The Good Things that Come from Added Financial Support (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Money

Money (Retrieved from blogs.kqed.org, January 16, 2016)

This week, there were three lottery tickets that were sold with winning numbers for the lottery jackpot of $1.6 billion.  Just hearing about the extremely high jackpot was incredible to me, not to mention more incredible that the winners of the three winning tickets will be splitting those monies between them.  That kind of money is simply that which I am unable to fathom.  I mean, what does one do with 100s of millions of dollars?  Certainly, it is nice to have money.  More than just enough to live on, with a bit of a cushion or buffer, is always good.  But, being the winner of a lottery jackpot requires a lifestyle change that is likely a difficult adjustment for some.

Believing myself to be a person who is not very “lucky,” I am not a gambler.  There are definitely certain calculated risks that I have taken in my life, I have invested in the stock market in the past, and I have earned some money on some investments, however I am not one to play the lottery.  In fact, I think I may have played the lottery only once.  That was in a similar situation in the past few years when the jackpot was insanely high.  I really just played it for the fun of it, and bought only one ticket.  The odds of ever being the winner just never pan out in those types of situations anyway.  Why put money out there if there will be no return on it?  And I already know that I am generally not a person who is “lucky,” so why waste my money.  That’s my philosophy.

I am a person, however, who will apply for scholarships, grants, fellowships, and monetary awards.  In the past, I have applied for several of them, and have received them. Most recently, between six to seven years ago when I was earning my healthcare certificate at a local technical college, I received the Hope Grant which helped finance my studies.  I am thankful to all of the taxpayers out there in Georgia who supported my education in healthcare.  I believe the grant I received was about $750 per semester for three semesters. That was really helpful!

More recently, in the past three years, I have applied for several scholarships and a grant to support my studies in counseling.  Unfortunately, while I have been eligible to receive them, I have not been selected to get any of them.  I applied for merit and academic scholarships at my university, and would likely be among the top candidates for receipt of them, however none have been awarded to me.  Within the past two months, I applied for a $5,000 grant in the counseling field through a national counseling organization, and was not selected for that either.  More recent than that, I wrote an essay for yet another national counseling organization in application for another scholarship, and am waiting to hear back – probably that I was not selected to receive it.

Certainly, I have the writing skills, and I have the knowledge, commitment, and dedication to always do my best in whatever I do.  However, receiving $500, $1,000, or – can you imagine – $5,000 would really go a long way for me.  I often wonder why it is that those people who sometimes have the greatest financial need are those who are most often overlooked.  I would be happy to provide my tax returns for the past several years to reflect my financial status and to prove my financial need.  This, however, never seems to be good enough.

So, here I am again, back at square one.  I am glad not to have gotten my hopes up about any of those grants or scholarships.  I could have recently applied for a fellowship, as well, but the particular organization that hosted it wanted winners to invest too much out of pocket than I am willing to do.  At any rate, it would have been nice to receive even a small scholarship or financial award rather than financing so much of my education for my second graduate level degree through student loans.  Obtaining the $5,000 grant could have already paid down the interest that has accrued on my student loans.

I cannot say that I did not try.  At least I made the effort to apply for these scholarships and the grant.  Now I know that I would not have received them whether I applied or not, but at least I applied.  One never knows unless you try.  I have gained nothing, but I have lost nothing either.  I am not that discouraged because I did not elevate my hopes for anything, though it would have been nice to receive a small sum to support my efforts toward becoming established in the counseling profession.

 

How to Sacrifice More for a Chapel? What about People?

Virgin Mary Image (Retrieved on March 15, 2015 from kofc1349.org)

Virgin Mary Image (Retrieved on March 15, 2015 from kofc1349.org)

My church has recently been raising money to build a chapel, to be attached to the main church sanctuary. This chapel has been an integral part of the original plan ever since the new church was built a few short years ago. The head priest at my church has been campaigning during Masses to encourage parishioners to contribute, to make pledges to the building campaign for the chapel. The priests of my church are sensitive and caring men of good hearts. They are positive-minded and see the goodness in others, always promoting and proclaiming God’s word. They are men who people look up to, men who are leaders, men who have the respect of the followers.

However, sitting among my fellow parishioners in a relatively new church that was desired by and created for the parish community, it strikes me that the building we already have is more than enough. Why is it necessary that a chapel be built? We can gather, worship, and pray in any location. Must that location always be a church, a chapel, a sanctuary that looks fancy, costs much, and makes us feel good to attend?

One of the concerns regarding costs of the church includes the amount of money it takes to heat it – and likely air condition it, as well. Monies can be saved by applying energy-saving actions to prevent the heated and/or air-conditioned air from escaping. In winter, the set of doors beyond the main entrances should be closed at all times. The same can be done in summer. Side doors to the church sanctuary could be designated for emergency exits only. This will further prevent energy – and money – from exiting the building. What also could have been accomplished – and it may still be able to be done – is to better fortify the church roof with high-quality insulation. Insulation is not something many people think about here in the South, however, it saves $100s to $1,000s in the long run.

