13 May

Army Of Good: We Are On A Roll

by Jon Katz

Since the Army Of Good came together as a risky and improbably gamble in 2016, we have evolved, grown, focused and communicate in better and more meaningful ways than I could ever have imagined. We have done  a ton of good.

We are on a roll, and I mean to keep it going.

It started out as a way to do good rather than feel anxious and angry.

It has grown well beyond that, into something deeper and more meaningful. In these three years, you have never once failed to help when asked, and I can’t count the number of people who have benefited.

Today, I can say with confidence and hope that we are succeeding beyond my expectations.

The AOG has been supported of me from the start, and I thank you, but I believe it is only in recent months that our work has been so successful, efficient, practical and focused.

All of this hard work, through these ups and downs and  highs and lows and experiments and frustrations, is paying off. We are doing more things with greater effect and for less money than ever.

We have helped thousands of people many hundreds of times in more ways than I can mention.

We have stayed small and realistic, doing real good in the real world almost every day. From the soccer team to the Mansion to Joshua Rockwood to the scholarships we are piling up for gifted refugee children, we are on a roll.

We are giving Noorul Potak a computer for graduation, we’ve placed two (possibly three) gifted refugee children in some of the best private schools in the Northeast, we’re sending Kathy Sosa’s class to the FDR Home in Hyde Park (the first trip they have been able to afford in several years, we’ve bought hundreds of dollars of groceries and clothing for beleaguered refugee families, were helping Ruth and Wayne in the Mansion have their commitment ceremony.

We have regularly bought groceries and clothes, paid rent deposits,  pay overdue electric bills and help with car insurance.

Today, I’m bringing a load of clothes to the Mansion that I’ve purchased at two local Thrift Shops – they save things for me now, knowing what it is we need.

I’m getting a hat and jacket for Sylvie, a nightgown for Katherine, two pairs of pants for Wayne, three scarves for different women who need some warmth, five large print crossword puzzles for Bert and Madeline.

We’ve helped the Mansion buy a van, gotten air conditioners for all the residents who need them, helped the Mansion residents plant a beautiful garden, bought new tableclothes, recliner chairs, TV’s and a boatload of arts, crafts and books for activities, paid for outings and soap, reading lights and fuzzy slippers.

I have to be honest, it has hardly been a straight line.

My efforts to work with RISSE, the refugee and immigrant support center, was my biggest and most painful failure. Even in my tumultuous life, I don’t think I have ever encountered so much hostility, dysfunction or xenophobia.

They do a lot of good, and I wish them every success, but it was simply not possible for me to work with them, even though I tried again and again in every way I could think of.

We funneled them tens of thousands of dollars through Wish Lists and contributions, helped the soccer team with the best supplies and equipment and training facilities, equipped teachers there with every reading and teaching tool they asked for.

I take pleasure in the spanking new library we outfitted for the RISSE after school program , and the many books and arts and other tools we provided them, from computers to cameras to $500 recycling bins. We made life better for many refugee children. We bought pots and pans and plates and blankets for their families.

I wish I could pass along  thanks from RISSE, but there wasn’t any, for me or for you.  So I thank you. I urge you to continue supporting them when and if you can, a lot of people need them and depend on them. You can donate to RISSE here.

I wrote about them so much, and tried so hard to support them, that I feel I have to explain why I can’t write about them or some of the wonderful kids and teachers I met any longer.

When they refused to help with the new scholarship program, or even nominate candidates, or meet with me, or permit me to take photos of the children we were helping, that was the last straw for me.  I wish I could have made it work. I hate to fail.

I went and found public school teachers who are eager, even desperate to help. It took several months, but I am now working with some of the most wonderful and dedicated people I have ever known.

We are very supportive of one another, and it works.

That troubling experience turned out to be a blip. I don’t care to dwell on it, but you have a right to know where your money goes, good or bad. That was my promise, and I will stick to it. When I change gears, I need to explain it.

I set out on my own, and that’s when it really began to work, for the refugee work as it has for the Mansion. I’ve learned again and again that I function best on my own, I have a visceral dislike for clueless and unaccountable bureaucracies. They don’t like me much either.

Close to the people we are  helping, I can make sound judgements, and I am fully transparent, you get to see and know the people you are helping.

We fill the holes in people’s lives, we work on a small-scale to offer big kinds of help. We make hard and considered choices. I’ve learned a lot. I don’t want to take advantage of anyone, the people who read my blog are not wealthy.

I want to cry every time I get shoes for an elderly woman, or underpants for older people who can’t afford them, or sweaters for the winter chills. I am deeply honored to be organizing and supporting the commitment ceremony this Wednesday for Ruth and Wayne, two people who love one another in a place and time of life where such love is rare.

It is a miracle to have gotten Sakler Moo and Eh K Pru Shee Wah into the Albany Academy, it will change their lives.

This is a partial list, I couldn’t begin list all of the small acts of kindness we have carried out.

My program to get full scholarships for gifted refugee children is taking hold, it is a focused and bounded and efficient way to help these children in the most profound of ways.

Today, I’m going to Albany to meet with Mike Tolan of the Bishop Maggin High School, early supporters of refugee families and their children. I hope to get several refugee children to apply and the school offers full scholarships. There would be little need for fund-raising.

So I am very upbeat and energized about this week. I mean to keep it going, and I can never express enough thanks for your generosity and trust and support.

8 Comments

  1. I miss the stories about the soccer team and your friendship with the coach, Ali. It’s a shame that RISSE put so many barriers in your way. All you wanted to do was help them. I guess the head honchos running the group really didn’t want the help, even though the people did, and enjoyed the benefits of your hard work.

    1. Holly, it’s very difficult being a refugee organization in America now, I was sorry I couldn’t work things out with them, but I hope they prosper and succeed, they are doing important work. I make a lot of people uncomfortable at times..a special gift..I don’t tend to look back but forward, there will be other stories to tell..there always are..

  2. What you have accomplished, not only for the refugees and the Mansion is astounding. Yet even greater is your ability to have gathered so much response and aid by starting the the Army of Good – changing and improving also the lives of those who might otherwise have been influenced by the negative masses. I doubt you are completely aware of
    exactly how much you have changed society.

  3. “Even in my tumultuous life, I don’t think I have ever encountered so much hostility, dysfunction or xenophobia.”

    What was their complaint?

    1. I don’t care to discuss it further, Ruskin, I’ve moved on and doing well..These things happen…I felt the need to write about it, not to dwell on it…If you want to do this work, you have to accept ups and downs..

  4. I do hope you have been able to continue the friendship you forged with Ali. He seemed to be a warm and generous spirit…….. yes, things evolve, and you and AOG (I include myself) continue to do good where most needed. That is foremost

    1. Susan, that’s a personal issue, I don’t care to talk about it. I have written on the blog that we were not able to continue our friendship, a sad thing. I don’t wish to go any further into it.

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