Facebook has a way of reminding you about things you have said or have written in the past. Today Facebook reminded me of an article that I wrote November 11 2010, exactly 6 years ago. Given the lack of progress we’ve made as it relates to our greatest asset our kids, “the next generation” I believe the story is worth repeating.
“During my search for yet another “good news story” I found The Joshua Group led by Bobby Hayes. I met Bobby at the old Waterloo Street Baptist Church, home for The Joshua Group for the past three years. We entered what I would describe as a tired, cold, abandoned church. Boxes of Cheerios lined the shelves that previously held Bibles; there were small Sunday school rooms, now home to toddler’s toys; a less-than-tidy art room and a room used as storage for clothes.
One of the challenges in writing Good Samaritan columns is that eventually you are obliged to look for the rhyme and the reason.
In this case, it was the winter of 1993, and there was Bobby Hayes, kneeling down to tie a little girl’s skates. With tears in her eyes, she told him that her mother was dead, that she had no dad, she had no friends and her head had to be shaved because of lice. Hayes later learned that the little girl’s mother had died of a drug overdose, likely cocaine.
When I asked Bobby Hayes about the incident, he dropped his head and said quietly, “It broke my heart.“
That was 17 years ago, folks. Similar sad stories are still with us today.
Hayes didn’t want to talk about the wonderful job he was doing in creating “good news stories. All he wanted to talk about is the hundreds and hundreds of kids that have fallen, and continue to fall, through the cracks – the 13-year-old girl he found hiding under the Reversing Falls bridge; the kids that slept in the car to avoid beatings from their father; the children he was called to get because their mother was lying unconscious on the floor with a needle stuck in her arm; the kids he sees with bruises and black eyes…
Do you need to know more about the rhyme and the reason?
I asked if it was OK to come by during activities to see first-hand the organization and structure at the Joshua Group. I soon discovered that the starvation many of these kids experience is emotional in nature. At The Joshua Group, someone cares for them, someone feeds their sense of value and worth, someone loves them and someone will listen to their problems and give them a hug.
I met one teen, now 13, who has been coming here for 10 years. He proudly told me that he got more than 90 on his math test and that someday he would like to go into politics or become a lawyer. Before long I found myself abandoning my “mature adult state” and was kicking the soccer ball with kids, big and small, in what could best be described as “caring chaos” in a place that truly feels like home for all the children.
Later, I asked Bobby Hayes how he feeds the 100 or so youngsters who walk through the group’s doors several times a week.
“Donations from people and a few companies that see the need, from fundraisers and sometimes my own money,” he said.
I asked if The Joshua Group received financial support from the various charitable organizations, or the City of Saint John.
“No, I was told by one charitable organization that we didn’t fit or qualify, and they didn’t like the way I ran things.“
So, Bobby Hayes has been running a one-man, unofficial, non-certified “emotional emergency department” for the city’s less fortunate kids for the past 17 years. All the children have his cellphone number and he’s available for them on a 24/7 basis, 365 days per year.
I asked Bobby Hayes why he does it.
“When you see someone drowning,” he said, “you reach down and save them.“
This coming Sunday, while many of us are sitting in church singing hymns and praying for a better world, Bobby Hayes will be driving a donated school bus as he picks up children from all parts of the city. The kids will eat pancakes, cooked by a teenage volunteer. An 11-year-old will keep an eye on her little sister, as has been the case for years. After breakfast there will be a spiritual talk, art and games. Before Bobby Hayes drives the youngsters home, if there is time, he might read from the Bible about the Good Samaritan, or from Matthew: 25:35 – “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.“
Perhaps it’s time we asked ourselves exactly what qualifications are needed to save children who have fallen through the cracks. As a city and a community, where are our values and priorities? Think about it.”
Footnote: That article was written six years ago. There’s been a few tons of hot dogs and pancakes served to Saint John’s “opportunity challenged kids” since then. Against all odds Bobby, contributors and volunteers have built a first class facility at the old Peacock Garden property on Sandy Point Rd. Bobby Hayes and the Joshua Group have been saving kids that have fallen through the cracks for far too many years. So why do we as a society seem to be spinning our wheels when it comes to having far fewer “opportunity challenged kids”.
I would like to offer what I believe is a couple of pieces to that seem to make up our perpetual poverty puzzle.
A few years ago a 30 plus year experienced Community Councilor at the Carlton Community Centre said to me; “You learn what you live”. he told me that he has the kids for a few hours in the evening, he tries to instill a positive attitude and a sound value system and then too often they go home to a toxic, dysfunctional environment. Which culture and environment will have the greater influence?….And the cycle repeats itself.
Another piece of the poverty puzzle. Several years ago I had a conversion with an individual who was working in the anti-poverty area about poverty and our welfare system. But apparently “welfare system” is no longer politically correct now it’s “social assistance”. Sorry folks, changing the name without changing the methodology and attitude doesn’t change a damn thing, it’s just a feel good exercise. During our conversation with this veteran in the war against poverty I was told ” You can’t expect too much from THOSE people” and that my friends is what I believe is a major contributor to our ongoing poverty problem. Set low expectations, low accountability and we’re surprised why we’re not winning the war against poverty? I grew up in poverty and I believe the only difference between me becoming a asset to society or liability to society can be found in the level of expectation and accountability placed on me.
If you’ve never watched the movie based on a true story called Coach Carter, I encourage you to do so. I have attached a short clip in an effort to deliver a message. I might add Carter went on to establish the Coach Carter Impact Academy.
And the update on Bobby Hayes? The city is different but the challenges are the same and the message that needs to be delivered is the same. perhaps we should start calling Bobby Hayes, ……Coach Hayes?
Think about it.