Sunday, October 28, 2012

# 365 - I Can't Leave Them Behind!

This weekend, we decided to have a garage sale. Need to get rid of the excess in our house that's been piling up for years. Mostly, we had boxes and sacks full of clothes that were often nice pieces, but simply outgrown by my girls as they grew up. Other clothing was so worn out that the only destination for those could be the trash. But, for our daughters, since we often purchased clothes at some of the best stores, these articles of clothing are usually picked over in a garage sale as if there is a race going on.

The man who walked away with CK blue jeans for $1.00 had a big smile on his face. You could tell that he probably had $3.00 to spare at the garage sale, trying to buy clothes for his family. I love that kind of man, thinking of the girls in the family. He didn't even look for anything for himself.

Anyway, for Texas, the garage sale held on Saturday found us setting up and bargaining with pickers throughout the day in cool weather, sunny, high 60's. Friday night, a cold-front moved through our area and the temperatures dropped into the 40's while we slept. We woke to find us dealing with a blustery day after a night of howling winds. All morning, it was a challenge to set up the garage sale as strong gusts of wind blew quite a few things over; other things flew off the tables.

We didn't make much from the garage sale, probably near $30.00 in all, but we sold so many little things and some old clothes, so it was a good day. We ended up with more change in our pocket and shoppers ended up with a few things they needed at excellent prices. Men's shorts...50 cents.

As the sun shone overhead and warmed the chill out of my bones, it was time to end the sale. I boxed up all the garage sale items that didn't make it into someone else's hands. Then, I asked my husband to back the truck up in the driveway so I could directly load the boxes into the truck to take away for donating. Let's don't waste time. Hauling it back and forth...I didn't want any of this stuff to make its way back into the house or back into the garage. Out it goes!

As I packed the boxes, I carefully folded each clothing item. I'm like that...whether I give it to Goodwill or whomever, I must fold and be careful with my packing because its poor form to shove everything in a box without regard for property and necessities that the next person might appreciate with renewed interest.

I realized that I still have too many boxes and sacks full of girls clothes. Nice stuff, too. Ranging from 2nd grade size to junior high age. I suggested to the Deputy that we leave straight-away to donate the girls clothing to a place we both care about, he agreed. Five minutes later, we were on the road.

It was still chilly outside, but we drove the short distance to Morgan's Point and made our way down the streets lined with houses that front the bay...gorgeous homes any person would love to own. Down a two-lane winding road, we made our way to the Boys and Girls Harbor.

The Boys & Girls Harbor is a place where children, who are a Ward of the State of Texas, have a place to family "cottages." A large home that can house at least eight children and a sponsor family is the kind of homes you'll find on this compound. Cottage parents live with their own children in an apartment attached to the home itself, so they can have their own quiet family moments...their own kitchen, living room, etc., and the main part of the house is where the Harbor kids reside. It's a great set-up...about as close to a family environment as a needy, displaced child could hope for, if they don't have their own family to take them in.

Here is a picture of one of the new cottages that house
girls, ages four to 18. These are some busy homes!

This is a place where the Deputy and I have spent years serving as "Sponsor Parents." The only way I can describe being a Sponsor Parent is that you are kind of like a Foster-Step-Parent. You take the children every other weekend and for holidays and part of the summer. If the child has surgery, such as has tonsils out, it's likely they'll be able to come home with you for recovery, to get that extra, devoted attention.

We were Sponsor Parents for years and nearly adopted a little girl we loved with all our heart, but her social worker had dibs. Nonetheless, it was devastating for all of us.

For years, we had about 13 different gals sharing our home as they were treated like one of our own kids. They loved coming to our house and we loved trying to to share a bit of imperfect family life with them. Sometimes we'd bring home more than one child for a weekend because the kids had no one else to turn to.

It's a given that most of these kids have been through things that a few adults would shudder to consider. However, any child allowed to be in residence at the Boys and Girls Harbor has to be emotionally stable and prove that they are ready to be in a family-type environment. Sadly, there's just not enough room for all the kids that should have a place at the Harbor.

The compound holds their own Academy for kids K-8th grade, there are several cottages, sometimes they make changes every few years, but there's usually a cottage for younger girls, one of older girls, a mixed aged cottage and the same for boys. Each cottage has a large van for making necessary trips and they have a few acres of land right across the street from the bay. It's a beautiful country setting with the bonus of being right off the water, very peaceful.

So, we decided while driving down the road, to go straight to the Boys and Girls Harbor and to forget the Goodwill portion of our donation. We'd give it all to the Harbor.

As we pulled into the Harbor compound, it looked awfully quiet. We knew this might be a weekend when the kids would be gone to their sponsor parents' homes and so we weren't surprised to drive up further into the compound, right up to the cottage we always sponsored, yet find just one man outside the cottages; he was working on the vehicles in the driveway.

I walked over to him and introduced myself as a former Sponsor Parent and he nicely introduced himself as the full-time "Dad" assigned to this cottage. New Cottage Parents on site, it is a job with a rather high turn-over rate.

