I guess when I look back at my youth I understand like Charles Dickens said, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times”. I am a baby boomer and I grew up in New Rochelle, NY. We had a more than an adequate City-run Youth Bureau and Department of Recreation with neighborhood-based and city-wide activities and plenty of Boys & Girls Clubs. We had a lot but we still needed an intimate element because the world even then was complicated.
What keeps coming to mind for me today is an experience offered by a private family for a few years between middle school and high school. Today, I call it the out-of-pocket “youth group”. And that’s what it was. It was created by Alice and Clarence Stewart in New Rochelle, NY.
“The Stewart Youth Group” met at their home on Thomas Place in the basement on Saturdays. It was the only organized group that catered to all neighborhoods rich, middle and poor – all city-wide kids. Everyone was there and more came if they got invited from kids who belonged --even if they were from Mt. Vernon.
When I look back at “our Stewart family” now as an educator and youth advocate I realize and appreciate more the out-of-pocket and the out-of-heart efforts made by this couple with three children already of their own.
We eagerly went each Saturday and talked about everything in that basement from students walking out of schools in protest for direct social action; to poverty; drugs; school; social class; college; skin color and the siddity ways of those who didn’t understand what to value.
What was more amazing was that, ritually the couple and their close friends and family would host and chaperone an annual trip at the end of school in June to an upstate Dude Ranch to ride horses and talk for a weekend. It’s amazing what carries us through life. It’s amazing what it takes to fill the gaps in citywide programs and where the resources have to come from.
Thanks Alice and Clarence Stewart for your time, money and care. Thanks for the people; the discussions and consensus; the out-of-pocket, the out-of-heart experiences, and the love -- and even the horse introductions.