Featured in The Trentonian

On a wind-swept morning that made some of the objects of their collection that much more interesting, first grade students at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School also wore imaginary tool belts that protected them against bullying.

Physical bounty included plastic bottles, loose paper, and an assortment of other items discarded on their playground. Mental additions were achieved through repetitions that ingrained valuable responses to people who might choose to harm them or lead them astray.

The early-day mission played out as part of a Camp Fire NJ project called “Count On Me Kids.” This corps of enlistees sounded more like junior super heroes, ready to take on the challenges of being a young person in a toughening world.

Before Camp Fire NJ instructor Penny Cox escorted her group outdoors, Executive Director Kelly Nitti paced students through a back and forth that proved their readiness.

“Count On Me Kids teaches you to be?” Nitti said, leaving time and space for a response.

“Assertive,” said six-year-old Devyn Johnson.

“And, “Count On Me Kids, does their own?” Nitti continued.

“Thinking,” the small group offered in unison.

“And, Count On Me Kids, make their own?” Nitti added.

“Decisions,” they screamed.

“No matter what?,” for a ginormous finale.

“No matter what anybody else says.”

Nitti’s excitement connected with Cox’s passion to make a difference. She’s been teaching some form of student empowerment for more than 14 years.

“I think we can positively change the lives of young people. We can make a lasting impression,” Cox said.

So, do I. If grownups, by the way, one of these young students blamed us for the trash on their schoolyard (and they probably were right), commit to the health, welfare, and safety of children, pledge to make them the object of our hearts’ desire, then we can change the course of history.

Nitti and Cox offered such a wealth of excitement and potential that I almost requested my own tool belt.

“What’s your spark?” Nitti asked, a reference to any thing that excites students.

Children responded with activities like basketball, soccer, and music.

I spark when adults like Cox and Nitti empower children.

L.A. Parker is a Trentonian columnist. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter@laparker6.

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