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Investing in kids is good for our future - Comments (2) View Comments
Mike Clark - 8/15/2008
The La Plata County Fair finished its eight-day run last Sunday, and in spending several days and nights on the grounds, I learned a few things this year: (1) The fair is the only place to find a concentration of locals during the month of August in Durango, (2) The candidates for La Plata County District Attorney, who were doing some retail politicking in their booths in the Exhibit Hall, agree that drug sales and use, particularly methamphetamine, are the biggest law enforcement challenge in the county today, and (3) the number of 4H exhibitors and FFA jackets are holding steady or increasing despite the decline of agriculture as the old way of life in Southtwest Colorado.
Forget number 1. It's not news - just a little anti-tourist snark. But the other two are important. First, the meth: The DA candidates agree that the pipeline is straight up I-35 from Mexico's cartels, and you or your kids can buy it anywhere. The difference of opinion hinges on how harshly to treat meth users, as differentiated from dealers. One says put `em away just like the dealers in order to set a deterrent example, and one says go easier on the users and rehabilitate them instead of having taxpayers pay for unnecessary incarceration. Whichever way you lean, by the time someone is in front of the District Attorney the horse is already out of the barn, so to speak. If the choice is whether to lock a kid up or send him to rehab, which may take three years in the case of methamphetamine, the situation is bleak and likely to get worse before it gets better.
Which brings me to (3) - the number of 4H and FFA members at the Fair exhibiting the results of months of hard work, in everything from shooting to leadership to fashion design to raising ducks. After watching these kids last week, I think the value of these programs is not so much in specifically what the activities are. Cake decorating and model rocketry are very popular but not likely to be marketable skills in the workplace. Instead it's about the process itself; if your kid between the ages of 5 and 18 is occupied and challenged and recognized and, maybe most important, knows you are paying attention and care what he is doing – you have both taken a step away from the DA, no matter who is elected.
Bob Salzer, the County 4H director, recounted to me a formal presentation he made recently requesting additional funding for his department. He happened to follow a pitch from the County Sheriff's Office, who needed money for seven more jail deputies. Bob’s argument was that if he had the budget to expand into after-school and other programs, it might translate into a bit less need for enforcement down the road. No matter whether it would or not, after being around the kids last week it is undeniable that they are well-started on the right track. Robert Ortiz's FFA chapter at Durango High is also turning out well-spoken and confident members whose character is the first thing you notice.
If you're interested in making whoever is DA irrelevant in your family's life, there is no better place to start than spending $25 getting your kid going on any of hundreds of projects, all of whom have mentors so you don't even have to know anything about raising ducks. Think of it as the antidote to methamphetamine. For more information, call 247-4355 or www.colorado4h.org