Children of different races, ethnicities and nationalities fill the streets of Kansas City’s Northeast area.
The number of young families with kids makes the area of older homes feel like a newer suburb. It’s impossible to live in this community and not enjoy kids.
When I first moved into the neighborhood in 2009, I quickly met then-11-year-old Makalia and her 7-year-old sister, Shannon. They waited each weekday morning on the corner near my home for a school bus. I’d say hello as I ended my morning jogs, and they’d return the greeting. As the weather grew colder, I noticed that neither girl had socks. So one evening after work, I stopped at a store and got them some.
The gifts delighted the girls. Then I noticed that neither had gloves. So I picked up some mittens. Shannon lost hers so I got another pair.
Not long afterward, I stopped seeing the girls at the bus stop. Marcus, a friend of theirs, said they had moved. Young families with kids move a lot in these parts. Even so, a bunch of children play outdoors in the summertime. Some kids had set up a Kool-Aid stand on the curb by their home.
I told my partner, Bette, that we had to patronize and encourage the enterprising kids so we walked four doors north and invested $1 in two cool cups of Kool-Aid.
What’s a drink without a conversation? So we talked with the young entrepreneurs, Rebeca, 7, Brittany, 10 and Olivia, 8. I told the girls that Bette is a grandmother and loves kids. Rebeca said one of her grandmas had died and asked Bette to be her adopted grandma.
Bette agreed, but instead of getting one little girl as an adopted grandchild, we got several as Rebeca was joined by her friends. Initially on our front porch Bette provided cookies, soft drinks and kid-appropriate shows on her iPad, treating the girls as any grandmother would.
To upgrade our involvement, snacks now include veggies and fruit. Playing with the iPad is fun, but that doesn’t help the kids build their academic skills. So I pulled books from storage that I used to read to my daughters. Now I read to the kids, and when I’m not there, they grab books and read them on the porch while Bette telecommutes for her job.
Then a funny thing happened, the girls love reading the books so much that they prefer the books over Bette’s iPad.
Eager to be productive, some of the girls assist Bette in the garden she planted in the spring. They water, weed and harvest.
Natalie, 7, is an excellent garden helper. Olivia enjoys sweeping up after I finish mowing the lawn. We compliment and reward the girls for their assistance. Because of the kids, we’ve gotten to know their parents and our neighbors better.
When we go on trips out of town we bring back gifts for the girls and show them pictures we’ve taken so they feel as if they’ve traveled, too.
I also pull out maps of the U.S., showing them where the places are in relation to where we live. Geography is important. Bette got the girls sidewalk chalk and some games, which they enjoy.
The girls busied themselves this summer drawing, reading and playing. It fits with the Talk, Read, Play initiative to get more adults to enrich children’s learning.
With the parents’ permission, Bette has taken the girls to the Kansas City Zoo, on rides to different stores and brought them to The Star to pick me up after work. We’ve even taken Rebeca to a soup kitchen where we volunteer and to church.
The kids have gotten me to do something that I haven’t done in nearly 20 years and that’s get a Happy Meal at McDonald’s when Rebeca was with us one evening while waiting for her mom to return home. We also took Rebeca to three different stores to get her school supplies.
She always responds with wonderful hugs. We don’t see the kids as much now that school has started. Rebeca comes by for homework help. It’s gratifying because helping the kids turns the Northeast into a closer-knit community.
To reach Lewis W. Diuguid, call 816-234-4723 or send email to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.