The community seems to be largely in support of reinstating former volunteer LC Cunningham.
Cunningham was from the teen center as a result of a policy that disallows center volunteers from communicating with teens without the consent of their parents and the board.
The infraction that got Cunningham dismissed from the center -- Cunningham and the rest of the volunteers are unpaid volunteers under the auspices of the City of Dixon -- involved the popular social media site Facebook.
Cunningham used the site to monitor the teens, much as a father would monitor his children online, he said, and use the information derived from the news feeds to stop bullying, fights, cursing, and to give out information about the Teen Center.
Many of the teens on Cunningham's page were his Facebook friends before the center opened its doors and the policy was put in place. Cunningham's popularity with the kids at the teen center spilled over to cyberspace and he was bombarded by friend requests from the teens.
The Teen Center operates its own Facebook page, but the difference with that page is that it's monitored by the board.
Cunningham said he knew that by accepting the friend requests, he was going against the center's policy. But he also said that he justified it in his mind because he was not doing anything inappropriate online -- a fact confirmed by Dixon Police Chief Jon Cox -- but to squash problems before they started.
The rule is designed to protect children from predatory behavior. It's a rule that's mirrored after other youth organizations' policies on online communication, such as the Boys Scouts of America's.
It's also a rule that doesn't discourage volunteers to ignore happenstance interactions with the teens, according to board members, but one that aims to cut down on private communication that can't be monitored by parents and the board.
The board is currently working on a delaration form to give to its volunteers so that they can list the teens that they often have contact with outside of the center, where the contact occurs, and if parents give their permission.
Although Cunningham is widely known as the volunteer who donated many hours to the center and its teens, and the person who first brought the idea of the teen center to light, he was asked to resign from the place that he helped to create.
Many in the community have said that Cunningham's departure was unecessary, on both our site and on our Facebook pages, at teen center board meetings, and through a poll that we posted as this story broke.
Here is what some members of the community are saying:
"I completely understand why the governing board took action. They are all individuals who care about the teens of this community and have a long view of the teen center. The bottom line in LC broke a rule, and there are consequences. That said, I believe they possibly went "nuclear" when they didn't have to. Perhaps a final warning and a 30 or 60 day suspension would have been more appropriate. Just my two cents." -- Jeff Meyers, comment on Dixon Patch
"The Teen Center has been a dream of LC's for years now. And while I understand (and he understands) that he broke a rule, LC's situation *IS* unique, and warrants a second chance.
He is dad to two grads from the DHS Class of 2011, and has two kids still in high school. This isn't some random guy who happens to volunteer at the Teen Center--this is a man who has been a surrogate parent to MANY kids in this town, and who has offered a meal, a ride, his time, a word of wisdom, and his HEART to HUNDREDS of kids in this town--and that doesn't even include ones he met through the Teen Center.
So if he's been "friends" online with his kids' friends for years (as I believe an involved parent should be), is he now supposed to just ignore Jane Doe when he's already known her brother John for years, through sports, clubs, etc.? It's a complex situation, especially in a town as small as ours.
LC is a man of character, and any youth organization would be lucky to have 1,000 volunteers just like him. A suspension and/or warning is warranted, and let his case serve as a warning to others.
In this day and age, we need more people like LC working with our kids, not less. He won't make the same mistake again, and geez--if his *mistake* was trying to get kids into a safe environment like the DTC, stop fights, and correct profanity, he's doing a lot of good! I hope the DTC board will consider all the facts." --Jessi Besseghini, comment on Dixon Patch
"Bad Decision" -- Cheryl Segovia, comment on Dixon Patch's Facebook Page
"LC is cool and it didnt require to be rid of him, retarded Dixon." -- Kyle Orr, comment on Dixon Patch's Facebook
"It's true: Rules are rules. That said, if the Teen Center's rules are so rigid that there's no option other than to get rid of LC, then the rules need to be changed. He made a mistake. He admits it. "Friending" kids is hardly a hanging offense--especially for a first offense. A warning would have sufficed. Frankly, if the Board won't reconsider its decision, perhaps parents should remove the Board." -- Ian Arnold, comment on Dixon Patch
"I met L.C. I hope he will return to the teen center. My daughter goes there. He is what the teen center needs, he relates to the kids so well. They trust him and feel they can go to him for advice. The teen center needs him back. I feel there will no longer be a teen center if there is no L.C." - Deborah Allen, comment on Dixon Patch's Facebook
"Basically that one broken rule, I thought it not a big deal. The rule is there for a certain reason, but that certain reason he wasn’t breaking that rule. He was on Facebook breaking up fights. He was there for kids. He was there giving advice and he was doing nothing but good. That one small rule is shadowed by … the tons and tons and tons of great things he’s done for here. He’s here week in and week out. All the kids love him." -- Ryan Mendisco, comment made to the DTC Board
Not all of the comments however, were in support of Cunningham's reinstatement:
"The board acted responsibly in the interest of children, families, and other volunteers. Private, unsupervised communications outside of the teen center, outside the oversight of the parents and outside the oversight of the board, leave both the child and the volunteer at risk." -- Marjorie Kelly, comment on Dixon Patch
A poll that we posted when we first reported this story shows that 109 of 137 (79 percent) votes cast were in favor of reinstatement. Twenty people, or 14 percent, were not in favor; and eight people, or 5 percent of the vote did not have enough information to decide.
Cunningham has taken full responsibility for breaking the rule, in fact, it was he who first told the board that he was communicating with the teenagers.The rule is designed to protect children from predators, according to the board, by giving the board the means to monitor inappropriate behavior.
The board has said that it stands by its decision, however, the community commentary seems to indicate that the board made a mistake, much in the same way that Cunningham did.
Where do you stand on this issue?