Over these past few weeks when it was uncertain if our funding would continue beyond the new fiscal year, which was only six weeks away, young people who attend our weekly support group who heard the news responded in typical fashion. Some were angry and considered the most immediate path of action, threatening to “egg” the houses of whomever would dare to not fund our department. Others, taking a more rational and appropriate route wanted to know who to start writing letters to. One teen just said while raising the palm of her hand as if stopping a train, “I don’t want to hear it. It cannot happen…we just cannot let that happen…” And while these teens were verbally expressing their fears, two others were wiping away tears…because this was the way they reacted to any bad news that came.
But one boy upon hearing the news, whom I will call Max, just stared into the center of the circle of teens as others spoke or sputtered baseless acts of teen-like get-backs. Max, though, just sat there for what seemed like the longest time before turning to me and saying, “So even if you lose your job, Kevin, I’ll still be able to see you, right?”
And I just looked at him, feeling and assessing where he was and how the news was hitting him and thinking how best to gently respond. But before I got a word out, Max continued.
“I mean, You’ll still be here right? You won’t leave or anything, right?”
And I began to tell him that come July first, with no funding, that our office would close and our groups would stop meeting, forever. And as I spoke, Max just stared, burning a hole in my heart with his saucer-like brown eyes, because he apparently wasn’t grasping how all this works, how things get funded, paying expenses and salaries and all that.
Then suddenly a girl I’ll call Jana pipes up. She’s streetwise, blunt and always alarmingly perceptive, saying; “Dude!” She says to Max. “Wake up…what’s not to get? No funding means no job for Kevin, which means no paycheck, which means he has to get another job like everybody else, and we, as a group… we’re screwed!”
“But who will we talk to? Who’ll run this group? Said Max, still hanging on to here and now like it was guaranteed to last forever.
And for a solid hour that’s how it went. Listening, answering questions, teaching civics, how communities work and how we govern and how we spend our tax dollars. They learned a bit about Select Boards, Finance Committees and how our annual Town Meeting works. For this moment in time anyway they had a vested interest and were paying close attention, which, when you think about it, is how we all think about and participate in our democratic process.
Then Max drops his bomb. “Who are these people? Don’t they have kids? I mean, don’t they have teenagers?”
Now it was my turn to be lost for words. I replied, trying quickly to be relevant and honest since the wider circle was now listening in.
“Well some have children, I’m sure.” But in my opinion they watch numbers… dollar signs and not the needs of people,” I replied to Max and the rest of the room that seemed all to be listening.
By the end of our two-hour meeting the would-be egg chucker’s knew that their initial response was not the way to go; the letter writers and budding activists knew which meeting to attend with their parents; and Max? Well Max remained quieter than most, but on the way out said,
“Maybe we should invite those people on the Finance Board to come visit our group, Kevin? Can we do that? Then we could talk to them?”
“You mean,” I replied, “Have a discussion? As in actually talk with us?” Now there’s a radical idea!,” I replied. But I must say too that I also felt embarrassed that I, their “advocate,” had not thought of that suggestion myself.
A week went by that brought good news our way. The Finance Committee, having voted four to three to not recommend funding, seemingly overnight reversed themselves and voted eight to zero to support funding our department, with not even the slightest public explanation for their change of heart. (Well, there’s always a reason, but that’s a story for another day…)
I forwarded the good news to the teens on our Facebook page. Among the follow-up comments expressing relief, this one stood out for me:
From Jana, who’s never one to miss an opportunity to state the obvious, said. “Wait. First they vote against us and two weeks later turn around and vote unanimously for us? Just say ‘in, but it all seems kinda dumb to me, don’t you think?”
And that just about wraps it up for me, too. “Kinda dumb.”