Foster Talk w/Dr. John

Yesterday, July 14, 2014, I appeared as the guest for the Foster Talk with Dr. John radio show. He has made the link to the show available to me to share with others.

My portion of the hour long program includes my years in care then what has happened since those years.

I appreciated the invite and hope those who listen(ed) found it useful…especially youth in care today or those who have aged out and are struggling to overcome what difficulties they faced during their years in care.

Below is the link, if you feel you wish to contact me after listening please feel free to do so at larry@larrya.us

July 14: Larry Adams, foster care alumni, author, and advocate. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/drjohndegarmo/2014/07/14/foster-talk-with-dr-john

Thank you Dr. John for the invite!

Have a good day!

What Foster Parents Wish Other People Knew

This is not something I have written. I read it on Facebook the the person who complied it sent me the link to it. It so presents many of the issues foster parents deal with and is so well written I thought it needed to be shared by as wide an audience as possible. It is my hope others will get as much out of this as I have. I am a foster care alumni having spent eighteen years in the system. I am sharing it here exactly as it appears:

Posted by Sharon Astyk on March 12, 2013

This essay is a little different than most of my stuff. It is the result of a collaborative discussion on a foster parenting list I’m a part of by a group of foster parents. I’ve paraphrased and borrowed and added some things of my own, but this is truly collaborative piece, and meant to be shared. I do NOT have to get credit for it. So if you’d like to circulate it, use it in a training, distribute it at foster-awareness day, hang it on the wall, run it somewhere else, give it out to prospective foster parents, whatever, go right ahead. This is a freebie to all! I care much more than people know this than that I get credit – and most of the credit goes to a lot of other wonderful people who want to remain anonymous, most of them wiser and more experienced than I.

1. We’re not Freakin’ Saints. We are doing this because it needs doing, we love kids, this is our thing. Some of us hope to expand our families this way, some of us do it for the pleasure of having laughing young voices around, some of us are pushed into it by the children of family or friends needing care, some of us grew up around formal or informal fostering – but all of us are doing it for our own reasons BECAUSE WE LOVE IT and/or LOVE THE KIDS and WE ARE THE LUCKY ONES – we get to have these great kids in our lives.

We hate being told we must be saints or angels, because we’re doing something really ordinary and normal – that is, taking care of kids in need. If some children showed up dirty and hungry and needing a safe place on your doorstep, you’d care for them too – we just signed up to be the doorstep they arrive at. The idea of sainthood makes it impossible for ordinary people to do this – and the truth is the world needs more ordinary, human foster parents. This also stinks because if we’re saints and angels, we can’t ever be jerks or human or need help, and that’s bad, because sometimes this is hard.

2. WATCH WHAT YOU SAY AROUND THE KIDS!!!!!! I can’t emphasize this enough, and everyone is continually stunned by the things people will ask in the hearing of children, from “Oh, is their Mom an addict?” or “Well, they aren’t your REAL kids are they” or “Are you going to adopt them?” or whatever. Not only is that stuff private, but it is HORRIBLE for the kids to hear people speculating about their families whom they love, or their future. Didn’t anyone ever explain to you that you never say anything bad about anyone’s mother (or father) EVER? Don’t assume you know what’s going on, and don’t ask personal questions – we can’t tell you anyway.

3. Don’t act surprised that they are nice, smart, loving, well-behaved kids. One of the corollaries of #1 is that there tends to be an implied assumption that foster kids are flawed – we must be saints because NO ONE ELSE would take these damaged, horrible kids. Well, kids in foster care have endured a lot of trauma, and sometimes that does come with behavioral challenges, but many of the brightest, nicest, best behaved, kindest and most loving children I’ve ever met are foster kids. They aren’t second best kids, they aren’t homicidal maniacs, and because while they are here they are MINE, they are the BEST KIDS IN THE WORLD, and yes, it does tick me off when you act surprised they are smart, sweet and loving.

4. Don’t hate on their parents. Especially don’t do it in front of the kids, but you aren’t on my side when you are talking trash either.

Nobody chooses to be born mentally ill. No one gets addicted to drugs on purpose. Nobody chooses to be born developmentally delayed, to never have lived in a stable family so you don’t know how to replicate it. Abusive and neglectful parents often love their kids and do the best they can, and a lot of them CAN do better if they get help and support, which is what part of this is about. Even if they can’t, it doesn’t make things better for you to rush to judgement.

It is much easier to think of birth parents as monsters, because then YOU could never be like THEM, but truly, birth parents are just people with big problems. Birth and Foster parents often work really hard to have positive relationships with each other, so it doesn’t help me to have you speculating about them.

