In Our Children's Interest
Summer 2005 Trust Magazine
Adolescents, younger children and the generations to follow are our country’s future. Will they be prepared? That will depend not only on how their own talents and skills are nurtured but also on the kind of world they enter when it is their turn to lead. As adults, we cannot disappoint in our responsibility to nurture their strengths, help them through their vulnerabilities and leave them a better planet than we inherited.
In serving the public interest, the Trusts has always included the upcoming generations as a crucial part of the equation. The stories in this issue describe projects that vary in theme, subject area, approach and goals. Yet they all address timely problems of our day—and our shared successes in facing these challenges will directly affect tomorrow, when our nation’s most important resource, its youth, graduates into leadership positions.
It may well be, as Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, that “all life is an experiment,” but when the subject is teenagers—experimenters by nature—and alcoholic beverages, then we have a volatile mix, one that robs too many young people of their rightful future. Finding ways to address that toll is a “collective responsibility,” as the Institute of Medicine (IOM) 2003 report Reducing Underage Drinking stated.
The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), a project of Georgetown University supported by the Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, focuses on lowering the exposure of young people to alcohol advertising. CAMY highlights advertising practices by examining the very sorts of data that the alcohol industry uses to determine where to place its ads.
Its findings—that vast amounts of alcohol advertising persistently reaches youth—have been a welcome resource for policy makers, associations and community coalitions answering the IOM’s call. In 2003, the alcohol industry itself announced that it was tightening its voluntary advertising code—“a step forward,” said Jim O’Hara, CAMY’s executive director, but “it still does not offer adequate public health protection for our children.”
The volunteer-based social program called Amachi takes its name from the West African term for “Who knows but what God has brought us through this child?”—a wonderful expression of hope and potential. Amachi addresses children of about five to 12 years of age who spend a portion of their youth with an enormous strike against them: One or both of their parents are in prison. John DiIulio, the University of Pennsylvania professor who had the original idea for Amachi, says that many of these children live in “moral poverty,” which he defines as “the poverty of being without loving, capable, responsible adults who teach you right from wrong.” Indeed, these children are five times more likely than other high-risk peers in their poor neighborhoods to end up in prison themselves.
Working through churches, Amachi matches these youngsters with adults who volunteer as mentors—importantly, not as ersatz parents (indeed, the imprisoned parents, who most often fear that they will be displaced, must give Amachi permission to enroll their child), but as people who give the children adult companionship for a few hours a week. The mentors offer counsel and perhaps help with homework, and they take the children to places like non-fast-food restaurants or the beach, familiar locales for most of us but often first visits for the children.
Amachi began in Philadelphia, but with some two million American children who have a parent in prison, the need is national. Mentoring-children-of-prisoners programs, some based on Amachi, exist in 49 states and the District of Columbia, supported by private funds and a public commitment of nearly $60 million.
If our future leaders are going to solve the environmental problems of their era, they will more likely have a fighting chance if we, right now, begin to alter the course of wilderness degradation that increasingly afflicts our planet. Most people want a robust environment, yet the facts show that the Earth’s biodiversity is threatened with the potential destruction of up to 50 percent of existing species. There are a number of causes, but habitat loss is high on the list—and, with action, remediable. The world’s healthiest and most environmentally important remaining areas are large, undeveloped wilderness tracts; these should be a top conservation priority.
That is the goal of the Canadian Boreal Initiative, a Trusts-supported project of Ducks Unlimited. This effort promotes land protection and sustainable development throughout the 1.4 billion acres of the Canadian boreal forest, and the partners to this plan are conservationists, First Nations and industry—an unusual union of people resources dedicated to the protection of natural resources.
In different ways, these projects are entrepreneurial experiments requiring new ways of thinking to solve complex problems. Innovative ideas and ardent work are well-embedded qualities of the American character. We can best assure that our children, the people resources of the future, continue this legacy if they have the opportunity to grow up healthy in a healthy world.