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A New Year's resolution for our community: responsibility and accountability

By Jim Youngquist

[DEC. 28, 2002]  Well, Christmas is past, and the new year looms large. It's that time of year to measure up the successes and failures of the past and resolve to do better in the coming year by making plans we call resolutions.

As a community we should make resolutions to do better in the coming year.

In 2002, Logan County was rocked by the deaths of so many of our youth that we were moved to prayer. Being humbled, on our knees, is a good place to start.

Much can be accomplished by praying; still more can be added by planning and action.

In talking and listening to the leaders of our community, I have compiled the following list of action steps that we might take together. Consider making them part of your personal or professional resolutions:

Our families

--Make this the year that you talk to your sons or daughters about alcohol, drug and tobacco use. It is never too late to start doing the right thing. Your words of care and concern might be the only thing between them and their death.

--Make this the year that you quit your own drug use, your own tobacco smoking, or moderate your own alcohol intake that you might be a positive example to your children and their friends.

--Make this the year that you spend a more time watching over your children, monitoring their friendships, the places they hang out and the habits they are forming. Teenagers are still children who need our care, counsel and concern. While they remain in our custody we must be the parents and act responsibly for their benefit. Too much misplaced trust or too little parenting may result in their injury or death.


--Make this the year that you become more involved with the people who spend time with your children. Their coaches, their teachers and all the other people who are helping to shape your child's life need your involvement and your input. Your involvement in these activities communicates to your children and these youth leaders that you care.

--Make this the year that you out-think their death or injury. Think about how to wisely restrict their activities to keep them safe, but not encourage rebellion. Be aware of the ploys your children use to try to outwit you. Become conscious of the ways they try to manipulate you, their attempts to bend the truth, and the things and thoughts they are hiding from you. Hold them accountable for their promises and their actions.

Our neighbors

--Make this the year that you take some time to become acquainted with your neighbors and meet their children. It takes an entire community to raise a child, and our responsibility as neighbors extends beyond our own property lines. Ask the parents if it is permissible to report to them if you see their children involved in activities that you think are dangerous or damaging. If they accept your offer, take the initiative to help keep an eye on the youth of your neighborhood. Have the courage to call parents when wrong or dangerous activities are witnessed or suspected.

--Make this the year that we set forth good examples of citizenship to the youth of our community. Being good citizens means acting responsibly regardless of the situation. Being a good citizen and a good neighbor means reaching out to the poor, providing for the sick and homebound, smiling and putting on the best face when times are tough, and setting a good example and a good attitude. The children of today are fast becoming the citizens of tomorrow, and they are watching your every move and listening to your every word.

--Make this the year that you consider forming a neighborhood watch program in your area. Safeguarding your neighborhood is your responsibility too. Call your local police for guidelines and suggestions.


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Our businesses

--Make this the year when profits are not quite as important as caring for our citizens and their children. Consider voluntarily restricting the sale to youth of over-the-counter drugs or "herbs" that might be dangerous to their well-being.

--Make this the year that no alcohol or tobacco is sold to minors. Card everyone. Report minors who are attempting to purchase alcohol or tobacco to the police.

--Make this the year that you just say no when you suspect that the alcohol that is being sold to an adult at the counter is going to be handed over to minors outside the store. Post a sign that says your business may refuse to sell or serve anyone for any reason. And then encourage your workers and employees to exercise good judgment. Dead children make poor future customers.

Our schools

--Make this the year that you as a teacher, administrator, coach or school counselor reaffirm your professional oath and your professional responsibility for the youth of our community. Your mentoring, interdiction and involvement may be the only thing between the life and death of our children.

--Make this the year that we place more emphasis on personal integrity and morality than we do on bending the rules to have the winning team. Hold our students to their vows of abstinence from alcohol, drugs and tobacco by promising to follow through with the restrictions and punishments, and then do exactly what you said you would do when violations happen. Do not make any exceptions for talent, money, position or influence.


