Monday, November 18, 2013

... I dream things that never were; and I say:"'Why not?"

In 1982, my daughter Patricia went to Kenya as a volunteer with Operation Crossroads Africa (OCA). In 1997, my daughter Diana followed suit and volunteered with the Peace Corps in Chad, Africa. It was a life-changing experience for both.

Were the experiences surreal? Yes. Did they struggle? Yes. Did they see the world in a whole new way? Yes.

And I'm incredibly proud of both of them.

They'd heard the clarion call of service. And – perhaps inspired by the words of President John F. Kennedy – they'd declared to themselves, "Other people see things and say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say: 'Why not?'"

American clergyman and humanitarian Dr. James Herman Robinson, while on a three-month trip to Africa in 1954, saw great opportunities for young Americans to help young Africans in need at the grassroots level.

Based on the belief that one can truly enter another culture only by living and working in it, by 1958, he'd established Operation Crossroads Africa (OCA), which aimed to "build bridges of friendship to Africa" by giving volunteers opportunities to serve. Now in its 55th year, the OCA has sent over 11,000 persons to more than 53 countries to establish teacher training programs and to help build water systems, schools, clinics, and orphanages in countless villages. The organization's motto is "make a difference for others, see the difference in yourself."

Instead of just asking himself "Why?" Dr. Robinson had taken it upon himself to find solutions by asking "Why not?"

Inspired by Dr. Robinson, President Kennedy, in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, famously said, "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." With Congress's passage of the Peace Corps Act on September 21, his Peace Corps became fully authorized.

His words had stirred a nation into action. Not only had they launched the race to the moon, but they had become the inspiration for the Peace Corps. Since 1961, over 210,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps, volunteering in 139 countries by providing technical assistance and by helping foreigners and Americans understand each other's cultures.

Kennedy, too, had dreamed of things that never were, and had said, "Why not?"

I, too, have a dream. On this 50th anniversary of JFK's death, my thoughts are with my "friends," the special needs children at Frankie Lemmon School in Raleigh, North Carolina.
What are "special needs"?
"Special needs are commonly defined by what a child can't do -- by milestones unmet, foods banned, activities avoided, experiences denied. These minuses hit families hard, and may make "special needs" seem like a tragic designation. Some parents will always mourn their child's lost potential, and many conditions become more troubling with time. Other families may find that their child's challenges make triumphs sweeter, and that weaknesses are often accompanied by amazing strengths." Terri Mauro
Two famous examples of "special needs children" who reached full potential come to mind: Albert Einstein, famed physicist; and Temple Grandin, listed by Time magazine in 2010 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Each had amazing strengths

The mission of Frankie Lemmon has "remained unchanged for 48 years…to help preschool and kindergarten children with special needs achieve their full potential." Eligible children, ages 3-6, rich or poor, can attend the school tuition free, thanks to generous private donations that provide 60 percent of the school's operating funds. (The state provides 40 percent.)

Although my friends are extremely fortunate to have such wonderful teachers and staff to help them reach their full potential, there are many more children who cannot get in.


The answer is simple; there are more requests from parents than the school has openings, and more demands for additional grades. Due to the rise in developmental delays and disabilities, the school has seen an unprecedented demand for their services – and all indicators are saying the problem is only going to get bigger. But the school can't add staff until they have more space. Without additional space, they are unable to hire additional therapists and provide more therapy services.

So, our school has special needs of its own, and the waiting list will continue to grow — unless each one of us can answer the same relevant questions President Kennedy asked us some 50 years ago:
"Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

"Other people see things and say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say: 'Why not?'"
— "Mr. Pat" Simpson, volunteer