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"For the want of a nail the shoe was lost. For the want of a shoe the horse was lost. For the want of a horse the rider was lost. For the want of a rider the battle was lost. For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail."

― Benjamin Franklin

Sometimes it's the little things that get us down the most. And little things can impact little children in huge ways. They can cause a child to be embarrassed or distracted from all else going on around her, especially learning. Maybe a child does not have clean clothes or has a tooth that is aching. Perhaps he has sore feet because he's outgrown his shoes. Maybe there was no money for school supplies.

Then there are the bigger things. Children can be hungry or cold or spend their nights sleeping on the floor because they have no bed. They can be waking and getting themselves off to school alone or caring for a younger sibling alone because parents are working. Over 15 million kids in the U.S. are on their own after school, 1 million of them in grades K-5.

The multitude of little and big things that can cause a child not to learn or thrive frustrates and disturbs Ralph Nesson because many of these issues are solvable. If you know Ralph, you know he rarely expresses anything identifiable as anger, but instead calmly goes to work to fix what is broken. This time, starting Nov. 5, he is going to "Walk 4 Kids" covering 100 miles to bring attention, and hopefully some funds, to Bright Futures, a national non-profit that focuses on the basic needs of low income/at-risk kids. Last year he walked 50 miles and raised $4,000. This year he hopes he's joined by others to walk all or part of the way from Fayetteville to Lincoln, then the next day on to Siloam Springs and back for a goal of $20,000 pledged to the participants for each mile they complete.

Nesson's background points directly to changing what can be changed for the good of others. He has worked in Volunteers in Service to America, or VISTA; in mental health rehabilitation; in initiating a "free university" program with the motto, "Anyone can teach, anyone can learn"; and in helping lay the groundwork for a free health center. He also once served as director of the Economic Opportunity Agency of Washington County. But, perhaps he's best known as the guy who helped start the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Washington County and for the next 26 years steered the expansion of that fund across Arkansas.

Ralph says he's "semi-retired," but don't believe it. He's now the Arkansas regional coordinator for Bright Futures, which engages individuals, churches, businesses, and organizations in "supporting our own." So far, he has enlisted 12 school districts in the program in our region, where 48.4 percent of our students are growing up in low-income homes and where some are homeless.

C.J. Huff of Joplin, Mo, founder of the program, draws a distinction between "situational" poverty in which a family is suddenly hit with an employment loss, health issue, marital disruption, etc., versus "generational long-term" poverty. Bright Futures' aim is to remedy basic immediate needs within 24 hours, but to also address ways to help families break the cycle of poverty over time.

Because schools succeed only in relation to the overall success of their students, and because societies and economies succeed only when citizens succeed, addressing the small barriers through community caring and action can actually save the community in return. Both a superintendent and a principal with whom I spoke expressed "positive-positive" praise of Bright Futures for smoothing out some of the bumps in life that children face. They also emphasized that when education goes up, poverty goes down.

To join Ralph for all or part of his "Walk 4 Kids," from Nov. 5-8, or to pledge donations to walkers, or to become a sponsor, go to www.brightfuturesusa.org and click on "Walk 4 Kids." Or, just call Ralph at (479) 466-4791.

Let's not let any child fall behind for want of a small thing -- a toothbrush, a pair of shoes, a winter coat, underwear, or even a bed -- because then we all will be at risk of losing the battle for living in a world of quality, compassion and dignity.

Commentary on 10/11/2016

Print Headline: Walking for the kids

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