Killer of Joyful

It seems that due to a recent shout out by New York Times parenting columnist, KJ Dell’Antonia, I have had a sudden onslaught of new readers. I must admit that considering that this writing space was something I started back when I was unemployed in 2008 and pondering my life, I never expected it to grow. Anyway as a result of the new readers and attention to this blog, I am going to give a little back story for today’s post so that it actually makes sense to anyone unfamiliar with my writing. While I am a mom, this space is less about the specifics of my kids and more about my evolving journey on this trip we call life.

This week hands down, has been the worst week ever in my professional life. A week, where the pain surging through my soul has threatened to overwhelm me pretty much and engulf me. For a good 24 hours, my usual tools to deal with pain simply were inaccessible and I realized that I needed to simply be. Sometimes intense pain must be felt, so that it can be released and we can go on. I think I have worked through a good chunk of it, but my heart is still hurting and breaking.

For the past four plus years, I have served as the executive director of a small but growing agency that serves low income youth in Southern Maine. I often jest that I am the non-profit extraordinaire because for years, I have had the Midas touch when it comes to working with small agencies and helping them to grow. It’s not really a boast but I am damn good at what I do and I care from the depth of my being. I don’t do it for the money, I do it because I believe with every fiber of my being, that change requires us to make it happen and not pass the buck.

Up until late last year, my agency grew and thrived. We went from being a really small organization hardly known outside of our immediate community to a place where larger agencies throughout the region were happy to partner with us. The problem is that all of our growth was based on my ability to get grants to fund our programs and as anyone with a non-profit background knows…the grant gravy train eventually ends. A community program eventually requires a community to share the financial cost and in the community I serve, getting that type of commitment is pretty damn hard. In fact, I failed at it.

For a time, I was able to bring on local businesses and financial institutions to support the work but the average Joe on the street? Nope. Sadly the people, who need our services and use them, don’t have the means to pay. The sad, sad truth is that while we are a non-profit entity, money is needed to pay for the actual staff that works with the youth, pay the rent and that sort of thing.

Earlier this week, I made the hard decision to recommend to my board of directors based off our dwindling reserves and clear lack of commitment from all but one funder that we would need to cease operations effective June 30th. My decision was based on logic and years of business experience and wanting to be as respectful to all involved including myself.

My board approved that decision Wednesday night and a little after midnight I shot out an email to 100 community partners, supporters and interested parties and the reactions? Well, they have gutted me. The first replies were coming in as early as 5:45am, not even 6 hours after letting the world know that after 16 years of serving the most vulnerable among us that we were done.

Long story short, the local media including the state’s largest paper tracked me down at home and to say it was a madhouse would be an understatement. The paper came out to meet with me as you can see in this article and they even made a video.

I have worked with low income folks across several states for the past 16 years, there have been times when for my own well-being that I have to close myself but after watching the video that the paper made and seeing the reactions as we told families that we would be shutting our doors, I was damn near catatonic for a few hours.

I am better now, struggling but better. Yet I am face to face with the reality that certain realities are so uncomfortable for so many of us that we simply avoid them, but the price of willful ignorance is to destroy the soul of others.

As a so-called mom blogger, I find most discussions on parenting and anything child related to be grating at times. We love our kids; we love kids that have direct connections to us but those other kids? Well, that is so sad. We will cross the seas to help “needy” kids in third world countries but we will ignore that kid at our kid’s school who appears dirty, unkempt and malnourished. That child’s poverty scares us because if we hold the mirror to our faces, the reality is we know in these unsteady economic times that kid could one day be our kid. So we do the next best thing, we ignore it, and we hope it will go away. Or as I have been told so many times in the past 72 hours, maybe someone will be able to help out.

Prior to moving to Maine, poverty to me always had a brown or black face with the occasional white face but overall poverty was not an affliction of white people. Maine changed that for me… I saw America’s dirty secret and it was not pretty. However it took working with kids, mostly poor white kids for me to say, this is not acceptable.

Looking at the loss of my position and income is rough but not nearly as rough as thinking of the 600 humans who received services from my agency last year alone. Knowing that this summer, kids won’t have access to free hot lunch in a town where over 50% of school aged kids receive free and reduced school lunch is rougher than anything I will endure once my job ends on June 30th.

 After being that person who also wanted to see the best in humans, after looking at child who loves her safe space and telling her we have to close because of something as silly as money? I have lost some of my faith in my fellow humans which as someone who has spent the past 15 years just trying to make a difference is rough. I feel as if I have lost my innocence at 40 years of age. Silly me…who was I to think that I could make a difference? For a season I did make a difference but for now I am simply the killer of Joyful.

6 thoughts on “Killer of Joyful”

  1. Amen to Kelly and Tracy’s comments. Having been a nonprofit leader, I know the weight, stress and pain AND the Joy. I always felt like I was a giant mountain. I took up the baton from wise, hardworking people who came before, I climbed as long and as far as I could and then handed the baton to the next leader to take the struggle to the next level. In good times or sad times, the mountain always seemed larger than us…. Always more that needed to be done.

    Thank you for sharing this.
    I know “reality show” has earned some negative connotation; but, I’ve thought for a while now that Black Girl in Maine is more REAL than most of those shows and I read your posts with the same anticipation of “what will happen next?”.
    You could (with consent) set up a YouTube channel to continue to track what happens with the closing and thereafter- how the community comes together, or not. Shine the light on rural poverty.
    Any documentary film students nearby, or potential ones in the program? Sounds like a good story for Youth Radio too.

  2. I have no great words of wisdom or hope.

    But, I want you to always remember the difference you made for these kids. They will feel the loss, but they will remember. Someday they will give back because they will know, deep in their hearts, that they can make a difference.

    My thoughts are with you as you start a new chapter in your work life.

  3. I am so glad you put this post, and embedded this video. It is really wonderful to see a window into your professional life.

    I am hoping whatever happens – if Joyful gets a ‘rescue’ as a result of this publicity or if it really is curtains – the next season of your life is an exciting one. When I was having a rough time a while back a fellow told me, “You have good days – and you have growth days.” That really helped me a lot as I am prey to a negative-thought life that can sap my energy and stamina more than any external circumstances can. [ hugs ], & I know am sad to hear of the passing of this era in your life and those of your community members.

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