“It doesn’t matter where you are,” Dianna Webb says. “It doesn’t matter where you live.”
She doesn’t know precisely what “it” is, but she knows the damage that lies in its wake. One year ago, she was jarred awake by gunshots; three young women had just been murdered near her Dorchester home. Her best friend, seeking a quieter locale, moved South. Recently, she told Dianna that two bodies had just been discovered in her backyard.
As a 64 year-old mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, Dianna Webb has seen much, and though this vaporous menace remains unnamed, she is confident in its antidote:
Take a child under your wing. Show them good things.
Dianna’s voice is sharp as she says this, the focused sternness that comes with 32 years as an educator of young children. And she only has to look to Ayden, her four year-old great-grandson, to see the stakes and the promise.
Dianna and Ayden fill their days with trips to the museum, reading sessions at the library, sojourns to parks and playgrounds and play groups, and participation in any and all community activity they can track down.
These activities are made available through Boston Children Thrive, an initiative of Thrive in 5, the joint venture between United Way and the city of Boston, of which Dianna is a card-carrying member. Literally. She has a swipe card that she uses to check in at Boston Children Thrive events. This membership card is used to generate awareness of the resources and support for families as well create a sense of community.
It has been a revelation for Dianna, delivering an unending supply of adventures to be had with her great-grandson. Boston Children Thrive can be found in five Boston neighborhoods. The purpose of the initiative is to support healthy development of all children from birth to age five. Yet for Dianna, the purpose transcends the latest white papers on socioeconomic development and early learning.
“This is the way, this is the value,” she says. “We have to stay involved in children’s lives, keep reading to them, give them activities, encourage them to get off couch and away from the TV and go out and do something. That street is no good for them.”
Dianna is so enamored with the initiative, she has become an unofficial recruiter. Applications for Boston Children Thrive membership cards are with her at all times and she readily admits to cornering strangers on the street that have young children, pitching the merits of Boston Children Thrive and handing out applications.
“It makes a difference,” she says. “I see it. I see the kids helping each other out at play groups. I’ve seen parents coming in, happy. I see their faces light up.”
Dianna has had full custody of Ayden since he was three months old. From that time forward she has worked to lay the groundwork for what she values above all else: to watch him become a good man.
You can become anything you want to be, she tells him. You don’t need to be out there acting crazy.
She’s building her man up block by block, brick by brick. The joys of reading and exercise and art and friendship and community are the materials. Her love is the mortar. She encourages Ayden to be a leader, to help the children that are not as fortunate as he is; children, perhaps, without that mortar. There’s a long way to go, but she is already seeing glimpses of the man she hopes Ayden becomes.
Ayden’s cousin just turned two. When the two are on the prowl, looking for something to do, Ayden takes charge. His cousin is eager to follow his lead. Ayden’s suggestion, invariably: “Let’s go read books!”
Show them good things.