Reporter embraces best of both worlds

Molly Congdon fulfilled a dream arriving at The Gazette last December. Now, she's decided to make a
Matt Congdon, director of the Glens Falls Area Youth Center, and his daughter, Molly, pose for a photo Tuesday at the center. Molly will eventually take over the reins of the nonprofit from her father.
Matt Congdon, director of the Glens Falls Area Youth Center, and his daughter, Molly, pose for a photo Tuesday at the center. Molly will eventually take over the reins of the nonprofit from her father.

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

These eloquent words were spoken by one of the Founding Fathers of our country, Benjamin Franklin. In this particular instance, I’m going to have to disagree with the preeminent polymath. It doesn’t have to be a choice between one or the other; you can do both.

I’ve decided to make a change that allows me to be a journalist as well as make a different kind of impact in the world.

I am a writer. I have yearned for this title since I was a little, devouring books like other kids downed candy.

I grew up in two different realms, one stories and one real life — primarily, the Glens Falls Area Youth Center. But more about that later.

In books, I’ve been shipwrecked in the land of Lilliputians alongside Gulliver. Battled windmills with the chivalrous and slightly insane Don Quixote. Met strange, anthropomorphic creatures after falling down the rabbit hole with Alice and defended an innocent man during a criminal trial in southern Alabama with Atticus Finch.

I marveled at the sound of words, strung together to create masterful sentences. My first Melville was “Moby Dick,” and to this day it is still my favorite; it had to be, he hooked me in the first line: “Call me Ishmael.”

As I got older, I added magazines and newspapers into the mix of fictional novels. Eventually I stumbled across Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra has a Cold” — one of the most celebrated magazine stories of all time — and Joan Didion’s “Why I Write.”

These two pieces epitomized exactly what I wanted to become. I wanted to paint a picture to those who read my work, creating scenes through a staggering amount of detail and description so that, even for the briefest of moments, they would feel as though they were no longer merely holding pages, but were actually there.

Life beyond books

Those stories were a rewarding realm, but the other that I inhabited was far superior. One populated by an assortment of characters that dwell in what is so commonly referred to as “the real world,” who have supported me throughout all my journeys and adventures.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them, but especially without The Glens Falls Area Youth Center, a nonprofit organization that serves disadvantaged youth in the area through a wide variety of educational and recreational programs, completely free of charge.

Recently I made the decision to leave my post at the paper and transition back to working at the place that has been part of my life since I was born, eventually to take over the reins from the man I admire most: my father, the director of the center.

The edifice at 60 Montcalm St. in Glens Falls has been my second home, an extended family. My father, Matt Congdon, can take all the credit for that. As executive director for the past 32 years, he has served as the architect of this awe-inspiring, engaging laughter-filled environment.

He is the heart of this organization.

I was a Youth Center kid. Each day after school, I rushed through the doors, laced up my basketball sneakers and jumped in on the pickup rotations. It was my sanctuary.

Then, the summer after my senior year of high school, I was finally able to be part of the staff. Over the next eight years, I worked during summers and on holiday breaks from school. I treasured every second with the generation of kids that I had the privilege of watching grow before my eyes.

Even though the center isn’t staffed with world-class surgeons who spend their days in an operating room, wounds — physical, emotional and mental — are tended to and patched up, problems are remedied and lives are still, in a sense, saved.

My dad is a good man in the storm. I hope that I can provide a shred of the light, like a beaming guidepost amid the thrashing waves of the sea, that he has for so many members at the center, illuminating the path for them as they mature into young adults and travel their own roads, setting the world on fire as they unleash their own light into society.

Homeward bound

I, like so many others in high school, longed to experience the world and embark on an expedition of my own. Leaving the area would mean that I had made it. For me, that meant heading to New York City to pursue my master’s degree in journalism from New York University after graduating with a BA in English from Union College. The city depicted in a massive poster I had of Times Square in my bedroom at my parents’ house had become my place of residence.

After graduating in December 2014, I accepted a job at The Daily Gazette, serving as the primary reporter and writer for Your Clifton Park, the paper’s new weekly print publication. It has been a wonderful year.

Despite the joy I extracted from this field, there was still something missing.

When you first step into the Glens Falls Area Youth Center, the effect is similar to when Dorothy walks out of her front door into Oz and experiences Technicolor for the first time. The once-barren white walls are full of life, dotted with paintings crafted by the artful hand of Bob Congdon, my uncle and the assistant director at the center for so many years who is stepping down in January. Superheroes unite on the wall of fame, which is full of plaques inscribed with the names of many generous donors, Spongebob greets you at the bathroom doors and the Headless Horseman is about to chuck his “head” (a flaming basketball) at Ichabod Crane near the gym doors with the words: “In the game of life use your head, don’t lose it!”

Negativity is left at the door and the issues one is facing wash away, at least for the next several hours.

Before the kids start to file in, pool balls patiently wait to be pushed across the felt, foosball men await their first goal, basketballs anxiously anticipate being taken off the rack and weights need to be lifted — not just literally.

The children who are members of the center are a diverse assortment of cultures, ethnicities, belief systems and personalities. However, many of them are ostracized, bullied and not expected to achieve much of anything. They are the definition of underdogs, left out of what some people believe are the important cliques in school. Many are unwanted and people have very low expectations for them.

Here, they are welcomed, wanted, important and — most importantly — they are loved. Everyone deserves to feel that way.

Once inside, the magic happens. Unlikely friendships are formed, math problems and other academic dilemmas are solved in the study room, after-school snacks and dinner are served, water is guzzled after heated rounds of dodgeball are played. And kids are able to stay out of trouble — eventually going to college, becoming an apprentice of a trade or enlisting in the military instead of ending up in prison.

Working in human services presents an idiosyncratic challenge. After the doors are closed for the night, you are faced with the task of coming up with ways to raise money to ensure that the doors will open up again the following day. It’s an ongoing battle and my dad has been a relentless warrior, guaranteeing that the youth of the area have a place to call their own. An admirable mission, to say the least.

Recently I made the decision to leave my post at the paper and transition back to working at the place that has been part of my life since I was born, eventually to take over the reins from the man I admire most.

The best part? I’m not retiring my pen — well, my keyboard — anytime soon. I will continue my writing career as a freelancer. This won’t be my last byline.

With this decision, I have the best of both worlds.

The Glens Falls Area Youth Center is a place of hope, hope for the future. I couldn’t be happier that it will continue to be part of mine.

Categories: Life and Arts, Schenectady County

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