5. The kids aren’t grateful to us, and it is nuts to expect them to be, or to feel lucky that they are with us. They were taken from everything they knew and had to give up parents, siblings, pets, extended family, neighborhood, toys, everything that was normal to them. No one asked them whether they wanted to come into care.

YOU have complex feelings and ambivalence about a lot of things, even if it seems like those things are good for you or for the best. Don’t assume our kids don’t have those feelings, or that moving into our home is happily-ever-after for them. Don’t tell them how lucky they are or how they should feel.

By the way, there is no point comparing my home to the one they grew up in. Both homes most likely have things the children like and dislike about them. The truth is if every kid only got the best home, Angelina and Brad would have all the children, and the rest of us would have none.

6. No, we’re not making any money on it. We don’t get paid – we get a portion of the child’s expenses reimbursed, and that money is only for the child and does NOT cover everything. I get about 56 cents an hour reimbursed, and I get annoyed when you imply I’m too stupid to realized I’d make tons more money flipping burgers.

Saying this in front of the kids also REALLY hurts them – all of a sudden, kids who are being loved and learning to trust worry that you are only doing this because of their pittance. So just shut up about the money already, and about the friend of a friend you know who kept the kids in cages and did it just for the money and made millions.

7. When you say “I could never do that” as if we’re heartless or insensitive, because we can/have to give the kids back to their parents or to extended family, it stings.
Letting kids go IS really hard, but someone has to do it. Not all kids in care come from irredeemable families. Not everyone in a birth family is bad – in fact, many kin and parents are heroic, making unimaginable sacrifices to get their families back together through impossible odds. Yes, it is hard to let kids we love go, and yes, we love them, and yes, it hurts like hell, but the reality is that because something is hard doesn’t make it bad, and you aren’t heartless if you can endure pain for the greater good of your children. You are just a regular old parent when you put your children’s interests ahead of your own.

8. No, they aren’t ours yet. And they won’t be on Thursday either, or next Friday, or the week after. Foster care adoption TAKES A LONG TIME. For the first year MINIMUM the goal is always for kids to return to their parents. It can take even longer than that. Even if we hope to adopt, things could change, and it is just like any long journey – it isn’t helpful to ask “Are we there yet” every five minutes.

9. Most kids will go home or to family, rather than being adopted. Most foster cases don’t go to adoption. Not every foster parent wants to adopt. And not every foster family that wants to adopt will be adopting/wants to adopt every kid.

It is NOT appropriate for you to raise the possibility of adoption just because you know they are a foster family. It is ESPECIALLY not appropriate for you to raise this issue in front of the kids. The kids may be going to home or to kin. It may not be an adoptive match. The family may not be able to adopt now. They may be foster-only. Not all older children want or choose to be adopted, and after a certain age, they are allowed to decide. Family building is private and none of everyone’s business. They’ll let you know when you need to know something.

10. If we’re struggling – and all of us struggle sometimes – it isn’t helpful to say we should just “give them back” or remind us we brought it on ourselves. ALL parents pretty much brought their situation on themselves whether they give birth or foster, but once you are a parent, you deal with what you’ve got no matter what. “I told you so” is never helpful. This is especially true when the kids have disabilities or when they go home. Yes, we knew that could happen. That doesn’t make it any easier.

11. Foster kids are not “fake kids,” and we’re not babysitters – they are all my “REAL kids.” Some of them may stay forever. Some of them may go and come back. Some of them may leave and we’ll never see them again. But that’s life, isn’t it? Sometimes people in YOUR life go away, too, and they don’t stop being an important part of your life or being loved and missed. How they come into my family or for how long is not the point. While they are here they are my children’s REAL brothers and sisters, my REAL sons and daughters. We love them entirely, treat them the way we do all our kids, and never, ever forget them when they leave. Don’t pretend the kids were never here. Let foster parents talk about the kids they miss. Don’t assume that kids are interchangeable – one baby is not the same as the next, and just because there will be more kids later doesn’t make it any easier now.

2. Fostering is HARD. Take how hard you think it will be and multiply it by 10, and you are beginning to get the idea. Exhausting, gutwrenching and stressful as heck. That said, it is also GREAT, and mostly utterly worth it. It is like Tom Hanks’ character in _League of Their Own_ says about baseball: “It is supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

13. You don’t have to be a foster parent to HELP support kids and families in crisis. If you want to foster, GREAT – the world needs more foster families. But we also need OTHER kinds of help.

