The Response Should Begin at Home 

The appropriate response." I've heard and read that phrase over and over since Sept 11. What is the appropriate personal response to the terrorist attacks on America? The appropriate national response? Everyone I know is grappling with these questions because there simply is no way to avoid responding -- the magnitude of the tragedy is too overwhelming.

Worse, the end is not in sight. We are at war with an enemy who targets civilians and is willing to use abhorrent weapons.

But what happens when there are no weapons and the attack seemingly comes from life itself? Consider the following:

More than 50,000 citizens of El Paso County live in poverty (defined as $17,450/year for a family of four).

The Colorado Springs Police Department responds to 50 to 60 domestic violence calls each and every day of the year.

More than 74,000 of our neighbors, including almost 32,000 children, have no health insurance.

El Paso County Human Services receives about 20 calls a day reporting child abuse, making us the No. 1 ranked county in Colorado for reports of child abuse.

Our homeless population is estimated to be 6,000 people, especially between April and September -- one third of whom suffer from severe mental illness.

12,250 citizens with hearing loss cannot afford hearing aids, including 4,000 seniors and 2,500 children.

More than 10,000 El Paso County children are "latch-key kids," spending time alone at home after school without adult supervision.

Granted, these tragedies are more personal, more local, and, yes, more routine than the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the subsequent bio-terrorism. Yet, for the desperately poor, the victims of domestic battering, the uninsured and ill, the abused children or the homeless, life is tragically impacted.

The fact is that many of our neighbors need help if they are going to enjoy life, raise healthy and happy kids, and be productive citizens.

Who is going to provide that help?

After more than a decade working at the Olympic Training Center, and a brief dot.com sojourn, I recently started working for Pikes Peak United Way, where our mission is to build a stronger, healthier community. I've learned sobering things like the statistics above, and I've learned inspiring things about people and organizations working to help solve these issues and others.

Local organizations like Community Partnership for Child Development/Head Start and Goodwill Industries are nationally recognized for innovative approaches to meeting service needs. Yet, the problems remain and are growing as our population soars.

How does a tragedy gain that "no way to avoid responding" status?

Learning about our community's problems -- and opportunities for solving them -- has had an impact on me. My family and I give more than ever before, both in time and money, because now that we know about the problems, we feel like there's no way to avoid responding.

Colorado Springs is our home, the place where we're raising our children. They need to grow up in a family and community that cares enough to respond to neighbors in need.

Just as our nation is mobilizing forces and resources to combat the terrorists, so our community must mobilize to address the human needs that make life so tough for so many.

There are myriad opportunities for helping in El Paso County. One thing you can do is become informed about civic issues and cast a knowledgeable vote -- often three out of every four eligible voters don't even bother.

In addition, lend a hand. Social service agencies are desperate for funds, manpower and citizen involvement. To help, pick your cause and make a phone call to the appropriate agency.

For example, call Big Brothers/Big Sisters Pikes Peak at 633-2443 -- they have an immediate need for dozens of adult mentors to befriend and help guide teens and kids -- training's provided, all you need is time. If you're not sure which agency most appropriately fits your interests, call Pikes Peak United Way at 632-1543. We can help set you in the right direction.

The world changed on Sept. 11. It is unclear when hate will abate enough for attacks on innocents to stop.

One thing is clear: Innocents in our community need help today, tomorrow and every day. Helping them makes our community stronger. That can only be good for us -- and for America.

Audrius Barzdukas is the vice president of strategic initiatives for the Pikes Peak United Way.


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