The article below appears in the August issue of Cornelius Life Magazine.
Isn’t it amazing in this fast paced world of smart phones, laptops, Facebook, and texting, it’s the simplest of things that teach us what’s really important in life. I was reminded of that by a teenager whose words made my heart tremble and brought tears to my eyes.
As the president of the chamber, I am keenly aware that while we are blessed to live in the Lake Norman region, there are still many in our community that need a helping hand. The generosity of our residents is nothing short of spectacular as we give freely of our time, talents and financial resources from Habitat Homes for single parents to Big Day at the Lake.
A few weeks ago, I attended a fundraiser for Barium Springs at The Cove Church in Mooresville. Surrounded by approximately 400 other community and business leaders, we networked and discussed the issues of the day ranging from taxation to tolls waiting on the program to begin.
Then the lights dimmed and I heard those words, those chilling words which seared into my soul. I looked into the eyes which stared back into mine and the face of innocence weathered by years of abuse and neglect. I listened as Barium Springs volunteers and school officials shared their own particular stories. Barium Springs provides an array of services for children, families and individuals throughout our state. Their main objectives are to provide a safe home through residential homes and foster care; to heal the hurt for children who are troubled, abused or neglected; and to encourage a healthy start through educational and prevention programs.
I grew up with two parents who loved their children. Mom and dad were both very active in the Rock Hill (SC) community serving in civic organizations like the Jaycees, Kiwanis, United Way, Red Cross and our church. Dad worked with other kids as a commissioner of Little League Baseball and ironically daddy led an effort to create a Boys Home for kids who found themselves in need of mentoring and guidance.
To this day, when I call my mom she always ends the conversation telling me “I love you.” And her words still warmly embrace me just as they did in my youth when she tucked me into bed each night. Those words come harder for dad. It’s his actions which speak louder than the words as we enjoy a Saturday afternoon football game together or a horseback ride through the woods on our family farm.
I listened that May day as teenagers told their stories of neglect. Parents who sometimes never got out of bed, their minds and bodies wracked by years of substance abuse, leaving a trail of victims in their wake – among them their children. Kids that before Barium Springs, never had a bed to sleep in or a pillow to rest their head.
As I watched a short video, a young man appeared on the screen. He spoke of the years of abuse at the hands of his father. But it was the eyes which touched my heart. The pain and anguish that no child should ever have to endure. Barium Springs has turned his life around and today he is a good student, involved in athletics, with a chance for a scholarship and a bright hope for the future.
Then he said it, those words which still bring tears to my eyes. The first time they escaped his lips, I felt my eyes well up and I hoped those at my table wouldn’t see me weep. At that moment in time, he was not speaking to a camera or the other 400 people in the room. He was speaking to me when he said, “I want to grow up and be the daddy my father wasn’t.”
No one can undo the hurt or the scars they leave. Memories may linger, but with a new day comes a promise of hope. The volunteers and contributors to Barium Springs provide that hope through support and unconditional love…and perhaps the chance to be a parent that their mother or father wasn’t.
B ill Russell
Bill Russell is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce. For information about Barium Springs, to set up a tour of their campus, or make a contribution call 704-872-4157 or visit www.bariumsprings.org.