Picture of Virgin Mary (Retrieved on March 15, 2015 from turnbacktogod.com)

Picture of Virgin Mary (Retrieved on March 15, 2015 from turnbacktogod.com)

Why do I care about all of this? Sure, I am a member of my church; I am a parishioner. I have been a follower of my faith – despite some disagreements with overall leadership and policies – for my entire life. There are things I like about my faith, and things that I don’t like. However, I also see that other faiths have similar issues. I further care about this issue because of the environment. I wonder how we, as parishioners, can enjoy the best energy-savings and value for our money. I ask what steps can be taken to best accomplish and continue that?

But, even more important, the main issue regarding why I care about this issue is about myself. Why, you ask? I love my God, I am a faithful follower, and I am a supporter of the leadership of my church, however it strikes me as being out-of-touch when parishioners are asked to make more of a sacrifice in our lives so that this chapel may be erected. As one who sacrifices just to come to church, just to attend church services, and just to give what little support that I do to my church, to be asked to sacrifice more is asking far too much. One cannot sacrifice more when there is no more to sacrifice. If I sacrifice more, I would be selling the clothes directly off of my body.

So, tell me, how can those who have no more to sacrifice give more? How is it that many of my fellow parishioners around me pledge $2,000,000 to build a chapel when there are those in their midst who cannot sacrifice more? Why aren’t they inquiring about the well-being of those who cannot sacrifice more? Why aren’t they asking about what happens to those who are unable to sacrifice more? Why aren’t they offering food, work, hope, support? Overlooked are the invisible poor.

They must believe that God will fulfill the needs of those who are unable to sacrifice more – by building a fancy $2,000,000 chapel in which we can worship. Certainly, they must believe that God will provide. Personally, I don’t need a $2,000,000 chapel to attend when there is no more that I can sacrifice. We already have a church, so why do we need a chapel? Perhaps some kind soul could sacrifice a burial plot for me when I am unable to sacrifice more – just as was done for Jesus. But then again, maybe not – they might still be paying off their pledge for the $2,000,000 chapel (that was a joke). By then, it will be too late anyway.

Being Most Thankful for Family (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Happy Thanksgiving! (Retrieved from www.vintag.es, November 27, 2014)

Happy Thanksgiving! (Retrieved from http://www.vintag.es, November 27, 2014)

On Thanksgiving, what I am always most thankful for is my family.  My family is always there for me in thick and thin.  My family has weathered many storms and enjoyed sunny days together; I can count on my family for love, compassion, and support, and I provide the same to them. I don’t have a very large family, nor do I have much money, but I have a big heart, full of lots of love. My love is shared with and among my family, for whom I am most thankful on  Thanksgiving and every day.

Other things for which I am thankful include food, faith, community, freedom, education, technology, career, and health.  I am thankful for food, though it is not easy to get by from month to month with food prices continuing to rise.  I appreciate my faith because, if it was not for that, I would not be where I am today, and things would likely be much worse.  I am grateful for community, such as organizations that provide fellowship, to my family.

I am always thankful for freedom and I remember my grandmother’s stories about when she lived in Communist Poland, with people fearing for their lives when homes were raided in the middle of the night and people were never seen again.  I am grateful for education, though the large debt required to pay for it is a hardship.  I appreciate technology that makes life easier.  And, I am thankful for career in many capacities, including that of being a mother, as well as for the potential of a stable gainful and enjoyable employment in a workplace with decent people, if that is ever attainable.  I am thankful for my good health so I do not have to pay out-of-pocket to see the doctor as a result of being without health insurance.

So often, organizations such as colleges, churches, and charities have fundraising drives to help give to those in need.  When I am asked to donate, I reply that I could benefit from some assistance, myself.  As a poor single white mother, so often such places overlook people such as myself, as has occurred again this year.  People in my shoes are reduced to begging for even a little bit in return.  People may maintain the perspective that whites have privilege and that is definitely a stereotype that hurts poor white single mothers such as myself because the majority of any aid, as I observe, goes to people of other races.

I am also thankful for the holes in some of my shabby clothes and worn-out shoes, the place that I live even though it is not my own, the student loans that provide opportunity, my nearly decade-old vehicle that is still in great shape, and that sacrifices that I am able to make for the benefit of my family.  I am thankful for the $15 haircut that I get every two months instead of going to a salon and spending loads of money, and the $3 bottle of fingernail polish that I can use for a manicure or pedicure instead of going someplace to have it done for me.  I am grateful for the free lunch that I eat twice each week at my apprenticeship, and for the store closing sale at the local KMart where I can save a few dollars on Christmas gifts for my son.  I am thankful for what little I have because more is always spent than saved.

These are additional reasons why I am thankful for my family, particularly at Thanksgiving.  Every so often, there is that rare person who comes along who might be caring and/or supportive, but with my family, I know they will always be there, in good and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer.  People should be more important than money and possessions, and indeed, my family is most important to me.

