Head of Tales: James Vollbracht's Kids Campaign By James Passell Delta Airlines Sky Magazine
Chances are you've flown with James Vollbracht. This book author, lecturer and workshop leader has chalked up nearly 1 million miles, all domestic, aboard Delta flights. A million miles. That's the mileage of the flights of Apollo 10 and 11, combined. Vollbracht knows how to make use of his hours spent in the air. "All my books were written at 35,000 feet," he says. And he knows how to make use of his time on the ground. His next book, to be called Stopping at Every Lemonade Stand (Viking/Penguin), is due out next year and is the culmination of 16 years of work flying Delta around the country, talking to community leaders about how to make children feel like valued members of society. The human infrastructure has broken down, leaving our children vulnerable, Vollbracht argues. To set this right, a million miles hardly seems too far to travel.
In appearances around the country and through his organization, Higher Ground Associates, Vollbracht spreads the gospel of rescuing our youth: "I weave stories along with research to tell how ordinary people are doing extraordinary things to create a culture that is loving, healthy and safe for our kids, and hence loving, caring and safe for us all."
The solution can be simple but powerful and often starts with saying hello. Senior citizens in Duluth, Minnesota, have pledged to smile at all teenagers they pass on the street; police in Seattle eat lunch with the kids at school; a grocery store owner in New Jersey has created family-friendly checkout lines, with no candy, tobacco or sleazy tabloids.
Vollbracht outlines strategies for rebuilding the circles of support for children. The concentric circles radiate out from the child: the individual, the family, the neighborhood, the elders and the community, including institutions of faith, business and government. Although his strategies apply to all children, he admits that the older ones feel the most alienated.
"As I talk with teenagers across America," Vollbracht relates, "one thing is evident: They do not feel valued. They feel like they're the enemy. Black kids have told me how humiliating it is to walk down their neighborhood streets and see people in cars at stop signs and stoplights check to make sure their windows are rolled up and their doors locked. White kids in rural Ohio have told me that they're not allowed to shop in certain stores."
Vollbracht finds that many people, especially senior citizens, avoid shopping in places were they may run into a roving pack of teens with spiked hair or dreadlocks. "I try to get people to see through the costumes," Vollbracht says, "and see youth as participants in our culture, not the problem."
All children are at risk, Vollbracht argues, not just those in the inner city. "There's nothing to do" was the universal lament he heard from children, urban and rural. In response, Vollbracht and two associates founded YouthReach International, an organization that reaches out to youth in foreign countries. It gives kids with nothing to do something to accomplish, including designing the logo, writing the mission statement, helping raise the money and planning the trips.
"It's adult and youth-driven together," Vollbracht says.