“Caution: This Note is Filled with Love.”

A student at the residential campus of D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s recently made this Valentine’s Day Card.

I can think of no better way, or day, to publish my first blog entry.

In my recent Grand Rapids Press Guest Column, “We need Grand Rapids to love all children as if they were their own,” I challenged this great city to love all children as if they were their own. On the surface, this is an easy task. But, with a new report out seemingly every week on the dire situations facing so many West Michigan families, is love really enough?

Love seems like a flippant response to 33,438 confirmed cases of abuse and neglect.

That magic four letter word seems trivial in light of 23.1% of Kent County’s children living in poverty.

In my experience as Executive Director of the oldest child welfare agency in West Michigan, I can tell you, love is not enough. But without it we will never succeed. It must be the basis for all we do.

The challenges D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s faces are enormous. Our clients, often through no fault of their own, have educational, economic, health and safety challenges.

I recently sat down with our Sisters In Support social worker and she told me a story that unfortunately is not unique.

One of her clients is a 20 year old, single mother. This woman is trying to make a better life for her young daughter and herself. She rid her life of negative influences – even disassociating from friends and family who would lead her astray. Because of this, she has no support system.

She is trying to lift herself out of poverty. But how, in this day and age, does a young woman get a job with no college degree? If there is a job she qualifies for, how can she find it, let alone apply for it, with no internet? If she finds a job she qualifies for, somehow manages to apply for it without internet, how can she find daycare for her young child? If she finds a job she qualifies for, manages to apply for it without internet, somehow secures childcare at a reasonable rate, how can she get to that job without a car?

Every step of the way in this story, love was this woman’s answer.

She found a job because her Sisters In Support Mentor helped her search. She applied for the job because the Sisters In Support social worker stayed late to let her use her internet. She secured daycare through state assistance that a DABSJ worker helped her apply for. Finally, she got to work because a community member donated Rapid bus passes just for her.

With the love she was shown, this young mother and her child’s life is changed forever.

In the Mayor’s State of the City Address, he challenged our city to answer three questions:

  1. How do we nurture a child-and-teen friendly culture in our community where children truly feel valued?
  2. How can we demonstrate to children and teens that we will prioritize their needs?
  3. How might the community positively support parents and caregivers and raise the importance of their role within our community?

With this blog, I hope to provide some answers to these questions; but most importantly, keep this critical conversation going.

No matter the question, be sure the crux of every answer will be love.

Caution, this blog will be filled with love.

– Sharon Loughridge, Executive Director of D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s