So, on this Thanksgiving, I invite you to think about family, values, and people in need.  Think about and be thankful for people who are close to you.  Think about people whom you see at work or in church every week who have little or nothing, and who are usually overlooked in their need.  Take action on what you can do rather than what you cannot.  Open your heart and mind to see what you do not want to see, and take action for what you otherwise would not have done.   A little bit goes a long way, especially for folks who don’t have much.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Remember what you are thankful for!

[Author’s Note: Within one day of posting this article, I was solicited by a man on LinkedIn, out-of-state, to contact him by whatever means necessary.  People really need to get their heads out of the gutter, and be open to simply being helpful to those in need without being offensive and/or wanting something (inappropriate) in return.  Solicitation is so offensive, degrading, and dehumanizing to me; is nothing that I have ever done; and it is incredible to me that so many men (I’ve experienced this many times on LinkedIn) do it.  It is unfortunate and tragic for humanity that there are those who attempt (and succeed) in taking advantage of people in need in a sexual manner.]

The Gernatt’s of Western New York State in the 1980s and 1990s (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Dan Gernatt, Sr. and Flavia Gernatt, 1990s

Dan Gernatt, Sr. and Flavia Gernatt, 1990s

As you have likely read in a prior post to this blog, a person who was inspiring and to whom I looked up to as a role model when I was a teen and young adult was Flavia “Feggie” (Schmitt) Gernatt (now deceased).  Growing up, I lived in the same neighborhood of Seneca Heights and Taylor Hollow in Collins, New York in Western New York State as Feggie and many members of her family and extended family.  Feggie and her husband, Dan Sr., lived in Collins, right next to the main headquarters of one of their gravel and asphalt plants.

Next door to Dan Sr. and Feggie lived their son, Dan Jr., and his family.  Just a couple of doors down the road from them and across the street lives her eldest daughter, Patricia Rebmann.  The Rebmann Family has lived there for decades, having raised about 10 children.  And, in a neighboring town has lived Feggie’s and Dan’s youngest daughter, Phyllis.  Phyllis and her family have lived in Perrysburg for many years.  Many years ago, Phyllis and her family gave a cute teddy bear as a gift to my son when he was a newborn.

Gernatt Stallion, Sir Taurus, 1989

Gernatt Stallion, Sir Taurus, 1989

I got to know the Gernatt’s by living in the same neighborhood and by attending the same church, St. Joseph Church in Gowanda, New York and the Diocese of Buffalo, of the Roman Catholic faith.  I was also familiar with some of the Gernatt’s racing stallions since they were housed in my neighborhood.  While the Gernatt’s and Rebmann’s had always attended the church’s parochial school at that time, I also got to know them and was familiar with them through bus rides to and from school.  Donald Gernatt, the youngest son of Dan Jr. and Dolores “Dolly” (Stelmach) Gernatt, and my brother, were friends, striking up a friendship on those occasional bus rides that Don took to and from school (most of the time, he was driven to or from school).  Indeed, my brother’s first employer was Dan Gernatt, Jr. at one of his gravel and asphalt companies.

The older children of Dan Jr. and Dolly are Dianna (Gernatt) Saraf and Dan III.  Dan Jr. and Dolly are divorced, and Dan is married to his second wife, Roseann (Morgano) Gernatt.  As a kid, I also knew some of the younger Rebmann kids, including Dave, Barb, and Jeanne, through church as well as Girl Scouts.  Some of the older Rebmann’s continued to live in Seneca Heights after getting married and having their own families.

The Ulmer Family, 2000

The Ulmer Family, 2000

In my mid-teens, I would often attend daily mass at St. Joseph Church, and discovered that many in the Gernatt extended family did, as well.  Through church and mass, I got to know and become familiar with Dan Sr.’s and Feggie’s daughter, Phyllis Ulmer, and her family.  Phyllis and her husband, Rich (now deceased) have two adult sons, and Rich has two adult children from a prior marriage.  Phyllis and Rich have been involved in the church and school in many capacities.  I also got to know and become more familiar with Dan Sr., Feggie, and Dan Jr., as they regularly attended daily mass, as well.

I remember back to the time when I was a student at the University at Buffalo and on Spring Break that my car had broken down, and after asking Dan Sr. and Feggie to transport me to and from daily mass for a few days, they did so.  They included me as their guest in the light breakfast that followed a 6:30 AM mass during Lent at that time, and were very kind to me.  I further got to know Feggie a bit more while catching up with her and walking with her, occasionally, on walks through our neighborhood.  Feggie was a wise, intelligent, insightful, and strong woman.

The Gernatt and Saraf Families, 1980s

The Gernatt and Saraf Families, 1980s

As a high school junior, a friend of mine began dating one of the Rebmann’s.  This young man was a cousin and friend to Don Gernatt, and so, I asked my friend if she would pass along to him that I was interested in seeing him, if he was available.  It was at that time in 1987 that I dated Don for a few months, until my family’s out-of-state vacation interfered with Don’s prom.  I remember him as an exceptional gentleman who treated me with kindness, appreciation, honor, respect, and dignity, in the manner that I believe that all men should treat women.  Since that time, I have found no one with whom I have been romantically involved to have met or exceeded the standard that he set for me in men.

