Compassion Is Alive and Well on Capitol Hill

Need an uplifting story about Congress? Here's one.

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Brand new books delivered by the Children's Literacy Foundation are displayed for elementary students in Georgia, Vt., Monday, Dec. 7, 2009. The Vermont nonprofit raises money to hand deliver new books to schools, libraries, and shelters across Vermont and New Hampshire to promote reading and writing in under served rural areas.

Public approval of Congress (in particular, Congressional Republicans) is at a historic – and shocking – low, down in the single digits. So Americans might be surprised to hear there's a bipartisan group of Capitol Hill staffers and members coming together across party lines to donate their free time and money to making a difference in the lives of children facing the toughest odds. 

On Sunday, I got the chance to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of Horton's Kids, a non-profit organization that pulls struggling kids out of Anacostia several times a week for tutoring and mentoring by young Capitol Hill staffers, plus Sunday trips to the zoo, the White House Easter Egg Roll and other fun.

It all started 25 years ago when one young Capitol Hill staffer, Karin Walser, stopped for gas late at night in a sketchy neighborhood en route to the highway out of town. She found several five-year-old kids hanging around, asking for spare change, and she started asking them about their lives, starting with why they weren't home in bed at that hour.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

She's a force of nature in her own right, and, very quickly thereafter, she had members of Congress from both sides of the aisle raising enough money to bring two school buses full of underserved kids from Anacostia up to Capitol Hill twice a week for tutoring and mentoring with Capitol Hill staffers, plus healthy and fun Sunday outings.

It's still going on. Republican and Democratic members of Congress – including the top leadership of the House and Senate – continue to raise funds to bring the buses from Anacostia twice or three times a week. And Capitol Hill staffers continue to come together across the aisle to mentor and tutor these kids from one of the most neglected neighborhoods in the region. And they're making a difference. 

Three-quarters of the current batch of kids being tutored improved their reading scores last year. And, among that first generation of kids Walser met 25 years ago, there are some inspiring successes. One young man who attended the 25th anniversary celebration now works at a law firm in Bethesda. Another success story – a young woman couldn't make the celebration because she's away at college.

Of course, we heard sad stories too. A few children were lost to gun violence along the way. But most of the kids are beating the odds with the help of Horton's Kids and Congressional members and staffers.   

Humanity and compassion are alive and well – even on Capitol Hill.

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