Get involved to help our children

To the editor:

How do our children become at-risk? Youths join gangs for several reasons. The primary reason is that youth want to socialize with their peers who share the same values. For some, this peer socialization manifests itself in the form of organized sports activities, church activities, extracurricular school activities, jobs and sadly, gang involvement.

Many of our families including myself work hard to provide our children with strong community values, solid internal principals and a love of the lord. But I am under no illusion. I believe that we are competing for our children's hearts and minds with MTV, their peers, sexually charged advertisements, and hormones. For this reason it is imperative that our children have positive, structured and monitored options available to them to participate in.

Let's not forget physics 101, for every action there is a reaction. The reaction to the growing gang menace in Clayton County is simply to provide opportunities for our youth to explore and harvest productive social skills. Does it cost money? Of course it does. But the cost is small compared to the cost of incarceration, medical treatment cost and the quality of life issues that will face our communities if we don't intercede and do what we need to do now.

The fact of the matter is Clayton County is a growing, urban area. We can no longer continue to govern this thriving county as though it was a small town, as we once did. If we do, our communities will become like other metropolitan areas in distress and decline. Business will relocate depleting the county tax base, county services and educational service delivery will continue to erode.

I continue to talk to many parents at the PTA meetings, in neighborhoods such as Ellenwood, where housing developments far outpace the social development opportunities available to children. Many children are latch key children, unsupervised while the parents are at work. Jobs are scarce for our teens and community centers are nonexistent. Negative peer pressure and law enforcement initiatives are prevalent. Our children are incarcerated and in many cases their lives destroyed because they fell down and were robbed of the opportunity to pick themselves up.

I urge the citizens of Clayton County to write, call, e-mail and fax your elected officials to urge them to build the community centers we were promised. WE pay today for the solutions to our problems or we suffer the cost of our inactions tomorrow.

Bob Hartley