Daniel - 12 Years Later PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sam Skillern   

Daniel was the first kid I met when I showed up at Grant school's gym in 1996. I was part of a daring experiment: Could large pods of church people volunteer at a public school and not mess up?

Churches helping schools is commonplace today. Twelve years ago, many people thought it was illegal. How far we have come! And kids like Daniel are testament to the value of church-school partnerships in our neighborhoods.

Daniel was a sweet-spirited first-grader when we shot hoops during that first "Fantastic Friday" in Grant's gym. And yet, statistically, he was at high risk of struggling in life, being wooed by the gangs and dropping out of school. Indeed, as I watched Daniel grow up, these theoretical risks became real-life threats.

But every time he hit a crossroad, he had a "family of neighbors" who cared. When schoolwork was tough, his mentor cheered him on. When mom or dad lost a job, Salem Alliance Church provided food, furniture and friendship. When the gangs came calling, his soccer coach ran interference. When his friends tempted him toward drugs or sex, he called one of his neighborhood role models for strength.

It was sweetly poetic last June as I stood on the basketball court at the Salem Armory. Twelve years after meeting Daniel in the gym at Grant school, I was watching with tears as he proudly graduated with the North High Class of 2008. In January, he starts at Chemeketa Community College.

Scores of Daniel's schoolmates joined gangs, got arrested or dropped out. If only they, too, had a "family of neighbors" who cared.

Programs are wonderful. But it is ordinary people who make the biggest impact. We just need more good neighbors to share the gift of time.

This morning, there are thousands of Daniels waiting for someone to shoot hoops. To read together. To have lunch once a week.

You don't have to drive across town to serve. There are close to 100 neighborhood sites — schools, youth programs and churches — where volunteers can impact a kid for life. And vice versa.

If the warm and wonderful news of Daniel's graduation (instead of gangs) hasn't persuaded you to get involved, perhaps the cold economics will. Would you rather have a college graduate paying taxes, or an inmate costing $50,000 a year? It's a slam dunk.

I'm no saint. Just a faithful neighbor who shows up. In history, culture and faith, that consistently proves to be the antidote to life's ills.

Suit up — a Daniel is waiting.

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