By ROBERT LACOSTA
Sixty-six year old Fred Sumter of Albany says that becoming comfortable with yourself is one of the key transitions that he has noticed in the aging process.
“You put first things first,” he says. “You put things that have substance ahead of those things that are superficial. For example, money has value, but relationships have more. A house has value, but a home has more. Brothers and sisters have more value as you age because you move from sibling rivalries to sibling sharing.”
Born in a poor urban area in New York City, Fred became the first in his family to obtain a two-year degree. At 64, he received his four-year diploma. But even his bachelor’s didn’t feel as substantive as service work overseas.
“When I got the degree,” he says, “there was a bit of emptiness. It was hard work and good to complete, but I felt more satisfaction on mission trips.”
Much of the impetus for his service-before-self comes from a sense of gratefulness.
“My first experience with disparity was in the military as a young man,” he recalls. “I grew up in what was called the ‘ghetto.’ But in The Philippines, there might not be running water and children are begging and you begin to feel different about where you came from.”
When Fred went to work for New York State as a Youth Development Aid at a detention center for adolescent boys, he became even more thankful for his humble beginnings considering that most of his clientele suffer from the effects of fatherlessness.
Between his humble beginnings, faith, aging and his experience, Fred is now the father, brother or mentor that many of the detained need.
“I am on the front lines,” he says. “I am there when they get those hard phone calls about losing a mother or grandparent. God has allowed me to see through their toughness and that they are products of their environment. You may see in front of you a 6’2” young man that looks like a bodybuilder. He’s staunch and has an unapproachable look on his face. But I see a kid who needs structure, someone to talk to, who has been hurt and is extremely vulnerable.”
The system and outsiders may see these kids one way, but Fred’s maturity and global experiences have allowed him insight that makes it easy to believe that he’s in the right place at the right time.
Robert J. LaCosta’s daily blog is free. Write him at [email protected] or call 518-435-1250.