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Bob Ryan

You'd be wise to field this chance

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / March 31, 2009
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In tough times, there is always Opportunity.

When the money is tight, it is perfectly natural to retrench, to trim, to cut back, to economize. Who could argue?

But none of us - no company, no institution, no individual - lives in a vacuum. We have organized our society in such a way that our fates interlock in ways we sometimes forget to consider.

Now, since 1998, a number of local companies have been participating in an extremely worthy activity called the ABCD "Field of Dreams." The vastly misunderstood John Harrington was a charitable man, and he interrupted a firmly established Red Sox policy of allowing no one to use Fenway Park except the Red Sox. He did so because he was a friend of the nationally acclaimed Action For Boston Community Development (ABCD), the irreplaceable anti-poverty agency that has served the local community with heart, expertise, and thorough distinction since 1962.

The folks from ABCD approached Harrington with an idea for a fund-raiser. They proposed a daylong festival of softball to be played on a day when the Red Sox were on the road. Local companies would pay a fee so that their employees could experience the heretofore unimaginable thrill of playing in Fenway. When the team was sold to the John Henry group, nothing changed. Larry Lucchino graciously continued to welcome "Field of Dreams" into the lyric little bandbox of a ballpark, to borrow a celebrated phrase.

From the first pitch lofted toward home in 1998, Field of Dreams was a success. You can't be more than two degrees of separation from someone who has participated in the event and who can't stop talking about it.

Even better, it has brought in a lot of money for a most worthy cause. It has been the most important fund-raiser in ABCD's 47-year history, and there has never been a time when ABCD hasn't put every last penny to good use on behalf of the most marginalized people in our society.

So here we are in late March of 2009. Money is extremely tight. The bean counters are looking for ways to cut costs, and for some companies who have been loyal supporters of ABCD in the first 12 years of Field of Dreams, this experience at Fenway has been deemed expendable.

That's predictable and even understandable.

But what this really means is that for some who have not taken part, a great opportunity exists. As rugged as the times are for companies, imagine what the economy has meant to ABCD, whose many services are needed now more than ever. There is now an opportunity for companies to get involved, to provide a guaranteed morale booster for employees while gaining the immeasurable satisfaction that by helping ABCD in a time of tremendous need, you have performed a great service for mankind.

It would take all day today and half of tomorrow to list the agencies and services provided by ABCD, which serves people of all colors, old, young, male, female, and perhaps even Undecided. But this being spring, think for a minute about the upcoming summer months and the need for jobs, not just to keep young people "off the streets," but to give them both a little money and also a valuable life experience.

The ABCD SummerWorks program can do that.

Andre Taylor knows. This young man was having great problems at school and was heading for some real problems. His mother had him see Gary Prout, an ABCD SummerWorks counselor. Andre Taylor says that meeting turned his life around.

He was placed into the "building trades" program, where he was exposed to carpentry, sheet metal work, and associated trades. Through ABCD, he was placed in University High School, an alternative school for young people who have dropped out of high school, and now he has found real purpose in life. He will graduate in June and wants to go to college to learn music production.

"ABCD changed my whole life," he reports. "It helped me decide what I want to do and where I want to go. I want to get into music production, but now I also have a backup plan."

Alan Wang knows. This conscientious young man comes from a hard-working family in South Boston. He has learned through his experience that he has an affinity for working with young children. "It's been fun," he says. "I'd never done anything like this before."

The money is very important, also. "It has allowed me to help my family," he explains.

Deni Paynter knows. Life has been very cruel to Deni Paynter, who never had a family and who fell prey to drug and alcohol problems at age 11, and who is proud to say he has been sober for a year. Through ABCD, he was placed in Ostiguy High, a recovery school for young people with substance abuse problems, and he also worked last summer at Jamaica Plain Head Start.

"It taught me a lot," he says. "It taught me the value of a dollar and what it means to earn a paycheck."

Like Alan Wang, he, too, was surprised to discover he enjoys working with younger children. "It was fun and interesting, and interesting for the kids, too, because I was the only guy. Many of them have no males in their lives. It was a blessing for both me and them."

Deni Paynter isn't yet sure what he'd like to do, but now he has something very valuable in his possession. "I've got a résumé," he says. "I've got a reference for a future job."

ABCD has served thousands and thousands of people during these past 47 years. It is such a vital part of Boston city life that it is often in danger of being taken for granted. But it never has been easy for ABCD to operate and it is harder than ever now. There is no more propitious time for a company with a heart to get involved in this fabulous cause.

Field of Dreams is sneaking up on us. This year's date is the earliest ever, May 11. So call ABCD at 617-348-6241 and ask for Susan Kooperstein. She can get your team on the field.

And the best part is, Mr. Employer, you'll really like yourself in the morning.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of the Globe's 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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