A student at Garfield Elementary School in Maywood receives high-fives as she enters the school building on Monday morning during an event called Men’s Day. It was organized by the school’s two male PTO members, Vincent Fields, below left, and Vernel Brown. || Below right: Garfield’s principal, Marsha Alexander, hugs a student. | William Camargo
Monday, April 25, 2016 || By Michael Romain
“Every morning, we see a multitude of women dropping off their kids. Now, I know there are a lot of kids who come from single-parent families, but there are men in their lives,” said Vincent Fields, one of only two male members of the PTO at Garfield Elementary School, 1514 S. 9th Ave., in Maywood.
“I told them that we need a stronger male presence, so they took that and ran with it,” said the school’s principal, Marsha Alexander, who, as she walked through the gates of the school’s concrete playground on Monday morning, was ambushed by a dozen book-bagged bodies all wanting hugs.
On April 25, however, “Ms. A.,” as she’s known to students, had help. Thanks to an idea hatched by Fields and Vernel Brown, Garfield’s other male PTO member, the students were greeted by at least 25 Maywood police officers, firefighters, elected officials and community members — most of them men — during what the event’s organizers called “Men’s Day.”
“I’ve learned from working with kids that when you have a male presence, especially first thing in the morning, kids have a different attitude throughout the day,” said Brown, who is the director of Atmosphere of Tumbling, a local performing arts organization for young people.
“Sometimes fathers, uncles, grandfathers — all those men in a child’s life might have to go to work early and they don’t get a chance to really let the kids know, ‘Hey, we support you,’’ he said. “But when they take a few minutes out of their time, like today, they really send the school’s performance to another level.”
Alexander said she had already known how much men were missing in many of her students’ lives. What she’s slowly learning, however, is just how many men are present, she said.
“We’re learning more and more that there are positive male role models in the kids’ lives, but those men need an opportunity to be here,” she said. “Last week, one of the dads told me, ‘I don’t know what I can do.’ I said, just shaking their hands makes a big difference. We do have men in the community, we just have to invite them in and let them know they’re welcome.”
As the students stood in straight lines waiting to walk inside the building, men of various professions and backgrounds, and some women, lined on either side of two playground entrances, poised to offer ‘good mornings,’ smiles and high fives.
Moments before they lined up to go inside, a group of students gawked at a Maywood firetruck that had pulled onto the playground. Some gathered giddily around several firefighters, reaching to grab pencil and paper so the local heroes could sign autographs.
“Every morning, we need to let these kids know that there are still backbones out here,” said Fields. “We didn’t care if they were fathers, grandparents, or whoever, we just wanted to make the kids know that there are men who are here for them.”
Fields said he hopes the morning’s event can become an annual occurrence, punctuated by similar displays of support throughout the year. There’s no alternative, he noted.
“If we don’t do it, the streets will get them,” Fields said, before pausing, as if to consider the implications of that last clause. “But not on my watch.” VFP
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In honor of the late Lennel Grace, a tireless Maywood advocate for clean paths, sidewalks and streets, attend this year’s annual Illinois Prairie Path Cleanup, Saturday, April 30, 8:45 a.m. to 12 p.m., starting at 11th Avenue and Prairie Path, in Maywood. RSVP JoAnn Murphy, so she can plan accordingly.
Operation Uplift to host April 30 reunion kickoff/fundraiser, in lieu of annual luncheon
Operation Uplift, the Maywood nonprofit that operates the West Town Museum of Cultural History and hosts an annual Martin Luther King, Jr., luncheon, has announced that it will be hosting a reunion kickoff to help support and bring awareness to its daily services in lieu of a luncheon this year.
“Please help us continue to provide more cultural awareness to our local community, stimulate individual growth, community pride, and educate the Proviso Township area about the collections of art, artifacts and significant historical materials we hold within our doors,” according to a recent release put out by the organization.
The reunion kickoff activities will include educational tours, an African attire fashion show, live entertainment and food.
It will take place on Saturday, April 30, from 1 PM to 4 PM, at Operation Uplift/West Town Museum, 104 S. 5th Avenue, Maywood.
Donations or pledges of any amount are greatly appreciated. Those who give via checks should make them payable to: Operation Uplift, Inc.
For more information please call Jeri Stenson at 708-289-4955 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. VFP