When I was at Union Theological Seminary I chose to work with teens several evenings a week rather than helping some clergyman do whatever.
I had been a camp counselor for many years and had worked with teens as a teen myself in the East End of London when a student over there. There was already a startling difference. The London staff came from the same community and understood the kids. Our U.S. workers at the Manhattanville Community Center in lower West Harlem were from far places and were aliens both to and with the kids. A foreign psychiatrist advising us claimed that 9/10 were borderline schizophrenics!
However, I took the kids as they came and we got along well. Rather than sports, they wanted to cook — they were hungry — so that’s what we did — I brought the food such as cake mixes. They were very polite to my fiancee and and friends who visited one night — Sarah Lawrence students.
On one occasion I found a pair of twins holding down a little guy and threatening to burn him with a cigarette. I read the riot act to them and explained that big guys cared for little ones, not bullied them. The two became the center’s protectors for any and all little kids.
The one thing I could not do was rescue them from the terrible poverty of those days — kids always hungry. One of our guys did become a hero cop.
Some years later I ran into one of them. He took me to meet his parents and sibs. He explained that his bother was doing big time for armed robbery and that he was a male prostitute working the theater district. He kissed me good-bye when we split and said he hoped that had not bothered me. It had not.
SOOOOOOOOOOOO when I hear that such programs are being cut out of our NYC budgets this year, I cringe. I know too well what is being sacrificed — kids!
“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)
Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only)