Thursday, December 10, 2009

Re-connecting with old friends

I get nostalgic this time of year for the teens I grew close to when they wrote for L.A. Youth. In L.A. Youth’s 22 years of publishing I’ve known hundreds (make that thousands) of teens – writers, illustrators, photographers – who joined the staff to share their personal story, or fueled by tenets of social justice, or just looking for a friendly place to hang out. These days I hear from many more young people than I used to (we’re on Facebook), “Are you still there?”

“Yes, we’re here.” I assure them. “We’re thriving and surviving. How old are you?”

“I’m 30 and wrote for the paper in the mid 90s.”

“Eekk! That means I’m getting older, too.”

When I hear the time frame it jogs my memory. I flashback to the face though not always the stories he or she wrote. “So what have you been doing since we last spoke?”

The answers range from, “I’m in grad school,” to “working at a boring job to pay off student loans.” A few are roaming the world with a backpack and a Europass.

“How many are working as journalists?” I’m often asked.

“One or two is my standard answer.” Few teens look to a future career in a newsroom. More often they lean toward education or social service. Legal careers mean representing immigrant rights, not partnerships at prestigious law firms.

There’s a sadness that comes over me when I hear from a few who are struggling with hardships – moving from shelter to shelter with an infant in tow; a Starbuck’s barrista earning low wages and sleeping on a friend’s couch; an emancipated foster youth kicked out of transitional living quarters for a series of transgressions. They share other tales of dysfunctional adulthood and all I can do is listen.

Our annual holiday party is Dec. 19. I hug the alums that drop in and spend a few minutes admiring their mature faces and laughing about the good times when they were teenagers spending hours in my office. My memory rush is full in the holiday season.

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