You can:

– . Treat foster parents with a new placement the way you would a family that had a baby – it is JUST as exhausting and stressful. If you can offer to cook dinner, help out with the other kids, or lend a hand in some way, it would be most welcome.

– . Offer up your children’s outgrown stuff to pass on – foster parents who do short-term fostering send a lot of stuff home with the kids, and often could use more. Alternatively, many communities have a foster care closet or donation center that would be grateful for your pass-downs in good condition.

– . Be an honorary grandparent, aunt or uncle. Kids need as many people in their lives as possible, and relationships that say “you are special.”

– . Become a respite provider, taking foster children for a week or a weekend so their parents can go away or take a break.

– . Offer to babysit. Foster parents have lives, plus they have to go to meetings and trainings, and could definitely use the help.

– . Be a big brother, sister or mentor to older foster kids. Preteens and Teens need help imagining a future for themselves – be that help.

– . Be an extra pair of hands when foster families go somewhere challenging – offer to come along to the amusement park, to church, to the playground. A big family or one with special needs may really appreciate just an extra adult or a mother’s helper along.

– . Support local anti-poverty programs with your time and money. These are the resources that will hopefully keep my kids fed and safe in their communities when they go home.

– . If you’ve got extra, someone else can probably use it. Lots of foster families don’t have a lot of spare money for activities – offering your old hockey equipment or the use of your swim membership is a wonderful gift.

– . Make programs for kids friendly to kids with disabilities and challenges. You may not have thought about how hard it is to bring a disabled or behaviorally challenged kid to Sunday school, the pool, the local kids movie night – but think about it now, and encourage inclusion.

– . Teach your children from the beginning to be welcoming, inclusive, kind and non-judgemental, Teach them the value of having friends from different neighborhoods, communities, cultures, races and levels of ability. Make it clear that bullying, unkindness and exclusion are NEVER EVER ok.

– . Welcome foster parents and their family into your community warmly, and ASK them what they need, and what you can do.

13. Reach out to families in your community that are struggling – maybe you can help so that the children don’t ever have to come into foster care, or to make it easier if they do. Some families really need a ride, a sitter, some emotional support, some connection to local resources. Lack of community ties is a HUGE risk factor for children coming into care, so make the attempt.

Blood Relative Finds Me After 51 Years Separation

Before I begin this story I should note I am 63 years old. The blood relative I am speaking of was born in 1962; making him only 51 years old and that’s the reason for the title being what it is.

I should also note that to protect his interest and others involved in this story I will not be sharing many last names or location information.

Here goes:

On the evening of June 5, 2013 I received the following E mail:

Hello, you don’t know me however we are related by blood. I am Michael , the biological son of Cora Frances Lee (passed away 16 April 2001 in Detroit Michigan), who was given up for adoption back in late 60’s. My brother was Gregory( passed away 29 August 2006 in Longwood, FL). I was given this information by a court appointed investigator from the Wayne County Family courts in Michigan. I have been looking at your website

I was wondering if you would have any other information on my birth mother and my brother? I currently live in Ohio. I know the investigator has been trying to reach you, however I have no ideal if he has had any luck. Well hope to hear from you. He had not reached me but did so a day after Michael’s first E mail.

My initial reaction was this is a scam and someone is trying to get personal information from me. My response I have to admit was extremely rude and blunt.

However, as the evening went on and thinking of the search for my birth family and how difficult it was I began having second thoughts on the response I had written earlier. I decided to write this person a second time:

Probaby came across as rude in my 1st reply as I was/am leary of these types of E mails considering all the crap on the internet. Considering I had to search for my birth family and spent years in foster care in various homes….I can relate to one’s searching. I don’t know why one would say we are blood related. If you are not pulling my leg you will have to tell me why as I don’t know the people you speak of unless they crossed my path in one of the foster homes I was in.

Will see if you write or if not then I know this note was not true.

Michael’s reply came within minutes:

Understand your response. I am doing this stuff a lot later in life, as I am now 51. I will forward the e-mail with information provided to me by the investigator from the court in Michigan. If I have sent this e-mail to the wrong person I am sorry. I am attempting to get as much information on my birth mother and brother a possible. Forwarded e-mail on it’s way.

No further E mails came that evening and I retired for the night not sure if in fact I would ever hear from this person again.

One of my early morning rituals is to check for E mails that may have come in overnight. There was one from Michael! I sat there is astinishment and repeating the words “Holy Crap” as I read it. The E mail contained all the information found by the court investigator in Michigan had found.

