06 October 2013

Covenant House

(My older sister, Jeannie, is one of my role models. She cares deeply about making a difference in this world and always has, even when we were little. As evident by her guest blog, she is passionate about child welfare and she's spent much of her professional life making sure children are protected.-Melinda)

For more than 30 years of my life, I have worked and/or volunteered in the field of child welfare trying to improve and strengthen the lives of children and families dealing with abuse, neglect, poverty, and mental illness. While I am changing careers now to go into hospice work, what I have seen has had a huge effect on me. 
I first became aware of insidious impact of child abuse when I worked with young offenders at a local prison as part of one of my sociology courses at Davidson College. Ostensibly, I was there to help them with their literacy skills, but I really spent time listening and talking with them. While none of them were ever guilty (of course), what amazed me was how many of them had been physically and emotionally abused – called dumb, told they were never wanted and should have been aborted, and beaten so many times. 
From that class, I received a grant to go to a mutli-day workshop on child prostitution. What a surprise: Those kids had all been abused as well. Flash forward several years when I was volunteering at The Samaritans, the suicide hotline in London. Easily over 80% of those calling in had been abused and almost all blamed themselves rather than their abusers, especially when it came to sexual abuse. This led to my leaving my MBA and business world behind and going into social work, and I have never looked back.
What amazes me is how many people are not aware of the how epidemic child abuse is and that is runs through every demographic – rich, poor, every race, intact and nonintact families, etc. People just don’t want to know it. I even taught a sexual abuse awareness class at a church for the Sunday School teachers; they denied that it would ever be an issue in THEIR church (even though statistics show that 1 in 4 girls and boys are abused). I happened to know that they had a convicted pedophile as a member of their congregation and had worked with the minister to put safeguards in place. Yes, it is everywhere. 
I am also amazed at how many men (sorry to rag on you, but it is true) go to underage prostitutes. Don’t believe the crap that they looked old enough (I’m looking at you, Lawrence Taylor!). Most of these johns ask for and want young kids. And let’s quit calling them johns; let’s call them what they are – predators. As one police officer I worked with said, “If we caught a father doing this to his child, we’d arrest him and put him in jail. In these cases, we arrest the victim. What’s wrong with this picture?” And it is so true! I’ve heard people blame the child victim calling him/her a whore. So I ask you, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, “What kind of fresh hell” must these kids be living in their homes if this kind of life is preferable?
So my charity choice is one to which I have donated for over 30 years – Covenant House.  To quote from their website: “Each year in the U.S. alone, as many as 2 million youth experience a period of homelessness, and every year more than 5,000 of these young people lose their lives to the streets. Their hope and promise are lost forever unless they find someone – like Covenant House – to love and care for them. Homeless kids have rights. They have the right to a home ... the right to food ... the right to guidance and an education … the right to be free from sexual, emotional, or physical abuse ... and the right to be free from exploitation. These kids have the right to be safe and – most important – to be loved.” 
A few decades back, Covenant House's founder, Father Ritter, was unfortunately accused of engaging in inappropriate behavior with one of their clients. While the allegations were never proven, he resigned, and the board appointed a new director and instituted a thorough review and system of accountability. I was so impressed with how they handled this situation that I continue to give to this day. 
-Jeannie Newman

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