The Disney channel is often on in my house, since I have three young girls. And I will admit there are times that no one is in the room and I find myself watching one of the shows before realizing what I am doing! The shows often have outspoken and sharp-witted children, and if parents are present they are usually only fodder for the children, and you never really know who is parenting who.
One of my girls’ favorites involves four children (some presumed adopted) left in the care of a nanny and a butler as their parents travel the world. They are so happy, having adventures in NYC and having no sign of concern or troubled behavior even though their parents have basically abandoned them. Anyone who has ever provided care to a foster child knows that life is not easy and carefree for these children. Another favorite show in our house stars a family with five children ranging from teens to infants. There is never a mess in the house, and they enjoy spending all their time together. Obviously not reality TV.
I’m glad my girls think life is as simple as these shows; they have a blessed life. But having worked in social services professionally and in volunteer roles for 25 years, I have met many in our community who struggle every day. I’ve sat beside the young woman who feels so much pain she harms herself, talked with the mom who went from a ‘normal’ life to one filled with depression and fear, and cared for the young man who ended his life because he thought no one cared. I know families who have faced job loss or a health crisis that has turned their world upside down. I’ve cooked for the homeless person who was craving dignity and a new chance at life much more than the food they received. I’ve gone into prisons and felt confined, even knowing I could walk out at any time. And every day as I drive home from work I see the girls who are selling themselves to support their addictions, or have become addicted because they have to sell themselves to support their families. These are real people living among all of us, often unnoticed or judged.
But what inspires me in spite of the pain I’ve seen is two things. The first is how ordinary Americans, rich and poor, reach out to help those in need. Every day I have the privilege of seeing people I don’t personally know give to United Way. Sometimes it’s $25, sometimes it’s $25,000, and it amazes me. People give to help those they never meet. And volunteers step up every day and give their personal time and expertise for the same reasons. This philanthropy builds our community much more than anything our government can ever do.
The second thing that inspires me is that often the person I’ve met who is struggling in life still finds hope, appreciates those who have reached out, and always has something to teach me about perseverance. I would not be the professional, the wife, the mother that I am today without being shaped by all those who have shared their lives with me.
I hope my girls never face these challenges; I want nothing more than for them to be safe, happy and loved just like the characters on their favorite TV shows. But if they ever do come face-to-face with unexpected turbulence, I know there are people out there who will support them, helping to carry them through the tough times. That’s what drives me to do the work I do, connecting people’s aspirations to those looking for hope for a better tomorrow.
I guess I’ll go turn the TV off now, no one else is in the room.
Chief Executive Officer
United Way of Western Connecticut