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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

Important to their journey

Yesterday we had a small celebration. I have a whole new influx of 12- and 13-year-olds, little toughies who already think they own the streets. I drive up Summit and they come running. The streets resound with their cries. “Wait, wait,” they yell, “we’re coming,” and so they are, laughing and pushing each other. “Shotgun,” they cry, “My turn,” “Shotgun.”

On the way home that night, a short, stocky young man tries to exit through the window. “Oh no,” I yell as I grab him by the seat of his pants; he turns to face me, grins and says, “Thank you, Miss Judy,” gives me the gang hand shake and disappears into the night, strutting like a four-star general. And so starts another round of youth growing up in Hamilton Hill, and my battle to give them a real future. I hope I can be there for them.

And here is a response from Chrissie, the first-ever QUEST kid.

“They will learn great things from you... As all in the past have. That’s why they ask you to wait as you drive — you are important to their journey.”

And what more is there to say. The journey of my kids as they go forward. That’s a tough job, and one that I never asked for or especially wanted to get. It’s a little scary and a lot heavy. And in my car yesterday in the midst of a big talk about family responsibility versus kid responsibility we go into a little hassle about transportation. When I spoke of gas prices, lengthy waits for them to come down to the car etc., they in complete accord responded with, “But that’s your job.”

I went into complete shock, and that’s an understatement. “First”, I said, “Transportation is really a gift, essentially that’s your parent’s job, and secondly I am not the paid QUEST bus driver.” Great shiftings in seats and mumbling in the car. “I do this so we can spend extra time together and so that you can come to QUEST from more distant locations, and especially because you are (for the most part) such neat kids.”

I did not mention how this enables me to learn more about their lives and their friends and their families. I failed to mention that I am a champion eavesdropper. Here’s for instance what happened yesterday. I have 2 kids that come from the hinterland reaches of Mont Pleasant. I never go there unless they call first. And since there was no school and no phone call I figured they were off somewhere doing something. I also try not to pick up after 4:30, Well, I bet you guessed it, at 4:27, I got a text message, which (since I was driving) I let Kay-Shawn pick up for me. And it was as I feared it would be – Mont Pleasant calling.

“Please come get me.” “Text back K.S. please say car is full and it’s to late.” K.S. (formerly known as Kay-Shawn) responded gleefully, “She said No!” Another text -- “Please, please, it’s not my fault, please come and get me.” So, as I usually do, I gave in. “You can thank me!” K.S. replied, “We’re coming.” And we did go, and that’s where the “but it’s your job” quote came in.

Well, we sort of settled things. I explained, “I'm the boss.” Which left everyone in shock. “My building, well actually the bank's building, but my responsibility. I raise the money, I go to meetings and it is my personal decision to pick you guys up, which adds at least 2 more hours to my day if not more.”

It was a very quiet ride for about 7 minutes after which the bedlam started all over again. The D.J. in the shotgun seat started endlessly switching channels and kids started discussing the fight “du jour.” They still asked me to do my comedic shtick and multiple voice routines and we still had our screaming contests. I always hands-down win these. Plus I can actually sing those rap songs and right on pitch too. And I’m still yelling, “Do not make fun of that man, he’s homeless.” And then I will explain why indeed I would not run over that stray dog. “He’s probably scared and hungry.” I say, “What if that were you?”

And when I go home, thankfully and mindfully to my own home that night I have my own greeting committee waiting for me. Fat Ernie (the cat) is so excited he keeps running in circles under Wilber’s stomach and meowing as loud as his damaged vocal cords will allow. And Wilber, who is totally oblivious to his fatness running underneath, who is wagging his tail so hard his whole mid-section is doing the salsa.

And then they both herd me in the direction of the bed where when I sit down they both leap on and roll on me and lick me and paw me and by now Wilber is making his whining, “pet me” sounds as his joy just explodes and I laugh and laugh and laugh.

“If there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of his life.”
-- Albert Camus

We are simply rolling along at QUEST, gathering speed, gathering momentum, covering new ground. Board is expanding, and so are the kids. Making better choices. Did I tell you about the milk? I think not, for over 10 years the Department of Health and myself have been having an ongoing discussion about milk. The kids won’t drink it.

It was suggested I add chocolate or strawberry flavoring to it. Well, my dentist went ballistic, new and current dental findings say it’s not what you eat but what you drink that destroys your teeth, that chocolate in a solid form is okay. What is not okay is chocolate in a liquid substance, i.e. milkshakes, chocolate milk etc.

Most of my kids have atrociously bad teeth, so okay they need calcium but definitely no chocolate in the milk. Well we stopped offering milk with supper, but always keep in the refrigerator 2 pitchers, one of milk and one of water, so now when they are hot and sweaty and thirsty we say, “Milk or water?” And guess what, they say, “Milk.” A small victory, but remember our motto at QUEST, quiet endeavors and small triumphs. It is the day by day changes that make for long lasting quality of life improvement. I am calling D.O.H. on Monday to say, “Cheers, have a tall cold one on me -- milk that is.” They will be chuffed and so will I.

We feed about 50 people 5 days a week plus deliver first class loaves of bread, still some warm from the oven, upwards to 70 loaves a week, plus Perecca’s tomato pie. And I turn around and see the big announcement about the $135,000 grant going to growing and distributing fresh vegetables to about 400 families 4 to 5 months a year.

We feed year round, plus give away mountains of fresh fruit, vegetables and tossed salads. 12 months out of the year and full hot dinners, following states guidelines. I just don’t get it. That’s more than our yearly budget for everything we do. All of it. Salaries, gas, programs, maintanence -- everything. This blows my mind.

We have not been invited to receive any of this bounty, we feed kids, poor kids and their families. We bring baskets and boxes of food right to homes and churches, and the Bethesda House and to the City Mission, it was our boys who lug and carry these items, no one gets paid for this, the food is free and we give it away freely, it makes good citizens of our youth, and lets them feel as if they can help others who are in worse straits than they are.

I do not like to see huge amounts of money spent unnecessarily, where is an accountable budget for this program. It must be freely available by law. And frankly the only permanent site accredited to this program is a dilapidated green house and a piece of unused city land near Central Park. Community Gardens? We have many sites that are underused and available right here in the Hill and Vale Community. Many of the youth involved with this program came from Niskayuna. Surely as a city we can do better than that.

And while I’m on a rant let me share a comment from an unknown person who left it on the QUEST Schenectady Facebook page.

“How refreshing to see someone trying to prevent hell for children rather than bash them as low life street thugs. God Bless whoever you all are and of course may he always bless the children.”

May I also suggest that you go to Encore TP on Facebook and follow the prompts to their online fundraiser for QUEST and Encores joint theatre program. A completely free youth theater program, covering just about all avenues of theater. Dance, vocal performance, tech work, including lights and sound, a total internship culminating in a performance.

Please try to help support this in any way you can, there is an online budget rundown complete with video showing upgrades that need to be made, like painting the space. This is a theater program in the Hill and Vale area, free and professionally run, also please see times and dates for “Zombie Prom” -- first youth production at QUEST, running in April 2013. At least come to the performances and buy tickets and calm your souls and hearts after all my carrying on this is for all of us.

“How I would like people to hear.. the sound of the snow falling
Through the deepening night.”

-- Hakuin

Peace Be with you all.

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