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Judy Atchinson's A Stubborn Woman
by Judy Atchinson

A Stubborn Woman

A Daily Gazette community blog
QUEST leader's wanderings and musings

The magic of it all

“I was cleaning for a client the other day and we began talking about Mont Pleasant. She was telling me that a friend works there and is running a program for the kids. My client said that she asked her friend, 'Why bother? These kids don’t want help.' I proceed to tell her about 'you' and QUEST. I explained that I was one of those kids and that the reason they push help away is because kids like me wonder how long 'you' will help or, if we get attached when will the person helping walk away and abandon us just like everybody before them.

"Maybe not all of these kids want help but for those who we can help, why do we have to turn our backs. Maybe we can’t save them all, but to those kids who let the walls down and invite you in and who trust you, it is worth the trying.

"Maybe a positive attitude within the community is what is missing; why have we all given up on these kids?

"They are our future and if we cannot push for programs to support positive growth (even when the kids initially resist) why should anyone then complain about them? These, hopefully, will be our future leaders.

"Complain if and when the program fails entirely, but will it?

"QUEST has been running for over 20 years!!! Maybe not all have succeeded but some have and I am proof that these programs work. Judy Atchinson, you pushed against the negativity and stood by me even when I was too scared to trust, afraid that again someone else would give up on me.

"We need to recognize the other side of why. Why the negative thoughts and feelings are aiding in destroying today’s youth.

Judy -- what you do changes people’s lives for ever, I thank you for changing mine.”

-- Chrissie Anne, senior in Empire State College, double major, graduation with an A average. Runs 2 businesses and has two children and is bringing up a teen relative. This is one strong cookie. Breaking news: Chrissie Anne just got a job as an assistant manager at Trustco Bank.

In response to this, Miriam added, “This is wonderful. If we as adults, support programs and work together with schools, we could make a difference. We may not reach them all but we will reach --
“Like a bridge over troubled water.”
-- Simon and Garfunkel

Last Thursday, Nov.14th, we were audited by the Department of Health. And I do not live well through these ordeals; worse than the I.R.S. in my view. “Will kids show up?” “Will kids behave?” “Will Teepha go into labor?” and truly the big one “How will we ever get through this?”

At 3 o'clock, one kid here; Jim is making jokes and threatening, to start counting crows -- 3:15, 4 kids, staff children; I’m sweating, 3:30 a car pulls up 8 kids and 2 teens get out. “Not enough, not enough.” 4:00 I go out to start my daily pick ups, come back to 10 kids shooting hoops in the parking lot. I’m breaking out in hives. At 4:30 I meet the auditors in the office and start cracking open paperwork and explaining receipts. At 5:00 I go downstairs; let me repeat myself here, 5:00 I go downstairs, and there are people everywhere, from all around this city, they walked, they rode bikes, they came by cab, by car, by bus. They pushed strollers, they came and they kept coming. 93 children and 25 helping adults.

There was Big Eddie Stanley, picking me up and carrying me across the floor, there was Jayden growing up and looking like his brothers. There were babies and toddlers, and pre-teens and real teens. There were pregnant girls and boys just out of jail. They came and they kept coming. I was a star in my own movie. And I wept, I stood there in the middle of the downstairs floor and wept. And it was a party. A reunion. A fresh start, an old time revel. They heard by word of mouth and they came.

My dour auditors smiled. “They came for you,” they said, “they didn’t come for us.” And people danced and reaquainted themselves, and kids sang and the only injury we had was one little boy of 4 getting hit in the face with a basketball.

And we broke bread together and several tables shared grace. And everyone cleaned and helped.

And “this is more like community center than a simple after school program,” said my auditors. And how did they know, this is exactly what we wanted. A place for whole families to gather. A shelter for whoever needed it. A place to be safe, a place to have fun, a place to eat and visit your neighbor and make new friends, a place to volunteer a place to come for help and a shoulder to lean on. And the wonder, the magic of it all was more than I could handle.

I will never forget this day, this sunny cold day in November, when my family met and increased 100-fold.

