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People Helping People

I don't know about you, but I'm scared. Every day it seems the stock market takes another big plunge, leaving me feeling that my little piece of financial security is slipping farther away.

Anxious thoughts flood my head: "Will I lose l my retirement, will my husband and I be able to keep up with our financial responsibilities, will we have anything for an emergency?"

As I was getting myself into a nice, big panic, I started thinking about the youth in our program. Here I am, a grown-up, in control of my life, with a great job and family, a home with a non-sub prime mortgage, and I'm still feeling scared and confused. How must the kids feel that enter our doors?

They aren't facing the possibility of losing their security, having to deal with the unknown, or tough days ahead; all of those realities have just been slammed into them.

They have lost their home, they don't know where their next meal is coming from, they lack control over their future, and have no idea what that future holds. In spite of all of these challenges, I've seen so many youth who make it:

· The two brothers, 14 and 15, who found themselves homeless after their mom succumbed to her crack habit. They now share an apartment; the older brother is in college and working for the CDC.

· The 6-year-old who was severely sexually abused by her father, she left us to live with her two aunts, and is now an honor student in high school.

· The 8-year-old whose father fled the state with her after her mom died. Dad was physically abusive, after the young girl came to our program we located her grandparents, where she now lives and delights in riding horses.

· The teenage girl who was seriously involved in substance abuse, so involved that her parents kicked her out of the house. She called us a year ago to tell us she was married, had a young son, was working in her own business, and wanted to bring Christmas gifts for our residents.

· The young man whose anger at the world eventually led him to hit a staff member. We had to ask him to leave, but he dropped by a couple of years ago, driving his own car that he earned by working two jobs. He wanted to let Mr. B, our director of resident services, know that he was doing well, that he'd graduated high school, that he was living on his own and most importantly, to thank Mr. B for being the only dad he'd ever known.

So you know what? I'm going to get over myself. I'm going to look at the youth we serve and learn from them how to build strength and resiliency in myself. I'm going to remember that there are lots of people hurting right now, and in times like these it's even more important to share my blessings with others. And I'm going to thank God that I work at a place where the generosity of our community constantly reminds me of how much people care, and how together we'll get through the tough times.

Nancy Friauf is executive director of the Gwinnett Children's Shelter. To learn more about the shelter, go to www.gwinnettchildrenshelter.org.