Hands Across North Quabbin
There are many organizations in the North Quabbin region working hard to provide services to children and young adults in the area. On Wednesday, January 13, HANDS is bringing some of these individuals together at a luncheon at the Athol Public Library. Our goal is to provide a collaborative approach to supporting the youth of the region. Our vision is that future generations will thrive in a community that offers gainful employment, healthy activities, and hope.
I spent much of the month of November meeting individually with HANDS board members. As a board, we had been discussing the challenges that face North Quabbin young people and what can be done to overcome them. I wanted to hear from each member individually in hopes that careful listening would reveal a clear path forward.
We discussed the obvious issues — drug addiction, lack of economic opportunity, lack of transportation to the few jobs that are available, academic stress, and boredom. Tom Doody, Executive Director of North Quabbin Citizen Advocacy and HANDS Board member, believes that the part of the “American Dream” that expects that each generation will do better financially than the one preceding it does not seem to exist in the North Quabbin region.
What it boils down to is a shortage of hope. When I look around to try to identify some of the reasons for this, I see a perfect storm — a variety of circumstances that, taken together, have created a sort of malaise among youth. There is a feeling that this is as good as it gets and that, since nothing will change or improve, the only thing to do is to escape - by actually leaving, or by drinking or taking drugs.
The challenges are real. Without a car, it is almost impossible to take advantage of the jobs and healthy pastimes the area has to offer. When I first moved back here, I really wanted to take my fiancé to the Quabbin. I have so many happy memories from there and I wanted him to experience it, both for himself and so that he could see a part of what had formed me. My love of hiking came from walking there with both my grandfather and my aunt and uncles. We did not yet have a car so I wasn’t able to bring him there until we had been living in Athol for almost a year. Unfortunately, our first trip to the Quabbin lasted about five minutes because he was bitten by a bug and was convinced that the crackling we heard in the trees next to us was a bear that was stalking us. Sometimes I forget that he’s from Lowell.
Our job searches were frustrating, as well. Jobs are few, and many people compete for them. I was lucky enough to find the perfect position for myself but it was only after six months of heart-wrenching self-doubt as I sent out dozens of resumes and heard nothing back. I have a college degree and twenty years of work experience. I can only imagine how an eighteen-year old, without a college background must feel trying to find work, and how constant rejection could lead to alcohol or drug use.
Children and young adults ARE the future of the North Quabbin region. Investing in them is an investment in US. The people of this region are intelligent, resilient, and hard-working. We should not let lack of hope engulf our youth.