My Westchester: A Study In Contrasts

While appreciating the county’s beauty and culture, Wendy Gardner reminds us to also remember the flip side of our good fortune.

As a lifelong Westchester resident, I’ve always loved the many local gems featured in this magazine—hiking trails, Jacob Burns Film Center, the Katonah Museum of Art, and many others. As a young teen, my view of the county was the Rome Theater in Pleasantville and pinball at Ossining’s Briarcade Diner; as a parent of school-age children, I was laser-focused on our excellent schools. Over time, my perspective continues to evolve, and I now see Westchester as a study in contrasts: sprawling estates and homeless shelters, DeCicco and the Food Bank for Westchester, Hackley School and Special Act Schools. While I love Westchester for its beauty and culture, I draw my greatest satisfaction now from volunteering here, where I see the county’s underbelly, the flip side of our good fortune. Right in Westchester. 

Wendy Gardner graduated from Briarcliff High School. After graduate school, she returned to Westchester, living in Lake Katonah for several years before settling in North Castle in 1992. She volunteers with several Westchester-based nonprofits, including Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, Hope’s Door, and The Children’s Village.

For the past seven years, my husband and I have mentored young men who live at The Children’s Village, a Dobbs Ferry residential campus for boys who have little or no family support and are struggling to become productive citizens. One young man, now 22 years old, has aged out of the foster-care system and lives hand-to-mouth, homeless in Yonkers. The concept of “aging out” must give any parent of a 22-year-old pause. If your child is twenty-something, it’s likely you provide advice, encouragement, maybe some extra cash, at times a roof, and, almost certainly, Thanksgiving dinner. 

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This young man has none of that. He has scrambled from shelter to shelter for warmth and food. If you live in the northern part of the county, as I do, recently you’ve seen many “Help Wanted” signs in local businesses. Not so in Yonkers. This young man has been unemployed for well more than a year. (Lest you suggest that he commute to the north, the transportation challenges are insurmountable.) He’s hardly alone. We accompanied him one time to the Department of Social Services; lines there were so long with people in need that we literally waited for six hours before getting to the front. Right in Westchester.

Then, there’s Hope’s Door, a domestic violence agency headquartered in Pleasantville. Despite much recent press, domestic violence is not a new issue, nor is it limited to NFL celebrities. It’s largely an underground problem that affects every demographic, poor to wealthy. Day in and day out, the Hope’s Door hotline rings with pleas for help, and the beds in its shelter are filled with mothers and children seeking safety and a new lease on life. Right in Westchester.

Westchester is a study in contrasts, where the gap between the haves and the have-nots is particularly wide. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t revel in Westchester’s beauty and its cultural riches. Of course we should. But many of our Westchester neighbors are struggling mightily. We need to keep our eyes and hearts open, and help as our lives allow. If we do, all of us—the helping and the helped—will be enriched. Right in Westchester.  

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