Looking back, I wish someone had told me that most people would not be as kind or respectful of me as Don was.  Then, I would not have held my expectations so high.  While Don and his family members are multimillionaires who are very powerful and influential in New York State business and politics, and in the Roman Catholic Church, my interest in him had never been about money, but in him as a person.  Indeed, the only financial support I ever received from the Gernatt Family was through a $50 sponsorship when I participated in the Miss Teen of New York Pageant in 1987.  Further, I had always observed Don to be kind and good-hearted, even toward those who were jealous of him during our rides on the school bus.  Don is the only member of the Gernatt family and extended family with whom I have ever been romantically involved.

I suppose that when people get to a certain age, they may recall the past and certain past experiences that are always prominent in their memories.  Don and his family live in Springville, New York, while Dianna and her family live in Hamburg, New York.  And, while we have all gone on our separate paths in life now and I no longer have connections to these families, I can still recall many fond memories that I have of dating my first boyfriend, Don.

All other men whom I have dated since my first boyfriend are those who can take lessons from Don in how to treat a woman with respect, honor, dignity, and appreciation.  I am thankful that I was able to experience from him the manner in which men should treat their romantic partners.  I hope that I will have taught my own son to be as respectful of a gentleman toward women as my first boyfriend was to me.

Sources:

Michele Babcock-Nice (March 17, 2014).  Having a Love for Horses: Remembering Sir Taurus and Elitist.  Blogbymichele.WordPress.com.  Retrieved on May 5, 2014 from http://wp.me/p25c1A-qi

Michele Babcock-Nice (February 3, 2012).  In Remembrance of Flavia C. Gernatt.  Blogbymichele.WordPress.com.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://wp.me/p25c1A-3O

Michele Babcock-Nice (2014).  Photograph collection of Michele Babcock-Nice, 1971-2014.  (Photos of the Gernatt’s, Ulmer’s, and Sir Taurus from their families/owners, 1980s-1990s.)  Snellville, Georgia.

References:

Gernatt Asphalt Products, Inc. (2001).  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://www.gernatt.com/

Wikipedia (2014).   Daniel and Flavia Gernatt Family Foundation.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_and_Flavia_Gernatt_Family_Foundation

Wikipedia (2014).  Gernatt Family of Companies.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gernatt_Family_of_Companies

Wikipedia (2014).  Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.  Retrieved on May 6, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_Diocese_of_Buffalo

Wikipedia (2014).  St. Joseph Parish, Gowanda, New York.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Joseph_Parish,_Gowanda,_New_York

“What Happened to the American Dream?” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

What has happened to the American Dream?  Is it alive?  Is it dead?  Has it changed?  Does it apply to some people and not others?  I think there are several possible answers to this question, with certain answers applying to particular people and different answers being relevant to others.  I will attempt to explore some of the answers to the initially-posed question, and relate those answers to various Americans, particularly those who live on my own street.

When my parents and grandparents were growing up, I believe the American Dream meant to get married, potentially be educated, have a family, own a home, be employed, and be as successful as possible.  There was talk when I was a kid of the American Dream including families owning a home with a white picket fence surrounding the yard, and generally being happy and successful, much like one would imagine on the TV show, Leave it to Beaver.

Even on later shows such as The Brady Bunch, larger families who were combined as a result of second marriages were portrayed as experiencing the ups and downs of life, yet still being happy and successful.  I would be hard-pressed to select an American television show, today, that portrayed the ideal living situation for most American families.  Perhaps a family more like that reflected on Dr. Pol, having a single, adult son living at home with parents who are senior citizens, may be more like the America of today.

Personally, as an adult, the American Dream for me, meant becoming educated, getting married (to an amazing man who would be both an excellent husband and father to our children), owning a home, and having a successful career that was enjoyable and rewarding, along with having a happy family.  The American Dream also meant helping others and giving back to my community.  Throughout my 20s, I strived toward those aims, and achieved one of them – becoming educated.

In my 30s, I accomplished and/or partially attained some other facets of my American Dream, including getting married, owning a home, and having a successful career that was both stressful and rewarding.  While the marriage was nothing close to the ideal that I had envisioned or hoped to achieve, an outcome of the union was the birth of my wonderful son, a blessing from God for whom I will always be thankful.

I can’t say if the family part of my American Dream was ever really “happy,” though I always tried to put on a happy face for my son so he would not have to witness the stress, loneliness, unhappiness, and other issues that were the reality in the marriage.  The marital union was never really a partnership as it should have been, but more like roommates living together and sharing costs, not the type of situation one would envision for the making of a stable family.

