Friday, October 18, 2019

Providing kids safe harbor from their stormy homes

I’ve been listening to the police scanner for over 30 years now. Eavesdropping on the dispatching and responses of sheriff’s deputies and volunteers keeps me in the know about things going on in Niagara County.

But, the knowledge gleaned from the scanner is more than where an accident or fire might be, or where the latest speed trap is set-up. Listen long enough and you’ll begin to understand the social conditions in certain parts, certain households of your community.

It can be incredibly uncomfortable and heartbreaking to hear officers being dispatched to broken homes, something that’s too regular of an occurrence. According to the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services, all departments within Niagara County reported a combined 1,233 arrests for domestic violence in 2018. Among them were 1,051 cases of simple assault, 38 sexual offenses against a family member, and 20 violations of protection orders.  

Mind you, those are just the cases recorded as actual arrests. There were thousands of 911 calls and tips about physical domestic situations and intense verbal abuse. The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office alone responds to nearly 4,000 of such calls every year. There are thousands more covered by the city police departments in Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda and Lockport.

And, remember, most victims and witnesses remain silent; there are thousands of situations that go unreported. 

There are the direct victims, those who call 911 looking for help and those who remain silent despite being abused mentally, physically and sexually.

And then there are the indirect victims. They may not have directly been hit or berated, but they saw it. They experienced it. They lived it.

Children are occupants of many of those homes and apartments where hate and discord rule. It could be they were beaten or demeaned. Maybe they their saw dad hit their mom or knock her down. Perhaps they witnessed their mother going on a drunken rage towards their father.

Those are just the tip of the iceberg when you hear some of the calls on the scanner – the level of escalation of some domestic events is frightening.

You have to feel for the kids who grow up in such families. If they aren’t abused, a loved one is and that in itself is a form of abuse towards the child.

Those incidents sear into a child’s memories and behaviors. They could give nightmares, instill fear, plant the seeds for hate, lead to substance abuse, foster depression and suicidal thoughts, lead to lower grades, and make dysfunction a normalcy that the child will carry into his or her relationships one day. Many will rise above their circumstances, some will not, and even if they do the painful memories linger.

I bring all this up to give perspective to those who provide service to children.

Whether you are school teacher, sports coach, club leader, Sunday school instructor, or a Scouting volunteer like me, we all have to understand that these victims – primary and secondary alike - are in our classrooms, on our teams, and in our troops. The sheer volume of dispatches and domestic statistics show us that it’s more than likely that they’re in an extracurricular activity you oversee -- and it’s a certainty in your classroom.  

You likely don’t know who, and in many cases you won’t. That may be from masking of the hurt by the child or the sheer joy he or she has being around you.

Realize that in many cases you are providing a safe place, a good place to a child. Your classroom, baseball field or campout might be the only place they feel happy, loved or safe.

Think about that.

Most of us grew up having loving parents and valuing home above all else. But, that isn’t the case for so many children. They fear home. They don’t what will happen to them. They don’t know what will happen to their mother or father.

Every child we serve has different expectations of us – a boy scout from a well-adjusted home may want the adventure of a camping trip while one from a broken home may only want you to be you, someone for him to strive to be, someone who isn’t his dad.

You may not realize it, and they might never tell you, but to kids from troubled homes you are their hero -- they might see you as the mother or father they always wished they had.

That significance be an overwhelming way to view what we do when doing good for children. But, it’s a necessary view. We have roles in this world, some much bigger than we always assume them to be. Hurt kids are too many, and it’s up to us, as their educators and leaders, to give them the safe harbor they deserve and, from there, the help they need to navigate life.    

From the 21 October Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News   

Africa: Outsourcing’s final frontier

Under the current model of outsourcing to China and other Asian nations, it will be, over the next two decades, increasingly difficult to keep store shelves stocked in America and other Western societies at price levels frugal shoppers appreciate.

As China has grown to a $13.4 trillion economy and their public policies have focused on enlarging their middle class, in turn making their economy more of a participant than a provider, the cost of doing business is quickly rising in China and they won’t be as attractive for outsourcing as they have been since the push for offshore manufacturing really hit its stride in the late-1970s.

That doesn’t mean the jobs are coming back here.

As much as Americans savor the thought of goods being produced on US soil, the chances of that happening in appreciable volume again are slim to none. Philosophy and personal finance are two entirely different things.

The reality of today’s world is that globalization is and will be the way to do business. Most consumers, and the purchasing and sales managers who fill up the warehouses and stores for them, demand cheaply-priced if not cheaply-made goods and many corporations are more than happy to oblige. American companies (and buyers) fully committed to domestic manufacturing are now rarities when once they were a dime a dozen.

Most of the world, from agricultural South America to the industrialized Far East, has already been pressured by traders from the richest nations to meet their demands and in many cases the well is dry from a potential price savings standpoint as the cost of labor is rising dramatically as it has in China.

The African continent’s people, on the other hand, have remained relatively unmolested by Westerners since the days of the slave trade. Other nations have focused more on taking Africa’s natural resources rather than using their human resources. Consider the pitifully-low gross domestic product among some of the countries: Chad ($2,420), Rwanda ($2,225), Sierra Leone ($1,608), Burundi ($731). The US’s GDP per capita, by comparison, is $62,152.

The continent’s population is in excess of 1.2 billion, but nearly one-in-five are undernourished. 227 million people are starving on that continent. To put that number into perspective, the entire US population is 327 million.  

