Talk to Strangers

Lake Milton, OH – Braceville, OH, 14.8 miles
*came to Lake Milton from Warren by car and spoke to students at Jackson-Milton Elementary School

When we are young we are told not to talk to strangers. We are told to fear those who are different, to judge people by their appearance.

Last night I met Scott Catania and his young son just south of Warren. Though I was a complete stranger, the Catania family took me into their home and convinced me to speak to students at Jackson-Milton Elementary School about my walk.

I had no idea what I could possibly tell students. But I realized that the primary purpose of my trip, to encourage communities to help each other and look within to find solutions, begins by teaching children to be respectful of others and open to new experiences. Children who are taught to be nonjudgmental, and appreciate all there is to learn from those with different backgrounds from our own, grow to be adults who are good citizens. (At least that is my theory.)

I asked the students whether they thought it was fair that some children don’t have a home because their mom and dad can’t afford to pay rent. Many said they had participated in food drives, helped a student who didn’t have any friends or generally lent a helping hand. I told them that while it is important to help their family, friends and neighbors–people they know–it is also important to help strangers.

Lest anyone thinks I was encouraging children to go out into the world and talk to every stranger they met, I reminded them that it is best to trust the judgment of their parents before interacting with someone they do not know. But I also told them I would not have gotten very far on my trip if I didn’t talk to strangers. Every person I have met on this trip began as a stranger.

Though the students were most interested in trying on my 30-pound backpack, I hope they will think about how it would feel if they did not have a home to return to at the end of the school day; did not have any toys; or could afford only one pair of shoes. Perhaps some of them understand how this feels all too well. But I hope they will grow to understand that building a strong community means talking to strangers and lending a helping hand to all in need.

–By Jennifer E. Cooper