A great thing about this place, if a Harbor kid graduates from highschool and gets a part-time job, they can still live there while going to college on the state's dime, I believe until they are 21 years old. It's a wonderful program for today's "orphans" and helps them to get a head-start into the world instead of being dumped onto the streets at age 18.

Sadly, this weekend, during our trip there, Deputy Dave and I had a "get real" conversation with this cottage dad and he told us how the economy is hurting their personal situation, and the Harbor's economics, especially with the quality and quantity of food each cottage gets. We listened and it made us hurt inside. I remembered the reason Deputy Dave and I always made a good's because we are determined to embrace a cause and to make a dent in the system. We encourage each other to keep going for the bigger purpose. It's definitely not easy.

The worst news was to come from this Cottage Dad. This weekend, as all the Sponsor Parents came to pick up their assigned children and to have them stay at their own houses for the weekend, to have a grateful reprieve in a "normal" house and to enjoy the change in scenery, we were saddened to know that this cottage has two girls, ages 9 and 11, who had no sponsor family to take them for the weekend. There was no choice for the girls to leave, so they were stuck across the street in the "overflow" cottage with all the other kids who were left behind because they didn't have a sponsor home for the weekend.

Do you know what this does to me? Especially because our home had been open as a sponsor home for so many years and to know there's not enough sponsor ate both Deputy Dave and myself up to the core. Here we are, nit-picking over petty things and there are two kids who don't even have a place to go two weekends per month.

Our daughters mixed in with all the girls from the
Harbor who had been sponsored by us through the years. Good times.

Worst yet, these two girls have no sponsor family to take them in for the holidays --- starting with the holiday week off of school for Thanksgiving. One little girl, it appears her mom, her only family, is very sick and dying. That's a big burden for a nine year old to bear among strangers. It blistered our hearts to know that these kids had no one in their family available to step up to the plate for them, then they have no one for sponsors who are supposed to help teach them what being in a normal family is all about...imperfections and all.

For years, we helped fill this role and like Deputy Dave said, "The further away you get from this place, the easier it is to live your life and think that things are going great without your contribution, but then you see that it's always needed and it pulls you back, makes you rethink your situation in life and it tugs at your spirit."

I can't tell you how damn hard it was to drive off while knowing those two little gals, who reminded us so much of our own daughters, had to stay behind at their compound, which was virtually empty because all the other kids were tucked away throughout the city in their own sponsor parent's home.

We were asked to call first thing Monday to expedite our paperwork so that we could start providing a regular home, at least every other weekend, for these two girls and for us to have them for the holidays. Since we can't tolerate the thought of leaving them there, this is going to be an old path for us to walk again. It's not easy, but it is very rewarding to help a child find love and acceptance and a sense of normalcy wherever they can find it.

My youngest daughter, Stefie, who is away at college, is urging me to jump on the cause and get moving. Through the years, she always loved her Harbor Sisters. One thing I must say, my family is very cohesive when it comes to banding together to meet the needs of a child. There's no excuse in our situation for not doing our part. The Boys and Girls Harbor is just down the road from us, we have experience in this area, we've raised two well-adjusted, college-educated girls and we know the trickery that teenagers like to think they can pull on their parents. We've had lots of "gotcha" moments to prove we're still involved parents.

But, it's been a long time since I had to take care of and help raise a 9 year old, or an 11 year old. Uh, it's been over one decade since I had children of my own that age. It's a good thing we regularly take care of my little niece. However, I'm more than ready to step up to the plate to get those kids a stable sponsor home. Even if we sell our home, we'll work it out. Where there's a will, there's always a way.

For now, after asking, the cottage dad told us they most need kitchen staples such as ketchup, mustard, pancake mix, syrup, cooking oil, butter, and other such rations that they go through too fast. Good thing is, our chickens lay enough eggs for us to take them eggs every week or two. I can see that we will again be on a personal mission to make sure this particular cottage has a good pantry supply and beyond that...a supply of some luxury foods as well. Maybe a pizza night every now and then.

Deputy Dave is great at making a huge batter of chocolate chip cookies...he rolls the batter into just-right-sized balls for the freezer, puts them into a huge ziplock baggie and we have cookies ready to cook at any time, cookies in bulk. For their household, probably two baggies full would make a dent for a week of cookies. I have no doubt that we are again jumping in head-first to help these kids and this cottage...doing all we can for these harbor parents, to help them do their best.

As you drive off the Harbor's compound, you remember, with a heartache, that all these children lack having even one stable family member to take care of them. These are CHILDREN...they can't help their situation. They simply need to be cared for and shown support. Most of these kids are just regular kids, some are even above-average in intelligence, probably because of all they've been through. Some circumstances will wise-up a child or crush them. Most of these kids are true survivors; most with great attitudes. So many are sweet, some sassy, some wanting to cling to any bit of family they can latch onto, others living scared they'll never get to see the promises fulfilled that a family member promised as they wait for them to come back for them, often, that family member never arrives. The best you can do is to help these children live a fulfilled life for the duration. Help to teach them to savor the good parts of life and to just enjoy where you are right now, while you make the best of it. It's helpful to encourage a mindset of considering what can be done to lead them to a bright future and toward the day they'll have their own family responsibilities.

