Piece of Mind: Grooming one's self-esteem

At first, the news release announcing a search for volunteer hair stylists and manicurists to groom underserved youth before school is back in session struck me as unusual — and maybe even over the top — given there are so many other items a child needs to succeed in school.

And then I thought about a downtrodden little boy who was in the fifth grade with me here in La Cañada many years ago. His dirty blond hair was beyond unkempt, as was his attire. His teeth were in appalling condition too. He must have had a crummy home life, and perhaps he had a learning disorder. For some reason I always got the feeling our teacher took it as a personal affront that he didn't keep up with the rest of us.

Every day this kid would shuffle into our classroom, hunched over and head down, meeting no one's gaze. Sometimes, after being chided by our teacher, he'd sit at his desk, silent, with tears running down his cheeks. I remember feeling very sorry for him nearly every day of the week and wishing that somehow his life could be made a little easier.

I don't know what became of him. He did not move with the rest of us from Paradise Canyon to middle school and was not in our LCHS graduating class. But his image springs to mind whenever I hear of young children who are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

I wonder what it would have meant to him to have been given, with no strings attached, a new backpack, school supplies, clothing, a haircut and clean fingernails. Would he have walked a little taller into the classroom the first day of school, knowing that there are kindhearted people willing to give him a boost?

I like to think so. I further like to imagine that maybe with a bit more self-assurance he might have been better able to engage with his classmates and maybe even soften our teacher's demeanor toward him.

And so that's why I'm passing along the request from the Foothill Unity Center, headquartered in Monrovia, which is preparing for its annual Back-to-School event Aug. 19 at Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia.

According to Community Outreach Director Raina Martinez (whose name you might recognize because years ago she covered the La Cañada Unified school board meetings for the Valley Sun), Foothill Unity expects to serve about 2,000 children that day. In addition to backpacks filled to the brim with supplies and clothing (including underwear and socks), the youngsters will also be provided vision and dental screenings.

Donations of items to be handed out that day will be sorted by volunteers beginning at 9 a.m. Friday, with the work continuing Aug. 9, 11, 13 and 16. If you can help with that task, or can volunteer to set up, work or clean up after the giveaway, call (626) 358-3486 or e-mail Martinez at raina@foothillunitycenter.org. Have items you can donate to the cause? There are drop-off collection sites in several communities served by Foothill Unity; the closest one to us is probably Assemblyman Anthony Portantino's office at 215 N. Marengo Ave. in Pasadena.

Martinez explains that about 100 hair stylists and manicurists will be needed for the big event. If you have those skills and will be available on Aug. 19, call the number above. If you know someone who might be able to help, please urge them to sign up.

No child should have to feel the pain that little boy in my fifth-grade class did. But they do. So let's help in whatever way we can.

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