Glimmer of hope

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Every now and then, a story about kids makes me snap to attention. One recently had to do with “zero tolerance.”

Several middle school students were expelled last fall for violating the zero tolerance policy. I haven’t got the full story and so dare not draw conclusions. The kids apparently did some very bad deeds.

But is being out of school, at loose ends, day after day for months likely to improve their attitudes and decrease the chances they’ll do something wrong again – and again and again?

Reckless behavior – including sexual activities in public places – among young teenagers are out there, too. I think our River Valley community, and that goes for me, too, needs to pay a whole lot more attention to the young among us.

There are far, far too many obese children and young adults here, everywhere in the United States. What can be done to change the numbers? And whilst I’m worrying and fretting, here, how appalling is the kids’ style of dress!

Young, very young, women with, as a family wag put it, their “escutcheons” on above pants so tight as to beg for the corsets and girdles of yore. We worked hard for women’s liberation only to return 25 years later to woman as sex objects?!

William Sloan Coffin – remember him? – died last week, age 81. Chaplain at Yale University, activist, his influence on this country in the 1960s and ’70s is impossible to measure. His activism motivated many, mostly young, men and women to protest war in Vietnam.

What a time! Burt deFrees once said the ’60s were the best decade in all American history, and in some ways he was right. But, as we teased him, those times looked a lot cleaner and sweeter viewed from North Rumford than on the Boston Common.

Listening to excerpts from NPR interviews with Coffin, in 1985 and in 1994, I was struck, not by his political voice, but by his faith: his love, his tolerance and his hope.

Coffin said something like this: I am not optimistic about our country, our world, because there is too much evidence that all is not well. But my heart is full of hope. And that’s important: if you have no hope, you cannot persist in the work of changing the evidence.

His powerful declarations should figure in our thinking about our young people here in the River Valley. For all the risk-taking, overeating, drugging, underage drinking, bawdy sexual dress, sexual abuse, neglect – all that adds up to pessimism, our hearts can hope for them.

Here’s just one little glimmer: Next Saturday, April 22, is Earth Day.

Beginning at 10 a.m. that day, a group of River Valley kids, organized by Bethel Inn and Country Club’s telemarketer Rachel Childs and Mountain Valley Middle School’s Joan Turtolette will be cleaning up Mexico’s Rec Park.

This is the third year that Earth Day has been actively recognized here, thanks to Childs. “What’s great about the project,” Childs told me, “is that the kids who participate probably don’t socialize at school.” Some are kids, she went on, who have problems in school or at home.

Exhausted at the end of last year’s project cleaning up Rumford’s DARE park, the students “felt proud to do something for the town,” and town leaders came by to meet and thank them. Earth Day projects are also, Childs said, a way to give kids the message: This is your world, too, and you can help take care of it.

I’m going to keep an an eye out for those glimmers of hope for our young people. Please do likewise and let me know about them. We need to pay more attention!

Linda Farr Macgregor lives with her husband, Jim, in Rumford. She is is a freelance writer and author of “Rumford Stories.”

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