When slaves traveled the Underground Railroad, they followed the North Star, a bright and powerful light in the evening sky that led them out of the dark to a place of safetyagain and againuntil they reached the Canadian border. One of the stations along the way was in Troy, New York.
Like many cities today, Troy surrounds its youth in a sea of street violence, drug abuse, teen-age pregnancy, and high unemployment. But in the heart of the city is the Ark, an after-school program in the Taylor Apartments, a federally funded housing project. Each year the Ark serves 150 youths from low-income, mostly single-parent families. It celebrated its 20th anniversary in September.
The Ark has lived these 20 years under the gentle and steadfast guidance of its two co-founders and directors, Mary Theresa Streck and Jay Murnane. They have committed themselves to a life of simple living, making the Taylor apartments home and the Ark their family.
Their program boasts of some impressive successes. Marc Edward Rivera has come to the Ark since seventh grade. Last year he graduated from a private high school in Albany and received a full scholarship to Cornell University. Then there is Shenise Foskey. Ask her what she wants to be when she grows up and her eyes light up, "I want to be a singer, a dancer, a math teacher, a writeroh, and a model." Quekaebah McKay says emphatically that the Ark taught her the importance of "homework, homework, homework." This impressive young woman writes poetry, works on computer projects, creates ceramics, plays the piano, and yes, does homework at the Ark. Monyette Clark continues his education this year at the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, New York, on a scholarship worth $104,000. He began coming to the Ark in the third grade and says that the program "opened a lot of doors, getting me scholarships."