Our government

--Make this the year that we clean up Logan County. Pull the liquor licenses of businesses that sell alcohol to minors, and never give them back! Put known drug dealers out business and behind bars. Put methamphetamine producers in jail and meth production out of business. Complete the plans to have businesses licensed to sell tobacco products, and strictly enforce their sales. Hold adults and parents accountable to the law for giving minors alcohol, tobacco or drugs.

--Make this the year that we enforce the letter of the law. Make no extra considerations for the children of influence or money, our star athletes or popular children. Turn no blind eye to the actions of any individual or group.

This list is merely a first step. There are many other youth problems to tackle in Logan County. If we accept the responsibility and make this list our resolution for the year, lives may be saved.

Some may read this commentary and these lists and be offended, thinking that I am leveling charges or criticisms against specific individuals or agencies. Some may believe that I am advocating the restriction of freedoms or hampering our civil rights. My goal is not to criticize, nor hamper rights or freedoms, and my targets are not people but rather the principles by which we shall have life. This is about the care and safeguarding of our youth. The deaths of our children are an indictment on us all.

This year, let us be the benefactors of our own children and the children of Logan County. May we together restrict death's hand, be once again moved to pray on their behalf and be called to real action. This responsibility and accountability belongs to us all. We are our brother's keeper!

Blessings to us all in the new year.

[Jim Youngquist]

They're angels for a day

A school Christmas memory

By Jan Youngquist

[DEC. 20, 2002]  It was the last day of school before Christmas vacation. Each class had prepared some presentation. They would recite a Christmas poem, perform a skit or sing a song at the all-school assembly that would be held that afternoon. Enchanted excitement grew as the hour drew near when all would file with a hush into the wide center expanse of the second floor.

The children sat by classes on the warm floor that smelled of old wood and wax. One class at a time, they rose for their performance, and then, relieved of any performance anxieties, they sat back down, relaxing until everyone had had their turn.

Then the tall, broad-shouldered, ex-military man we knew as our kindly principal, Mr. Greathouse, took center stage and began the traditional rolling of the brittle 8 mm film "The Littlest Angel." He stayed near the machine as the large screen (used just this one time each year) flashed with the jumpy, animated cartoon.

The story, if you don't know it, is about a little angel with no money to buy a gift for a special baby. The loud, rich-toned sound track slurred and garbled as the children sat watching, the younger ones rapt in attention.

Suddenly there would be a snap, slap, slap, slap as the film broke. Guaranteed, it broke no less than twice each year. But the children always sat quietly waiting, sharing friendly smiles and continuing to relax as the large, gentle man quickly taped and reworked the film to get it going again (and again).

When it was over, it was almost without words that the mesmerized children and teachers filed back to their rooms, the children nearly falling into their seats like perfect angels themselves.

Every year was the same. At that moment, in every classroom, as though they all read from the same script, each teacher with her warmest smile and tone of voice, wished her students a "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holiday."


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Then followed the traditional closing activity. It wouldn't have been the same without it -- the handing out of the Christmas bags that had magically appeared in each classroom while the students were out in assembly. Oh, those sweet little brown paper bags, each filled with an apple, an orange, Christmas hard candies, chocolates and a candy cane -- tokens that told each child they were valued.

With good wishes to each and every student, and the clever line, "I'll see you all next year," every teacher would dismiss her class for the holidays.

For the students, and I suppose the teachers too, this was without a doubt the easiest, most relaxed, warmest-of-the-heart school day of the year. It was a moment in time filled with sights, sounds, smells, warm voices and smiles, memories that would last a lifetime.

Most schools will break for the holidays today, Friday, Dec. 20. I hope that children today experience some of the magic the teachers and principal sought to provide to students at Greeley Elementary, built in 1904, in Streator, Ill.

I recently acquired a video copy of the 1940s movie "The Littlest Angel." I will watch it at 2 p.m., in honor of my favorite principal, Mr. Leonard E. Greathouse. While the film probably won't break, my heart will ache with fond memory.

[Jan Youngquist]

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