One thing was for sure, however, the American Dream never included divorce.  Marriage is supposed to be forever.  Divorce was not an option.  Yet, even so, divorce became a reality, though out of no absolute choice of my own.  I always had hope for better in my American Dream, not worse.  No matter how hard I tried, my American Dream never improved, but only worsened, at least in regard to marital issues.  One just cannot force a person to change or perceive things differently if he won’t.

So, this brings me to the reality of having lost the American Dream.  For so many years, the American Dream has been an elusive façade that, to me, no longer exists.  Having experienced marital separations and a divorce, as well as being unemployed and a full-time student, both the economy and lack of opportunity have proved too challenging for many such as myself to maintain the hope of an American Dream.

What I have observed is that many people who have experienced divorce have also lost their American Dream.  People who have lost their jobs and/or careers, as well as their homes, have also often lost sight of the American Dream.  For others, experiencing each of these factors, simultaneously, has all but obliterated their American Dream.  American Dream?  “What American Dream?,” they ask.  Particularly after a divorce, in addition to the loss of employment and home, it is extremely difficult for people to recover at all, economically.  They wonder what hope is left for something as intangible as the American Dream.  Indeed, for many, the American Dream transformed into something more like an American Nightmare.

Taking into account those who live on my own street, for example, it is possible to explain how the American Dream has changed.  There are 16 houses on my street.  Of those 16 houses, there are six homes in which extended families are living together.  More specifically, in those six homes that include extended families – which all happen to be Caucasian – there is one or more adult child living in the home with one or more of his or her parents who is a senior citizen and/or elderly.  In three of those six homes previously mentioned, there is a single and/or divorced mother who is also raising one or more children.  So, in those three homes, there are three generations of extended family members living together.  Ten years ago, this is something that was rarely experienced among Caucasian families in the United States.

Additionally, on my street, there are only two young couples who own their own homes.  One couple has children, and the other does not.  Most of the homes on my street are owned by Caucasians who are senior citizens and/or elderly.  There is also one home in which an African-American mother resides with three of her sons who are minors.  And, there is a home in which one Caucasian man who is divorced lives by himself.  There are also two homes in which two adult sons live with their elderly mother, and another adult son lives with his elderly mother.  Also, each of these men has been married and divorced at least once.

This is just the make-up of those who live on my street.  This is just another example of the changing face of the American landscape, the transformation of the American Dream.  It is also a reflection that for certain people, the American Dream may still be alive and well.  For two elderly couples and one older couple on my street, they have their homes to themselves.  They have lived out their lives and appear to have lived the American Dream, as well.  Is it only for them, then, that the American Dream has been accomplished?

So, that brings me back to my initial question.  What has happened to the American Dream?  The American Dream appears to be alive for a select few people, but not for most others.  At least, this appears to be applicable to most of those people who live on my street.  Or, perhaps now, they may have a different conceptualization of the American Dream.

At any rate, the American Dream is certainly not anything near to what it was in the times of my parents and grandparents.  For many, such as myself, perhaps it was just an ideal that was never really able to be achieved anyway.  Those who survive must adjust to a changing world, changing times, and changing ideals.  Having strived for something that was unattainable in its entirety, I have experienced just how elusive and no longer realistic the American Dream really is.  One may have to be happy for having experienced parts of it.

“When Sexually Offending ‘Pillars of the Community’ go Undetected” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Pillar Ruins, Retrieved from wallygrom/Flickr, August 16, 2013

Pillar Ruins, Retrieved from wallygrom/Flickr, August 16, 2013

When men who sexually harass, assault, traumatize, or otherwise violate others, especially when they are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ – and they go undetected and are not held accountable or responsible for their actions – everyone, including themselves, is diminished and victimized.  Recently, we have heard and read about the sexually offensive actions of San Diego’s mayor; nearly 20 women have now come forward with accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct by this man.  Neither is he the first whose actions have violated and offended so many women, nor will he be the last.

Many other men from all walks of life may go undetected for years or even decades with their sexually offensive and/or harmful actions, especially if they are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential.  Often, these men – when faced with the harsh truth of their words and/or actions – blame, punish, revictimize, and do whatever possible to destroy the survivors of their misconduct.  For them, it is a vicious cycle from which they cannot escape because they may often be unwilling and/or unable to honestly admit to themselves that they are wrong, that their words and actions are harmful to their victims, and that they require assistance to overcome their misconduct.  In fact, they may not even see any wrongdoing in their actions, nor perceive their victims as victims; thus, the cycle continues, especially when these men are undetected and are not accountable, nor responsible for their actions.

In 2007, a female parochial school student at St. Joseph’s School in Gowanda, New York described to her teacher and her fellow classmates about how the parish priest, at the time, had sexually harassed her when he was alone with her in the parish rectory.  At the time of the incident, the student was 12-years-old.  This occurred during a time when a party was being held in recognition of the altar servers who gave of their time and service to the church and school at parish masses.  The student reported that she had not told her family about the incident, and therefore, the teacher took responsibility and informed her parents about it.  Sadly, the parents did nothing about it. 

