how I felt, and how I kept thinking, wow, I never had to deal with such a thing when I was 9 years old.
At that time I had worked with kids most of my adult life, and I'd never heard such a story from someone I knew, especially someone so young. I'd worked with underprivileged kids before, and with special needs kids – usually in groups or at the pool or in a park where they would go home at the end of the day – but this was somehow a real in-my-face wake-up call. This was a white family in Marin County, supposedly one of California's richest and hippest counties.
I kept wondering how I might have turned out had I gone through the experience of seeing someone shot right outside my window as a youngster, or the fear that it might happen again the next night, or the next. But then, I could not imagine how life must be for a mother and four kids under the age of 10 living in a motel room for any length of time either.
I had a pretty happy and mostly uneventful childhood, but through the years, with experiences like that one, I've learned first hand, over and over again that so many children go through so many horrible things that I never had to worry about. In fact, I know some kids are going through some pretty rough things right now, 35 years later, all over the world and even right here in Tehachapi.
And I also know that today many parents are forced to make unimaginable choices and decisions for their young ones and themselves, and the loving but naïve part of me wonders how on earth we got to this point. Why on earth do we allow such suffering for other human beings when there is enough money and food and resources to go around more than once or even twice? Why do we turn a blind eye or turn away when someone else needs help?
I wonder why so many of us have so much and yet we are okay with so many other people having so little. I sometimes feel so helpless, even as I know there are more good stories out there about people who do make a habit of helping other people. Thank goodness for the women like Barb (Racheal's big sis) who serve and have served as Big Sisters; thank goodness for organizations like Big Sisters and Big Brothers, and so many others. They make a difference.
If you know one or some of those real-life good stories, I would love to hear about them and share them in this column. Some days reality bites and the bad news is all over us and seems overwhelming, but there are always good bits of human kindness to make for a balance, and I'd love to pass on some of those special good stories from you.
© Copyright 2019. Mel White, local writer/photographer and co-owner of the Treasure Trove, has been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996; she welcomes your comments and good stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.