My childhood is filled with many memories.
There were the normal memories of playing with my friends and classmates, going to the mall and hanging out at the Glens Falls Area Youth Center. I was a member of the Youth Center when it was over on Warren Street, and not Montcalm. Yes, I go back that far, at least 30 years ago this year.
I was a shy 9-year-old, too young to even be a member, but was sneaking my age just to get in because I needed what they offered, which was love and support. Two words I didn’t even understand until I started going to the Glens Falls Area Youth Center.
Most of my memories were of a loud, angry household. My most vivid childhood memories were of my mother screaming at me, calling me names and putting me down.
Occasionally, she would spank us, my sister, brother and me. When she would get angry with me, she would yell and call me names, purposely being hurtful. This is something that never happened at the Youth Center. The staff was always friendly, encouraging and, most importantly, there for you when you needed them the most. Whether it was helping with homework, keeping us active or enjoying Bob’s nightly dinner meals to ensure we were fed.
These are just a fraction of some of the reasons I will always hold the Youth Center dear to my heart.
Many years passed and I found myself at the Youth Center every day. They had a policy, and I believe they still do, that if you missed school, you couldn’t go to the Youth Center. I hated this rule. Only because as I got older, my home life became more stressful and I found it difficult to go to school every day. I still did, but I managed to finally roll in around third period if I was lucky.
By now, I was 15 years old. I had been going to the Center for more than six years. I loved the staff, the games and the environment I grew accustomed to, which was way better than at home.
My mother’s rages were still routine and I hated going home. I would get so good at playing billiards, ping pong or foosball just so I didn’t have to go home empty-handed. If the Youth center was open until 10 p.m., I was there until 10:01 p.m.
I made it my mission to win; it made me feel accepted and that I was worth something. I figured if I came home with these awards and trophies, my mother just had to realize that I was good at something.
Her verbal abuse never seemed to stop. Almost like she was jealous of me and never learned to be happy for herself. Her boyfriends, on the other hand, always found a way to listen. They had no problems showing affection and lending a helpful ear if needed. These are the not-so-normal bad memories I’d like to forget about my childhood.
For some victims, overcoming child abuse is a lifelong struggle. For me, although the struggle was real, I blocked it all out when I was at the center, because it was always a place I felt safe.
It wasn’t until one day that I finally came forward and talked to one of the staff members about my serious struggles at home. Some details of that day are fuzzy, but others are crystal clear. As scared and vulnerable as I was, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my chest and I knew right then and there, that my life was going to change for good. They were supportive, kind and set my life in a direction that I never thought would have happened.
After that, everything fell into place for me. Bob, the Assistant Director at the time became my legal guardian. He was the father figure I needed and just the right adult to guide me to become the adult I am today. My mother, on the other hand, was quick to get rid of me, so she signed me over to him like I was a diseased or malnourished dog she no longer wanted. Little did she know it was the best decision she could ever make during my entire existence.
I moved to a different school district and had a fresh start. A school where no one knew who I was or knew my family background. I joined sports and after-school activities like normal kids did. I felt that, for once, I finally belong to a family that cared for me.
I had a part-time job while I was in school, teaching me lots of responsibilities and values. I graduated a happy kid and have had several good jobs over the years, all teaching me great things. From cashier, to kitchen and bath designer, to administrative support to a director at Glens Falls Hospital, I have accomplished many goals along the way, including one of my favorites — raising over $5,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research. It allowed me to run in the New York City Marathon in 2015, a 26.2-mile race I could cross off my bucket list.
I am happily married to my husband Dan of 19 years this March, and we have two beautiful kids ages 10 and 6. Both have visited the youth center a few times. I like to bring them in so they can see why a part of me is very much like the directors at the center. I teach them the values that I was taught, and no matter their race, misfortune or home life, they should respect all human beings.
I can’t imagine where my life would be right now if I didn’t have the guidance, the encouragement or the strength of humanity from being a member of the Glens Falls Area Youth Center.
To put it simply, I live a happy busy life and play a very important role in my children’s lives. I still have my flaws like any other person does, but I think I would have had a ton more if I had never gone to the Youth Center.
Happy 50th anniversary to one amazing place that has helped thousands of kids in more than a couple same generations.