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About Cris

I was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. We lived on Lawndale Avenue, across from St. Luke’s Catholic School which I attended from kindergarten through 8th grade. The picture below was taken in our front yard, a few months before my dad died. We were a happy bunch until that day.

Even though his time with us was short, his influence was great. He lived by the Golden Rule and taught it to his kids. My commitment to social justice comes from him. He was well known among family and friends for his honesty, integrity, and fairness.  He sold insurance for a living and when he sold to some friends who were black, his boss told him to stop. He refused. Pretty soon he received a note from the boss that outraged him so much that he carried it in his wallet, until the day he died.  

I attended St. Michael’s High School, in Flint, and went on to Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant where I earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sociology. Those were times of great turmoil in this country. John and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. Civil rights riots and a raging Vietnam war were tearing the country apart. Watergate happened. It was a scary time. Drugs came out into the open and Free Love was everywhere. The social revolution was here to stay. And I knew my path would include being a part of the change. 

I've worked as a:

  • Caseworker in a Homeless Shelter for women and children
  • Teaching Parent in a group home for teenagers who were placed there by the Court System or the Mental Health System
  • Caseworker in a Residential Treatment Center for children who came from extremely abusive and neglectful homes
  • Genesee County Jail Guard
  • Student Liaison Coordinator at Reid Elementary School in Grand Blanc
  • An elected official (Clerk) on the Grand Blanc Township Board

My family has always been very civic minded. Below is a picture of myself with three of my brothers when we all worked at the Genesee County Sheriff Department. A fourth brother, Kevin, worked there also but after this picture was taken.

My brother, Terry, (top left) was in the first class of Sheriff Department Paramedics in Genesee County. My brothers, Denny (bottom left) and Jude (top right), spent their last 30 years of service as Captains in the Grand Blanc Township Police Department. Jude also earned a Ph.D. during that time and wrote his dissertation on Racial Profiling in the Flint Police Department.

 

Siblings: Dennis, Kevin, Bob, Crissy, Terry, and Jude Rariden. Gerard Darby.  Missing from picture: My sister, Madeline Darby Weishuhn

My six brothers, and myself, in recent years. My sister wasn’t there for the picture. It’s difficult to get everyone in the same place at the same time, and willing to pose for a picture!

I have:

  • Six brothers
  • One sister
  • 22 nieces and nephews ranging from age 4 to 43
  • 17 grand nieces and nephews 
  • My mother, who is 92, has been married to my stepfather for 54 years.   
 

 Front Row: Christine (Rariden) Darby; Madeline Darby Weishuhn; Dave Darby; Gerard Darby.   Back Row: Denny Rariden; Terry Rariden; Jude Rariden; Kevin Rariden; Crissy Rariden; Bobby   Rariden

What I have learned, over the course of my long and storied life, is that "Always, No Matter What" we are always there for each other! And I hope to be able to be there for YOU too!

The following are the first few pages of a book I compiled of parents' letters to their children when I was the Student Support Liaison at Reid Elementary School in Grand Blanc. The entire book is on this website, under the "My Book" tab. It's a tear jerker when you realize how much love is really in the world and how precious every single person is. We need to acknowledge the beauty that should be shining for all of us!

      

Always, No Matter What

A Celebration of Life

 

Each year, toward the end of May, the elementary schools in our district have a Celebration of Life day for fifth-grade students. These are 10 years old kids, who are just beginning to realize that the world is a big, big, place and they are about to step into a huge unknown called “Middle School.” The thought makes them giddy with anticipation while, at the same time, frightened by the uncharted territory awaiting them. Stories have trickled down through brothers and sisters and cousins and friends who have already been there. They sort of know what to expect but they know the unexpected is also involved. They face challenges and discoveries and unlimited possibilities. The hope is that they will soar through this set of formative years, fairly unscathed. The fear is that they won’t have the necessary skills to cope with the rejection and heartache that is also a part of growing up.

Most of the kids do just fine, grabbing hold of their lives and run- ning with them, experiencing the whole gamut of human emotions. But a very few kids are so lonely or unhappy or scared that they don’t know how to, or don’t want to, hold on to their lives. They take drastic measures, that in retrospect, everyone thinks could

have been prevented “if only.” If only they had told someone, if only they knew that people were there to help them, if only someone asked them to that party, if only the boyfriend or girlfriend loved them back, if only their parents didn’t have that fight, if only they could have gotten those shoes, or passed that test, or this or that or whatever.

Celebration of Life started, a dozen years ago, when two middle school students committed suicide. It’s the day when we try to softly explain to these almost 6th graders that sometimes things don’t work out and please don’t give up and please know that you can always find a friend or teacher or loved one who really cares enough about YOU to turn the world around, and upside down even, if need be. Just ask. Just know. Just believe.

Our Celebration involves planting a tree which symbolizes deep roots and long life. Branches and connections.... strength and support. We gather at the tree – the fifth-grade students, the fifth-grade teachers, the principal, the home/school liaison – and we tell the kids that there will be times in their lives when things seem overwhelming and impossible to live through. We try to impress upon them that no matter how horrible a problem seems today if they give it 24 hours, it will get much better. If they give it a week, the whole issue might have resolved itself. We caution them to not act drastically, or impulsively, in the spur of the moment.