Due to the length I cannot put it in this blog. However, it contained his birthmother’s maiden name * death information, his brother’s birth/adopted name & death information. The most amazing information was including my birthmother,s name as well as her sisters and extensive information on my grand parents and great grand parents. There was other information but I won’t bore you with it.

Yes, “Holy Crap” Michael is a blood relative…he is a first cousin. I for quite awhile just sat there stunned and read the E mail a number of times.

I sent a quick E mail to Michael confirming all the information he had sent, welcomed him into my family and arranged for us to speak on the phone that evening after I returned from work out of town.

We spoke only for a short time later that evening…it was very personal and private and I will keep it that way. Needless to say I was thrilled to have been found by a first cousin as I had had no contact with blood relatives since the passing of my birth mother, birth father as well as my first cousin Dorothy in 2005. We agreed we would have a much longer phone conversation on Saturday.

Though I felt comfortable with all the information Michael shared I wanted just a bit of further information and called the nmuber of the court investigator the next morning. He just verified all the information and also told how he had found the information needed to confirm Michael and I were indeed blood related. He was also very happy Michael and I had made direct contact.

Now I am sure you are wondering how in fact is he a blood relative and first cousin….I won’t keep you wondering any longer…LOL!

My birth mother had two sisters; Doris and Frances. During the search for my birth mother I was very aware of them. It was through Doris that I actually made contact for the first time with my birth mother. I had also searched for Frances but was unbale to find any information past 1952. At the time she was in the state hospital due to adolecent behavior not suitable to my grand parents. No one had heard from her of her since she was released from the hospital in 1952.

It was through Michael I found out why I had not been able to find Frances nor could any other family member over the years. Frances, had purposely I believe, changed how she listed her name after the hospital release. I believe she did it to make sure no one from the family would ever be able to find her as she no longer wanted contact with her parents who had put her in the state hospital in the first place. Frances’s maiden name was Frances C. Adams and she changed it to Cora (found out the C was for Cora) F. Adams. At the time of her death it was Cora F. Lee.

Michael and his late brother Gregory were Cora’s (Frances)two sons…they both are first cousins! Because of the life she chose to live at some point both Michael and Gregory were taken from her and placed for adoption. Both were lucky to be adopted by very loving families and their first names were never changed. From the information on Cora’s probate records after her death it appears Gregory remained in contact with his birth mother and also left a clue for Michael if he ever attempted to search he or Cora. Since Cora has passed I won’t detail her lifestyle but to say it was not condusive for raising children.

I should note that now all three sisters; my birth mother Roberta and Aunts Doris, Frances (Cora) are now deceased. They all passed within a year time frame.

On Saturday Michael and I spent over an hour on the phone speaking as though 51 years had never separated us. He talked of his birth mother, his adopted family as well as hs family. He lives in Ohio, spent 20 years in the army & now works for the government. He is married & has 2 adult daughters. We shared what info we could on family though we both have unanswered questions. It was great talking with him. We will be staying in touch now through E mails; phone calls but hope in time for a get together probably here in Arizona. Though emotional at times it was a very good phone call!

Unfortunately there is also a sad part to this story. He had a brother ( by the same mother but different father) who she placed for adoption as well. He was 7 yrs olderthan Michael. He passed away in 2006 at age 50. Michael had hoped to find him but of course Gregory passed before he was able to do so. I feel the past several days has been episodes of “As the World Turns” in regards to Michael finding and reaching out to me. A promise I made to Michael when we spoke on the phone Saturday was that I would help him find the adoptive family of his birth brother if possible who had been adopted even though Gregory is deceased….he wanted to find out as much as he could about him. He had his adopted last name and where he had passed which was far more information than I had when I began my birth family search back in 1982.

After he & I talked yesterday I have done some research and hope we at least may have found some of his brother’s adoptive family members…..waiting for a phone call; also have some potential calls to make if that one falls through. Michael is blood; Gregory would have been blood as well….the least I can for Michael now is what I am doing & hope we are able to find the info he is hoping for.

By 7PM Sunday night, my time, I was speaking to Gregory’s older adopted brother Charles! We spent over an hour on the phone. His family is welcoming contact from Michael. They have memories of him and have always hoped he would reachout to them. Long but short story is that Michael & Cora use to visit Gregory’s adopted family in St. Louis, MO before the adoption was finalized so they knew him. Why they also did not adopt Michael is a very heart breaking story and one that totaly disgusts me!

