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“Commentary of the Year”

By Liz Premo

Atlantic News, Thursday, December 31, 1998

[The following article is courtesy of the Atlantic News]

Liz Premo

(Editor’s Note: This commentary originally appeared in the September 3, 1998 issue of the Atlantic News.It was chosen by our intern, Corinne Schreier, to be included in the Atlantic News ‘Year End Review’ as her selection for “Commentary of the Year.”)

One blustery February day a few years ago, after what seemed to be the umpteenth snowstorm that winter, I donned my shoveling gear and trooped outside to clear away the latest ice-encrusted offering from the gray skies above. The weather was stuck in an annoying pattern of frequent snowfall, and shoveling the stuff had become almost as natural an act as breathing.

I normally enjoy a good snowfall, but not when it is repeated five or six times within the span of a couple of weeks. And when you have two paths, a deck, a long driveway, a row of mailboxes and no snowblower, and have to rely on sheer muscle power and a clunky shovel to get the job done, the task can seem awfully enormous. Multiply that by “umpteen” and you have all the makings for a good dose of shoveler’s discouragement.

Oh, before I continue with my tale, I should address the fact that you are probably wondering why I am dwelling on these winter woes while our current temperatures are still echoing the heat of summer, the trees are still green, and there is nary a flake in sight. Bear with me, and you will see what this story is leading up to.

Anyhow, on this particular February day, as I stood with shovel in mittened hand, ready to dig in, I felt an odd sense of defeat within myself. I looked at the snowbank that was daring me to jam my winter weapon into its clumpy, crusty, and downright solid self. I looked at the row of mailboxes at the top of the driveway begging to be set free from their snowy prison. I imagined my oil delivery man forging kneedeep through the snowdrift that was my front yard, cussing me out because I had not dug a path for him. I sighed. It was shovel time – again.

I felt as if I could not take it anymore. When would this endless cycle of snowing/ sighing/ shoveling end? Was there any hope in sight? Would I be forever destined to battle a perpetual winter wonderland with a mere shovel as my only form, of defense? Just as I could feel the beginning of tears of frustration form in the corners of my snow-blinded eyes, hope arrived in the form of a band of teenagers, each manned with shovels, spilling out of a big van.

About five members of the group approached me. One of them spoke. “Need some help?” I laughed a little to myself. I must have looked pretty pathetic in my floppy blue knit hat and frosty spectacles. “Oh, yes! I replied. They immediately set to work, shoveling with more vigor than I could even begin to muster.

Within ten minutes the area in front of the mailbox row was cleared, .the snowbank blocking my driveway had vanished, and a neat path had materialized from front door to street. As these angels of mercy finished up their impromptu task, I asked the adult who had accompanied them where they were from. “We’re from Odyssey House,” he said.

That was probably my first contact with the residential treatment facility here in Hampton. My second was when I brought a load of chocolate chip cookies to the house as a “thank you” for those super-shovelers who had basically saved me from more than an hour’s worth of backbreaking labor. I shall be forever grateful.

The most recent time I had any contact with Odyssey House was about two weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to cover a story at the facility while teens from Israel with the “Friends Forever” program stopped in to visit. While spending time at the house and seeing the residents interact with their guests, I was amazed to find that many of my preconceived notions about Odyssey House – and its residents – were quite unwarranted.

The Odyssey House on Winnacunnet Road is both an Adolescent Therapeutic Center and an accredited school. It offers a safe and stable environment for teens who, for whatever reason – be it abuse, addiction, or emotional upheaval within their families – are experiencing unique difficulties and need the expert attention of the caring people who staff the facility. A lot of healing is going on within the walls of the residence, both individually and within the families of the teens that live and go to school there.

Odyssey House is not a prison, and these kids are not prisoners. They are travelers on, as the program’s brochure states, a “journey to wellbeing.” They share the same kinds of struggles that any teenager may encounter, with personal circumstances that dictate perhaps a more structured and compassionate way to deal with those issues.

During my visit to Odyssey House I witnessed healthy doses of encouragement, respect, and positive reinforcement. I saw a bulletin board covered with encouraging notes the residents had written to one another, . some applauding a recent sobriety milestone.

I saw smiles, heard laughter, and I sensed there was a deep commitment to the dynamics of the program. Sitting in the spacious living area of the house, with the girls from Jerusalem and their Odyssey House hostesses, I felt comfortable and at ease.

Any preconceived notions I may have had about Odyssey House and its residents should have flown out the window on that snowy day in February a few years back. But it took a visit to the center for me to really see that there is something good going on there, and that the hard work that is put into the healing process and recovery of the young men and women living there appears to be quite effective. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to see it all for myself.

By the way, helping shovelers in distress (like me),isn’t the only community service these willing and able teens are involved in. They also assist at a local day-care center, volunteer at the NHSCPA, help with; Foss’ annual Health Fair, assist Hampton’s elderly with assorted tasks, and participate in all sorts of community service projects, one of which will be the construction of Exeter’s Planet Playground the end of this month.

Oh, and one more thing to remember, with fall just around the corner – don’t be surprised if you see a bunch of teenagers carrying rakes, offering weary leaf-baggers and haggard homeowners a well-deserved break. It more than likely will be the Autumn Angels from Odyssey House.

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