When a group of Mahoning Valley residents visited Sicily in December 2000 for a United Nations conference on corruption, one thing became clear. There are no overnight answers to deep rooted social problems.
A movement began in the towns and villages of Sicily in the 1970s to change the attitudes of the next generation. The children were taught that corruption and intimidation were not necessarily a part of every day life, but that it would be up to them to change things.
Sicilian reformers called it "character education" and it paid dividends. Many of the first of that generation of students who were taught that they shouldn't accept the Mafia, its oppression and its murderous ways are now the honest city councilmen and leaders of Sicilian cities and villages.
Closer to home: A similar dynamic is at work in Mahoning County now under a program known as Comprehensive Strategy. Its coordinator is Anne Louis White, who works at the Mahoning County Juvenile Court.
The goal is to achieve a "Community of Character," a place where integrity, citizenship, self-control, fairness, responsibility and compassion are valued.
It is appropriate that this effort be spearheaded by Mahoning Count Juvenile Court and the court's judge, Theresa Dellick, because it is that court in which the most immediate dividends are likely to be seen.
The more that adults demonstrate strong ethical values in their home and work lives, the easier it will be to instill those values in youngsters. And when the adults closest to a child fail to instill those values, it becomes the responsibility of schools and other institutions to do the job.
As an advertisement in Sunday's Vindicator pointed out, more than a hundred business and organizations and another hundred individuals have signed on as "Community Character" participants. Additional information on the Comprehensive Strategy is available from coordinator White at 330-740-2278.
Common goal: But whether someone signs on or not, it is important that everyone realizes that character does count. Adults who shrug off examples of crime or corruption with "everybody does it" are not only factually wrong, they're morally wrong.
"Everybody" doesn't cheat or steal or look the other way when they see a wrong being done. And the sooner our children are taught and shown that integrity matters, the better off everyone will be.
Those watchwords listed in the fifth paragraph, starting with "integrity," provide a comprehensive list of the traits that a community needs. And stressing the value of those traits to the youngest members of society is a sound strategy.
Changing tomorrow starts today.