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Poverello Corner

Over the holidays I had the opportunity to watch the movie "Seabiscuit." It tells the story of three very unlikely people - an owner, a jockey and a trainer - and an undersized racehorse.

The story is an incredible tale based on true events that occurred in the nation at the time of the Great Depression, and the impact they had on everyone at the time.

Early in the movie is a scene with the future owner of Seabiscuit, Charles Howard, and the future trainer, Tom Smith. Tom had just recently convinced an owner of an injured race horse to spare its life and to let Tom treat him.

Tom, who preferred camping in the woods and being on his own, was sitting at a campfire when Charles came up to him. Charles asked him about the injured horse and whether the horse would ever be able to race again. Tom said no, to which Charles answered, "Why are you fixing him?"

Tom simply replied, "Because I can."

"Every horse," Tom continued, "is good for something. He could be a cart horse or lead pony, and he is still nice to look at. You don't throw a whole life away just because he is banged up a little."

In our current society, where it seems everything is disposable, we should remind ourselves that even though someone may be "banged up a little," there are still ways for that person to contribute.

This is never so true as when working with children. I had a wonderful experience that made that case for me when I was principal of a Catholic high school. There was a senior student who was bipolar. She would walk out of classes when the mood hit her, cut classes, or come to school late. This was not a tolerable situation.

I met with her and her parents. The root of the problem was that when she felt good, she would stop taking her medication. Then she'd deteriorate until we could convince her take her medication again.

We created a signed contract for the student, her parents and the school that laid out conditions for everyone to perform to.

My role was to ensure that she took her medication. I would meet her at the nurses' room each morning and at noon; if she did not show up, I'd have her paged.

One of our senior class advisers played a support role to help the student with her decision-making processes.

I was so pleased the day she graduated and accepted her diploma. Just six months before, she'd flirted with expulsion.

She went on to college and earned a degree in the culinary arts.

As it says in The Book of Psalms1:1-3: "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper."

We can all make a difference in the lives of those around us if we are willing to look past the "banged up" person and seek the intrinsic value of the person. Any of us can do it; we just have to care enough.

Joseph Bischof is the executive director of Missoula's Poverello Center Inc. Reach him by calling 728-1809 or e-mailing

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