High Five to our Fifth Month

High Five to our Fifth Month

As I sat down to write this month’s column, I faced a unique and interesting challenge. With so many observances, dedications and celebrations occurring during the month of May, I found it difficult to narrow it down to just one topic. So I decided to give 2021’s fifth month a figurative “high-five” and highlight a handful of May’s happenings.

As a former Marine, the Semper Fi motto commands me to begin with Military Appreciation Month. Although my service during the 70s predates the designation of this national observance by Congress in 1999, I appreciate all the military shout outs that take place during the month of May. The first is Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day. Proclaimed by President Truman on May 8, 1945, V-E Day signaled the surrender of Nazi Germany and the end of the fighting in Europe, and the initials also marked the beginning of a world forever changed and the birth of the baby-boomer generation.

Military Spouse Appreciation Day is also celebrated on May 8. Any married or betrothed person who has ever stepped onto a military base, donned fatigues or been deployed knows that he or she could not serve, or survive, without the love, support and hope provided by their loved one back home. I remember mail call vividly when I was stationed overseas, and I would read every sentence Ellen wrote me over and over, savoring each word and imagining I was physically there with her. For military spouses everywhere, we appreciate you, even when we don’t say or show it!

We commemorate all of our men and women in uniform on Armed Forces Day, also established by President Truman, which will be celebrated on May 15 this year. And of course we end the month with Memorial Day to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to sustain our freedoms and way of life. What would really top-off my appreciation for military observances would be the governor’s signature on my military affairs legislation, Senate Bill 120!

Another May observance near and dear to my heart is National Foster Care Month. As many of you know, Ellen and I are two of the thousands of people who have opened our door to foster children and made our family complete by adopting two of them. Established by President Reagan in 1988 and sponsored by the Children’s Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the goal of National Foster Care Month is to “recognize the role everyone has in enhancing the lives of children and youth in foster care.” Many mistakenly believe this role is to substitute or replace the biological parent, but foster homes primarily provide temporary shelter while parents get the resources and services they need to successfully care for their child. However, in some extreme instances, this theory cannot become a reality, so the Children’s Division must rely on community support to find permanent, adoptive homes for these innocent bystanders of neglect and abuse.

To help enhance the lives of children in foster care, it is important to first understand the gravity of the situation. According to the Bureau’s 2019 report, the predominant reason a child is removed from a home is neglect. Sometimes these removals fall into more than one category, so the percentages don’t equal 100, but the data indicates 63% of removals were neglect, 34% involved parental drug use, 14% stemmed from the parent’s inability to cope and 13% were the result of abuse. During Fiscal Year 2020, 6,264 children were in the custody of the Missouri Children’s Division, a number slightly less than Dade County’s 2019 total population of 7578, and 260 of these lived in Dade, Jasper and Newton counties. Missouri’s General Assembly has already taken action and passed two bills, House Bills 429 and 430, to help adoptive and foster care parents through tax credits and deductions to offset some of the associated expenses with raising foster kids. Becoming a foster parent or adopting a child may not be a viable option for senior citizens, but volunteering to help and serving as a mentor are certainly ways to make a difference and enhance the life of one of these children.

This segues perfectly to the next May observance, Older Americans Month! When established in 1963 by President Kennedy and the National Council of Senior Citizens, only 17 million Americans had reached their 65th birthday. By 2017, that number had grown to 49.2 million Americans, so these efforts obviously paid off! The Administration for Community Living (ACL) leads the national observance and provides a variety of activities, event planning tips, resources and social media messages and graphics to share. With this year’s theme, Communities of Strength, ACL’s formula combines the resilience and strength earned from the school of “hard knocks” with the power of connecting with others to build strong communities. It’s a shame we don’t appreciate the older people in our lives when we are young. Like many of you, I would give anything to request these lyrics from The Judd’s classic song, “Grandpa, tell me ‘bout the good old days,” but since that isn’t possible, I will make sure my grandchildren know all about growing up in rural Missouri during the tumultuous 60s and groovy 70s, and on occasion, getting our kicks on Route 66! Please share your life’s successes, failures, joys and challenges with the young people in your life to inspire them to engage in community, serve others, and above all, respect older Americans!

The month of May, unfortunately, will forever carry a solemn tone in our town. For most Missourians, May 22, 2011, was just a typical day of spring thunderstorms, but to Joplinites, it’s a day we will never forget. Sometimes it feels like yesterday when that deadly EF5 tornado demolished our hospital and schools, mangled vehicles, snapped trees and power lines, leveled thousands of homes and businesses and transformed portions of our community into a mile-wide trail of debris. Other times, it seems like an eternity ago. What sticks out most in my mind is not the mass devastation, but rather, the courage, camaraderie, unity and resilience of our community. I thank everyone who helped clean-up, move patients, relocate school students, console neighbors, restore hope and rebuild our beautiful city. Be sure to show your appreciation, too, by participating in the numerous events commemorating the 10 year anniversary of the tornado, including the Joplin Memorial Run at Cunningham and Mercy Parks.

Alas, May 14 marks the end of the 2021 legislative session, a time when my focus switches from legislative activities in Jefferson City to visiting with the great people who call the 32nd Senatorial District home. If you are planning a community event, please invite me! The more I know about the needs and concerns of our residents, the better I can represent you as a state senator. Call 573-751-2173 or email bill.white@senate.mo.gov to check my availability.

Wishing you a May filled with celebrating high-five moments, saluting our military men and women, cherishing foster children and older adults and creating lasting memories with family and friends!

This column appeared in the Joplin Globe’s Better Living publication on May 7, 2021.