We tell them about Yellow Ribbon cards and explain that everyone at the middle school, and high school, know that a yellow ribbon card means that you need help with a serious problem. We tell them to show a friend, or a teacher, or a counselor, their yellow ribbon card if they are feeling desperate. Then we ask them to walk once around our track, in silence, and think about who they would go to if they needed help, and what kind of friend they would be if someone came to them with a serious problem or a yellow ribbon card.

One hundred 10-year-old kids move quietly across the playground, to the track, where they walk in silence and think. As they come off the track, they are handed their own Yellow Ribbon card by one of the adults. Then, they proceed to the Community Room for the Letter Ceremony which always turns out to be the highlight of the day.

These are little kids and they operate, most of the time, in high energy mode. They are chatting and laughing and giggling and fooling around as they crowd into the Community Room and take a seat at one of the many tables that fill the room. They don’t know what to expect in here, but they were told at the Tree Ceremony that their parents or teachers have written each of them a letter. We put on some soft, sappy, music which they don’t even hear because they are too excited to be sitting on regular chairs, at regular tables, in the Community Room where they usually have to sit on the floor, crisscross- applesauce style. They are talking and laughing with their friends and excited about what else may be coming to them in this joyful Celebration of Life. It is a bit of an effort to settle them down enough to listen to what happens next.

One of us begins talking and pretty soon they calm down and start paying attention. We explain that we are going to pass out the letters from parents or teachers and that reading them can be a very emotional experience. We ask them to respect the privacy of their friends and classmates and not to make fun of anyone who might start crying. We explain that some kids will receive many letters and some only one, but they are all very much loved even if the people in their lives are not the letter writing type.

For months in advance, we collect letters from parents and relatives to distribute at this “Letter Ceremony”.  Sometimes, each parent writes an individual letter. Sometimes the parents write a joint letter. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles often get in on the act. Some parents write nothing, although many reminders and phone calls go out to those who have not responded.  In those very few cases the child’s teacher writes the letter. This is done on the morning of the last day because we cling to the hope that the parent letter will still arrive. Sometimes they do and we all breathe great sighs of relief.

As we begin to pass out the letters, the kids are still laughing and talking and filled with anticipation. It’s a slow process because there are a hundred children packed into a fairly small room, all sitting at tables and not really paying attention to the adults with their piles of letters. The kids assume they will get theirs, but they are looking down, or around, or away, and it is sometimes hard to spot the right child. And, when we do, s/he is often across the room and we then have to maneuver between crowded tables and chairs to get there. And the next letter in the pile probably belongs to someone again across the room.

So the sappy music is playing in the background, and the kids who don’t have letters yet are still joking with their friends, and the teachers are floating around the room with their stacks of letters, and some children are opening their letters and beginning to read them and starting to cry. As more letters are delivered, there are more tears and the laughter quietly dwindles away and the room takes on a solemn mood. A hundred little bodies are suddenly turned inward, engaged only with the papers they hold in their hands. This is usually the first time that the child has received a letter from a parent celebrating their own uniqueness.  In a matter of minutes, these children are transformed by the realization that they are so treasured and so valued by their parents that they have actually put it in writing. And, from that moment on, it is as if it is written in stone.

We have done the letter writing ceremony for the past three years now. Most of the letters arrive in sealed envelopes addressed to individual students. But a handful of letters are addressed to one of the adults involved in collecting them. Those letters were often read before they were sealed in an envelope addressed to the correct child. It is from reading those few letters that the idea for this book was born.

Catching a glimpse of such intimate expressions of love has been like holding a living, beating, heart. We realized that this was an excellent way to promote the well being of children. Give them tangible words of self-worth that will comfort them in times of stress. Words they will remember as they walk the winding paths of their lives. Promises, that always, no matter what, they are loved, they will be loved. Forever.

In the end, that is all we can ever give to anyone. That simple promise of forever. And, although we use words to try to cement it into the consciousness, the words are not the promise. The words are peripheral, imperfect, symbols of the deepest human connection. The real promise is made with the heart. We cannot always honor the promises made with words because they are just too fallible and fickle. Circumstances change and loved ones move away or die or sink down into a depression so deep that there may be no coming back. But the heart connection is forever, and it transcends time and space and life and death, even. This is what we really want to teach our children. Somehow.

This is the first year that we’ve asked permission to make copies of the letters and incorporate them into a book. We didn’t ask until after the letters were written, and read, because we didn’t want the parents writing for an audience. We wanted their message to imprint itself on the heart and soul of their beloved child. And these letters do that. In almost every one, the parent, or grandparent, or stepparent, says “always, no matter what, we are here for you.”

Some of the names are changed to protect the privacy of these growing children. They won’t be ten for long and if this book is published while they are in Middle School, references to teddy bears and blankets and other sweet things would probably just serve as an unwanted source of embarrassment – the last thing a middle school kid needs. But these letters are filled with love and each child knows which one is theirs.

 

 

 

                

 


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