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Jonah Martindale, 15, and Audrey Malloy, 18, are contributors to Catherine McNamara’s GoodLife Youth Journal. “It’s been really cool to watch it grow,” says Malloy, one of the magazine’s first contributors. Dominick Fiorille photo

Honoring a good life, taken too soon

Tragedy inspires an outlet for creativity

By Deborah J. Botti

HIGH-SPIRITED AND HANDSOME. Charismatic, yet challenging. Quick-witted and downright funny. Lovable. And above all, sorely missed.

These adjectives are a mere introduction to Thomas Alba, called Tom by his peers, whose last text message to his buddy Caleb McNamara read: “We’re living the good life.”

And as many 19-year-olds, these young men, friends since middle school, certainly were living the good life – blending social lives and school, partying and studying, while flying toward their futures.

But an untimely tragedy brought the good life to an end for one, while ultimately giving birth to the GoodLife Youth Journal, founded by Caleb’s mother, Cathy McNamara, a publication that has since taken on a life of its own, emulating Thomas’ spirit.

 

Thomas: Many things to many people

“On Feb. 22, 2011, Thomas’ heart stopped in the middle of the night,” says his father, Nick J. Alba, of Phoenicia. “The cause of death was arrhythmia, more common among teens than we realize.”

“He died here, in my home on the couch, with his laptop on his stomach,” says his mother, Gael C. Alba, also of Phoenicia.

“His brother, Nicholas, who is 17 months older, was home from college. He came in at about 4:30 a.m., and Tom was snoring – he had a deviated septum from one of his many accidents. … Nicholas turned off the TV and went to bed. … I’m a nurse, so I knew when I woke up at 7:30 a.m. that he had passed an hour or two earlier.”

Though Thomas’ parents were aware of their son’s impact on those around him, they were even more overwhelmed as the depth of Tom’s character rose to the surface following his death. His Facebook page is still active.

“We couldn’t believe how many young people he affected, how many came to Thomas for comfort and smiles,” says Gael. “He defended the little kid who was being bullied.”

Gael C. Alba and Nick Alba continue to be overwhelmed by how many young people their son Thomas Alba affected. “He defended the little kid who was being bullied,” says Gael. Michael Bloom photo

Preserving the legacy

“I had to do something,” says Catherine McNamara, who was touched by Thomas’ death. “He was so vibrant, so full of charisma. Tom inspired laughter, and was always polite and helpful. … After he was gone, there was a void. I watched him grow up.”

McNamara, whose background is in photography, knew she wanted to reach out, but wasn’t sure how. She attended some community meetings in Woodstock, batted around some ideas about self-publishing a magazine with some folks with experience, and ultimately formulated a concept that would become GoodLife Youth Journal, recognizing the importance of a forum for kids to express themselves.

“I have kids, too. And I understand what a lot of this age group is going through,” says McNamara, who became friendly with Thomas’ mother when she and Thomas were taking boxing lessons. “Young people have so much to say, and they care so deeply about others.”

The first step: how to connect with the kids and encourage them to contribute.

“I set up a pizza meeting – and no one came,” she says. “It was heartbreaking. But I realized I needed to make it more legitimate, so I decided to pay them.”

And she does – $40 for a 500-word article and $20 for an illustration or photograph.

She also put out the call to the 10- to 20-year-olds using their preferred means of communication, Facebook, and had a few posters made to tack up around town for good measure. Today, the invitation to contribute is found in each journal.

The first publication, the summer of 2011 edition, came out in June, fewer than four months after Thomas’ death. It included an “In Memory of Tom” page so friends could mourn.

“There was such sensitive expression, talk about feelings of loss,” says Nick, who lauds McNamara for providing this constructive outlet for creative expression and cherishes that it was dedicated in Thomas’ memory.

Thomas’ own advice to the Class of 2011, which is reprinted on page 65, was also featured in the inaugural 11-page edition, of which there were 200 copies made. It featured contributions by Caleb, who is also a writer, and his brother Dylan, a photographer.

