01/21/09 — Real hope: Two stories -- and a clue about the future

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Real hope: Two stories -- and a clue about the future

Two people made the front page of The Goldsboro News-Argus today.

One, a 16-year-old who is already facing a long list of serious offenses who has just added an assault on an officer charge to his resume.

And the other, a man who decided that the best way to change his community for the better was to expect more.

Ray Burrell, a member of the faculty at Wayne Community College, was honored recently by Gov. Bev Perdue with one of the highest honors a person can receive in the state of North Carolina.

He caught the governor's eye because of a mentoring program he set up for local youths -- a group that teaches children that to succeed, they have to follow the rules and to expect more from themselves.

Burrell offers the children in his group not only a firm hand, but also a glimpse at what they can be -- if they decide to take their futures in hand.

The program has been so successful that it has been replicated around the state and a group for young women has also been added.

Anyone who has met this college instructor knows that he tells students like it is. He doesn't sugarcoat his or the working world's expectations for them -- or worry too much about injuring their feelings. This mentoring program is based in reality -- and Burrell makes sure that his charges see that they -- not society -- control their destinies. He is the role model they need -- and want.

So today, as we read about another 16-year-old who is already well on his way to a full-scale criminal record, we should think about people like Ray Burrell and others who have decided not just to sit back and shake their heads at the "state of youth today."

And we should realize that all the touchy feely garbage and excuses that are made for young people who have lost their way aren't going to make sure we have more of them in college than in jail.

If we want to see county graduation rates go up and we want to have more children who are avoiding drugs and crime, we have to do something -- even if the children involved do not share our last name.

That means we need more mentors for Wayne County's children right now. If we get them young, maybe we can make a difference.

And while we are at it, we need to track down those who are responsible for the poverty, lack of supervision and other factors that have left these children adrift.

If a few more of their parents were put on public display -- and there were more penalties for not doing your job as a parent -- perhaps there might be fewer sad stories and more happy endings.

WCC is lucky to have an instructor whose vision is not stuck in the classroom and who is so invested in helping others achieve their goals.

But it is likely that Ray Burrell's true reward is the number of students each year who earn diplomas and find careers because he and other volunteers cared enough not to let them excuse their lives away.

Now that is a legacy.

Published in Editorials on January 21, 2009 11:09 AM