Gregory was bi racial and the family that adopted him was African American. They had a very close relationship with Cora and knowing she could not truly care for Michael were very willing to adopt Michael. The state of Michigan would not allow it…a black family will not be allowed to raise a white child according to the state and ordered ( via a St. Louis, MO court) Cora to return to Michigan with Michael and had him placed in foster care until he was adopted in 1967. He was never to see Cora or his brother Gregory again! Michael spent roughly three years in foster care before his second teacher took an interest him and she and her husband began the process to adopt him. The family later moved to Oklahoma.

I was able to send Michael this E mail late Sunday evening:

Hello Mike~

Well today’s research has paid off! Yes, I called the person’s number I had a 2nd time this evening and YES it is a connection.

I will let them tell you much of what was told to me as I feel it should come from them. Except to tell you that Gregory never fogot about you and it is felt if he had lived he would have searched you out. It is also felt that on Coro’a probate record Michael Adams is in fact you to give you a clue if you searched.

Gregory’s adopted father (Johnnie) has passed away at 88 in 2008. Gregory’s adopted mother (Elizabeth) is 88 and still living. It is felt she would be thrilled to hear from you.

Gregory’s adopted brother (Charles) is the one I spoke to this evening. He very much remembered you and said you were such a beautiful baby ( it was in St. Louis that you & Gregory were together with rest of the family) and very much wants to reconnect with you. Either he or Elizabeth have photos of you as a baby, your birth mother (my Aunt) and of course have photos of Gregory.

Gregory was married and his wife brought a couple of children from a previous marriage into their marriage. I did not ask many questions on this as I figured I would leave that to you.

The person I spoke with….and he will look forwad to your phone call and gave me permission to give you the information you need to do so. I of course won’t share that information here.

There are still some family in Michigan, one in Decatur IL and also Elizabeth is in Fitzgerald, GA (could not find a phone# for her) where the family is originally from before going to Michigan.

I am very elated I have been able to do this for you and have come out with positive results. I wish Gregory were alive to see this day of you reconnecting with the family and so you could have time to share and make up for the time lost. At least though you will be able to reconnect with the family that would have also adopted you if allowed to do so and still wish to be a part of your life.

Let me know how things go!
Cousin Larry~

The next day I received an E mail from Gregory’s older adoptive brother Charles:

Larry,

I am thankful you called me last night. Needless to say, I was totally surprised to hear the subject, Michael’s search for Gregory.

I will be please to speak with Michael about our experiences with Gregory him. Greg is my very special and much loved and missed brother. My family to this day continually prayed for Michael’s well being and hoped to connect with him someday.

Although, Michael does not know us much after all these years, we are excited to hear of his well being and look forward to speaking with him and sharing photos and conversation. He should prepare to have at least two conversations. Initially he and I should speak and if it is acceptable to all my mother would like to talk with him. She is likely to be able to tell him more about Francis Cora (Kitty) Adams.

We always considered him as a member of our family whom we regrettably lost touch. He is a special man having multiple families and three mothers; birth mother (Cora), an early loving mother (Elizabeth) and the dear mother loved that raised him.

We have a few photo that we will gather, scan and send. However, this may take a few days as my mother is in GA and I am in FL. You can be certain we will honor the request ASAP. In the mean time I will see if I can send one or two sooner.

God bless,
Charles

Michael and I have shared a number of phone calls and E mails in the past two months. He has sent phots of himself, family, my Aunt Frances (Cora) with Gregory’s adopted mother Elizabeth and others….since full names are on each I cannot share them here at this time.

Michael and his wife and celebrating their wedding anniversary in September and are talking of flying to Las Vegas for five days. If this plan pans out I will also arrange to go to Las Vegas for at least a day or two so we will finaly be able to meet face to face…I truly hope it will work out! Then I will be able to share photos of us together.

Fifty-one years of separation but am thrilled that separation is now over. He may not be a brother but he is the closest I have to one!

What Foster Care Feels Like

Back in April a number of foster care alumni, at the request of the editor of Foster Focus Magazine, submitted our photos and a short statement about What Foster Care is Like and those were posted during National Foster Care Month in May. This month the magazine, due to the overwhelming positive respnse to the Facebook postings, has decided to print a gallery of those photos in their magazine as well as the article I wrote entitled “What Foster Care Feels Like.”

It is hoped that whether you are a foster care alumni yourself, a current foster care youth, a foster parent, social worker an advocate for reform or a foster care friendly person that the sharing of this article & gallery of photos will let you feel the true feelings of those who experienced foster care and impact you in a way that you will ask the question of “Why does it have to be this way?”

