It all started with six little words said to me by my 4-year-old daughter. These six words changed the course of my life forever. They allowed me to have a glimpse at life through the eyes of a child. Ultimately, these six words, innocently spoken by my daughter, opened my eyes to the importance of making a difference in our communities today. They unlocked a door in my heart that was waiting to be opened for years. Undoubtedly, these six words, a simple question, started a chain of thoughts and inspiration like nothing I have ever encountered in my entire life.
I believe in a future where the vast majority of people give back to their communities, strengthening the neighborhoods they work and live in. I believe this is done by giving everything we have to our children. Our future starts with the very thoughts and actions of our children. They will, one day, be the adults making all the decisions and orchestrating all the change needed to continue making a difference in the lives of others.
I believe that in order to strengthen our communities we must first give our entire focus on positively influencing the lives of our children today. They are the backbone of our communities and our future.
So how do we do this?
We do it through the development and implementation of programs to serve our children within three main pillars to focus on.
Before we discuss this, I want to share this story with you regarding why I feel this way.
A friend of mine asked me the other day-
“Why do you feel so strongly about strengthening our communities?”
“Why do you feel that making a difference in our community starts with our kids?”
I took a step back, looked up at him, and without hesitation I told him this story.
I married in 2006 and we were living in NJ. In 2004, we had bought our first home and shortly after that, I had a failed attempt at flipping an investment property. The education received from that experience was priceless; however, the financial strain was significant and weighed heavily on us. We were blessed to have our first daughter, Grace, in 2011. Seventeen short months later in 2013, we were blessed again to have our second daughter, Liliana. My wife at the time had family in Rhode Island and she always wanted to move closer to them. I had a connection to the Ocean State, completing my undergrad at URI and Rhode Island had always felt like home to me. Lily was just 6 months old and we decided to move the family to RI in search of a better life for them. One year after we moved my wife and I decided to divorce and we began co-parenting our two girls, Grace and Lily, who are now 5 and 6 1/2.
I was preparing dinner with my girls at my apartment one night and my oldest asked me-
“Are you and mommy ever going to live together again?”
I explained to her as I always do that mommy and daddy decided to become good friends and now you girls have two homes, trying to get her excited about that and be positive.
Then she said those six little words that will forever be ingrained in my mind. These six words changed the course of my life forever and started a chain of thoughts and inspiration like nothing I have ever encountered in my entire life. She asked me-
“Daddy, are we still a family?”
Honestly, I had to hold back a tear with that one. I told her-
“Of course we are still a family and me, you, Lily and mommy will always be a family.”
“We just have different houses that we live in.”
Grace was four at the time and I tried to do the best job I could explaining that to a 4-year-old.
That night after I put the girls to bed and read them stories I sat on my couch thinking about that conversation with Grace. I thought, wow, she is only four and already family is an extremely important thing to her and this divorce has no doubt affected her life by dividing her family apart. I said to myself, she still has her mother and myself as her father...we’re her family along with her sister...The logistics are just different regarding where we live and where they divide their time.
Then I had that moment.
That moment that seems to enter your soul and change the course of your thoughts and life forever. My daughters question to me made me think about all the children that don’t have a family or permanent family for that matter.
If she is only four and feels this way, how must other children her age or older feel if they never had a family?
How about if they are in foster care and do not have a permanent family?
What must it feel like for them every day?
Thinking about children that have never had a family made me think further. I began doing research and found that in my home state of Rhode Island, regarding children, the most underfunded human services program in the state, with the largest budget cuts in recent years, is that of Adolescent Mental Health, or Children’s Behavioral Health Services.
You can see this in the state budget at governor.ri.gov/budget.
What is even more upsetting is this - the cut back in funding is not just an issue in Rhode Island, it’s a nationwide occurrence. We have a major problem in this country. Mental health in general is one of the most neglected fields in medicine. A problem that is overlooked on a large scale in our country and has been for some time.
So that made me think: I know there are children that do not have a family. I know there are children that have behavioral health challenges that are not being addressed properly due to lack of funding.
What about the children in our school systems today?