In two years, it has grown to an almost 40-page publication with 5,000 copies distributed throughout Ulster and Dutchess counties by young people and parents. There are between 20 and 30 regular contributors and many random submissions – up significantly from that first lonely pizza party.

“It’s important for us to listen to our young people and learn,” McNamara says. “They have so much to offer us.”

Thomas Alba pictured at his graduation from high school.

IN THOMAS' OWN WORDS

Thomas Alba wrote this piece for an English assignment on June 11, 2009. He graduated that year from Onteora High School.

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2011:

If I could offer you only one tip for the future it would be: Always wear ChapStick.

Enjoy all the good trips and understand the universe, but trust me, you will get through it. Recall nothing in the morning. Imagine the audience is naked. Don’t worry about the future for now, but know it is coming. Do one thing every day that is probably bad for you. Don’t be reckless with your driving. Don’t waste your time on all the stupid bull----. Remember compliments you give and get every day.

Keep your old love at a safe distance. Don’t feel guilty for the wrong people. Be kind to your neighbors; maybe you’ll learn a thing or two while you’re at it. Dance every chance you get. Read the fine print, always. Do not read the safety instructions and take a chance. Get to know your personal boundaries and never bite off more than you can chew. Be nice to your elders and life will go smoother.

Understand that everything happens for a reason. Live in Funkytown once, but don’t stay there for over four months. Accept certain weaknesses you have and learn to live with them. Respect yourself always. Don’t expect anyone else to do your work for you. Don’t mess too much with Karma; it’ll bite you in the ass. Be careful whose advice you actually take and actually follow.

But trust me on the ChapStick – dry lips are never attractive.

GoodLife Youth Journal editor Catherine McNamara and art director Grey Morris work on the magazine at the Mountain View Studio offices in Woodstock. Dominick Fiorille photo

GOODLIFE'S GROWTH SPURT

Catherine McNamara, publisher of GoodLife Youth Journal, admits that while she was inspired by Thomas Alba’s energy, she might have put the cart before the horse. She hadn’t even secured startup funding, which she provided herself, before diving in.

Some two years later, there’s an art director, Grey Morris, in charge of the layout of the publication, which is often done at Mountain View Studio. Two teachers and a cousin who works for a book publisher help McNamara edit each edition, and there are two seasoned sales reps acquiring advertising – not to mention the generosity of sponsors listed in each publications.

“The community needed to know we were not a flash in the pan,” McNamara says.

McNamara, who does much of the work from home, says she strives for balance. So she’ll assign several timely topics to the writers most adept at interviewing. There are no more than three works of fiction and two advice columns quarterly, and an interesting profile, such as that of tight-rope artist Philippe Petit, help round out each magazine’s appeal.

Audrey Malloy, 18, of Mount Tremper, was one of GoodLife’s first contributors.

“Cathy was so smart reaching out on Facebook,” says Malloy, who’s now majoring in communications at Fordham University. “I took journalism courses in school because I wanted to write.”

Contributing to the school newspaper was first. However, she says general interest among the students waned as submissions were routinely rejected, so the paper was folded.

“Then here was an opportunity, not only to write, but to also get paid. I’ve always been talkative,” Malloy says. “Now I could get paid to talk and ask questions.”

A self-described “grammar freak,” Malloy considers her strengths more in the realm of editing, experience McNamara has afforded her as well.

“I’m good at making other people’s writing better,” says Malloy, who hails from a family of foodies. She says her ideal job would be as editor of a culinary magazine.

“I am really thankful for the opportunities GoodLife has given me. I’ve met many different types of people – local musicians, politicians, artists,” she says of her assignments that have ranged from interviewing Mike Hein, the county executive, to percussionist Garry Kvistad of Woodstock Chimes and organizer of the Drum Boogie Festival. She hopes to be able to contribute editorials to GoodLife while in college. “It’s been really cool to watch it grow.”

For more information, visit goodlifeyouthjournal.com.

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