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King: Christmas now past, let's help kids all year long
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Christmas is over. All the celebrations and good feelings will end New Year's Day with bowl games and a few New Year's resolutions. Then it's back to the same-old same-old. Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, there's a very good chance you contributed to either a food drive or one of the many programs that provides Christmas gifts for underprivileged children.

Now what?

This is more or less the question asked in a recent letter to the editor by Devidyal Givens on Dec. 12, "Why do we care about the poor from Thanksgiving until Christmas and forget about them the rest of the year."

Good question, but it's sort of like those New Year's resolutions. We mean well. We watch our diet, we go to an exercise class, but in a few weeks we're back exactly where we were before the holidays.

Recently, The Times ran a story about a yearly celebration at the Flowery Branch High School. Students banded together with CASA (court-appointed special advocates for children) to "adopt" children for the day and shower them with gifts. The article said each child had a minimum of $150 spent on him or her. Of one particular boy, the marketing education teacher said, "We loaded him up."

As a CASA volunteer in White Country, this was the first I had heard about the celebration. I read the article with mixed feelings. CASA does some amazing things for children who, for whatever reason, usually neglect or abuse, fall into the court system. CASA volunteers not only spend their time and energy helping these kids, they spend a good bit of their own money as well.

CASA deserves all the publicity and commendations it can get, but I was upset by the feel-good, materialism of this story.

What wasn't addressed at the high school celebration was the rest of the year. Two school organizations, a marketing club and the student council, coordinated the gift collection. I'm sure the weeks of preparation impressed upon these young people the importance of community service.

The students were learning to think about others less fortunate than themselves, but was anybody looking at the causes of poverty and neglect? Was anybody encouraged to look for long-term solutions?

Too big a problem for high school kids, you may say. I beg to differ. Our teenagers are smart and innovative. They can look at a system and understand how it works, or fails to work. Sometimes they can see solutions their elders miss simply because kids are too young to be discouraged by traditionalists and naysayers.

Here's a problem I've been wrestling with recently. High school kids ought to be good at this: How do you get a cheap car and keep it running. In my role as a CASA, I've learned how dependent poor people are on a car. It's a Catch-22 situation. Without a car, there is almost no way to hold down a decent job. Without a job, there is almost no way to save for a car.

When I was a teenager, high schools taught things like shop and auto mechanics. Apparently they don't any more, but I've got the feeling that our young people already know something about cars. A class or automotive club might do something similar to the Habitat people. With a little help from a professional, a group of kids might find old clunkers and get them running well enough to get someone to and from work.

There may be all kinds of reasons why this wouldn't work, liability being one of them, but this is the kind of challenge young people might tackle if they thought about helping the poor for the whole year instead of a few days around Christmas. This is something various service organizations could sponsor if they want to work with young people.

The first step in putting people to work is getting them there.

Joan King is a Sautee resident whose column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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