The teacher, being concerned about the girl’s safety, suggested that she no longer be an altar server.  The girl, however, wanted to continue being an altar server – and did so for her remaining year at the school – while the girl’s teacher and certain of the girl’s fellow students made great efforts to be sure that there were no other instances of the priest being alone with her.  That the priest (who is now retired) was in his 60’s at the time, and the student was only 12, suggests that this church leader may be a pedophile. 

When confronted through communications by the teacher that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing rather than a pious church leader, the parish priest retaliated against her.  He privately stated to her, threatening that she “should be afraid” of “the Mafia.”  Far from fearing the Mafia for having done no wrong, this woman continues to believe that it is the priest who should be afraid – not of the Mafia – but of the judgment of God.

During the years 1976-2006, a former female member of St. Joseph’s Church – the church that is associated with the aforementioned school – experienced repeated sexual harassment, as well as two instances of pedophilia by one of the wealthy, powerful, and influential benefactors of these institutions.  The early instances occurred when the girl was 5 and 7-years-old, with one being at one of the man’s businesses and the other occurring while the man was dressed as Santa Claus.  The man sexually harassed this female, treating her like his sexual plaything, from his ages of approximately 35-65 years old.  In later years, the man typically sexually harassed the woman in church and/or on church property, including making sexually explicit actions and gestures toward her in church during masses.  The man has also been known to have sexually harassed other women and girls in his immediate community.

In 2007, the father of the man immediately aforementioned behaved in a manner of sexual misconduct toward the woman by committing a sexual battery against her, privately, while in church after a mass.  The woman remained in the presence of this offender and confronted him, though he simply walked away.  As a man whom this woman considered a friend – someone whom she had known only as a friend throughout her life, and who had provided emotional and spiritual support to her in the past, as well as having dated one of his grandsons – the woman expected an apology at the very least, but got nothing of the sort. 

To have lowered themselves to committing pedophilia, offensive sexual actions, and/or harmful sexual misconduct – and taking no responsibility to correct it, nor to be accountable for it – reflects how men who are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ may go undetected in their sexual misconduct.  These men may be priests, business owners, award winners in their communities, and highly-regarded by most people.  That these men have not taken any steps to correct or seek forgiveness for their misconduct from their victims causes them to avoid identifying and realizing that they have a problem, and therefore, they continue the vicious cycle with other unsuspecting people.  They do not know or care in the least that they have lost the respect and trust of those whom they have victimized; they appear oblivious to the harm they have caused.  Rather than honestly admit and recognize that they have a problem, they do everything possible to cover it up, as well as blame, punish, retaliate, and destroy their victims. 

I feel sorry for men who have such a need for power, control, and dominance over girls and women that they behave in ways that sexually harass, assault, violate, traumatize, harm, and/or intimidate their victims.  That there are many men out there who are viewed by others with admiration and respect, though they secretly and/or discretely perform actions of sexual misconduct, reflects how easy it is for them to go undetected.  In situations where the men performing the sexual misconduct are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ is worse because they have access to so many venues and opportunities to commit their sexual offenses.

Women and girls, in particular, are at great risk for sexual exploitation by the wealthy and powerful.  I have often heard the phrase, “From whom much is given, much is expected,” however in some cases regarding the wealthy and powerful, their sexual misconduct goes undetected and may continue for years and/or decades.  That many men violate the God-given rights of women and girls (and boys) by committing sexually offensive acts against them shows their lack of respect, appreciation, understanding, insight, and compassion toward them.  Many men, especially those who are among the wealthy and/or powerful, can do better to keep their sexual impulses controlled and in check so that they do not rise to the level of harassment, misconduct, assault, or trauma toward others.  By not doing so, they truly have no concept regarding the level of emotional pain, distress, trauma, and/or mistrust they have caused, and continue to cause years into the future.

I would like to recognize and send my appreciation to all those who stand up for women, girls, children, and the rights of women and children, especially toward survivors of sexual traumas and abuse.  In my own personal circle of friends, two of these women are Merrie and Frances.  Both women risked their own well-being and reputations, as I also have, to stand up against sexual harassment, sexual offenses, gender discrimination, and hostility toward women in our communities; we also experienced retaliation for our efforts, and still do. 

The ultimate in love and friendship occurs when people risk and sacrifice themselves for the good of others, much as Jesus did.  While strong women who stand up to protect those who experience sexual trama and offenses toward them are not often rewarded for their efforts, we have been rewarded by knowing that we have done the right thing in God’s eyes.  Our true rewards await in Heaven; the truth has already set us free.

“Student Exodus from Area Parochial School Could be Avoided” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

During this Summer of 2013, 15 rising fourth grade students left St. John Neumann Regional Catholic School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Only three new students entered the fourth grade in addition to the 15 who left.  During the Summer of 2012, eight rising third grade students left the school.  Only two students entered the school as new pupils in the third grade.  Interestingly, both of those students also left the school this Summer, after only one year at the school.  Additionally, the vast majority of students who have left are Caucasian; most others are of mixed race parentage.  Each year for the past three years, the school has considerably down-sized in terms of student population as well as faculty.  Currently, all grade levels have two classes; it used to be that most or all grade levels had three classes up until three years ago.