In the short-term (the next 3 decades), outsourcing and globalization will help Africa rise from a poverty that, truthfully, makes America’s impoverished citizens look like kings. Given implementation of Western economic practices, following the quality of life trends that we saw in industrial Europe, US, and Japan, the long-term future (by 2100) is economically bright and socially responsible for Africans.

Some might discount the lack of political morality on the continent that would prevent development. That was – and still is -- the case for China. But, Americans are more than happy to either overlook or work in conjunction with one of the most horrid communist systems in the world, one that still - even 30 years after Tiananmen Square massacre - squashes freedom and criticism (for all their focus on improving economics, Chinese officials don’t see personal liberty in the same light).   

Many African leaders are just as oppressive. But whereas China’s political system is old and deeply entrenched, most African nations have fragile systems, so newly employed Africans who will have something that only the few now possess (money) will ultimately become a financially and politically empowered people who can turn away decades of evil rule.

Is Africa’s infrastructure ready for all this?

Not now.

But, by historical standards, China was a backwards nation until only recently in regard to infrastructure.

Now they have quality roads, impressive electrical generation and vast cities that seem to pop up overnight. Whereas that’s been a public-private venture to bring them into the 21st century, Africa’s nations are lacking in wealth so it will be a mostly private investment led by Western firms.

But, as capitalism goes, if the need and reward are there for electricity, water, ports, and roads, the necessary investments will be made. Nearly a billion potential workers is a very attractive number for capitalists focusing on thrifty consumers in America and elsewhere, especially for as cheaply as those workers can be had at this time.

Africa is ready to boom. It will take some time, but I guarantee that by 2040 many of the “Made in China” labels you see on items now will be replaced by “Made in” labels from far-flung locales like Kenya, Tanzania, and Mali.

It’s an ever-changing – and ever-shrinking - world we live in.

From the 14 October 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, September 27, 2019

Four family-friendly fall hikes

Autumn in New York is really something special.

While it tells us that summer is but a memory and winter is on its way, Mother Nature must take pity on us because she treats us to an explosion of color that is remarkable and breathtaking, magnified by the Empire State’s waterways, farmlands, and mountains.

Leaf-peeping is something every family should do, multiple times, over the early fall. That fosters visions of road trips, but not every family has the time to spend the entire day in the Southern Tier or the money for gas, lodging, and food while on a long weekend in the Adirondacks. Luckily, we are blessed with so many natural assets throughout the region that you can take the kids on a mini-adventure in parks and trails that are just minutes from your home.

This column appears in the newspapers of 3 communities (Niagara Falls, Lockport, and Batavia), so I offer to you 4 great fall hikes that are close to some if not all of my readers:

Swallow Hollow: If you grew up in eastern Niagara, Orleans, or Genesee Counties there’s a good chance your class took a field trip to Swallow Hollow and an equal chance that you haven’t thought about this trail since. You should put it back on the radar. Located on East Shelby Road on the Iroquois Wildlife Refuge, it’s a pleasant 1.3 mile loop trail around a wetland and through some woods, the highlight being two long stretches of boardwalk over the top of swampland. The entire trail is in great shape, so great as a matter of fact that you can push a baby stroller through the entire length as I have quite a few times. This is definitely an autumn hike for the entire family – I’ve seen folks take seniors on wheelchair rides on the boardwalk.

Victor Fitchlee Park: Also known as the Royalton Ravine, this Niagara County park in Gasport is 150 acres of open space, woods, and two ponds. The forest is very diverse with beeches, maples, oaks, and hickories that produce a wide variety of colors which make for great sights and photography. Cutting through the center of the park is Red Creek which you will cross on a suspension bridge that’s 140 feet long and bounces like a wave when kids jump up and down on it. Towards the west end of the park the stream plummets over Norton’s Falls, which is 24 feet high. It’s a really interesting hike; just be sure to wear appropriate footwear because there are some slick spots going down some wet trails in the ravine.    

The Erie Canalway Trail: Never overlook what is commonly known to long-time locals as “the towpath” (which harkens back to its originally purpose when the Erie Canal was a critical shipping route). As it cuts through Niagara and Orleans Counties it passes by hundreds of farms and woodlots, the rolling fields and colored woodlands complimenting each other quite nicely, offering a palette of brilliant hues. Access is plentiful, found at any number of bridges, and the trail is perfectly flat, in excellent shape, and stroller friendly. 

The Devil’s Hole: I’ve saved the best hike, and the most difficult, for last. It’s difficult in terms that someone with bad knees or hips can’t do it and neither can most kids under the age of 4 (unless you have them in a baby backpack) -- but that shouldn’t scare away hikers. At Devil’s Hole State Park, right off the Robert Moses Parkway in Niagara Falls, you will descend a stone staircase deep into the bowels of the Niagara Gorge (and you will use a staircase to get out), encompassing hundreds of steps. It’s 2.5 miles round trip, much longer if you join up with the Whirpool Trail (which is itself is a little adventurous). It’s worth the exertion (which isn’t so bad if you pace yourself and your kids and periodically stop) because the scenery is unmatched – it’s what helps make Niagara Falls a world-class destination. The river’s rapids are incredibly powerful and offer a nice foreground to photos you would take of the varied fall colors from the dozens of species of trees and shrubs found growing on the steep cliffs of the gorge that is hundreds of feet deep. It really is a “must see”. 

There are dozens more trails to tackle in Western New York this fall, each with its own beauty, its own set of colors. Take the time to do some leaf-peeping on them – there are wonderful autumnal staycations to be had with family.

From the 30 September 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News