Is there a Mister Rogers in your neighborhood?
June 2, 2022 1:03 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for examples of adults who are neither parents nor teachers and who make a positive difference for children in their communities.

I am going through some difficult garbage right now and would like to gain a better and broader understanding of the many ways that older people can be helpful to younger generations

Most of the stories about helpful adults focus on parents or teachers. Who are the other people? Crossing guards are awesome, please give me more people like them to be inspired by.

As well as current stuff, if anyone wants to share about a helpful adult in their past I would love to hear about examples from when people were children of adults who helped/supported/inspired them.
posted by RobinofFrocksley to Human Relations (18 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This essay by Anne Helen Petersen might be of interest to you.
posted by carrienation at 1:09 PM on June 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Librarians!
I was in walking distance of a tiny branch library in early grade school. The librarian recommended the Little House books to me. As I read each one, she would save the next one behind the desk for me. I loved the books, but it was also just really cool that she did that. Even now, I'm impressed that she noticed me. There was no reason to. I was just one of the many kids who used the library, but she made me feel special.
posted by FencingGal at 1:10 PM on June 2, 2022 [25 favorites]

Best answer: Two dear family friends, a married couple without children, are professional storytellers who also teach kids how to tell stories. I was obsessed with them as a kid, and every time we visited they loaded me up with creative fodder and tools (books, story songs, paper and crayons, books of clip art to cut up—I made so many little books at their house). They have been telling and teaching stories at local schools and libraries where they live for 40+ years, so they've also played some version of this role for generations of children. (In college nearly 20 years ago, my sister met someone who'd grown up in their town, and he was in awe that she knew them.)
posted by babelfish at 1:29 PM on June 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One of my neighbors when I was young was a woman in her 40s who had lots of cats and aquariums. She recruited neighborhood kids to pet sit for her when she traveled, and she was really an awesome person--she modeled another way to live in my small town subdivision, and showed young me that it was possible to cultivate hobbies (gardening! aquariums! cooking!), have an interesting job, be a kind person, and not to be married with children.

Being a kind neighbor who likes kids and shows interest in their lives can be very important, even if it's not a defined role like "teacher" or "librarian."
posted by zoetrope at 1:37 PM on June 2, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Assuming personal, past stories are of interest, when I was around eight or nine years old I randomly met an adult guy from the neighborhood. I was attending a parks-department Christmas party alone, slightly supervised by another neighbor, while my mom was off at a work party. I was shyly watching the room from the corner when he pulled up a chair next to me and we got to talking. He learned I was interested in science and more or less out of nowhere volunteered to teach me electronics. He was an electronics engineer and hobbiest, but not a teacher of any kind previously.

We started out for around 4 hours each Sunday morning, Mr. Wizard style. As time went on, the relationship expanded to include whole-day outings, ham-radio camping trips, late-night help with science fair projects, etc. Counting just the foods and music he introduced me to would be impossible. He expanded my world in a way that was truly amazing and provided one of very few childhood models for how to be an ethical adult. I'm certain I wouldn't have the fun job I do today if it weren't for him. We continued spending time together roughly weekly until I left for college.

When we meet strangers in public now, we introduce each other as father and son. Which true in every sense that matters; he's in the "parents photos" from my wedding. (Occasionally people notice that we look nothing alike. Which is an opportunity for blue jokes, in the right company.) Figuring out quite how to interact as adults rather than as teacher-student can be a little awkward, but we have great love for each other.

Looking back on it now as someone who is roughly the age he was who also doesn't have kids. . . the idea of randomly asking an 8 year old to engage in such a thing would be really intimidating; for me and probably also for their parents. But, it genuinely changed my life. (I attempt to pay it back, a bit, by being involved in science outreach programs, but it's much more formal and less personal, even if it's the same kids for three years. I'm not sure it has nearly the same impact.)
posted by eotvos at 1:51 PM on June 2, 2022 [14 favorites]

Best answer: A woman in my neighborhood has made it her mission to get everyone to "love where you live." She organizes regular neighborhood "plawking" outings (picking up litter while walking), just a block or two at a time so people aren't scared off, and it's now being done in other neighborhoods. She made branded yard signs, keychains and magnets for anyone who wants them and won't take a dime for them. She had t-shirts made for other events that she organizes, probably also out of her pocket. We have a community garden and urban farm where she leads rock-painting events, then has everyone hide them for others to randomly find. She supports other initiatives, like organizing a water station for a local school's kids' run. My favorite thing she does is help people design and paint their sheds in happy-hippy bright-sunny themes. She does all of this as a passion. She also has a family and has more formal roles on nonprofit boards and as president of the neighborhood association - they're very active and effective groups in our small city. I'm not doing her justice; scroll through the IheartSE fb page and you will definitely be cheered up.
posted by headnsouth at 1:58 PM on June 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: God, I miss HuronBob. But in his memory, I give you his story of Mr. Owens. (A teacher, but not Bob's.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:58 PM on June 2, 2022 [11 favorites]

Best answer: My mom's current husband is a retired teacher who keeps in touch with many of his former students. He is happy never to have had children of his own, but treats children as autonomous, thinking people no matter their age. He's big on outdoor stuff - bird watching, canoeing, cycling, skiing, gardening - and will take kids with him if they show any interest. He is Métis and taught Métis dancing in his classroom, still goes to the powwow that his last school throws every year, and baked bannock for kids who didn't necessarily have breakfast at home. He ran a math club that did extracurricular stuff, and has taught everything from grade 1 to grade 12. He's warm without being gooey and doesn't really take shit because he knows about all the shit (he was a high-school dropout).
posted by Lawn Beaver at 2:02 PM on June 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My neighbour would bring her small calm dog to the coffeeshop when she saw me there with my toddler, have the dog sit and let the toddler observe and pet him, to help kiddo become more comfortable around dogs.

