ONE SUCCESSFUL Washington professional will not soon forget the words uttered by the boy he had volunteered to meet for an hour every Thursday to help with his homework. "You're here again," the boy said, "Will you be here next week too?" The man had begun to understand the insecurities of youths who have few responsible adults in their lives, and he said he would continue to come for as long as the boy wanted. Reassured, the boy smiled and brought out his homework assignment.
In Washington in recent years there has been an outpouring of such efforts on behalf of the city's most disadvantaged young boys and girls. Some of the area's most affluent residents have adopted entire classes in certain schools, guaranteeing them the funds that they will need to attend college. Businesses and government agencies have "adopted" schools, adding resources and bringing in dozens of employees who act as tutors and mentors. Other organizations act as surrogate parents who provide guidance, support, advice and opportunity. Unfortunately, the demand for such volunteers still far exceeds the number of youths in need.
You don't have to be a millionaire to take a child to a museum or to some other event. You don't have to have great amounts of free time in order to devote one hour a week to tutoring. That's because the value of these efforts often comes from simply being there, on a regular basis, for a child.
Unfortunately, many D.C. schools still lack such assistance. Many principals still feel too burdened by the daily requirements of their job to reach out to the communities that surround them, and they sometimes ignore the few adults who have volunteered their time. But if every school had such a plan, if every business or congregation or civic group not yet involved decided to devote some measure of its resources and time, more youths could gain useful guidance and support.