By Sheila R. McAfee
The new president of Trenton Rotary has an ambitious vision for the coming year, and his plans call for building confidence and character locally and globally.
Dr. Noel Jackson, a Trenton dentist, was installed to the position in June, when he announced that he wants to further the group’s involvement in providing medical and dental care to a small village in Nicaragua, and partner with Trenton Public Schools to initiate a character development/anti-bullying program.
“If we consider the classroom to be a child’s workplace, and we build a foundation of positive behavior, just think how much better their workplace in the adult world will be when they get there,” Jackson said. “What a difference they can make.”
Per State of Michigan mandate, the school district has an anti-bullying policy in place, and Jackson was a community representative on the committee that updated the guidelines, according to Dr. Michael Doyle, principal at Trenton High School.
At THS, the counseling department also facilitates Challenge Day, a national program designed to develop understanding and acceptance. Doyle said participants, usually a group of about 100, learn about each other and how to break down barriers that divide people through an intensely emotional experience.
While Jackson supports these efforts, he said he believes a program that focuses on a younger age group would be most beneficial. It also would have a domino effect between students in the classroom, and at home between those students and their siblings and parents.
“I see a program that will develop the skills to help the kids step up for each other; to give them the tools to intervene when they see something happening they know is wrong,” he said.
Too often, in a bullying situation, Jackson said he believes the focus of the incident turns to the instigator and his or her target, and what gets overlooked is the group of people who are around the perimeter of the incident.
“Those who witness the situation have to be confident to stand up and say, ‘what you said hurt my feelings so I can imagine how the (victim) felt,’” said Jackson. “I want to help them with the verbal skills to step up for someone else.”
Doyle, a fellow Rotarian, said he agrees with Jackson that the elementary level is the place to start, and has been meeting with the counseling staff to devise a program that can be introduced when school starts in September.
“It is a dynamic process and we have a coherent understanding of the potential to improve how we treat each other,” Jackson said.
As for the dental clinic, it was built by Michigan Rotary clubs in Chinandega, Nicaragua, and Jackson has been among the Rotarians and local dentists and doctors who have traveled to provide care for the villagers who live off the nearby dump.
“The clinic has been so well received that we will be doubling it in size this year,” Jackson said.
Rotary has supported the Nicaragua project for several years, and members have provided polio vaccines throughout the world. All that will continue, as will assistance to pet projects like the Trenton Food Pantry, a school literacy program and Warm Coats. The character development program Jackson has in mind will require a bit more monetary commitment.
Jackson estimates the cost to implement and maintain the program could be as much as $20,000, and said he doesn’t want to start in bits and pieces. Jackson said he prefers to begin with an ideal, not work up to one in stages.
“I’m not a cutting-corner kind of guy,” he said.
When he shared his thoughts for the coming year with the Trenton Trib, he was in between appointments at his downtown dental practice as well as two major city events in which the Rotary was involved.
The service club was selected to man a beer tent at the Trenton Mid-Summer Festival and a week later hosted Roar on the River. Proceeds from the events will help fund the program Jackson envisions.
“Our participation in the Mid-Summer Festival was an extra-special bonus because different groups man the tents each year,” he said. “With those proceeds as a base, I would like to see if there are other foundations that would lend support and be part of this.”
Jackson said he has received positive excitement for the concept, and his past accomplishments are a good indicator that this optimism will carry his idea to fruition.
Jackson has been a stimulating presence within the Trenton community for many years. He is president and founder of the Downriver Youth Performing Arts Center (DYPAC), which operates out of the Trenton Village Theatre, a city landmark that has experienced rebirth with the help of Jackson and the DYPAC board of directors. He has been widely recognized for his commitment to the arts.
He also is a member of the Kiwanis Club, the Trenton Business Association and the Downtown Development Authority.