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Roger Gitlin: Community involvement starts with your help

SCV Voices

Posted: January 3, 2009 9:56 p.m.
Updated: January 4, 2009 4:59 a.m.

I read with great interest John Boston's column, "On dirt clods and an Acton bullet." That man has some serious literary talent, and like a fine tool, John Boston knows how to use that skill to "move" you.

Here's what I gleaned out of John's recent column: Get involved: If you don't like what you see in our community, get involved and make some changes.

There's a little voice inside all of us that tells us to hold back or move forward as we observe something that's off center. Perhaps someone you know (maybe even a relative) is acting borderline inappropriate with a younger person. It's OK to get involved and point out to the responsible adult that you perceive something that might be misunderstood.

A couple of generations back, communities did involve themselves more with each other's business. Then came the 1980s and the mantra became, "Who are you to sit in judgment on me?"

When your neighbor's kid comes over to your home with newly dyed blue hair, it is totally OK to question that "change" with the kid's parents or guardian. Sure, they might tell you to mind your own business.

Truth be told, it is your business. Having that conversation with the parents might even mortify the child.

So what? Maybe your involvement is the catalyst that changes that kid.

We all have out stories growing up either the victim of a bully or seeing someone else being victimized by a bigger, tougher kid.

There was that little voice inside us that told us it was wrong and wouldn't it be nice if someone would get involved and put a stop to the injustice. That someone is you!

I never met 14-year-old Jeremiah Lasater, but I sure wish I had. This young man was silently crying out for help, and it would appear nobody did anything to help him. We are all guilty of not getting involved when we see something is wrong.

Indeed, there is risk. Depending on the circumstance, that risk could be severe criticism ("Who do you think you are butting into some else's business?") to the more extreme form of physical confrontation that can be downright dangerous.

But you can get involved, and if you do involve yourself in circumstances that don't directly affect you, you alone can make a difference in or community.

It's a new year, and many of us are starting to make changes simply because of the calendar. I am suggesting you make a resolution this year to get involved in making our city and community a better place in which to live.

My passion is Santa Clarita's Graffiti Abatement Program. When I see blight in my city, I am on the phone to the Graffiti Hotline (25 CLEAN). I urge you to do the same.

There are so many other ways to get involved in helping someone less fortunate in our community. Why not think about spending an hour or two a week at the Santa Clarita Senior Center and volunteer your time to sit with, and perhaps read to, a senior? You will make a huge difference in that person's life.

And you know that, God willing, you will be there one day, too. Wouldn't you want someone to care about you?

The city of Portland has an Office of Neighborhood Involvement. Folks in that community are vigorously encouraged to call the city agency to get involved with that department in the areas of crime prevention, helping the disabled, diversity and civic leadership, mediation and others.

Similarly, Harvard University sponsors the FINE program - the Family Involvement Network of Educators. FINE and its supporters strive to strengthen and promote family involvement.

In my classroom, I am always getting involved - sometime to the annoyance of others. Recently a young girl walked into my classroom with what appeared to be a new piercing in her face.

I knew it was new, since I observed the swelling above her lip. Rhetorically, I asked her. "What's that?"

In words that were a little less than cordial, the student reminded me it was not my business to question her new style. She reminded me that it was her face and she could do what she pleased with it.

I politely disagreed and ramped up my involvement. I am a teacher. I have an obligation to get involved - and I did exactly that.

The girl became increasingly enraged that I would involve myself in her business. I say, how can I not get involved?

The stud is out of this student's face, but not before I took a verbal lashing from her and a few of her "supporters." Time will tell if I really made a difference in this kid's life.

Unfortunately, it is too late for Jeremiah Lasater, but it's not too late for you to get involved. It's the perfect time: the start of the New Year.

Roger Gitlin is a high school teacher and a resident of Santa Clarita. He can be reached at His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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