While at a memorial service a few months ago, waiting in the lobby to say my goodbyes, I saw a sign that made me smile. A very simple statement that, at first glance merely referred to the situation at-hand, but the more I thought about it, its significance grew deeper.

Please tend to your children.

Personally, I’m not one for bringing children under the age of 10 to a funeral or memorial service. My mother frequently reminds of the time I ceremoniously tap danced up and down the church aisle and around my Great Aunt Ruth’s casket during her funeral service. Not wanting to throttle me in public, my mother waited for the best time to grab me and quickly take me outside of the church where I was most likely spanked and threatened within an inch of my life if I ever did it again. Of course I don’t remember any of this but my mother swears it’s true.

Now that I am a mother myself, I realize that Karma is just waiting to bite me in the butt for all the trouble I caused, so to be safe, I leave my son at home. But there are other folks who feel differently. So the sign in the funeral home lobby is a necessity. It reminds everyone to watch their kids and make sure they are on their best behavior. No running, screaming, throwing things or tap dancing around the casket while the choir sings Amazing Grace.

However, while driving home later that night, I thought more about that sign and its meaning took on a whole new significance to me. I began thinking about it in regards to children as a whole. It made me think about the children who have no one to “tend” to them.

I thought about the children who are growing up too quickly, having to take care of substance-addicted parents who can barely take care of themselves, much less anyone else. I thought about the parents who would rather be friends with their kids than authority figures. I thought about the parents who struggle to make ends meet by working 2 or 3 jobs while their kids are home alone or running the streets. I thought about the parents so consumed with their own lives that they don’t even realize when they’re kids are at home.

As I continued to think about these kids, I got sadder and sadder. My heart goes out to them. But what can be done to “fix it”. All the parenting classes in the world won’t do a bit of good if no one signs up to take them. If a single mom needs to work 2 jobs in order to pay the rent and buy groceries, no one can expect her to have time to sit and help with homework or talk with her kids about what happened that day. She’s working to keep her family together. But by doing that, her kids are left alone with no adult supervision to ensure they are safe or doing what’s right. It’s a catch 22. Financially, she can’t afford to be at home and as a parent, she can’t afford not to be there. So what happens?

That’s where community after-school programs come in. With wonderful organizations such as the YMCA, Neighborhood Centers, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Houston and the Child Care Council of Greater Houston, Houston area kids have the opportunity to be cared for, nurtured and tended to. There is no reason for them to walk through their childhood years alone. There are people in our community who are willing to put in the extra work to make sure every child is given the chance to succeed.

We’ve all heard stories about the teenager who fell in with the wrong crowd, ran the streets and ended up dead as a result of being in the wrong place and the wrong time. It’s a heartbreaking tragedy that happens all too often. A young life, full of promise, is snuffed out. And we all think, “How sad!” But we quickly move on to other things thinking the problem is too big for us to solve.

“I’m just one person…what can I do to help?” The answer is surprisingly easy.

1.       Volunteer a couple hours every month and be a mentor for a child in need. Help them with their homework, ask them about their day, take them to one of the many outstanding museums we are lucky to have, be the positive role model they so desperately need in their lives. All it takes is a few hours of your time.

2.       Donate to a local nonprofit organization that offers quality after-school programs. Here are links to the few I mentioned above.

a.       YMCA – www.ymca.org

b.      Neighborhood Centers – www.neighborhood-centers.org

c.       The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Houston – www.bgclubs-houston.org

d.      Child Care Council of Greater Houston- www.cccghi.com

In this day and age, funding for nonprofit organizations is hard to come by. Programs are being cut because there is no money to fund them. When programs are cut, the children attending these programs are cut as well. Your donation could save a program and in turn, save the life of a child. All donations, big and small, are a tremendous gift. You don’t have to be a Rockefeller to make a difference.

3.       Take time to notice and respond to any red flags you see in a child’s behavior. Maybe it’s the kid who lives across the street or a classmate of your son or daughter. If you think there’s something wrong, go with your gut. Get involved. Don’t feel like it isn’t your place. Too many times a child could be saved from a horrible situation if someone acted on their instincts and got involved. If you’re really uncomfortable, make an anonymous call to someone….anyone. Don’t just turn your head and tell yourself it’s not your problem. It is your problem. It’s all of our problem. Remember, it’s takes a village.

You can be there for children who have no one. It’s important to the future of our society. Today’s children will be leading the country when you and I are old and gray. And I’d feel a whole lot better if I knew our future leaders had a strong foundation that they’ve built their lives upon.