Our teachers are working tirelessly with our children day in and day out.
Therefore, I ask myself –
What can we do to support our teachers as they nurture and guide our children?
How can we make a difference in our schools to support the efforts of our teachers?
You see, teachers do so much more than educate in subjects like math, science and reading. They help shape our children into young adults, teaching them manners and teaching them right versus wrong. In my opinion, and I think you will agree; they have one of the most important jobs in our community.
Hearing my daughter ask, “Daddy, are we still a family?” Those six little words have changed my life forever. Those words, as heart wrenching as they may sound, helped me discover my purpose...my WHY.
It’s why I believe that in order to strengthen the communities of tomorrow we must first give everything we have got, our entire focus, on making a difference in the lives of our children today.
It is why I created these three pillars of impact. The pillars are Foster Care & Adoption, Adolescent Mental Health and Local Elementary and Middle Schools. If we can focus on affecting these three areas, we can change the lives of our children and drastically change our communities for the better.
Our country is being divided right now. I believe many of the problems we are facing now can be fixed in the generations to come if we focus on this - how we raise our children to think about human life and with our children that need a little more help, how we give them the hand up that they so desperately need. It is that simple.
So it all came full circle for me with regard to strengthening our communities and where our greatest impact can be made. First, it is the family unit and making sure our children in foster care and adoption have a fighting chance at having a family. Second, it is making sure our children that have behavioral health challenges get the care they need early so that they can be contributing members of our society. Third, it is making sure our teachers get the support they need in our schools so that they can focus on making our children great students and individuals.
It is important to understand this. Our future starts with the thoughts and actions of our children. They will, one day, be the adults making all the decisions and orchestrating all the change.
So what does the strong community of tomorrow look like?
Well, it is simple...it depends on what we do today to shape our children into the adults and leaders of tomorrow.
Our Journey Begins Now
I thank you for joining me on this journey. I believe that right now there has never been a greater need for us to come together as a country. To break down the walls that divide us as a nation and give birth to a new age, one that focuses on our children, creating a path for them where they can all successfully become contributing members of society. If we work together and fight for our children then one day our children will fight for us when we need them most.
I think most people sit back and think or feel as though our problems in America today are too large to handle. So why do anything? I believe many people think -
“What can I possibly do by myself that will make a difference?”
Here is the thing: If you think that something is unattainable or cannot be done, you have already assured yourself to be right and you definitely will not accomplish what you set out to do. Another thing is this...You can do a lot by yourself to make a difference if you simply believe and think that you can. More importantly though, we can do a lot TOGETHER to make a difference and create change in this great nation of ours.
How do we get there?
The journey that we are about to embark on will not be quick for there are no shortcuts. It is not one that will be easy, for we have big mountains to climb. It is also not for the faint at heart for we will have many challenges and battles to fight along the way. This is a journey that will last a lifetime and if we go forth together, I can assure you no one will be able to stop us. Again, I thank you for joining me and I hope Chasing A Difference inspires you in some way to take action in your local community.
Our children need us now more than ever before and our Country needs us now more than ever before. If we break down the walls that divide us and focus our efforts on the lives of our children I assure you, we will create the America we all dream about. We will also give our children the greatest gift in the world - a country free of hatred and bigotry. A country where communities support one another and come together to teach and learn from one another. A country where faith in humanity is restored and once again we have a government that is of the people, by the people and for the people.
One final note
This book is not designed to have all the answers. It is designed to inspire ideas that can be implemented within our communities throughout the country. It has taken some specific core areas to focus on and created a blue print to build upon. It was written as the beginning of a movement. A movement greater and bigger than all of us individually. At the center of this movement, our most precious resource, our children. We cannot neglect them anymore and we owe it to them to think, implement and create change in our most precious asset, our Country.
We all have a vision of what we want this country to be like. We all have a vision of the type of communities we want our children to grow up in and live in when they have families of their own. I do not have all the answers as I said before, but I can promise you this...TOGETHER we have many of the answers. I also promise you that if we come together we will figure this out and we will be unstoppable. Thank you for joining me.