By T. Anthony BellMay 19, 2011
FORT LEE, Va. (May 19, 2011) -The old African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," has become synonymous with America's youth development initiatives, thanks to former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton who used it in the title of her 1996 book.
Clinton's "village" referred to the various entities in the community - next door neighbors, churches, schools, law enforcement, etc. - that played the biggest roles in raising children to be example citizens. Traditionally, military members weren't necessarily included among those ranks because they worked and lived in stand-alone, self-supportive communities, and the business of national security was assumed to be paramount to all else, including community involvement.
That's no longer the case. Most military members today are recognized as important contributors to the community. They are heralded for their outreach activities that benefit the community at-large, including everything from cleaning up local parks and main highways to donating items to food banks and holiday toy drives.
Fort Lee Soldiers Spc. Rakeem Hosey, Spc. Erica Titues-Cepin and Spc. Brandon Jackson and others exemplify that wave of community spirit. The three, through the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program, have found a cause in the local community for which they have personal connections and reasons to enhance the lives of others. The Hopewell unit of the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Richmond is that cause.
"I come out here because (my childhood) was a lot like many of these kids - I came up in a bad neighborhood," said Hosey, speaking above the shouts of a cheerleader team practice session at the club May 12. "I was part of the Boys and Girls Club (in Chicago), and we didn't have people to come out and do stuff with us."
Hosey, a Soldier with nearly three years of military service, is one of about eight BOSS members who visit the club weekly during after-school hours to do "stuff" with the patrons. The facility, a World War II-era structure located roughly five miles from Fort Lee on North 12th Avenue, has more than 150 members from first graders to teenagers, mostly from low income and working class families.
"The Boys and Girls Club is a big part of the community," said its director, Wanda Martin. "We are an after-school program so parents don't have to worry about their kids being in the streets. It is also a place where they participate in positive activities like life skills training and ballroom dancing. The kids always have a place here."
Soldiers help to support that place and the community by helping the kids with homework, participating with them in sports and games and, more importantly, providing a positive in-the-flesh influence.
"I think our presence makes a big difference," said Hosey, who is dressed in street clothes to blend in. "Depending on the environment kids grow up in, and I'm not saying all these kids come from bad environments, it's always good to see people who are doing something positive with themselves, making an honest living, working and getting paid. Where I grew up, we had drug dealers and gang members. Not everybody worked. It's good to see somebody who does the right thing and is doing the right thing."
Not far from where Hosey is standing, a fellow Soldier is aimlessly running among a crowd of 30 giddy young girls. She is playing tag and giving piggyback rides with such a youthful and playful spirit that she could be mistaken for one of the club members. Titues-Cepin said the girls need to know someone cares.
"I need to show them some type of affection, something different than what they might be growing up with," said the Fort Worth, Texas native.
Titues-Cepin, like Hosey, said she is motivated by what she lacked.
"It makes me just want to give back," she said, "knowing what I didn't have, I can actually give to somebody else."
It was obvious that Titues-Cepin was giving the girls more than piggyback rides; she was giving them her heart. They seemed to have a sense that she cared beyond the moment and constantly swarmed around her, competing for her attention. She seemed built for the role of a nurturing big sister.
"It actually feels great," said the 23-year-old about her involvement with the club. "It makes my day feel a lot better, makes my month go by smoothly and makes me feel like I'm doing something."
Like Titues-Cepin, Jackson is completely comfortable at the club. Clutching a football and anxious to engage the guys in a pickup game, he said the club is a perfect fit for his ambitions to play out his childhood - as an adult.
"They see me as another kid," he said with a smile. "I'm not going to lie. I get out here and run around with them. I'm a grown kid; that's all it is."
Jackson also shares the desire of seeing children grow up in a nurturing environment unlike the Tulsa, Okla., neighborhood where he was raised.
"When I was a kid, it was a little hard to play outside," he said. "There were things I saw that I wasn't supposed to see. Programs like these are great for the community. I love them."
And Martin loves the Soldiers. She said she has others who volunteer at the facility and the volunteers are an important asset to the operation, but Soldiers bring something different to the volunteer table.
"What's unique is their enthusiasm when they come in," she said. "They are so happy when they come in. They just have this spirit like, 'Yeah! We're going to have fun!'"
Martin said the enthusiasm is a quality closely connected to passion, and the kids are good at recognizing it as the real thing.
"Our kids have good instincts," she said. "They know who cares, and I think they know the Soldiers care."
Maybe it's something as simple as making time for a kid that makes all the difference, especially if that someone wears a uniform and espouses hard work, dedication, selfless service and integrity - all values of good citizenship. Martin said the Soldiers have had an impact, enough to make them part of the "village."
"It's really been a blessing for the Soldiers to come and help," she said. "It's something the kids look forward to each week, and it lets them know that someone really cares."