This morning, three Hartford youths undoubtedly are retelling stories shared during last night's campfire and looking forward to a day filled with swimming, boating, horseback riding and other fun activities. Last Sunday, they left the hot city for Colebrook to begin their two-week overnight adventure at YMCA's Camp Jewell.
Their lives will never be the same.
I've known Jack, Jalexy and Mary for seven years, having served as Jack's mentor through Nutmeg Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Working with his sisters' "Big Sisters," we helped the family register all three kids for camp this summer. We also pooled our money, hit up our friends and coordinated our calendars to make sure they had the things they needed.
It was not a small effort, but it didn't require great sacrifice, either. And the three of us feel as much joy right now as our "littles" do.
I've spent my career thinking and talking about the need to build stronger communities. I've been president of Leadership Greater Hartford for 22 years and spent nearly eight years on the city Board of Education. But I never fully "got it" until I began a mentoring relationship with Jack. Building community — making our world safer, more virtuous and more joyful for all of us — begins with personal connections and commitments.
During this past month, we've been reminded that Hartford is not always a safe, virtuous and joyful place for those who work and live here. Even now, news accounts continue to report on gunfire, muggings, hit-and-run incidents and too much indifference. Sadly, most of it is true.
But it's not the whole picture. Having lived and worked in this city for 30 years, I know Hartford is far more and far better than the violence and callousness of the past 30 days.
But even the most optimistic among us feels as though the great progress we've made could quickly unravel and easily be forgotten.
All of us, suburbanites and city dwellers alike, are at a crossroads — or, perhaps, as City Councilman Luis Cotto has suggested, a tipping point.
And so, having arrived here, how do we as a community respond to the pain and damage caused by recent events?
Do we walk away in disgust and anger, or do we stay and fight?
Do we simply blame elected officials, or do we think long and hard about what each of us can do?
Do we bemoan the lack of care and compassion of others, or do we become more caring and compassionate ourselves?
For those committed to building a greater Hartford, for those who live in city neighborhoods and refuse to give up, the choice is clear: We must find a way to unite, heal and inspire hope.
Two weeks ago, at the request of Mayor Eddie Perez, Leadership Greater Hartford began bringing leaders and organizations together in an initiative we call "Hartford Cares."
By tapping some of Hartford's best assets — including our deep reservoirs of talent, creativity and generosity — we're launching this effort on June 30 with a concert and candlelight vigil in Bushnell Park.
That evening, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., the Hartford Symphony and other musicians, dancers and poets will uplift us with their performances.
Ordinary citizens will move us with their extraordinary stories of commitment and courage.
And nonprofit agencies will offer opportunities that can make a difference, be that serving a meal, planting a tree or mentoring a child.
Join us for the "Hartford Cares" vigil on June 30, or for some of the follow-up conversations over the weeks and months to come.
You may decide that it's time for you to give back, or to give again. If so, one thing's for certain: Like my young friends at camp this week, your life will never be the same.
Ted Carroll is president of Leadership Greater Hartford. For more information about Hartford Cares, visit www.leadershipgh.org or contact Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or (860) 951-6161, extension 17.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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