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Time with a child can make all the difference

December 28, 2018

It is a time for fresh beginnings, for hope, for saying goodbye to whatever went wrong for you in 2018 and embracing the boundless possibilities of a New Year.

And just as that hopeful notion was settling in, yet another hollow, sad story of senseless, stone-cold violence brings us back to reality.

The killing of Clinton Howell, a 12-year-old little boy in Bridgeport on Dec. 18, may just be the saddest story of the year.

It should make us angry, but also determined.

That Tuesday night, a week before Christmas, Clinton’s alleged assailants — four boys, 18-year-old Tajay Chambers, the alleged shooter; 16-year-old Alexander Bolanos Jr.; an unnamed 14-year-old and an unnamed 12-year-old — spent the evening cruising in a stolen car and going to Stratford for a “sneaker trade,” according to news reports.

Then, on their iPhones they started scrolling looking for more trouble. Their efforts led them to Willow Street, on the East Side of the city, not far from Stratford.

And in the stunted culture of teenage macho gone awry, guns came out — a pellet gun on one side and a quite real 9.mm pistol on the other. When the event was over, 12-year-old Clinton, a seventh-grader at Bridge Academy Charter school, 160 Pulaski St., was dead of a gunshot in the chest.

One of the scary things is that Bridgeport Police Chief A.J. Perez is right when he says of these groups of violent young thugs, “…these kids, they don’t care. It’s so disheartening.”

Disheartening, for sure. Kids without hope for the future don’t give much of a damn about anything.

But this situation should also be an energizing jolt to the people who are heroes day in and day out: the people, professional and volunteer, who work with kids.

Bear with me: The year 2018 was a landmark one for me. I started it in the harness of a working man, 47 years in the newspaper business and a good number of years before that driving a truck, unloading trucks, tending bar, teaching tennis, playing piano at a dancing school.

I ended 2018 going into retirement.

I’m getting to a point here.

Mrs. Daly, the lovely former Sharon Tierney, has been a hard-working woman all her life, primarily as the mother of our four children. (Raising those four children was a full-time job, as any mother knows.)

She went into her well-deserved retirement last June after 26 years working with other people’s children at Westport’s Children’s Community Development Center.

These days, she goes to Read School on Ezra Street in Bridgeport for two hours a week and works as a volunteer in a first-grade class, reading or interacting in some other way with kids, as directed by the teacher.

She tells me of the bright smile a complimentary or encouraging word from her can bring to the face of a kid.

I mention her, of course, with special admiration. But I mention her mainly because she represents to me the hundreds of volunteers who give their time and who may have an impact, intended or accidental, on a kid.

That impact may be the slight nudge that redirects them to a path that leads away from danger and violence.

There are thugs, alas, for whom the ship of “encouraging words” has long sailed.

Breaking the cycle of violence may at the end of the day be an impossible task. It has to start somewhere, though.

We should go into this New Year with the belief that it does hold boundless possibilities.

We don’t need to sit back, hold our breaths and wait for them to appear, however. Some of those possibilities we have the power to create.

A little thing like giving some time to a kid who doesn’t get a lot of attention otherwise might have considerable influence down the road.

It doesn’t seem right today just to proclaim Happy New Year! Let’s put our shoulders into making it a productive and compassionate one.

Michael J. Daly is retired editor of the editorial page of the Connecticut Post. Email: edit @ctpost.com

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