Helping youngsters learn to “fix what you can”

This column first was published during December, 2021  in several APG of East Central Mn newspapers during December, 2021, including the Elk River Star News and Monticello Times.


Helping youngsters learn to ‘fix what you can’


This week I’m thinking about some of the best advice I received this year and advice from my long-departed mother. As we consider how to help children, grandchildren, youngsters and students in 2022, you might want to recall what helped you most (and you might want to write to share it with me).

Unquestionably some of the most meaningful advice came from Roseville mother, former school board member and former state legislator Mindy Greiling. Her son has schizophrenia. Greiling wrote a terrific book whose title summarizes what she has done to support and assist her son and other families dealing with this disease: “Fix What You Can” (University of Minnesota Press). During our interview, Greiling readily acknowledged the enormous pain and challenge that her son and their family faced. But she’s concluded, “The secret to coping is to avoid helplessness.” She’s shown that progress is possible. More information here.

Jim and Mindy Greiling (courtesy of Mindy Greiling)

Another helpful quote this year came from Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Heather Mueller: “We need to support students and give them hope for what they may not yet believe is possible.”

Heather Mueller (courtesy Mn Dept of Education

That leads me to my mother, Ruth Kositchek Nathan. She died many years ago, at the age of 57, from breast cancer. She helped develop and was the first director in Kansas, of a Head Start program. Head Start works with 3-to-5-year-olds and their low-income families. The program, now found throughout Minnesota and the entire country, takes a comprehensive approach. Head Start believes it’s vital to work with both young children and their families. The best of these programs have had a huge, positive, long-term impact.

My mother’s favorite verse from the Bible was this: “What doth God require of thee? But to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God.” (Micah 6:8)

She also was fond of quoting another reminder from Jewish teaching: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Visit here for more information.)

Our own three children, their spouses and our five grandchildren have also been a great source of wisdom and insight. We’re fortunate to live 10 minutes from them. They sometimes ask for advice and sometimes challenge me to rethink what I’ve thought. Among other things, they’ve reminded me from time to time: “Dad, you learn a lot more when you listen!” Our two-way exchanges have enriched my life and improved my work.

You don’t need me to explain the enormous challenges all of us have faced over the last two years.

But thinking over that time, I’m deeply impressed by collaborative youth-adult efforts that acknowledged but did not accept problems. They attacked them.

That includes, for example, the youth-adult effort that brought millions of dollars to Minnesota youth who had been laid off because of the pandemic.

Or young people, like Khalique Rogers – who experienced homelessness as a child. He’s a high school and St. Paul College graduate. Working with support from the statewide organization Youthprise, Khalique interviewed 22 youth who experienced homelessness. He shared his findings this year with Minnesota legislators. Khalique convinced them to spend $20 million per year for the next six years to reduce the number of youth going through this. Now he’s helping organize others to ensure the money is spent wisely.

Khalique Rogers (courtesy Khalique Rogers)

My hope for 2022 is that we adults can work with and learn from young people to, as Mindy Greiling wrote, “fix what we can.” In the process, we’ll do what Heather Mueller believes is vital – “give them hope for what they may not yet believe is possible.” And for those of us who believe in a higher power, “Walk humbly with our God.”

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at or @JoeNathan9249 on Twitter.