THE BLOG

The Detroit Mower Gang, A Starfish and Why We Shouldn't Give Up

08/01/2013 07:40 EDT | Updated 09/27/2013 05:12 EDT

The CBC Radio show "As It Happens" has been on the air for over 44 years. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. each week night and my wife Sue and I listen to it as we're having our supper. They conduct interviews with people from around the world, some serious, some amusing. We always like what we call the "Wacky Brit" stories. Generally, they involve an elderly person, an animal or a crazy situation and sometimes all three.

On Tuesday, July 23, a story caught my attention relating to a guy from Birmingham. Not, however, the city in England but the town fourteen miles outside of Detroit, USA. His name is Tom Nardone and, three years ago, he founded the Detroit Mower Gang, in response to the City of Detroit closing down 72 parks. As Tom noted "After a while the grass would get waist-deep and the parks soon became a collection point for garbage and trash." He bought a ride on mower for $250, from Craigslist, and cut his first park in July 2010.

He now has a group that come out every other Wednesday and they keep 10 parks in service. Not surprisingly, Tom sounded a bit down during the interview, as he explained that 150 parks are now closed. I know from personal experience that sometimes, when you're trying to make a difference, you wonder whether you actually are and if it's worth even trying to carry on.

To get me over that feeling I think about the "Starfish Story": Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out,"Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can't return to the sea by themselves," the youth replied. "When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water." The old man replied, "But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I'm afraid you won't really be able to make much of a difference." The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, "It made a difference to that one!"

I hope that Tom finds the inspiration to carry on as, for some people, he's making a big difference. Tom finished off his interview with these words "We're trying to defend the rights of children to play. These kids aren't involved in the economics of Detroit. They just want a swing set to use".

In the words of Right To Play: "When children play, the world wins."