As a person who has been Roman Catholic all of my life, and who has provided a Catholic education to my child, the exodus of students and faculty from St. John Neumann School is concerning and disturbing.  One must ask, then, why there are so many who are leaving the school.  I have the answers to that, and it does not necessarily involve finances, budgets, or economics.

I suspect that I will come across as “the bad guy” to many by sharing this information regarding the school, however it is for my concern for students’ welfare, well-being, safety, and positive growth and development that I am doing so.  Additionally, my son is aware that I have a blog, and he also asked me to include his perspectives; my son is 10-years-old.

First, let me state that St. John Neumann School provides an outstanding – outstanding – education to the students.  Overall, my observations of what students learn through the challenging curriculum are well above my expectations.  Each year that my son was a student at St. John Neumann School, however, was a roller coaster.  There were wonderful and memorable experiences that he had with several outstanding teachers, however there were also many situations that he experienced by peers and adults at the school that were mentally and emotionally harmful and injurious to him. 

I often communicated with both school administrators and school system administrators, encouraging that greater sensitivity, compassion, and understanding be provided to the students.  Some of my suggestions were put into place, and some were not, and some were later removed after they were first implemented.  As an involved parent at the school, as well as an active volunteer for five years there, there was much that I personally observed and/or was informed about by students.  By far, the most serious issue facing students is the bullying, harshness, and often insensitive treatment they experience by administrators and certain teachers and staff.  I often encouraged upper administrators in the past five years to hold sensitivity training for employees of the school, though that never occurred.

Another very serious issue at the school is bullying that students’ experience from their own peers.  Some children repeatedly experienced bullying from teachers, adminstrators, and/or other staff, as well as certain peers.  This has created an unnecessary and avoidable stressful and hostile environment for many students.  One problem is because many of the school employees are so harsh and insensitive toward students, they are bullies themselves, and they therefore do not recognize, nor put a stop to student bullying.  Last year, more than 25% of parents responding to a school survey stated that bullying is a problem at the school.  I am one who has, again, encouraged school system administrators to hold anti-bullying and bullying prevention programs for faculty and staff at the school, however that has also never occurred.  Such training may help reduce bullying and increase sensitivity and compassion of adults and students toward other students.

A further big concern is the overwhelming pressure that is placed on students to be perfect in every area and in every way – academics, behavior, sociality, religion, and extra-curriculars.  Beginning with the youngest children, students who do not complete their homework are regularly disciplined.  In the past, teachers required students to stand outside for 5-10 minutes “on the line” – as they would say, on the outdoor paved parking lot play area, typically in the excessive heat.  This was an unspoken rule practiced by primary and early elementary school teachers and paraprofessionals.  Older children who did not complete homework are required to write answers to particular questions on a “behavior reflection” that reduces or eliminates their 15-20 minutes of recess time. 

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

For two of the past five years, another unspoken disciplinary rule practiced by at least three school faculty involved making students walk and/or run “laps” outside during recess on the parking lot, again, typically in the excessive heat.  Sadly, this practice appears to be somewhat of a common, unwritten practice in this area – requiring students to run laps as punishment in excessively high temperatures – as I have discovered that it occurs at many schools.  In regard to one second grade boy, I informed his father that he was required to run laps as punishment by a paraprofessional, outside in the searing heat, and the dad did not believe me.  How sad that some parents are not more concerned about what their child is experiencing at school.

Other teachers at the school regularly separated certain students from their classmates by requiring them to keep their desks far-removed from those of other students, whether for certain assignments or even months at a time.  I often observed where many teachers would use guilt, humiliation, and embarassment toward students to demoralize them into doing what they wanted them to, rather than speak to children with respect, compassion, and understanding. 

Early elementary students are also required to miss 45 minutes of lunch and recess by serving detention in the main office, including for extremely minor offenses.  Such harsh and unnecessary punishments are unethical, demoralizing, and depressing to many students, particulary those outstanding students who get caught in the crossfires of the political drama at the school.  In consulting with employees of other area schools, lengthy detentions are required only in the most severe situations of high school – high school – students, not early elementary students!  I personally requested of school administration to reduce or eliminate this practice, though there was no positive change, and in fact, only a worsening of it, amounting to nothing less than emotional sadism toward students.  When those who are charged with caring for children see nothing wrong with such unnecessary, harsh disciplinary action toward children for the most minor of offenses, definite positive change is needed. 

Also in practice at the school is suspending children as young as second grade – to my knowledge; one very sweet little girl was suspended last Spring for I cannot imagine what.  In other area schools, such a practice of issuing out-of-school suspensions to the youngest students is unheard of and entirely taboo.  Such a practice proves the lack of sensitivity, understanding, and compassion by school administration.

