GLENS FALLS -- Matt Congdon has been director at the Glens Falls Area Youth Center for more than 20 years. He got the post after a group of teens, acting on their own behalf, approached the City Council and asked that the acting director not return from her maternity leave. They liked Congdon, a 25-year-old fresh out of Springfield College who was assisting at the time, and wanted him in charge.
Back then, the center was located on Warren Street, where children's museum, Explore!, is now located. Prior to that, it was located on Pine Street, sandwiched between a couple of defunct bars, according to Congdon.
"I don't know how the city allowed kids to congregate there," Congdon said.
Despite quadruple bypass surgery last year following a series of heart attacks, Congdon barely missed a beat.
"I only missed 20 days of work though, so that was pretty good," Congdon said. "I've got 65 days of vacation or something like that coming, but I never take a vacation because I think it's important to always be open for the kids," Congdon said.
Congdon spearheaded the fundraising campaign that, thanks to community support and generous gifts from local philanthropists and corporations, raised $1 million in eight months for a new facility on 60 Montcalm St., which opened in 2000. The city donated the land.
The new center includes a gymnasium, game room, computer room and kitchen area, as well as space designated for exercise
The center has done well since opening at its new location, with membership recently reaching 3,000.
While it used to close between 5:30 and 7 p.m. for dinner, Congdon said the center now feeds about 60 kids per day at dinner. His brother, Assistant Director Bob Congdon, who has also overcome the odds, winning his battle with cancer, doubles as cook. Pasta, goulash, tacos and grilled cheese are some of the entrees on the menu.
"We have some kids whose mom is working a couple of different jobs and can't be home to prepare a meal. Some of the kids come from fine family backgrounds. But, you can see it in some of them - it's either feast or famine for some of the kids. ... It might be the only meal they get that day," Congdon said.
The Tri-County United Way, local philanthropists By and Joan Lapham, the Hudson River Community Credit Union and the West Mountain Community Congregation are a few of the those whose in-kind donations help foot the bill for complimentary meals for kids, according to Congdon. The bill, he said, adds up to about $15,000 per year.
Congdon routinely deals with problematic kids - Kids who affiliate with a "gang" or who use foul language or try to bully younger kids.
"We have a ton of unwanted kids. If they don't have the youth center, they would join gang type groups. There's a big thing going on now with these kids that think they should be involved in gangs. They're not true gangs, they're not like the Bloods or the Crips; although, they use those names - they're wannabees," Congdon said.
Congdon monitors the activity like a hawk. If a troublemaker comes in, he takes care of it.
"If a new guy tries to come in here and tries to be an intimidator, it doesn't work. They're not stayin'," Congdon said.
In addition to supervising (not to be confused with parenting),
Congdon also does the grant writing, handles fundraising
campaigns, and organizes the $3,000 in scholarships given to a graduating youth center members going on to college or into military service.
Congdon said he would like a contingency policy in place so he could hire a third full-time employee at the center. He hopes to add the position by August. Anyone interested in the position, or in volunteering or donating to the center, should contact Congdon at 793-5932.
The center is open six days a week, but if Congdon had it his way, it would be seven days a week.
"I would open on Sundays, but I just want to be sure I'm healthy enough to do that," Congdon said.