If you have read some of my past articles, ya’ll know that I like to be sentimental.
I’m not really an emotional guy (unless it’s the birth of my three kiddos, when UK won the latest national championship, when the Dolphins didn’t make the playoffs this year, that scene in Toy Story 3 – you know which one I’m referring too, or being there live when Dan Marino was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame).
But sometimes I do sit and reflect on my past and how it relates to where I am now in life. I guess I find it important to always remember from where I came, the people who helped me get here, the trials and tribulations, the reward of perseverance and the ability to give back.
Oftentimes, I am asked, “Scott, why do you work with kids? There’s no real money in it and you are a dude; it’s just unnatural!”
This is just an example of the feedback I’ve heard throughout my career as I have done everything from being a teacher for 3 to 4 year olds, a case manage for therapeutic foster kids and now a 4-H Youth Development Agent.
A lot of folks are put off to see a guy working with kids, but I have never let it deter me. Their remarks have never offended me, but they do stay in the back of my mind.
I’m usually ready to answer with the standard, “I don’t know. I’m good with kids!” This usually has been my response, but I’ve always wondered why! Why am I good with kids? Why do they seem to relate to me?
During the Christmas break, I drove to West Virginia to get my momma and bring her to Berea for Christmas. On the way back, she and I had some pretty deep conservations about my childhood.
I’ll be honest. My childhood wasn’t always good. As I’ve mentioned before, I had an abusive father, and my parents finally divorced when I was in the seventh grade, spiraling my emotions as a young man trying to find his way in this world. It was hard!
My mother and I talked about the people who surrounded our family to help us through that trying time.
Suddenly, as we talked, the radio announced that James Avery, “Uncle Phil” from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, had passed away. I was blown away. I grew up watching that show. There were not too many shows on TV at the time that had a character without a dad, so I could actually relate to Will. Just like Will, my dad had nothing really to do with me as a child and even more so when I was a teen. We did not have a father figure growing up.
After hearing of the passing of Uncle Phil, the episode that I kept thinking about was when Will’s dad finally came back into the picture. Although Will was older, he was still excited to see his dad for the first time in a long time.
Will’s dad promised that he was back for good, and Will could travel with him. However, it turned out his father was only there for selfish reasons and left him again. Will was definitely upset as all the pain came rushing in from his childhood and the same disappointment he felt as a child was, once again, a reality.
I couldn’t tell you how many times that happened in my own childhood. However, Uncle Phil came to Will’s rescue, and finally Will sees his uncle as his father figure.
A very emotional Will denounces his father and says, “I’m going to get through college without him, get a great job without him, marry me a beautiful honey (wife) without him, have a bunch of kids and be a better father than he EVER was!”
Then reality sets in with Will and he crumbles and asks, “How come, he don’t want me, man?”
Uncle Phil’s response was the most genuine moment on TV that I had ever seen. He just grabbed Will into a big bear hug … end of scene.
Over the holiday break, I watched that scene over and over. Each time my heart sank because those words were the same ones I wished I was able to speak in my teen years instead of the anger.
If only I had opened my eyes and been able to know then what I know now. There were tons of people in my community who loved me enough to check up on me. Not because they had to, but because they genuinely cared. Whether it was a high school teacher, all my friends’ parents or my 4-H leaders, all were leading me and helping direct my life.
I couldn’t see it then, as a prideful, angry young man, but that never stopped them from being my positive role model. These folks always made sure that I was in church, had a ride to and from school activities, had a place to stay when mom worked late and gave me mowing jobs to earn some cash for youth or school trips.
My 4-H leaders also made sure that during the summer that I was busy going to 4-H camp just to be a kid and put me in leadership roles to gain some confidence. Whether it was being our 4-H club president, reporter or even a camp counselor, there was a whole community of people who cared enough to make sure I was going to make it. Despite my rough exterior, they saw the potential I could have never found in myself.
You see, I had a whole community of Uncle Phil’s looking after me. Being a part of a youth organization made the difference in my life. It helped me feel accepted, safe and like someone (other than my mom who is an incredible lady) actually cared.
This is the same message we deliver to 4-Hers in our clubs, schools and at camp. I can’t even think of where I’d be without my 4-H past and all those leaders who invested in me.
It’s because of my mom and all my Uncle Phils that I made it through college, got a great job, married a beautiful wife, had a BUNCH of kids, ages 7, 5, and 3. And I am trying to be a better father than my dad ever was to me.
Now, when people ask me why I work with kids, I can give them the Blue’s Brother’s answer. “I’m on a mission from God!”
I don’t have to be embarrassed by my past. It has formed me into the man I am today. I work with children because I want to give back.
No child should ever have to think or say, “Why does he or she don’t want me?” That is just unacceptable with the resources and good folks we have in this community.
This is why I serve on the Teen Center Board. This is why I volunteer at my church’s youth group. This is why I love my job as a 4-H agent. And more importantly, this is why I have been blessed to be a daddy.
My biggest reward is seeing the youth be successful!
Folks, there are children in our community who are hurting. There are children in this community who have been removed from their homes and put in foster care. There are children who can’t afford to be involved in after-school activities or attend summer camps.
We all have the opportunity to be an Uncle Phil to these kids. Whether it is a financial donation or volunteering with a youth organization, you are needed.
In 4-H, we always are looking for volunteers to help lead programs, serve as camp counselors, help with shootings sports, to help make a difference in a child’s life. All children deserve an Uncle Phil. We just need to step up.
For more information about Madison County 4-H Programs call the Madison County Extension Office at 623-4072.
Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.