Here is the link to the magazine article and the photo gallery:

http://www.fosterfocusmag.com/whatcarefeelslike

Number of Youth in Foster Care by State

Below is a link to a map provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of youth in foster care by state. Fiscal Year 2011 is the last fiscal year data provided, data for 2012 wil be provided later this year.

Click on the HTTP code and the image will take a take a minute to load, then you will be able to go from state to state to see specific data. You may also want to compare this to the map provided yesterday to see what percentage of youth in care are eligable for adoption ( you will need to be able to do the necessary math to get percentage.

 

 <iframe width=”725″ height=”820″ src=”http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/Map/6243-children-in-foster-care?loc=4&loct=2&clean=true#2/any/true/867/any/12987” />

Foster Youth Awaiting Adoption per State

Below is the most recent available data by state as to the number of foster youth who have been declared “legal orphans” by their state and awaiting adoption. Also over 26,000 youth will age out of care many of them without any family support or other support network.

adoption

Growing Up In the Village of Little Men, A life spent on the legendary campus written by a Boys Town Alum

I have been posting on Facebook for the past month that an article I wrote of my years at Boys Town would be appearing in the June 2013 edition of Foster Focus Magazine and promised to share it on Facebook.

Unfortunately for some reason I am unable to post the actual article from the Foster Focus June 2013 edition on Facebook. It appears to be too large due to the photographs chosen to be used in the article. I am including the text of the article in this WordPress blog as many on Facebook have requested being able to read the article.

It is my hope that the “older generation” of Boys Town will relive a bit of our past when reading the article’ the newer generation will learn how things were in the past and others will learn a bit about Boys Town and the impact it had not only on my life but to the thousands who have walked this campus.

Here is the article in its’ entirety but unfortunately without the photos used in the magazine:

By Larry Adams
Foster Focus Contributor

I have been asked if I could write an article describing daily life at Father Flanagan’s Boys Home; famously known simply as “Boys Town” located in Omaha, Nebraska.

It is difficult to fulfill this request as no two days at Boys Town can be described as typical. Yes, there were certain daily functions like meal time and school, much more was offered each day to fill a boy’s time.

Rather than a typical day I would rather write in generalities of my seven plus years at Boys Town as well as what it has meant to me to this very day.

I entered the foster care system in Michigan on the day of my birth. Before Boys Town I had been moved thirteen different times between institutions and foster homes. I arrived at Boys Town, Nebraska in the late morning of April 16, 1961.

I arrived a terrified, anger filled boy of 11. I had “my brown paper bag” of worldly possessions with me. I had no idea what was to become of me. I was in a place I had never heard of before arriving.

After a brief meeting with a caseworker, my social worker departed Boys Town for her return flight to Detroit. I felt I was alone and lost in the world.

I was taken to what they, at that time, called the Orientation Center. There, I was shown a bed and a locker that was to be mine supposedly for the next 2-3 weeks. Then I was tested, interviewed and they determined to what part of Boys Town I would be sent.

I still very clearly remember crying myself to sleep my first night at Boys Town and for nights afterwards.

I still remember after being at Boys Town about a week, a counselor coming to visit with me. While talking with me he decided to checkout my locker. There he found “my bag.” I should say that in the first days there one was taken to the clothing store on campus and given a number of sets of clothes and toiletries. Mine were all packed in “my bag.”

The counselor asked me “Why were all your things in a bag rather than hanging up or on the shelves?”

I told him “I wanted to be ready when they came to get me again to take me elsewhere.”
The counselor called me over to and took me in his arms saying, “No one is going to come and take you away. I know about your life to this point and I want to let you know….you now have a home.”

I don’t think he ever fully figured out the emotions he triggered within me with those words. My eyes began misting up and before long I was crying uncontrollably. “You now have a home” kept going through my mind. “No one is going to come and take you away.” For the first time in my life someone had actually said “I was home.” I had waited over 11 years to hear those words. I don’t know how long the counselor held me in his arms, but I know it was long enough for us to miss dinner in the dining hall and he had to make arrangements for food to be brought to me. I know that for the first night since coming to Boys Town I did not need to cry myself to sleep.

Soon after leaving orientation for Gregory Hall, I was caught up in the activities at Boys Town as most boys were. Though the school year would soon be over, I was assigned to the 5th grade. I began daily choir practices along with the other choir members. Now that I had a home, my life looked different. I even unpacked “my bag” for the first time in almost 11 years…it was never packed again.

