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Fr. L. Scott Donahue is President and CEO of the Mercy Home for Boys & Girls.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sharing Solutions: the Crisis of Youth Violence

My coworkers and I at Mercy Home for Boys & Girls  like to say that we provide a solution for kids in crisis. We do. I see it every day as my coworkers draw upon every ounce of compassion and creativity within them to help troubled children change.

These are kids who have had their hearts and their trust broken by adults over and over again. They come to us from environments long on violence and short on opportunity. They come from the same places we hear about on TV news each evening, when we are told of another senseless shooting.

No wonder so many come to us years behind in school. No wonder so many struggle with behavior. No wonder so many may once have acted as though tomorrow just didn’t matter.

And yet every day, on the faces of these kids, I witness the birth of hope. At Mercy Home, I see my coworkers break through these kids’ defenses with two very simple, very important messages—“I care,” and “tomorrow matters.”

We piece together a bond with each young person in our care—one interaction, one conversation, one encouraging word at a time. We’re often rebuffed. But we’re persistent. We’re patient. And at some point during each child’s stay with us, a change happens. It’s as if someone flicked a switch. The solution, it’s clear, has much to do with the time an adult gives to a child.

Like all of us I’m saddened when I hear news about children shooting, stabbing, or bludgeoning other children. Then I remember that this is what so many of our kids see with their own eyes before they come to live with us at Mercy Home. They’re traumatized by their exposure to violence in their own neighborhoods, or in their own homes. The crisis of youth violence is widespread and cumulative. And so I have to ask, what more can we all do? Especially now with the end of school and the summer months looming, when this violence spikes, how are we as Catholics of conscience obliged to lead?

My coworkers and I have been reaching out wherever possible, talking with others about how we can keep our kids safe and how some of the lessons we’ve learned in working with kids within a residential environment might also be applied by caring adults anywhere.

Through a letter to a local newspaper, for example, we asked readers to get involved with kids by joining a mentoring program in their communities or by helping out with organizations and activities that give kids safe recreational, work or study opportunities. On our web site we posted a list of tips to keep kids safe this summer. We look for opportunities to explore solutions with other organizations, churches, schools and more. And, we are reaching out to you.

Kids are in crisis. But adults are the solution. And our Catholic community is an outstanding network of adults and groups that can work together to make a big impact. I invite everyone to dedicate time and attention to the crisis of youth violence this summer. I ask that we invite all believers to play a role. I pray that God helps all of us in this work, and that God keeps our children safe.

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