The Clarence Effect

When I was a child, we seldom ate in restaurants, so when we were able to go out to eat, it was a really big deal. I remember one day, my mom told us that we were going to Indianola, a nearby town. It was such a cool town, because they had an A&W Rootbeer. For some reason that day, we were all going to Indianola and we were going out for supper at the A&W!

I was beside myself. I was outside playing in our front yard, when Clarence our next door neighbor started washing his car. Clarence was kind of a big shot in our town, but I didn’t know it then. When I told him about our upcoming trip to A & W, he was about as excited as I was. We talked about the menu – whether we were going to eat in our car or if we were going inside. He liked how they had root beer in the chilled glasses. He also taught me how to say Indianola. I’m not sure how I was pronouncing it, but he let me know the correct way.

That day was over 40 years ago, and I can remember it like it was yesterday!

Now, Clarence really didn’t do anything all that special. He didn’t spend a dime (well, that day he didn’t spend a dime; I think he bought every fund-raising product I sold), he didn’t take a ton of time out of his schedule, and he got his car washed. What he did do was to listen to a little kid and engage that little kid in meaningful conversation.

In my life as a social worker, I’ve learned that there are many studies that tell us that just one caring adult in the life of a child can impact that child’s future success or failure! One positive adult role model can provide a sense of stability for a child. When a child has healthy bonds with positive adult role models the youth is less likely to be in trouble or engage in risky behavior and is less likely to drop out of school.

Now, I don’t think Clarence was nice to me because he had read these studies and had determined to make a difference in the life of a kid. He was just an all around nice guy. It was second nature to him. I do think our society has changed a bit. As a general rule, we are much more busy. Our schedules are full and our minds are often distracted.

What if we take a few minutes during the course of our days to pay attention to the people around us? What if we engaged our neighbors in real conversations? What if we cleared up our calendars to slow down a bit?

We just might make that kind of impact, too. Being kind, having conversations, encouraging…

World changing stuff. One kid at a time.

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