The remainders of my middle school years were rather uneventful. I continued to pass to my next grade. I was singing in the Chancel Choir and later the Repertoire Choir. During those years, I did not consider myself very athletic, so I left sports alone. I was awaiting graduation from eighth grade when I would be able to transfer to the high school section and a new world of privileges would await me.

Though Boys Town was considered a village unto itself, it was very much a part of the Omaha community. Because I was active in choir and other music programs, I had many opportunities to travel into Omaha with escort, to attend a wide variety of functions. These events could include chamber music concerts, chorale concerts or even us boys giving concerts.

Boys Town also had a wide-ranging athletic program and back in the 1960s we were amongst the top teams in the state. Boys Town won several state titles in basketball and football. When the teams were not playing at home, we boys went to town with them to cheer them on. Thus, many opportunities presented themselves for us to meet people of the community and even develop friendships. Most of my friendships came while I was in high school, but I loved the chance to go to Omaha for events while still in grade school.

June 1964…Graduation Day…I am now a high schooler. Graduation Day is the day any boy who had spent some years at Boys Town awaited. I had already been here over three years. I would move from a dorm of 25 boys to a cottage which had 5 bedrooms with only 4 boys per bedroom. Privileges not allowed grade schoolers were now mine; I could obtain passes to downtown Omaha; I could get a one week vacation away from the home if I had somewhere to go and it was approved; I could start to smoke. Yes, Boys Town allowed high schoolers to smoke back then. Now smoking is not permitted by anyone on campus.

Graduation was another one of those sad days for me. Many of the boys in my class of 1964 had family come to cheer their graduation. I had no one present.

Each high school boy was to have a job on campus. This is how we were to earn our thirty dollars a month we were given.

I had a great job my freshman and sophomore year. Msgr. Wegner, late former Executive Director of Boys Town, had his home connected to the chapel. My job was to be up at 5:30 and to be at his home by 6:15. I was met by Mrs. Ann Fischer, his personal cook. Mrs. Fischer was the mother of the famous Fischer boys of the National Football League. It was my job to help prepare breakfast and serve for him. It was great working with Mrs. Fischer. She always saw that I had a snack to take to school when I left for class. She said a growing boy needed more than three meals a day.

It was during those two years that Msgr. Wegner took me under his wing and we got to be fairly close. Though the adults were not suppose to give us money Msgr. always saw that I had a few dollars in my pocket. Once breakfast was served he usually invited me to join him at the table. We always had interesting conversations.

Msgr. Wegner’s and my relationship continued throughout my remaining years at Boys Town. His door was open to me whenever I wanted to visit with him if he was in town.
During my senior year while I was still entertaining the thought of becoming a priest he arranged for me to spend a week at Mount Michael Abbey in Elkorn, Nebraska. It was shortly after that week I decided it was more my desire to be like Msgr. Wegner than a real vocation making me think of becoming a priest. I decided not to enter the seminary. I believe Msgr. Wegner knew this would be my decision but he allowed me to make it on my own rather than directing me in any one direction.

He provided me with a “father” figure, missing from the early days of my childhood. He went further out of his way to support me than his position required.

I felt a little athletic my freshman year and went out for wrestling and track. My wrestling career didn’t last long, as after my first two defeats, the coach decided it was not my sport and suggested I concentrate on track. I ran hurdles and one mile. I was not spectacular at either, but survived the season.

I have to be honest and say I did not set the world of schooling on fire during my freshman and sophomore years of high school. In matter of fact,, I had no real interest in school and did only what was required to skate through. By the end of my sophomore year I ranked near the bottom of my class. It was not due to lack of intelligence rather; “I just didn’t care” as I was still mad at the world.

My junior year brought a sudden transformation of my life that I am grateful for to this very day. I, even as a small child, loved to argue. If it were night I would argue it was day, anything for an argument. My English teacher that year was a Ms. Genevieve Condon.

Yes, I even argued in her class! She saw something positive in my argumentative nature. Ms. Condon kept me after school one day early in the school year. She talked to me about my arguing and how she saw it as an ability, if it were directed in the proper way. I had no idea what she was talking about.

Ms. Condon took me to meet Mr. Clarence Weinerth; another English teacher but also the coach for the newly begun Speech & Debate Team. Ms. Condon simply told him, “I think we have a debater for you.” Yeah, I could now argue, and get away with it! Mr. Weinerth of course let me know that with the ability to argue I also now had to prove my case. This meant lots of hard work researching the question being debated. It also meant that to be part of the debate team and go to tournaments, my grades had to improve. I was determined to do whatever it took.

