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Moments invested now pay off for life

Early intervention helps steer children down the right paths

I want to tell you a story of two 4-year-old children who are neighbors. Both are named Jamie. Both Jamies like the same things – they like to play and learn and dream about the future. The first Jamie has parents who are able to provide a stable income and a home with all the things that help prepare Jamie for school and life.

But have you met Jamie’s friend, also named Jamie? This Jamie’s parents work hard at two part-time jobs yet struggle to provide the basics for Jamie. As much as this Jamie’s parents love him, this Jamie is not ready for kindergarten. If this Jamie does not catch up, Jamie is more likely to drop out or end up incarcerated.

The statistics are overwhelming. While we debate the nature of poverty, family situations and even violence in our community, the reality is that low-income children are less likely to have parents read to them; they understand fewer words; they arrive at our schools unprepared and are less likely to be reading by third grade. Children who do not read by third grade are 74 percent more likely to never catch up. Many of them end up dropping out of school and entering the juvenile system and ultimately the adult criminal system. Once they reach the adult system, it is oftentimes too late.

In our courts, I see a different “Jamie” every day. My heart aches because I know that Jamie didn’t need to end up in our criminal justice system. My job as a criminal court judge is to delicately balance community safety against the possibility of rehabilitation. However, true rehabilitation is hard when those individuals cannot even read nor have the social skills to change. Many people in our courts are not able to read the signs on the walls. Sixty-eight percent of our state’s prison inmates are high school dropouts. That’s why I am so passionate about volunteering with United Way of Allen County and our partner organizations.

United Way is working to address the needs early so that the Jamies in our community have a chance for a better future, which makes for a better community for us all. United Way supports education from cradle to career through reading initiatives such as Real Men Read and mentoring programs such as the school buddy program, through a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Quality programs such as these help children learn, gain confidence, graduate from school and get a good-paying job.

Learn more by watching United Way’s 4-minute video, Statisticks of Allen County, Join the effort by getting involved with the Jamies in your neighborhood or across Allen County. We need to take an interest in every child. You may consider volunteering just a few hours a month through the United Way Education Network, a growing group of 20 local early childhood and youth-serving agencies that work in collaboration with United Way to provide opportunities for volunteers to work with children in our community. Contact Ruthie Krueger, United Way of Allen County Education Initiatives associate, at 260-469-4002 to volunteer today. The investments of time today will pay huge dividends in the future. As many of you are aware of the criminal statistics in our community, you see we are a busy system. I look forward to a day in court with fewer Jamies.

Wendy Davis, a judge in Allen Superior Court’s criminal division, is volunteer chair of the board of directors for United Way of Allen County. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.