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Our Children, Our Future

August 2017Mayor David Bennett as seen in Celebrate Hilton Head Magazine

As August marks the beginning of another school year, hear some words from Kim Likins, our mayor pro tem and director of the Boys & Girls Club:

It has been said by experts in the field of child development that there is a point in the early years when a child knows—often subconsciously—what the future holds. It is not exactly an epiphany, simply the gradual realization, and often an uncanny acceptance, that the world is either a friendly or unfriendly place. As children, many of us glanced ahead and were fortunate enough to see a future with a safety net of caring family and friends whose love for us was infinite and unconditional. The passage of time may have softened the rough edges of our own personal recollections, but, chances are even way back then, we knew that an oasis existed and we’d be safe. We were given the precious gift of a happy childhood, and we accepted it as our "right."

By contrast, many of the children who live on Hilton Head Island have very different stories, frequently written against a backdrop of harsh life circumstances. The common denominator can best be described as need—pure unadulterated need that often represents a burden far too heavy for a child of any age to carry. We are fortunate to have many nonprofit organizations in our town that provide resources to help shoulder these burdens, however, more work needs to be done. As a caring adult community, we must make even greater efforts to be committed to understanding the nature of the burden and lessening it.

On the surface, Hilton Head Island has the appearance of a community of significant wealth. Yet a staggering 62 percent of our young school age children live in families with earnings that fall below the national federal poverty guidelines. Our early childhood center and both of our elementary schools are designated Title I schools, reflecting the reality that they serve areas having a high concentration of children from low-income families. It is no surprise that these children, often referred to as poverty students, have special needs. Their challenges vary by child, but many have educational deficiencies, food insecurities, low self-esteem and health issues. The lack of consistency and predictability in their lives often produces anxiety, sleeplessness and safety fears.

As a community, we do not have the ability to totally erase a child's past, but we can introduce a new sense of joy and create a fertile field for self-discovery and self-worth. We can feed a hungry child, help build strong minds and bodies, encourage success in and out of the classroom and, most important, offer reassurance and hope that tomorrow will be better. Collectively, we can provide an oasis that for so many of these children does not exist. I ask you to join me in committing to work together to show these children, our children, a world beyond their imagination and to help them realize potential they never knew existed.

Kim Likins
Hilton Head Island, Mayor Pro Tem