“Look into the eyes of our children. Think about the life you lived in this great country and ask yourself if they earn less.”
These words appeared in an editorial written by my father, Thomas A. Paternostro, and published in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette on November 11, 2001, about 20 years ago.
“Who is left for our children to trust? … Listen to our children cry out. Grab their hands and stand on their defense no matter the odds or consequences.” (Williamsport Sun-Gazette Editorial)
“Many children live in an atmosphere of nourishment and love. Some children like music, art, insects, animals and the stars in the night sky. Others like reading, numbers and computers. Others are not so lucky. They have no love and are born into an environment of dependence, crime, poverty, hatred and abuse. They have not been held or loved, read to or tucked away in a warm bed, or given the proper nourishment, physically or emotionally. They have one thing in common: they ALL arrive at school every day.” (Williamsport Sun-Gazette Editorial)
“Children need you – whether you are parents, teachers or neighbors – who show you all the care. When it comes down to it (and it will at some point), not all the things you buy will come down to a mountain of beans. Each of you who takes the time, listens and is there for children will lead to you giving them what they most need or want. Your concern.” (Williamsport Sun-Gazette Editorial, September 5, 1999)
“Let’s work together in a great crusade to address the single most important issue we all face: the health and well-being of our children and our families. Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.” Our children deserve the chance to be different from us. With the well-being of our children at stake, let’s not continue as normal. It is not the harmony that is at stake, but our future, and theirs.” (Williamsport Sun-Gazette Editorial, Apr 9, 2000).
I couldn’t help but hear my father’s words echoing through my heart as I read about the horrific events of last weekend in Hepburn Township. I was moved to tears as I thought of those two little girls and the fate they faced, allegedly at the hands of their mother and her cohorts. I was disgusted that no one was willing to “defend themselves” like our father did for decades.
Our father was a school superintendent and then served as director of the Children’s Advocacy Initiative in Lycoming County in the early 2000s. He devoted his life to “making children our top priority.”
We have learned so many lessons from our father, but one of the most powerful is to stand for what we believe in regardless of the consequences.
In one of his editorials, he notes: “My critics were many, especially those whose incompetence hinders children; they felt threatened by my voice and the presence of my actions. I will always be who I am and could care less about the ones I make uncomfortable when I speak in defense of children. I will continue to do that.” (Williamsport Sun Gazette Editorial).
When I think about everything that happened this weekend, I’m left with these questions:
1. Who will speak in defense of children in Lycoming County? If you are one of them, please speak up! I cannot believe that as I write this, no statement has been made by our provincial law enforcement or child protection officers to reiterate this fundamental message: “This is unacceptable. We abandoned these two girls. Our children deserve better than this.”
2. Why is there no Children’s Advocacy Center in Lycoming County? What happened to all the work our father did in the early 2000s? Where have all the defenders of children gone?
3. How many more children will be abused, neglected and neglected before we commit ourselves as a province and community to “make children our top priority?”
Our father was a pioneer on so many topics, and I feel a responsibility to raise my voice in defense of children as he is gone (he died of cancer in 2014). I believe with all my heart that his voice, however controversial, has made people think. He made bureaucrats squirm. He made politicians uncomfortable. But he was a voice for the voiceless; a beacon of hope for those who didn’t even know they needed adults, like our father working for them; genuinely care about their well-being and their lives.
We need more Tom Paternostros in this world. We need a revolution of ideas; we must rise as one voice with the welfare of children as our only song. We need more people who are not neutralized by political correctness. We need to listen to Dad’s words from 21 years ago:
“Neutralization is a slow process where the will of the people is weakened to a point where they are afraid to take a stand on any issue because they are afraid of what others might think or say. The worst form of neutralization is the denial of who you are and what your core values are for fear of what others might think.” (Williamsport Sun-Gazette Editorial, Apr 9, 2000).
My core values lead me to conclude with this: come on Lycoming County, we can do better. Our children deserve our attention and love. Our future depends on it.
KRISTA PATERNOSTRO BOWER
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