A need to work together
“All truths are not to be told”
-- George Herbert
These past two weeks in our hometown, who can fathom it? It’s as if we are trying out for a B-rated crime cable movie, which is so over the top. Nobody believes it can actually happen.
Second in the state for domestic violence, only New York City beats us out on that one. A love triangle stabbing at 8 a.m. in front of the Salvation Army. A baby of 11 weeks passed around like a sack of potatoes, at one point being used as currency for increased benefits. And then (gasp) being handed over to (yes – yes) a Catholic priest in Albany. A brawl outside a club restaurant on Central- State of 100 people by police count. That’s 100 people. The miracle is there were no serious injuries, though one man was found unconscious and had to be hospitalized. Maybe that Catholic priest in Albany was praying for our city.
And then there’s the distasteful business at the Yates Village Boys & Girls Club. I am pulling my punches until more is discovered. I know how easy it is for a disgruntled parent or client to make a damning accusation. And sexual misconduct is the child nightmare we all try to avoid. Through it all I am saddened by the lack of mutual support we offer each other. The way we distance ourselves from others' misfortunes as if they were as contagious as a bad case of the flu. There are so many cliques and good old boys clubs (and also good old girls clubs) in this town. The adults are as turf conscious as the gangs. New comers are firmly shut out and shunned. The myriad churches walk alone ignoring even each other. Snobbery and elitism, a one-way-only (my way) self-righteousness that pulls apart, not together.
We have a new city council and a new mayor now, and the first thing on the agenda is, as usual, “getting everyone to work together.” I have seen this since I was the new kid on the block, 20 years ago. I went to more meetings than kindergarten moms do. Long, long diatribes, everyone congratulating themselves for those 2-hour meetings in those tiny airless rooms. We did a few block parties, a few joint marches but still everyone stayed on their own side of the street. Safe in their own little community. At one time it was even suggested that all the youth agencies adopt the same rules and regulations; of course it was rule of the few over the many. At that time everything QUEST stood for was mocked and we were told the only help for us as an agency was to become a mainstream entity marching lockstep with all the self-proclaimed wise ones.
My indignant response was that there was room for all of our philosophies -- what worked for some children, did not work for all, and I stood out (way, way out) on a limb and said, “No dress code, no gang color limitations, age mixtures (just like families) and everyone welcome." Our rules were simple: no drugs, no alcohol, no physical contact, even dodge ball and play fighting were not allowed. No destruction of property , no weapons.
In the old days I would find knives of various dimension and size hidden in the tank of the toilet. Alcohol smuggled in soda bottles of Pepsi and Coke, and weed called herbal Indian cigarettes. I settled in and learned quickly. And I was as green as a Caesar salad. But we all grew up together. No one was stabbed or beaten on site, except for that infamous one-time teen love triangle, 2 girls one boy, etc. You get the picture. Staff took the wildest kids and fostered them. And my staff was smart and savvy. Boy did I learn from them. Kids used to spit on the floor. Wow.
But look at us now. Second generation of QUESTers. Most staff people who grew up at QUEST. Group meals every day, not even cigarettes being smoked. Biggest no-no being smuggled in is junk food. I am on a nutrition kick. Youth working together to clean, raise money and help with younger kids. This is a community endeavor. More and more family members dropping by and coming in. Regular conversations and dialogues with parents. Kids standing in line to show me their report cards. And believe me, those cards are improving.
This week, on Monday, one of my helper staff for ballet was absent. To make sure everything runs the way it should, I always have 2 people for each program, teacher and aide. Well, I have to try a new person as aide for a ballet class and even though I am always outside sitting in a car, I get nervous. So I read the riot act to all the kids going in and when they came out teacher said, “ Great class! They were all wonderful.” And Ty looked at me and said, “Yup -- we were amazing, we did it for you!” My motley rag tag crew made me cry that evening. We all went to Stewart's and had ice cream, even me.
The next day though, a nightmare; it was Tuesday -- the day Ty and I go get the pizza donations. And I got a phone call from a distraught mom. “Is this the QUEST club?” She asks and then, weeping, she goes on to say her son is missing. “Never went to school” she said, “we had a fight and now it’s 7:15 and I can’t find him.” This is a child I do not know, and he hangs around with another boy who sometimes (maybe twice) comes around as we are closing in order to plague the girls. All of these children are 11 or 12 years of age. This, by the way, is why I always monitor the outside of QUEST and everyone must be on their way home before I and my staff leave.