But still there is so much violence in this city. A new gang (reportedly) from Poughkeepsie, though those in the know say they have been here a year or two. A violent group run by older men in their 30’s. QUEST’s parking lot being taken over by federal agents (25 of them and 11 unmarked cars) on one sunny Wednesday. How do I know this? Because I threatened to call the cops on them and they responded with, “Lady, we are the police,” and proceeded to show me their badges. Chestnut Street and Vale Cemetery that evening at 7 barricades and street blocked of everywhere you could see. I got my kids out of there and we all went home.

Flurry of violence

A man shot near Mont Pleasant Middle School after a wild chase around the neighborhoods.

Schools shut down, lock-ins, lock-outs. Shots fired near Carver. A home at Van Vranken Avenue attacked by a man in camouflage shooting repeatedly at windows and doors of a particular residence. A mail man shot deliberately with a pellet gun on Van Vranken Avenue. All in a matter of 10 days. And this is only what I know.

A girl at the high school jumped in the bathroom and accused of stealing someone else’s phone. Seven fights in one day at the high school. Same child becoming sick to her stomach as she approaches the school, now pulled out and being home schooled.

M.’s daughter being spat upon on the school bus, right in front of her mother and bus driver, child responded with, “ I don’t care; I will do it again.” Mom of child making excuses for the boy in
“City on Fire.”

Title of song from Sweeney Todd. How totally applicable right now in our city which has been named 79 in the top 100 of the most violent cities in our nation. Our school system singled out with only 4 Need I go on? All the above in a 2 week stretch.

We at QUEST are now sponsoring a program for parents in the immediate community to meet and more importantly to do more than just meet but to act and continue and acting on school issues. To offer programs of information and insight to help organize meaningful organization and structured plans that could be implemented to make our streets safer. And not just writing letters but offering on site volunteering and problem solving. Human bodies to aid and comfort a bleeding city.

I know you probably don’t want to hear all this, but this is the reality of the place you live in.

Someone said, “scum” to me last week -- “scum” referring to all those on social services and their children. “The only way to have any positive influence on the kids is to get them straight from the womb.”

And sad to say, there is a grain of truth in this. But only a grain. But I do know this, this city will not better itself by not bettering their vision and actions. Hand wringing and weeping and wailing never bring back the dead and dying.

Luxury apartments downtown and massive slums 4 blocks away. Kids agencies moving out of the danger areas and looking for safety. One agency being taken over by the state. The streets are dark in the Hill and Vale. And also Mount Pleasant and Goose Hill. People will not move here until everything moderates. It’s easy to stay; it’s all downstate people coming here for cheap and easy welfare. But all the old time people abandoning and running. Years ago we had a group of citizens who came directly to the schools if there was any violence. We would come and patrol and talk to the kids. We would be called on our phones and even if the school was locked down we would be let in. Kind of like the kids' patrol version of volunteer firemen. What ever happened to that organization?

We as a community took responsibility for our youth and our schools and our city. But the program went, “poof” all gone. And now we’re back to meet and greet and bitch and moan. We have focused too long on a very small segment of our community. Everyone should have “A Place At the Table.”

Three powerful and knowledgeable women have moved into the city. Three sisters of St. Joseph’s, and their mission is to walk and work in the aging and damaged parts of our city and its neighborhoods. To work one on one with the forgotten souls. To simply extend their hands and hearts and offer an ear and a shoulder. I hope to utilize one of their programs of peace at QUEST.

I am often so tired and so discouraged lately. I think about simply walking away. But on Monday, Milay and her brother came with me to Steinmetz to deliver food to M and her family from whence it would be distributed to one section of housing. Home deliveries to the elderly and the disabled. Milk and food for families etc.. And Milay said, as we were driving away, “I would like to help with the food.” An 8-year-old child putting the rest of us to shame.

When will agencies learn that you can not wait for the poor and needy to come to you, we must bring compassion and help to the ones that need it. It’s called outreach. And real outreach walks the streets and visits the homes and hugs and offer respite.
And I am not a Catholic and maybe not even a Christian, but the new pope is espousing these things and not just espousing but living his life in accordance with his beliefs. And I say AMEN.

“What is it that dwells there
I know not
but my heart is full of awe
tears trickle.”
-Medieval Japanese Verse
“It is not the same thing
to talk of bulls as to be
in the bullring.”

-Spanish Proverb

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