I feel sorry for the students who are at St. John Neumann School due to the harshness, coldness, and lack of sensitivity and compassion that so many experience from alot of adults as well as peers at the school.  I have often encouraged those in charge who could make a positive difference to consider being more sensitive, understanding, kind, and compassionate toward students.   Harsh, demoralizing, excessive, and/or inhumane punishments that are disguised as “disciplinary actions” – even for the most minor of wrongs – are well beyond what school employees should expect of children.

When students get seriously hurt or ill at the school, a parent is lucky to get a phone call or communication about the incident from anyone.  A second-grade student got a serious blow to the head during outdoor play, but no ice was placed on the injury and no phone call was made to parents.  Upon picking up the child from school, it was obvious to the parent that the injury was serious.  When the child spoke of dizziness a number of hours after the injury, the parent took the child to their pediatrician. 

A kindergarten student fell in the hallway and sustained a large gash near her chin.  Parents received no communications from the school about the incident, and only a band-aid was placed on the wound.  Upon removing the band-aid after the child got home, the parent observed the depth of the wound, taking her to the emergency medical clinic where she received four stitches.  There have also been instances in which students were genuinely ill, but when they asked to go to the clinic, they were refused by certain teachers and paraprofessionals.  Keep in mind that absolutely no communications to parents by anyone at the school was made in any of these situations.

Safety is also a concern at the school.  There are no security cameras at the school, so there is no tangible record of situations that occur there – it is one person’s word against another’s.  A parent can inform an administrator about a teacher who belittles, bullies, and yells at a student – such as, simply for asking to use the restroom – but without any recording of it, the administrator does not believe it, does not want to get involved, and further, had already behaved in a bullyish manner toward children, so it is a lost cause.

Additionally, even with improved security measures having been implemented at the school this past Spring, it has not actually gotten better.  All visitors are to sign-in at the front office upon entering the building, however have been many occasion – including since the new policies were implemented – that I personally observed people enter and walk through the building without signing in at all, nor going to the main office.  There are also repeated instances of no one being at the front desk at the main office when people enter the school. 

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

Last Spring, there was an actual “intruder alert” that occurred at the school that was not a drill; I was at the school volunteering when it occurred.  Parents were not informed by any school officials that the intruder alert occurred.  While the Superintendent stated in an archdiocese newspaper article that such drills and procedures regularly occur at all schools, a teacher at the school shared that only one such alert – whether actual or drill – occurred there in the past seven years!  If she means that such alerts and/or drills occur every seven years, she would be correct that they occur regularly, however it has been my experience that many public schools, for example, practice them between 2-4 times each year.  Because these drills and alerts are not “regularly” practiced at the school, many teachers really do not know what to do.  When fire and even tornado drills are practiced more than intruder drills, I for one, am concerned about the safety of my child at the school.

Teachers are also known to leave outside doors propped or even slightly ajar when they are supposed to be closed and locked.  Unfortunately, this is also a practice at many schools, so that late colleagues can enter the school undetected by supervisors.  However, that this is regularly being done on the hallway that houses the youngest children is a serious safety concern.

Again, I will likely be viewed as the bearer of bad news by sharing this information, however I believe that steps need to be taken to make improvements in order to progress rather than regress at St. John Neumann School.  I know I won’t win any awards for my article.  That my son – a 10-year-old – also wanted me to share his views about what he experienced at the school reflects the tone and atmosphere that is present at the school. 

While we have had many wonderful and memorable experiences at the school, as well as having met, interacted with, and befriended many people – including some truly great teachers – it is a serious concern when a school does not live up to it’s mission and standards.  When “teaching the Gospel values” of God and Jesus in the Catholic tradition is merely spoken but not actually practiced by many school representatives, there is definitely something that must change for the better. 

So, at $7,000 per student in tuition only, St. John Neumann lost a total of 18 students from the second and third grades in the past two years.  I think that’s a total of $126,000 if I did my math correctly, right?  That’s alot of money to be losing.  In business, it is always said that it is much easier to retain those people who are already part of an institution rather than recruit new ones.  However, in sharing my perspectives about this to both school administrators and school system administrators, there has been an apathy and lack of concern about it.  For me, personally, as a Catholic and having desired for my child to have a Catholic education, this is a serious concern. 

Thus, the reasons that I have described herein, I believe, are those that have caused the increasing exodus from and diminished size of St. John Neumann School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Isn’t it time for a positive change?  My aim in sharing this information is not to be critical, however it is to be honest and urge for positive change and improvements to occur at the school.  St. John Neumann is surely an excellent school at which students receive an outstanding education.  And again, while we have had many wonderful, exciting, and happy memories at the school, there are also a number of issues that deserve both serious attention and improvement. 

It is definitely disappointing when a school of one’s own faith does not meet minimal expectations regarding the value and treatment of children.  Children should not be perceived, nor treated as bad what with issuing so many unnecessary and harsh punishments; it is the perspectives and training of the adults that need drastic improvement.  Maybe if more people put their heads together, praying and working hard in doing what is in the best interests of children, that will occur.