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Staying Involved with the Children

Growing up in the Blue Hills neighborhood, Chris Baisden remembers keeping an eye on his younger brother and his friends. If they weren't where they were supposed to be, especially school, Baisden got involved. Years later, Baisden is still in Blue Hills and still getting involved with kids. "Everything I do is involved with youth," said Baisden, 31.

For Baisden, "everything" includes working with youngsters in an after-school program, assisting in a summer youth employment program sponsored by the State Comptroller's Office, where he works in the personnel department, and supplying free tickets to city youth for women's professional basketball games at the Hartford Civic Center.

"I use as many different resources as possible," Baisden said. Baisden said that he was fortunate growing up with parental guidance and involvement. "They made me who I am. A lot of today's kids don't have that light in their life to guide them," he said. So Baisden spends two days a week trying to supply some light to about 15 youngsters enrolled in NULITES, an after-school program sponsored by the Urban League of Greater Hartford. Baisden, who organizes workshops on subjects including violence prevention and the value of education, said the after- school period is crucial, because many children are unsupervised for several hours during that time.

Sheila Mayo, whose children Michael, Tahnarra and Jahsimeon are in the program, agreed. "It's a good sanctuary for them until I get home from work," said Mayo, whose children have been attending the program at the Albany Avenue Branch of the Hartford Public Library for about two years. Mayo said she likes Baisden's positive approach and dedication to the children. "He's really in tune to what's going on," she said. "He expects a lot out of them and puts a lot into them."

Baisden, a program assistant, said he tries to stress to the children that the program is theirs. "I want to empower them to have a voice," he said. Sometimes though, Baisden acknowledges he gets frustrated by forces out of his control that affect young people.


"No matter how much violence prevention you talk about, violence is always going to be there," he said. Baisden said he sometimes sees how the program benefits the children right away, but some are harder to reach than others. As exasperating as that can be, Baisden said, it's important to keep trying. "A lot of these kids are used to people giving up on them," he said. "You have to keep going." That's something Baisden has been doing since he graduated from Weaver High School in 1984. As glad as he was to be done with school, Baisden said, he quickly realized that his diploma alone was not going to send him on his way to a successful career. "I was kind of naive," he said. "I was like, `Yeah, no more school.'" So, Baisden joined the Army, serving in a field artillery unit and a personnel unit from 1985 to 1988. That experience helped him land his current job with the state, but Baisden was still looking for more. When an opportunity to get involved in the dry cleaning business came along, Baisden took it, starting CB Dry Cleaning Services. Subcontracting from an established business that dry-cleans clothing, Baisden's service offers door-to-door pickup and delivery. "I want to be the next George Jefferson," he said. "I guess it's just in me to do something extra."

Aside from being able to show the youngsters he works with that you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it, a chance meeting with a representative of the New England Blizzard while picking up some dry cleaning enabled him to provide tickets to children involved in after-school programs throughout the city. Baisden said many children haven't had an opportunity to experience things outside of their own neighborhoods, so attending an event such as a professional basketball game at the Civic Center can give them exposure to different environments.

With a growing family that includes wife Lynette; stepchildren Ahmad, 8, and Amariah, 4, and 6- month-old daughter, Kristalyn, and a growing commitment to his dry cleaning business, Baisden knows that someday he may be too busy to continue his involvement with young people. If that happens, Baisden said, he's confident that he can still have a positive effect on young people's lives through a method he thinks works best: "If you can give someone positive information...if you can make them stop and think about what they're doing, you've got them," he said.

Nov 9, 1997 by Steven Goode
The Hartford Courant©, 1997