Great Childhoods Can Be Created Through Small Gestures

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April is Child Abuse Prevention Month – a time to act collectively to raise awareness and empower people across the nation to play a role in making great childhoods happen. ICAN staff were encouraged to take time to reflect on their own childhoods, identify what made it (or parts of it) great, and acknowledge who was a part of that for them. A few of our team members generously shared stories of their childhood. They illustrate how one kind gesture, one person, or adventures in one baby blue Chevy can frame us, change our trajectory and stay with us forever.

Here are their stories:

Bonita Gibb, MPH
Integrated County Planning Strategic Coordinator

When I was 10 years old I really wanted to ride horses, but I was the child of a single mom on government assistance and we didn’t have that kind of money. A local horse farm offered me lessons in exchange for stall cleaning and I accepted! Every day after school I would go to the farm and muck out stalls, do night feeding, and clean tack. For every 10 stalls I cleaned I got a riding lesson or a practice ride depending on the instructor’s availability. Having that time on the farm, working with horses, earning my own lessons really sticks with me as the happiest time of my childhood. 

CPS was a frequent visitor to my home, and the barn was my “safe place”. As a child, I didn’t know that I was crafting my own resilience. As an adult, I can see that we all have an opportunity to make children’s lives better. One barn owner, looking to save a little money on stable hands, changed the trajectory of my life. You don’t need to do anything glamorous to be that special adult to a child in need; you just need to be present. 

Carrie Conte, LCSW
Community Initiatives Program Manager

One of my favorite memories from my childhood has everything to do with the efforts my Dad made to spend quality time with my siblings and me. Dad worked full time, had 5 children, a wife, and was attending Graduate school for his Masters in Social Work. On Sundays he would set that time aside to take us to the park, on hikes, to the community pool, or to play kick-ball in the back yard with us.  One of his most creative ideas we called “bottle and can hunting”.  Picture it: Late 80s-Early 90s, in a 1967 Chevrolet Chevy II, Baby Blue. We hated that car! Would die to have it back today! Dad would pile us in the car and we would drive around keeping our “eyes peeled” for bottles and cans on the side of the road. Whenever we spotted one, Dad would pull over and we would grab them. Eventually we would head to a local convenient store “SugarCreek” and Dad would buy us a pack of gum to share- Always choosing “Chocolate Mint” Bubblicious bubblegum, Dad was grossed out and we all couldn’t wait to unwrap its deliciousness.  Spending that time, being inside that car together, was like its own little protected world.  A place where we felt safe, stress-free, and loved.  

Lisa Reginelli
Director of Transitional Services

I was blessed with a happy childhood. Looking back I know it wasn't perfect and I'm sure there are things my parents would have changed about it if they had a "do over". In my eyes it was near perfect. When I really try to think of what made it such a happy childhood it comes down to small moments, little things and the genuine interest the adults in my life had for me. Small moments like my grandparents letting me destroy the plants in their backyard to create " magic potions", using anything (literally anything, including curtains and wedding gowns) at my grandparents house to play dress up and how my parents made everyday activities, such as household projects or cooking feel like exciting adventures. My grandmother never learned to drive, but that didn't stop her from taking me  on adventures on the city bus. We'd take the bus downtown to Bev's Department Store, back to Mohawk Street to stop at Woolworth's and then up to Taylor Ave. where my aunt lived to meet my mother. She would emphasize that it was "just us girls today", I remember feeling so loved in those moments. 

We thank Bonnie, Carrie and Lisa for sharing these stories and hope it gives you pause to think back on how your own childhood experience shaped you into the person you are today. Furthermore, we hope it will give you inspiration to take action to be THE person to make that small gesture, to go ahead and give that compliment or piece of advice because it might be the perfect time, or to take interest in a young person in a friendship or mentorship role… and possibly make a huge difference in someone’s life.

This month has been full of outreach, education and reflection. We look forward to working collectively with our clients and community to continue to make #GreatChildhoods happen for all children.