The security guard at my local library branch knows every kid by name and greets them enthusiastically after school.

When I was a kid, my childfree neighbour used to pay me $10 to shovel her snow. It was GREAT having a ready source of cash all winter.

My college-age neighbours made a really cool trick or treating social-distancing gadget where they put candy in a little bucket attached to a pulley, and lowered it down from a window (dressed in kid-friendly costumes, blasting music, fun lighting, etc). It was a big hit with the kids and got them interested in simple machines.

My childfree friends put a little animal statue on their lawn and they put a new fun costume on it every couple weeks (they buy a child-size shirt or hat, seasonal outfits, superhero cape and mask, etc). The kids in their neighbourhood LOVE this statue. You see them stop as they walk by, crane their necks as they drive past, etc. Little kids literally make drawings of it to stuff into my friends' mailbox.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 2:07 PM on June 2, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: A woman in my neighborhood (a very, very mixed-income neighborhood of Los Angeles) lobbied the city council to turn a decrepit lot into a community garden that she now largely shepherds, and she works hard to make sure there are community events there that appeal to kids and deal with nutrition and planting/growing food. She does a school supplies/backpacks/shoes drive during back-to-school time for kids in the neighborhood who would otherwise do without. She organizes both a neighborhood tree-lighting thing for the winter holidays, as well as getting local businesses to put together small gift bags for neighborhood kids. She organizes neighborhood cleanup days and has organized kid-oriented neighborhood beautification efforts, like planting donated flowers or trees in public areas.

She also has a full time job, a young child, and a partially-disabled husband. I wish I had 1/10th of her energy and drive.
posted by erst at 2:41 PM on June 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: One of the reasons I started coaching kids' sport was to be a weird person in a sports club, a context where I always felt out of place as a kid. Most of the other people involved in the club are not anything like me (they all have children in the teams, for one!), but they've been really welcoming and accepting of me. I was coached very well as a kid growing up in the inner-city and I still play my sport. My team is in a working class neighbourhood, and I want to try to help these kids enjoy playing sport, not quit when they become teenagers, and to have proper training to prevent injuries. I don't know if it's working! But it's another example of a role.
posted by happyfrog at 2:54 PM on June 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am a childless-by-choice librarian who knows a lot of the kids in the neighborhood, gets them excited about reading, but my friend and person I am here to stan for is my friend Marian. She is in her 80s, not in great health (eczema, some cancer stuff, COPD) but she has a great attitude and when she retired she decided it would be her retirement hobby to bug businesses who have been doing Zoom stuff to turn captions on, get open captions in the movie theater, made sure her older pals could get subtitles turned on on Netflix. She helps where she can and she loves to drive. So even though she's more out in the country and I am in the village, when there is a community supper (now a take out affair because of COVID) she always offers to pick up a meal for me and will drop it by, come hang out in my driveway and catch up a little more. She's always suggesting books and even though she's had a lot of setbacks, she just keeps going, has a good attitude and has been a good friend to me. I think there are so many roles that older folks can fill in communities where there are ways for them to get out into the community (volunteering, loitering at the library - we have one lady who brings her dog for a "read to a dog" program--serving on civic positions because they have more time etc.) I'm sure this can really vary from place to place but I feel like I both AM that older person for some younger people but also BENEFIT from the older people who are part of my life. It's nice.
posted by jessamyn at 4:14 PM on June 2, 2022 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Cool Aunts—especially cool queer aunts—save lives!!
posted by kapers at 5:28 PM on June 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: We lived 1,000 miles from any family, and most of my grandparents died before I was born. My family was pretty dysfunctional. My nextdoor neighbors were like family, always affectionate and accepting. Across the street, an older couple were incredibly sweet and we played on their swing, and sometimes visited for cookies and lemonade. Mrs. K. made cookies that we all admired; turns out they were slice-n-bake. Respect.
posted by theora55 at 8:50 PM on June 2, 2022

Best answer: When I was growing up in Berkeley, CA in the 1970s/80s there was a man who stood outside his house every morning and waved to kids on their way to school. We loved him and he became a local celebrity.
posted by tangosnail at 8:16 AM on June 3, 2022

Best answer: Two roles that childless adults have played large in my own life include park rangers and political advocates (including for schools, parks, and other resources that are crucial for children)!
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 5:16 PM on June 3, 2022

Best answer: I used to live in the Inner Sunset in San Francisco and there's a lady that lives at 6th and Irving who makes that corner very charming (here's a Google Street view). Colorful benches, a colorful sign, and she does all sorts of whimsical stuff in the vegetation between the sidewalk and the street. Really fun to stop and look at, especially for kiddos.
posted by radioamy at 9:11 PM on June 4, 2022

Best answer: My dad has a friend in her late 70s who has lots of money and no grandchildren, so she found a lovely family and "adopted" them. I believe the parents are artists and struggling financially (Bay Area rents are no joke!). She babysits the kids, and I believe has helped them out financially. All out of the goodness of her heart.
posted by radioamy at 9:13 PM on June 4, 2022

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