These kids have a lot to think about. They have a lot on their shoulders. They've already had to conquer more than the average person can ever dare to comprehend. I admire these kids. I can tell you one thing, they come to your house and don't expect you to wait on them...these kids know how to take care of themselves and you have to walk the line with not treating them in a way that would offend their level of independence. I have respect for those kids.

So, in spite of everything going on in life to distract us from true problems, we want to do our part to make these two girls' lives better. I don't want them left behind any more. I don't want them spending Thanksgiving and Christmas stuck at the place that is their day by day refuge, but the promise of a sponsor family being absent from their lives is definitely a downer, a major letdown. I want to stop that from occurring.

So, first thing Monday morning, I will be getting our paperwork completed, so we can start sponsoring these children again.

This past summer, me taking my oldest niece, Phoebe, on
a tour of the Boys and Girls Harbor.

And it seems that we have, yet again, we found our calling. Only this time, we aren't distracted by raising our own two daughters...we will have extra time to devote to the Harbor kids. At least they will learn about chickens from my backyard flock.

We have it in both our hearts to make a difference, we've done it before and it's time for us to again put our thoughts and words into action. This kind of work is NEVER done. And that's just a fact about life and children who need a place to lay their head and know they are safe.

So, I'll keep you updated.

Looks like we all have problems, but these kids have problems that are definitely bigger than our own, we have this big house with extra bedrooms to spare. Soon, these rooms will be full of children who need a snugly place to lay their head, some good food to eat that they won't have to fight over, and some solid attention from a set of diligent parents. Since we always want to give them the BEST of us, it's good for them and for us to be in each other's lives.

Usually, these kids teach us lessons and enrich our lives in ways we never expected.

Yes, I already know the two of us will be stepping up to the plate.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes things happen for a reason. Beth

Anonymous said...

GOD BLESS You and Deputy Dave!
Love from Viola, KS

The Kelly's Adventures in KY said...

Lana, you are amazing! Such a warm, kind, caring heart! Such inspiration! I never knew programs like this existed, and am now wondering if there is something in my area that I might be able to get involved in. Hope everything goes according to plan and they have a friendly sponsor house with you soon! said...

Beth --- You are so right. It's weird that the chain reaction of events from the garage sale to the donating of items led us to the cottage on the weekend the kids were left behind, without sponsor parents. It sure does give you a jerk back into proper perspective and to stay on track with matters that have meaning. It's an area of teamwork that we've always been able to do very well together and so many people need this kind of focus. My mother always told people (as a counselor side to her) that if a person feels down, sad or whatever, they need to get out and help others. She had such many of us in society today are being yanked around by the economy and stresses of life, but sometimes it's good to quit thinking of our own problems and to help someone who has bigger problems, especially children who don't have a choice in their situation. We have a BIG soft spot for children. I guess our kids grew up and we drifted too far away from remembering this part of life. But, we sure did get a big wake-up call this past weekend. I've already got things in motion and the kids will not have to sit at the Harbor over the holidays. But, so many boys don't have a place to go...I've never raised a boy. Augh!

Deb --- Well, we sure have our ups and downs, but it's good to be on track and doing something to help these kids. For any parent, aunt or uncle, you can see these kids and know that it is by the Grace of God that it's not one of our own in that situation. Thanks for your kind words...I'll keep them tucked away for me to remember on those hard days!!

The Kelly's Adventures in KY --- You are sweet, I try, but sometimes I have the gremlin in me pop out! But, I guess I'm a mom at heart, from the time I was 19, I have been a mom. It's something I can do...give myself to children who need a nurturing, motherly support system and Deputy Dave is always so fabulous with cooking food they dream about getting to eat...that's usually one of the best parts for the kids, getting to eat and not be in competition over it or to be told they can't have seconds and for the food to not be sub-standard. It's a huge issue for these children. As is having a space to lay their head that is different from sharing a state home with children that come and go. I'm looking forward to meeting these gals and to getting to know them. I'm better prepared, I think, for the inevitable heartaches that come with this kind of volunteer efforts, but I'm sure it will always be hard to know these kids might disappear from our lives the next month. All we can do is be here for them as long as we can. This Thanksgiving will be extra special. As for the organization, I think the Boys and Girls Club of America or something is a larger part of the picture. I don't know if there are other places like this Harbor. It's been here since 1947.


LindaG said...

*hugs* And God bless you all. ♥

Karen said...

Lana, you are amazing. God bless you both for your work with the children. said...

Linda --- I always love the hugs!! Back to you sweet lady! I'll be stopping by to read, been catching up. Love reading my blog buddies updates!

Karent --- Well, you are kind to say so...I don't always feel so amazing, but my husband and I both are suckers for kids in need --- I guess we feel so strongly about it because our children were indeed well cared for because we were blessed to do so...these kids have not had the luxury of having solid parents who also have the means of taking care of them, some of the stories of devastating. We've never been able to turn our back on these kids and I'm sad we've gone so long without being sponsor parents. I already have several friends who are eager to buy the kids Christmas gifts. I am surrounded by such encouragement. It's the important stuff that helps me keep going. Thank you very much --- you and Linda both.