I’ve been struggling, these past couple of weeks, to decide how to write about HOBY without sounding like a preachy PSA.  It’s usually not hard to put into words how much some things mean to me, but for some reason it is hard for me to do with HOBY.

So, I suppose, I’ll start at the beginning.

High school was difficult for me.  I craved more of a challenge but was not happy with how the AP program was administered.  I wasn’t good at sports and my mother was a single parent, and not from one of the “long standing Glens Falls families,” so I didn’t have sports, money, or history to prop me up.  Not to mention that being a teenager is awkward in and of itself.  I felt trapped, suffocated, and often depressed.  I wanted so badly to bust out and change my lot, but I had to wait until that elusive graduation day in order to do so.  Those of you who know me, I don’t do well with waiting.

After taking the PSATs my sophomore year (or was it the PACTs? Who knows? One of those meaningless “practice” tests that cost money and are foisted on kids and parents), I was handed a flyer for HOBY.  I got home from the test and tossed the flyer on the kitchen table.  A few hours later, my mother found it and read it.  “Oh, Jen, this is so YOU.  You have to apply.”

OK, Mom, whatever.  But I saw you got to get out of school for a day, and go to Albany and hang out with a bunch of people my age and talk about issues.  Well, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

And I got chosen.  How I got chosen over the “Chosen Ones” in high school is beyond me.  Probably because the school did a piss-poor job of recruiting for it, so those of us who applied self-selected.  I guess it doesn’t matter, in the end.  The universe decided to throw me a bone and give me something to hold on to.

The weekend was better than I had imagined it.  In addition to talking about issues and volunteerism and college planning and all sorts of nerdy intellectual things as such, we got plenty of time to bond with our groups.  I was in the Blue section, and we were “Group I.”  We named ourselves the “Insane Blue Ice,” and we created a skit advertising a perfume of the same name.  While this wasn’t “pre-Internet,” the Internet was in it’s infancy and I did not have a computer or email.  I wrote letters to my friends.  Some of us stayed in touch for a little while, but eventually I lost touch with all of them.  I remember seeing a wedding announcement for one of my group members a few years ago, and was so happy for her, though I had no idea how to get in touch with her at the time.

That summer, one of the other attendees started a local HOBY club, where we would get together and do some volunteer work.  It fizzled out, and I didn’t have the wherewithal to keep it going.  In hindsight, I wish I had.  I went back to school full of energy and optimism only to have it be shot down as per usual.  I didn’t see myself as a leader because none of my classmates were never all that interested in what I had to say.  Junior/Senior year I got very involved with Key Club, and finally felt like I had a leadership role to hang my hat on.  I became closer with the theatre crew, even though I wasn’t really a singer or an actor.  They welcomed me into their fold as an outsider, and while they didn’t treat me like an outsider, I knew I was regardless.  I worked at the local TV station and made some good friends there, as well.  Eventually, I carved out a niche for myself, but it was not without fighting hard.

I applied to be on the junior staff at HOBY.  I wasn’t selected.  I was told I was an “alternate,” which I thought was a copout. Now, I know, that’s actually NOT a copout, not even a little bit.  Maybe if I had kept it up with the HOBY Club and not let it fizzle out, it would have been better.  Maybe if I had dove more into Key Club and other service organizations, it would have been better.  Maybe if the print ribbon on my word processor hadn’t given out, and I had typed my application, it would have been better.  I’ll never know, and perhaps it’s not important.  I do know had I gone back to HOBY as junior staff in high school, my life would have been different in some way, as HOBY never ceases to have an impact on my soul.

Anyhow, I wasn’t bitter or angry about not being chosen.  I imagined there was a lot of competition, and I was used to being disappointed on this front.  So, yes – I was disappointed, but I wasn’t discouraged.  However, eventually, HOBY went to the back of my mind.  And then, my freshman year of college, I found myself mindlessly surfing the internet one day, and I found the website for HOBY NY-East (it looks a lot nicer now, my friends), and signed up to be on the mailing list.  I emailed the webmaster and told him who I was, and he said he did remember my name from the registration rolls.  I beamed.  I thought, maybe, there’s a way to go back to HOBY, even now.

And there was.  Months later, I got information about applying to be on Junior Staff for the 2001 seminar.  I emailed the person in charge, Andy, to ask how I as a college student could get involved.  And I got signed up as a Program Assistant, and went back to HOBY.  It was still the summer, and the HOBY reunion was coming up – at my place of employment, the Great Escape.  While in funnel cakes, where I was the stand manager, we got a phone call for an “unexpected rush” at the Beer Garden, and could we spare any staff.  I knew what the rush was, and I said I was going.  Sure enough, it was everyone in their HOBY shirts.  I greeted them all as a fellow alumna, and I felt the HOBY love.  These people had never met me before, and yet they were hugging me and bringing me back into the family, the camraderie that I remembered.  The last person in line?  Andy.  “Jen … Jen from HOBY Jen?” he asked me with a smile.  And with that exchange, I was back involved with HOBY.

I worked on the yearbook that year.  I made friends with the other PAs, most noteably Dave – who is a fellow “Key Staff Member” now, and who I count among my very dearest friends.  Of the ambassadors that year, was Cara, another fellow “Key Staff Member,” and another very dear friend. I found that the “alumni association” had evolved tremendously since I had gone to the seminar, and I was disappointed that I had missed out on this over the past four years.  However, it wasn’t too late.  I got involved.  I went to events.  I became friends with those who remained as engaged as I did.  I missed a couple years of the seminar in there due to college graduation and other responsibilities, but I volunteered with as many events as I could.  I helped plan a CLEW at Shaker High School while I was interning in Albany, in 2002.  I started going to the planning meetings after I moved back to the Albany area in 2004.  I’ve held a number of leadership roles in the organization, and I count some of the people I work with among my closest friends.

You see, there’s something about HOBY that’s really unlike any other program I’ve worked with.  It breaks past the barriers of those awkward teen years.  You’re treated like your opinion matters – both by your peers and by the adults on staff.  You’re welcomed with open arms regardless of who your parents are or what sport you play.  You’re in, because you’re HOBY, and you share that bond.  I could meet a fellow “HOBY” person from California, tomorrow, having never met that person before, and we would commiserate like old friends.  In other words … that’s how we roll.

Concluding this, I don’t know if I’ve properly expressed what HOBY means to me.  It’s not something I can put into words, and this is my best effort.  However, HOBY touches my soul, each and every time.

And, here it is - everyone, all together for the 2011 group shot

The only photo we got together all weekend - Clockwise from left: Amanda, Cara, Ashley, and me ... with Dave in the middle. 🙂