Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rooting for the Underdog

A little over 20 years ago (where did the time go?) I was contracted in Franklin County, PA to develop volunteer services for that area. My job was to market, promote and help place volunteers in the various county run and non-profit organizations in both Franklin and Fulton Counties. It was a very humbling experience. So many programs and projects were underway and I met the most amazing people. From the Chamber of Commerce, the Red Cross, Area Agency on Aging, March of Dimes, Easter Seals, Drug and Alcohol, Crisis Center, Exchange Club, Lions Club, Kiwanis, Junior Women's Club, Family Services, the Hospitals and so many more.
Most of us are totally unaware of how many people in our communities are serving everyday. While the causes are all worthwhile and needed, one touched my heart more than all the rest. It offered the greatest promise, the greatest challenges, the greatest rewards and also the greatest dangers. It was the Exchange Club's Parent/Child Center. Volunteers train to become mentors for parents who are at risk - most often single mothers who are stressed, uneducated and in need of mom's themselves. It's a huge commitment and often the result of a referral from Children and Youth services.
I'm one of those people - and I know there are many of us - who love to see a story about someone overcoming adversity. I saw that with the Parent/Child Center and having been intimately involved, I understand the many sacrifices it took by many people to see the success. I remember the ones who didn't make it. I remember the frantic calls in the night with a crisis that threatened to tip the balance the other direction. And I remember some that tipped the wrong direction on those frantic nights.
One young woman had 5 children to 5 different fathers. She was faltering. Someone "in the system" believed she had a chance. She was referred to the program and matched with a volunteer. That volunteer promised 2 years of her life to mentor that young woman. By the time I left the area, that young woman not only graduated from the program but earned an Associate Degree and had become a Parent/Child Center volunteer herself.
We cannot know who is going to make it and who is not. The best we can do is provide opportunity for someone to begin to make the right decisions. THEY need to make the right decisions. Sometimes they need someone to guide them toward those decisions.
I will always root for the underdog when I know they are truly working to overcome adversity. We cannot let adversity become an excuse for not doing the right things. It's a great balance we all face. When it comes together - combined energies - it grows like a a perfect wave and we can all ride it through to the shore. 20 years later, I still remember one underdog who rode the wave, and all the people who helped create that wave.

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