Sunday, August 3, 2014
The house doesn't look so bad; hopefully a few repairs here and there, a fresh coat of paint, and an aggressive marketing angle will make this stately old manor a real catch.
But as the developer goes through one room after another, methodically examining the extent of disrepair he becomes increasingly more discouraged. Every floorboard pried up reveals mold and decay; behind the peeling wallpaper the walls are bowed and sagging. Broken piping juts out of the walls, caked with rot and rust.
The situation is worse than the developer ever could have imagined.
Shortly after Succot this year, a few volunteers and I opened up a drop-in center for adolescents in our community who desperately needed a safe place to hang out and relax, a better alternative to the after-dark haunts of the local playgrounds and convenience store parking lots.
Until this point I had never been involved with such an undertaking from an "administrative" perspective; the amount of time, effort, actual physical labor and networking that went into our project before we even opened the doors was more than I had anticipated. Beyond that, once we got the program off the ground the activity never ended - I have learned that there is no such thing as maintenance with a drop-in center because there are always new things that crop up vying for attention right now. As much as I had expected to come with the territory, there are so many things that I couldn't have foreseen and this has been a steep learning curve.
Nonetheless, we've been running since October, and it seems like we're gaining some traction, thank God. Due to the dynamics of the town where we operate, we've had to operate "under the radar" as it were, but slowly but surely the word-of-mouth network has come through and the people who need us know where to find us, how to get in contact with us, and hopefully that they can count on us.
There are so many problems; it would be foolhardy to think that any one issue causes kids to turn away from Judaism, to turn to drugs and delinquent behavior, and seek solace on the streets.
For some it's finances, which can have far reaching effects in all aspects of the child's life. Others have intense dysfunction in their home. Others still suffer abuse, indifference, unavailability of important role models for a number of reasons. Many have some combination of these among many other bio-psycho-social problems that present risk factors in their ability to navigate the already difficult twists and turns of coming-of-age.
Not a night goes by since we launched that a number of us volunteers aren't on the phone - be it with each other, with a parent (a subject worthy of its own post), or someone else who is involved in some way or another (teacher, therapist, etc.). Many of the volunteers have lost countless hours of sleep, others have had to think on their feet as they struggle to properly assert boundaries without alienating the kids. It's a lively song and dance as we get to know all the steps, all the players, and all the venues.
My wife and I talk about it constantly - how can we help more? More effectively?
How can we do it without losing ourselves in the mix? How do you end a conversation with a kid who can't or won't go home? How do you draw the line so that you don't get caught in the middle of the tug-o-war between parent and child?
It's also been a very humbling experience for me personally.
I have a natural distaste for politics; anyone who's been a long tome reader would know that. But living in a small community like this (mentality-wise, not population) where there are a few very powerful people who call nearly all the shots and can very quickly squash a venture like ours means learning how to play nice with certain individuals. It's icky, but necessary. This has become even more apparent since the beginning of the summer when were forced to go mobile by our being kicked out of our basement to make way for a day camp. That has forced us to constantly find cost-effective diversions and activities for the kids, ending the night with taking them out for supper which puts us squarely in the center of attention. Because teens are LOUD, thank God! There has been an uptick of negative feedback from "concerned members of the community" about our endeavor since the start of the summer - that can be somewhat demoralizing, especially when we become a convenient scapegoat for angry parents.
But all this comes with the territory, and no matter how difficult or stressful that it has gotten so far, something in me keeps pushing me to strive...