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Dear friends: Super-predators. That's what Princeton sociologist John DiIulio calls them - a generation of inner-city kids growing up "fatherless, godless, jobless and hopeless." A recent 20/20 news broadcast described the terrifying realities of these violent young predators, raised in moral poverty, hardened by the streets and living by their own rules. They have no fear of police or imprisonment. And worst of all, they feel no remorse when they hurt others. They are capable of committing the most heinous crimes without the slightest pang of conscience. Criminologist James Fox, noting the recent fourfold increase in children who kill with guns, predicts that the impending wave of youthful violence will make our present crime crisis seem like "the good old days."

I have a different description for these kids. Unattended. Any child who is ignored by his parents, overlooked by the church, passed over by the school and left to fend for himself on the street is likely to develop some anti-social ways. Jerome is a case in point. At age fourteen this intelligent, kind-spirited kid faces a life or death decision. He lives on a drug infested street with his addicted mother and her live-in boyfriend-supplier. His need for attention has resulted in his expulsion from school so he hangs on the streets. Street culture may not be healthy but it does provide opportunity to establish an identity. If Jerome adopts the life of the street and commits his creative energies to succeeding in an illegal economy, he must suppress his sensitivity and steel his emotions against pain - his own and that of others. He must practice the deadly discipline of cold-heartedness which will eventually disconnect him from human empathy and render him ruthless - essential qualities for a successful predator.

But Jerome can take a different direction. He can, that is, if he is able to connect with a person with values higher than those of the street, a person who will invest a little attention in him. Like a teacher or a coach or, as in Jerome's case, a neighbor. Jerome is unusually blessed to have a family living nearby who sees value in him, who invites him into their home and takes seriously his dreams and concerns. In a family atmosphere where feelings are important and where sensitivity is reinforced, Jerome takes different kinds of risks, such as vulnerability and honest expression of affection. His spirit opens to the warmth of hugs and laughter, and aspirations arise within him to develop the rich potential for which he was created.

Jerome - a super-predator? Could be, were it not for the time and attention of a caring family. Had he detached from his emotions in order to protect himself from the pain of being ignored, the door of pathology would have swung ajar. Once disconnected from his feelings and the restraint of conscience, all manner of fearsome imaginings would be free to invade. Super-predators are not sub-human mutations that breed in the infestations of the ghetto. They are mostly unattended children who have become separated from themselves and from those who have time to care. They are less the product of poverty than the creation of a culture absorbed in self-interest.

But I don't want to get into the blame game. I've already indulged too much in depressing "ain't-it-awful" talk. I want to spend my energy pro-actively, encouraging neighbors and friends to attend to our youth. There are families who need encouragement, like the one who turned Jerome in a direction of hope and wholeness through their loving attention. There are coaches and counselors to recruit and volunteers to mobilize. This summer we want to fill our neighborhoods with caring young adults who have time to invest in young lives. We'll plan high adventure excursions and educational field trips. We'll organize sports leagues and street parties. We'll expose many of our youth to the world of productive work. But mostly, we'll attend to the emotional, social and spiritual needs of children who are very special in the eyes of God.

Again this summer, we need partners who will enable every young person within our focus neighborhoods to participate in summer camp. Your sponsorship of $85 will enable a child to enjoy a summer full of stimulating activity as well as participate in a year round follow-up program. Can we count on you to partner with us (and them)? Share this opportunity with your church or office, too. Your tangible expression of care spreads hope on the streets of the city.

Your partner in service, Bob Lupton

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