Kitty

She tells me she has to leave New York after she finishes her master’s degree. She’s been here eight years, minus a year and a half in the Peace Corps in Ecuador. She’s a social worker, operating as a community organizer in the Bronx, in Manhattan, in Brooklyn. It’s not what she thought it would be. “I thought it would be the single greatest place in the world to be a social worker. There’s a concentration here of people who need help. It’s a city of millions with immigrants and a declining blue collar employment base, and I kind of felt like, This is the place where I will make a difference. “But it’s not like that. The political climate here is unbearable. The very people I’ve come to help are terrorized, de-legitimized. They’re under siege. Social services are cut; it’s virtually impossible to put together funding for even the simplest program. “One project we’re working on teams senior citizens with young children after school to stimulate the integration of generations as well as provide the more practical opportunity for parents to have their children taken care of for a few hours until they, the parents, can return from work. The project is functioning in cities across the country and we have a conference call each month between project leaders in various states to share ideas. “It’s so obvious when we have these calls that something is going wrong here. Here in the city. Leaders in Illinois and Albany, they’re not having any problems finding space, finding money, finding volunteer staff. They’re chipper. “But in all of New York we have only two project leaders and therefore only two projects. In a metropolitan area of 16 million people. And we can’t find the funding. Where are these Wall Street bonuses going? Where is the boom economy? It’s not showing up, and we’re struggling to put the pieces together. The city is pursuing the poor and the desperate as if they are pre-criminals, criminals in waiting, criminal larvae. Charities do not work together; they all want the glory for themselves. Non-profits are usually divided internally by hostile camps that battle for control and as a result squander money on half-finished campaigns and programs. “It’s a simple concept: seniors and children together for a few hours after school. The seniors read stories or tell tales or help with homework or teach the kids the foxtrot. The kids talk about their school work and learn about other decades and hopefully find themselves in the arms of a new friend who can give them guidance. “But it’s not working. City funding is cut. City services are cut. Private organizations are stretched thin. And we’re struggling. “When I arrived here, straight out of college, I had fantasies of making a difference. I would daydream about setting a kid onto a path of self-respect and education and she would become something brilliant. Now I have fantasies of leaving New York City, going where people at the top care, where I don’t have to help those that need it alone. “I know there are other people here in the city that feel as I do. But I can’t find them. And I can’t do this by myself.”

Posted January 21, 2000

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