Last week I attended my first synodical convention. It was in Nebraska. I had a wonderful time and I met lots of bold women of faith. On the last evening, I sat between two women—both of them were in their 60s or 70s. One was knitting dishtowels for her niece who is going away to college; the other woman was sitting quietly. We got to talking about cell phones, which led us to a conversation about raising children today. I mentioned that neighborhoods have changed since my childhood. In the 1980s, we didn’t have cell phones and we ran around and played outside until the street lights came on. We were constantly busy playing. If we were not attending an after-school sport or club or hanging in church, we were playing in the yards of the neighbors our parents knew. It’s a shame that is no longer the case.
My husband and I live down the street from a middle school and I constantly see 12- and 13-year-olds hanging out, unsupervised, with nothing to do after school. Their parents are working full-time and not home. My husband started finding discarded plastic bags with marijuana seeds and stems in them when he walks around the block to take our dog out. Nobody in the neighborhood knows each one another. Tenants move in and out with such a high turnover, that it is impossible to keep track of our neighbors. And the kids that attend that middle school hang out until late in the evening, well after dark. The churches around the school appear to be closed after school, aside from a UCC church that offers after school piano lessons. The Boys and Girls Club in this neighborhood is a long 20-minute walk away.
I told the Nebraska women that I am especially worried about these 12- and 13-year-old girls. I’m afraid that by the time they get to high school it will be too late. Would they end up in gangs? Would they get pregnant and not finish high school?
The woman who was knitting said, “Well, why you don’t you start an after-school program or talk to the people in your neighborhood?” I replied, “Uh, yeah.” Good idea. A very good idea, one that I am embarrassed did not occur to me prior to this conversation. Sure, I was worried and I felt bad for these kids, but it never occurred to me to do something.
Fortunately, an active unit of Women of the ELCA could start something for these girls through our Seed Grants program. These grants are part of our health initiative, “Raising Up Healthy Women and Girls,” and a women’s group could be awarded up to $1,000 for a project that can improve the health of women and girls in their community. I plan to use my networks in the neighborhood, especially my church, to start working on this.
After that conversation in Nebraska I feel blessed to have been in the presence of such bold Lutheran women. Women of the ELCA are bold women of faith who teach me about taking action.
Elizabeth McBride is the director for Intergenerational programs and editor of Café.