I could not give her addresses of any of these boys but said we would help her look. So began our evening of adventure. Ty and I went to Boy and Girls club, no one there that we were seeking, drove down various streets and knocked on doors that led nowhere. Back to QUEST, Rama does know these boys, said she didn’t know where they lived and called a friend’s house for help. No help there but a lot of back and forth discussion.
On to Lia’s house. She knew where one boy lived; over to the next house, no luck there, boy home but no friends with him. Moving on one staff member added, stopped at Sharla’s house, mom said, “Oh she’s at Carver!” Needless to say Sharla was not there, hadn’t been there since 5 and she is 10 years old. It is now 8:15, staff member is shaking and crying. “How can her mother not know where her daughter is.” She wails. “All too common.” I reply. We are in touch with frantic mom who is now traveling to her sons' friends’ houses. All friends are home but still no missing child. Rama is crying “that means he is all alone.” She weeps.
Finally at 8:45 comes the call. “Got him.” Everyone in the car is limp and worn; staff member Tifa says, “Judy, let me use your phone, I have to call my mom.” And she does, sobbing, calls her mom and apologizes for all the times she never told her mother where she was, for every minute of worry she gave to her family and for screaming at her mom that she (mom) was ruining her life by wanting to know Tifa’s business.
And then Ty was saying, “ Now I know why my mom was so worried the day I took a different school bus home without telling anyone.” And the girls I had grilled about boyfriends and growing up and helping in the search realizing that is was my business and their’s too. “A lost child is everyone’s child.” I got lots of I LOVE YOU valentines on my text page that night.
And then Ty pops and says, “We never got the pizza” and then my 12-year-old boy called the pizza guy and apologized and said we would be there the following evening. 12 years old and already a businessman.
And then there was the quarrel about who was going to tell the story. And I listened as brothers and sisters argued about who was to be the storyteller that night and tell their family about what had happened at QUEST that night. We need our own news show, I thought, a kid news program; they have so many stories to tell. And yes, I am following up on that as we speak, or rather as I write and you read.
There had been a full moon this past week and that’s when Ernie howls, or should I say meows. There he is at midnight in my bedroom breaking out his store of rubber bands and dancing in a patch of moonlight on the rug. And he is totally absorbed, standing on his little hind legs stretching upward as high as he can go; a rubber band held firmly in his teeth, he tosses it swirls and grabs it an continues on. Dancing in the moonlight. You go kitty.
An updated report on dog and cat relations. Wilber and Ernie. We had been playing traffic cop for a week now, certain that Ernie had a death wish because Ern would go lay down right in front of Willie and go to sleep. Cat would cruise between the dog's paws and shake his tail in Will’s face. Last night (Wed.) we took the big step forward and let everyone out of the restrainers go and it was fine. Wilber actually gave a swipe of his tongue over Ern’s face.
Actually we always believed that Ern thought he was a dog, growing as he did from 3 weeks on with Bertie. Bertie tolerated Ern but still kept him in line and did not allow undue familiarities. But today when Will was lying by my feet and I was in the big easy-chair eating chicken soup, Ernie decided that it smelt enticing and came over to get a sip of the soup, the next thing I know Ern is standing on Will’s back so he could get a leg up on the food. And Will? That doofus didn’t even roll his eyes; he just kept right on doing what he was doing, lying there contemplating his right foot and resting. I guess the cat's in charge.
Gripe and praise night
Remember the first Wednesday is coming up and that is city gripe night. Councilwoman Leesa Parazzo and Councilman Vince Riggi will be at QUEST from 6 to 7 to allow city residents to ask about the doings that they most want to blame or praise. Should be an interesting night. Two of my staff people already have their agenda waiting -- schools and police. Now there’s an explosive combination. Come in, talk, or come in, listen. Either way you are welcome. 826 State Street side door on the parking lot. Come in, we will be expecting you.
If it’s winter one must have a mind of winter -- indeed one must be winter to be here. That is not thinking of spring, no longing for summer, for something that doesn’t exist now, here. This mind isn’t reaching for some other place.
And, if it's summer, one must have a mind of summer.
There is no other place. We’re forever HERE.