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  November 27, 2015
A Helping Hand...


Sometimes I don’t know exactly how a person gets signed up to receive my weekly blog...

Such is the case of Ken Manchen... our guest blogger today...

Somehow Ken started receiving the blog... and a friendship was started...

Ken is doing some incredible one-on-one work with a young man trying hard to make a better life for himself...

It’s a journey that is not unusual for many of us... but gives us cause to be grateful for all those who have helped us along our life’s path...

Happy Thanksgiving,


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"You can’t have a perfect day without doing something for someone who’ll never be able to repay you."

                                   ~John Wooden

From those who have much, much is expected.

Meet Amar.  He is 12 years.  He lives with his single mom and eight siblings.  Together they live in a small Chicagoapartment in a high crime area of Chicago known as Cabrini Green.

I tutor him on Thursday nights in an after-school program for inner city kids.

Each Thursday, a school bus brings him and other kids to a church where they are fed a hot dinner. 

After dinner the students meet with a tutor for an hour or more.

This past Thursday, I got a call informing me Amar might not make it that night as his one-month old sister died unexpectedly.

I immediately thought back to last year, when Amar’s 16-year old brother was shot and killed by a local gang member, although he never much talked about it with me.

Last Christmas, my wife and I had the opportunity to take Amar and her own student to Dave and Buster’s for lunch and games.  

We drove that morning, over to Amar’s apartment, to pick the kids up.  Before leaving, Amar’s mother asked if we could take her to the local Target store.  

It seemed like a strange request as the store was just down the block and only a short walk on a relatively warm day.  

When she saw the puzzled looks on our faces, she explained that the police had arrested and were prosecuting the gang member that killed her son.

She said she regularly visited the police to ensure they were bringing the arrested gang member to justice. Needless to say that the local gang wasn’t happy with her involvement.
Even a short walk a block away meant that she was vulnerable to a gang retaliation attack by those same gang members that had killed her son so it was best that she had a ride.

My wife and I were there just to treat two young men to lunch as a reward for studying hard and not missing a tutoring session... but now we found ourselves in the middle of a situation that was outside of our comfortable environment.  Would we now become gang targets too?

We took Amar’s mother to the store... not because we felt obliged... but because it was the right thing to do.

When we returned to Amar’s home, it was after dark.  As we drove up to his building, we saw a Chicago police cruiser parked at the curb. 

Thankfully, it was just a routine check and not something more sinister.  The police were just there to create a higher visibility in the neighborhood and deter gang activity.

We dropped the kids off and headed back to our comfortable suburban home, never so grateful for what we normally take for granted.

I have been a long term reader of Jim’s Friday blogs.

Last year when reading a column I discovered that Jim and I shared a common heritage. We are descendants of Romanian immigrant grandparents who first arrived in the Midwest and then gravitated to California.

I was moved by his story of his grandmother and how she long suffered from arthritis so I decided to contribute to his Arthritis Foundation charity bike ride down the coast of California. 

Later, I was informed that I had the great fortune to win the grand prize (Southwest Airlines Rewards miles) that year... although it was never about winning a prize but rather to support Jim, his grandmother and the Arthritis Foundation).

As we coordinated the transfer of the miles, Jim and I went from being strangers, to being acquaintances, to becoming friends.

This year I once again contributed to Jim’s charity bike ride and he in turn contributed to my charity running of the 2015 Chicago marathon.

My charity was the Chicago after-school tutoring organization I volunteer with (Citylights). It seems Jim and I both share a belief in the need to give back to our communities.

Is it really that important to give back to our communities? 

Does raising money for research or giving of your time really help to make a difference, or do we do it simply to make ourselves feel better and perhaps a little less guilty knowing that we have so much?

It is my sincere hope that offering up time and money truly makes a difference but I really don’t know for certain.

Does it make us feel good knowing that we have given back to those a little less fortunate?  Typically, when we give back we enrich ourselves in ways we never expected. I know that is true for me.

Let’s return to Amar.

I have been his tutor for 2 years now.  He is a kid with eight siblings and no father figure in his life. Understandably, it took a long time for him to learn to trust me.  I sense he has been let down by adults before.

During our first year together, I quickly realized that Amar, as well as the others in the program, didn’t need a tutor as much as they needed a trusted friend.  A friend who showed up each and every week... without excuse.  Someone who didn’t judge them, who cared about them, and someone they knew that they could rely on.  

This trust relationship is something most of us take for granted.

So what are Amar’s chances of escaping his current situation?

To start with, he is smart and has the opportunity to make a better life for himself but he faces many obstacles most of us don’t.

His inner city school is poorly rated. He will have to compete against kids from better schools if he ever hopes to get into college. The high level of crime, drug use, and unemployment in his neighborhood will all pose hurdles that he will need to overcome.

Will he eventually join a gang or suffer the wrath of a gang?  Will he even want to go to college and if he is accepted to a college, how will he pay for it?

If he isn’t strong enough and supported enough, will he eventually become angry at the unequal opportunities that currently exist between haves and have-nots?

We never know for sure what the outcome will be... but I do know this... without our help, the people who are struggling to escape will be trapped in an endless cycle of poverty and destitution.  

At the very least, our contributions of resources can help to lower the odds and offer a helping hand to those who desire to improve their lives.

We don’t need to travel to far-off lands and remote locations to find people who need our help.  There are people in our own community who struggle each and every day to live a full and productive life... people who are looking for a hand-up rather than a hand-out... people who sometimes just need a trusting friend.

I truly believe that companies and individuals that give back to their communities create stronger, healthier places for their employees and associates.

I sense most of us reading these Friday columns have been fortunate in life.  

Many of us had loving parents, lived in a safe home, were well-fed, enjoyed a quality education, and had ample opportunities for a successful career.

There is no doubt that our own success is due to our hard work and sacrifices, but at the same time, we need to remember that most of us had a support system that isn’t always available to everyone...

Now is the time to consider giving back...

...to those who need a little help...

...to those a little less fortunate...

...to those who simply need a friend that they can trust...   

Happy Thanksgiving!  

Ken Manchen

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Jim Kalb Jim Kalb President

Email -  jimk@optifuse.com
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