Character Counts — Always Has, Always Will

Is 'giving back to others' on your child's resume?

June 9, 2004. It was less than three years after 9/11, and the Capitol building was being evacuated because an unauthorized plane was flying in that direction.

It was the plane of then-Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher that had entered restricted airspace, had flown over the Capitol — and was almost shot down.

“These people have so little. They suffer … and I really want to help them.”

The hallways were in a state of pandemonium. Staffers and congresspeople alike were sprinting toward the exits with armloads of important valuables, just in case the worst scenario did pan out. In the middle of this confusion, an elderly man in a wheelchair with Lou Gehrig’s disease — he had been there lobbying that day for funding and greater awareness — was crying for help. He needed someone — anyone — to help him down the long flight of stairs.

The elevators were completely clogged and inaccessible, so he was stuck.

Steve Pavlick, at the time a recent Georgetown graduate and a 22-year-old congressional staffer, stopped to help. He begged several people to give him a hand, but most either ignored him or screamed that he needed to get out of there fast.

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Step by step, he gently wheeled the man down the spiral staircase. He literally was the last man out of the building. As he told me this story, he added, “Would I really be able to live with myself, knowing I had an opportunity to save someone else and didn’t? Going to Mass and reading the Bible doesn’t mean a whole lot if you don’t live it.”

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Special tutoring, SAT preparation courses, summer enrichment programs, learning several foreign languages … parents are bending over backwards to give their kids an edge today, not only in academics but also in sports. I live near Rye High School in Rye, New York, and I am amazed at how the outdoor athletic and practice fields are used on weekends practically from sunrise to sunset by different youth football, soccer, and lacrosse leagues in the area.

Travel teams abound! Many parents often spend most of their weekends carting their kids to games in nearby states, traveling up to seven or eight hours each way.

Personally, I loved sports as a kid and played football in grade school and soccer in high school. But today, these sports seem to be consuming more and more of our kids’ very limited time and energy. Steve Pavlick was an athlete, playing football at Gonzaga College High School, and he was a scholar and Georgetown graduate — but he also had a heart.

This showed in his commitment to our local leadership training program in Westchester County, New York, when he was still in high school. He consistently came to mentor grade school kids, then assisted at retreats for high school kids during his college days. He simply “made time” in his very busy and intense schedule to make it happen.

Last Saturday, our Leadership Training Program group of fourth- through eighth-graders from Greenwich, Connecticut, visited the Don Bosco Center in Port Chester, New York. Our group of nearly 20 kids and adults arrived at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning to organize and eventually distribute food, clothing, and toys for several hundred underprivileged folks in that area.

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I was touched when they went out to meet and greet these people, one by one, with their warm smiles and kindness, and then stayed until nearly 10 a.m. to complete the service effort. A local fifth-grade girl who was helping clearly stood out from everyone else. Her smile was contagious; she was actually coordinating and organizing the work for some of our kids.

I asked her, “Do you help out often?”

She responded, “Yes, every Saturday morning.” She said she also helped out with a soup kitchen once a month on Sundays.

I asked, “Why do you do this?”

And she replied, “Because these people have so little. They suffer … and I really want to help them.”

I encourage all parents out there: Please do not get overly obsessed with building your child’s resume. Make time to teach kids the art of caring for others, the art of giving back — and above all, lead by example. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and serve the poor and others in need, with your children by your side.

Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.

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