Opinion | We Must Be Warriors To Save Our Children

Stroudsburg Herald

By Teri VanBritsom Martin | Pocono Advocate Columnist

Today, they call it "progress." I'm not so sure. At many exits off of 80, you will find chain stores: Lowes, Home Depot, Kohl's, Chili's, Olive Garden, Panera's, and Michael's. You get the drift. Stores are homogenized in shopping centers for your shopping pleasure.

Back in 1978, our family took a Sunday drive through Hypsie Gap Road. We were surprised to see the old dirt road gone, trees gone, and freshly bulldozed roads in their place. Back through the fields, we came to a stop. I lost my bearings. It was a moment like the old tv commercial where the Indian cried when he came upon a stream of garbage in a waterway.

The developments were going in on either side of the farm: Birches, Birches III, Sierra View. Wow, what a legacy. Mom had already moved alone to Michigan by then. She wanted the farm gone. Dad gave up. He was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 62 and died five months later. He would not have had to commute anymore because there was plenty of work in the 80s in the Poconos.

I moved to Birches West. A planned development, with tennis courts and swimming pool, (movie stars) lol. I felt the Board of Directors were a lot of powerless people who formed a quasi-government, and one smelled of alcohol whenever she was near. They fined people for ridiculous "rule-breaking." It was disgusting.

I knew no one there. Nor did I care. I built my house, had children, and stayed on my acre. Most other people did too. Many commuted. So tired from working all day, who has time to know their neighbors? Some left Sunday evening and came back Friday evening to be with their children. Yes, children were left alone.

I was among some children brought here for a "better life." They were awesome kids of all cultures and nationalities. It was hard those days as many had to commute. It was much like a "green prison" in many ways as there was no public transportation. While in the city, they could easily take a bus or a subway to travel from here to there. There were few sidewalks here. As night fell, it was difficult to be seen walking on a road. Even during the day, visibility could be an issue.

There was an "us and them" mentality like the long-time locals were more entitled to BE here. On the other hand, I had a neighbor who was a great guy, but he was bewildered as to why I allowed my children to play outside. BAREFOOT! In sand piles! We coexisted as each fall, I would rake the leaves in a BIG pile, and the kids and I would JUMP in them and throw them all over, giggling all the way. They were left to rot. My new neighbor industriously rode around on 1/4 acre of the lawn with this big, riding mower that vacuumed up those leaves. I never was able to wrap my head around that, but to each his own.

The change in ways of doing things was a shock to me. We had a situation where outside people were coming in and bullying the kids using the basketball courts, resulting in three of us forming a neighborhood watch. My son was one of the bullied.

We took down dates, times, what happened, witnesses, and just the presence of an active neighborhood watch deterred crime. As a result, I found myself elected President of the Homeowner Association in 1998. I was four months pregnant with my 10th. Yeesh.

We had a great team of caring residents. I started to KNOW my neighbors, to INTERACT with them. We had a family move-in of Spanish descent, and I asked the husband to become the maintenance supervisor. He and his wife had a renewal of their wedding vows, and I ate food I had NEVER had before! A beautiful night filled with culture and music I will never forget. Had I lived on the farm, I never would have had the opportunity to experience so many awesome events with people of other nationalities, other cultures, food, and joy. Their kids started hanging out here. There was much laughter.

Teresa, who was Italian, straight from NYC, waited at the bus stop in front of my house with her boom box and Alfonso, a heck of a basketball player, along with Lee and Kris, two brothers who lovingly helped care for their disabled sister. Danielle was a small, beautiful girl who lived up the street, and TJ, the kid up the road for whom life was a party. There was my son Will, Joe, and Dennis riding their ATVs, and so many more. Life was good. They hung out at the basketball courts and played and played as kids should.

And now they are all dead, except for my son. He is dead in a different way. He carried the caskets of so many of his friends. Car accidents and drug overdoses took them away. My son, not a drug user, liked to drink energy drinks. And at age 32, they constricted the vessels in his heart, and he had his first heart attack resulting in a stent. At age 38, he had his second heart attack requiring a stent. He experienced his third heart attack last October. This time, he was not able to have the stent placed. COVID followed, and now he is forty, and he can barely breathe. Grief can kill you.

What happened in our small Community was an anomaly. There were losses beyond belief in our beloved Monroe County. There are losses beyond belief in our beloved country. Where do the children go? We are powerless over much. But there ARE some things we DO have power over. If you SEE something, SAY something. Get involved. Ultimately, if it REALLY hits the fan, our Community will be all we have.

I drive past those basketball courts. The kids are gone. As the song says, "where have the children gone?" and who is the deadly piper who leads them away? Remember Teresa? She died on her way to work on Route 115 because a guy tried to outrun the police behind him. She left three little children of her own, as did many others.

Sadly still, many kids all over the country have nothing to do. Locally, not much direction on "what was out there" Community missions. As a result, many kids played violent video games that desensitized them to the value of human life. I believe if you sit at a game console blowing people up for hours at a time, it DOES desensitize you to the value of life. THAT would be an excellent place to start mitigating the losses. Our school should have Al-Anon and Alateen support groups for all. We must bring our ideas to the table, accept real progress and call out those who would harm our area.

Where do you go with all this PAIN?
Some days I wished I would have stayed in my house and remained ignorant of what was going on outside, that I would not have opened myself up to this grief. There has to be hope. There have to be support groups.

And now social unrest and COVID?
We need to educate people about mental illness and remove the stigma. Let's be cheerleaders for our children and their audience; let's define values and objectives and hold them accountable. They can find plenty of friends but not another parent. They need PARENTS, not friends, for a PARENT is not a "friend." BE the Underdog Advocate. I am.

I am powerless over much. I despise the lie of "money and power" making a person a success. Money and power will not help our children. How much money do they NEED? I cannot take a dime with me when I leave this earth.

How much power do they NEED?
Look around. Are we better off now than ten years ago?
Let's build an army of support for our children here in the Poconos.
What will YOUR legacy be?

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