Community Comment

Dream Center lends a hand to children who need help

The banner headline in the June 13 Courier & Press reads, "Hoosier kids landing in jail," and the story reports that Indiana ranks sixth in the nation for the rate of children ages 10-15 becoming incarcerated. That information is based on an annual report of U.S. Census data indicating a pronounced increase in incarceration rates for children in this state.

Farther back in the same issue of the paper, another article describes how volunteers and leaders at the Dream Center and other nonprofit charities are less able to address the plight of this community's "at risk" children because of the recent significant increase in fuel prices and transportation costs.

To someone unfamiliar with these children, the typical response might be, "Ho hum, who cares? Let the government do something about it."

To those of us who attempt to establish personal relationships, impart positive moral values and build character in these young children, this indifferent reaction can be demoralizing.

So who are these children, and where do they come from? Why should any of us be concerned about what happens to them?

Let's take a look at Ryan (not his real name), a typical child one might encounter at the Dream Center or some other nonprofit agency dealing with children of poverty.

Ryan is a tall, handsome young boy with fair features and an unblemished chocolate complexion.

He possesses a devastating smile and ample social skills when playing with others, and were he found to have artistic talent that could be cultivated accordingly, he could no doubt become an outstanding professional entertainer someday. But his appealing, almost angelic appearance masks a troubled heart and a seriously damaged psyche.

Ryan frequently crowds the line during mealtime and can sometimes be seen taking and hiding things that are not his. Sometimes, particularly when accompanied by a group of his friends, he demonstrates a lack of respect for authority and intense racial insensitivity. His verbal attacks and defiant attitude can be painful even to adults who are usually pretty thick-skinned.

In church, Ryan is sometimes corrected by adult leaders. If only he were aware of how other people truly care about him and his future.

One evening, when working on a Valentine card to be sent to orphaned children, our little friend required special one-on-one attention simply to complete the task. When finished, he produced an attractive card that some child would be happy to receive, but one was forced to contemplate whether Ryan is able to receive such individualized attention in the public schools.

When he was asked one day about how he does in school, Ryan lowered his eyes to the table with an expression of reluctance. "Don't you like school?" his instructor asked. The reaction was a brief sideways shake of the head and an air of indifference.

One afternoon, speaking with a neighbor of a friend who is a police officer, I mentioned my concern for this child, having recently driven through a neighborhood where I thought Ryan might live. His response was, "Yeah, we are familiar with it. We call it 'Little Havana.'"

So here we see a snapshot an instant profile of one of thousands of children similarly situated here in Evansville, and millions across the United States. He is one of the nearly 11,000 children of poverty enrolled in the local school corporation destined to become little more than statistics amid the mounting numbers of the Indiana Department of Correction and the county jails but for the price of gasoline.

In Mark 10, when Christ was teaching in the region of Judea on the far side of the Jordan River during his final journey to Jerusalem, a small group of children was brought forward amid the crowd, only to be rebuked by some of the disciples.

Jesus scolded them, stating emphatically, "Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not for theirs is the kingdom of God. Verily, I say unto you, he who does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein," and then receiving the children with kindness and love.

The Dream Center is about this very thing bringing young people into a loving environment, identifying dreams in their fertile minds and helping to cultivate those dreams to become realities. We strive to help these young children by giving of our own lives in what little way we can, in an effort to impart positive moral values and character development they may not receive anywhere else.

If ever there was a charity more deserving of an outpouring of support from the wider community at large, I do not know of it. Please, Evansville, help us out so we can share the dream this vision of a better world for our troubled young people.

David Coker is an Evansville freelance writer.