"What is great about Youngstown?"
That is the question Dr. Willard R. Daggett, president of the International Center for Leadership Education, will be asking community leaders and citizens Thursday.
The forum, titled "Rebuilding Our Community: The Issue of Character," is sponsored by Comprehensive Strategy.
In 1999, Comprehensive Strategy was spearheaded by the Mahoning County Juvenile Court and the Family and Children First Council along with 120 community members.
Their goal has been to promote the healthy development of the youth in our community by reducing the behavior problems of substance abuse, delinquency, teen-age pregnancy, school dropout and violence.
The initiatives, developed by Comprehensive Strategy, were researched and implemented with the ultimate task of "building a future for EVERY child."
What caused problem: Yet, as the group began to develop a plan, it encountered the same stumbling block at every turn.
"A recurring theme permeating every initiative was the fraud and corruption," says Anne Louise White, coordinator for Comprehensive Strategy.
"We realized we can put together a great plan, but until we deal with character traits, it will be useless."
Enter Bill Daggett.
Bill has traveled the country speaking to groups, communities and government officials about the importance of character education.
"We, as a society, need to set standards," he says. He calls these standards guiding principles. "Respect, responsibility, compassion, self-control..." The words roll off his tongue.
"Where are our children learning these principles?" he asks. "Family, school, business and media," he answers himself.
"First, foremost and always these lessons are the primary responsibility of the family," Bill says. Parents must exhibit guiding principles for their children to model.
Schools play an important role as well. "We need to raise the academic standards in our schools," Bill acknowledges. "But we need to become re-acquainted with teaching character attributes like courage, honesty, respect..." The list begins again.
Example of guidance: He can't help himself. He has witnessed the power of guiding principles.
"A custodian in a school in Arkansas wanted to do something to teach civility," Bill recounts the story. "Once a week, he awarded one class the Golden Trash Can Award."
The principal of the school reported that the effort changed the way the students treated the entire building.
Simple idea. Big difference.
Bill encourages businesses to exhibit and model guiding principles. Employee recognition awards or citizenship awards can be used to promote positive behavior.
"We need to raise our expectations," he says with conviction. "People rise to the expectation."
Finally, Bill addresses the corruption and fraud issue.
What to do: "It takes only a few stories on the national news to reinforce peoples' beliefs about an area," he says. "I grew up in New York State. We used to say that Buffalo was the armpit of America -- Cleveland didn't have a great national image either. What did they do to turn it around?" he asks.
"They stopped shooting themselves in the foot," he answers.
"Showcase the wonderful things," he urges. "Tell what is right about your community, not just what's wrong." These stories change peoples' perceptions of an area.
"We all -- families, schools, businesses and media -- need to ratchet this way up on our conscience level," Bill urges. "The image of a community has an extraordinary psychological influence on children."
Our children need to know the answer to, "What is great about Youngstown?" The response will be told one story at a time.
Bill Daggett will be speaking at the YSU Metro College, Southwoods Commons at 7 p.m. May 10. The public is invited to attend.