Today: The power of touch.

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]Despite my admissions that I hate people invading my personal space, and would rather snap kick a stranger than be hugged by one, there’s no denying the power of touch.

One of the most challenging and moving books I’ve ever read is There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in The Other America, by Alex Kotlowitz.  I read it three times the summer after graduating college, before starting work coordinating a mentoring program for at risk kids.  We called them children of promise, but still, they were and are up against so much.  That book crushed me, and at the same time, inspired me and I have continued to go back to it as my career has evolved.  One passage in particular was on my mind a lot this past week.

Kotlowitz describes, with painful detail, the basic needs that aren’t being met for children living in poverty.  Beyond food, shelter, access to health care and education, he talks about the emotional needs of children– the things I likely took for granted as a child– including the power of touch, and such childhood rites of passage as owning a pet. We had fish, hermit crabs, and the occasional hamster, but I wouldn’t say we were an animal family, if that make sense.  I don’t know if we ever asked our parents for a dog (we probably did), but when the first time I read the passage about children wanting pets so badly, trying to take in strays, but ultimately being unable to care for them, it didn’t fully resonate.

And then I got a dog.  And people stopped us everywhere we went, wanting to pet him.  (He is especially popular with kids waiting for the bus on Broadway and MBTA workers). And I found myself snuggling with him for hours.  And I noticed how, given the choice, he’d always be right at my side.  And I loved seeing him race to the door when Nick got home from work.  Having a dog is like having a constant, albeit furry, hug.

While petting a dog is no substitute for human contact, animals can be great sources of comfort and therapy for people in all walks of life.  I am really excited that after two and a half years of training, Clark became a registered therapy dog on Friday night.  We’ll start social and therapeutic visits in the next few weeks, with opportunities to work with children, adults, and the elderly.

I’m grateful for everyone who has helped Clark perfect his snuggling techniques.  He’s had plenty of practice in his three years on the planet. 🙂  Want to spread the power?  Your assignment: go touch someone… in a non-creepy way.

Also On Tap for Today:

Do you volunteer?  What’s your favorite way to help out?

6 thoughts on “Today: The power of touch.

  1. Congratulations! What a great story. I work with at-risk kids as well (in a high school) so your post definitely resonates with my experience as well. And I have 2 adorable furry pups at home that just love to cuddle. It makes my day to sit on the couch with my 100 pound dog in my lap (as much as he can be anyway!)

  2. Aww I love this post! And I totally understand what you mean about finally having a dog (although we had a dog when I was a child, he died when I was 5, then again got a family dog when I was in college). I can’t help but always want to hold, pet, and snuggle Bromley for as long as he’ll let me…I may or may not “smother” him sometimes haha. But even just seeing/feeling how much happiness he brought to us when we werent even really looking for “happiness: per say, I can only imagine how it would help someone who really needed it! Yay Clark 🙂

  3. Congratulations Clark!!!

    That book was required reading in one of my sociology classes in college — and despite living within walking distance of the Horner projects, I never knew stories like this existed. My emotional response after reading this for the first time ran the gamut — shame that I was so ignorant of such a story, heartbroken at the boys’ experiences, and also hopeful that with awareness can come change and to not take any of my comforts for granted ever again.

    And on that note, I’m going to go cuddle with Payton for a while and recognize exactly how lucky I am to have him here doing a happy dance every time I walk in the door 🙂

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