Sunday, January 02, 2011

Protecting the Powerless Award of 2010

I received a phone call on Friday morning. It was a week day, but it was my day off for New Year's. I usually ignore unrecognizable numbers on my days off, but I answered anyway, "Hello, this is Janet."

On the other end of the line was a 24 year old guy I met a couple of years ago. His mom lives two streets over from me. We discovered this when I was facilitating an Americorps training he was required to attend. He was surprised that I lived in his neighborhood and knew some of the same guys he grew up with.

When he called, I'm guessing his mom was working on her taxes. He needed someone to write a letter saying that his mom took care of his niece this past year. Though I've talked to him several times over the last couple of years, I don't know much about his family. I had to explain to him that since I didn't know the situation, I didn't feel comfortable writing a letter on our letterhead saying she lived there.

I suppose I could have gone on his word and just written the letter, but I have learned a few lessons along the way. One being, it's not always a good idea to step into something you know nothing about. Even so, it bothers me that I couldn't do something that simple for him.

Situations like his frustrate me because all he needs is someone who can vouch for the fact that his niece is being taken care of by his mother. What his mother is doing is so common in our neighborhood. I've never heard of any official "adoptions" taking place by people in the community, but I know of many who take a child in, despite their own poverty and struggles, to ensure that child has the basic necessities their biological parent can't provide for them at that time.

The people who do this always impress me. They don't ask for anything in return. They usually can't get any food stamps or government assistance for the child despite their own...and the child's...poverty (oftentimes the biological parent could receive it, but they often aren't at a functioning level enough to make it all happen). So much of what that child needs comes straight from the new care taker's pocket...a pocket that has little in it for their own family. Sometimes the child stays for a short time. Other times, their entire life. I think what impresses me so much about the people who take other people's children is that there never seems to be any real contemplation about whether or not they could financially take on an extra mouth to feed. A child needs to be cared for so that they won't enter the "system." Period. End of story. The child enters their home.

So when my friend's mom wants to get what will probably amount to about a $1500 tax credit for this child she has raised all year long, I feel like it's a very small cost to us, the taxpayers, to provide her with that. After all, putting the child in foster care or out on the street may have cost us much, much more in the short term and the long term--financially and otherwise.

It's a hard job. Raising someone else's child means less for your own children. Rationing the money out for everyone in the household means even if there was enough before, extracurricular clubs and activities that would help develop a child and prepare them for college are probably not even considered. And college? I rarely hear that as something a parent has extra money to save for their own child, let alone for a couple of others they've raised along the way.

Last year, as a result of my Christmas gift, The Awe-manac: A Daily Dose of Wonder, and it's suggestion to create annual awards, I created my own. This year as I reflect, the people who take it upon themselves to raise other people's children without any fanfare or recognition deserve to be commended. Thank you for what you do!
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