I made the novice debate team that year. I was a good debater, even though rough around the edges. My senior year, I made the varsity debate team. My partner (Jim Acklin) and I were, if I say so myself, great. Jim and I were rarely defeated. We traveled throughout the Midwest on weekends during the season, accumulating numerous trophies as winners of the tournaments. Our record at the end of the season was 289 wins as opposed to only 29 defeats. I still wonder how we lost the 29!

In January of 1968, I decided to enter the political arena and run for Mayor of Boys Town. Boys Town is a separate village. When Fr. Flanagan began the home, he determined it should be self-governed by the boys themselves, of course with his guidance. A new mayor and city council would be elected every six months. I felt I had something to offer Boys Town and tossed my hat in the ring.

My first venture into politics turned into a solid defeat, coming in next to last. It was not to be my last political venture.

In February of 1968, I turned eighteen and technically “aged out of the system.” It was also my senior year in high school. Though I could have walked out of Boys Town; I didn’t! I wanted to earn my diploma! It was also proving to be the first time in my life that I was accomplishing something and I wanted to see it to the end. I think in many ways it was the year I grew up!

A lot of things are packed into the last few months of one’s senior year of high school. Boys Town was no different. In February I was shocked to learn that my girlfriend (Marilyn) and I were chosen as King and Queen of the Sweetheart Ball for Valentine’s Day. Marilyn was a debater at another local high school. We had met at a tournament and started dating late in my junior year. I spent most of my passes into town my senior year, when I wasn’t away at a debate tournament with Marilyn.

In April was an Awards Banquet for varsity athletes to receive their BT letters and jackets; debate was considered a sport at Boys Town and I wore my jacket proudly. In May it was the Junior/Senior Prom at Peony Park Pavilion in Omaha. I wore a tuxedo for the very first time and of course took Marilyn as my date. Graduation being but a few weeks away, we were allowed to stay off campus well into the night. Preparations also had to be made as to what I would do after graduation.

Two years before I was near the bottom of my class of one hundred-thirty eight. Now I was in the top 5%. Ms Condon and Mr. Weinerth had accomplished their mission. They took a poor student who loved to argue and made a winning debater/orator out of him while also for the first time giving him a genuine interest in school. I will forever be grateful to them both. Ms. Condon is long deceased. I had visited Mr. Weinerth in my few return visits to Boys Town. He passed away at 95 in June 1999. Though in his later years he was physically incapacitated, his mind remained as sharp as a knife. On my last visit he had me take a scrapbook from his night stand to look at; one of the few mementos he took to the home with him. Inside were all the pictures taken and articles written of Jim and I. His words; “I have always been proud of my boys.” My debate partner Jim and me remained close friends after leaving Boys Town until his death in a plane crash, he was testing a new fighter plane in the US Air Force, in 1987.

June 2, 1968, Graduation Day arrives. The day I had been awaiting for seven years, one month and seventeen days.

Graduation at Boys Town is different from any other high school graduation in the country. You are not only graduating high school; you are also loosing “your home.” Boys Town had for over seven years provided me “a home.” It had provided me nurturing, a spiritual compass, an education. Graduation meant you are now an adult and it is time for you to go out in the world and make whatever mark on it you are capable of. It meant that for the first time in over seven years I would once again be “homeless.” The graduation ceremony begins mid afternoon on a Sunday and the rule is that ALL graduates must be off campus by 5 p.m. It was time to make room for new boys.

A day like graduation should be a joyous occasion as you have accomplished the first major step in your life. However, it was not such for me. I had made many friends in the Omaha and surrounding communities over the years due to debate, and many of them accepted my invitation to graduation. They cheered and stomped when my name was called. I still felt emptiness. Yes, I had friends present, but no family who would hug, congratulate and say how proud of me they were.

The fullness of graduation hit me after the ceremony when I walked to the high school building for the final time as a boy of Boys Town. After turning in my cap and gown I went to the table where I would collect a one way bus ticket to wherever I wanted to go, $50.00 from Boys Town and whatever money I had saved during my years there….which came to about $700. Fortunately I had been a saver at Boys Town; a trait I still possess today. With a final good-bye and a wish of good luck it was time to go; time to “leave home.” The only good thing was that this time I was not leaving home with only “a brown paper bag.” I was leaving with suitcases of clothes, boxes of books and mementos collected over seven years.

I remember standing outside the high school building and wondering “Am I ready?” “What am I going to do?” “Where is home?” and I made sure no one could see..a mist blurring my vision.

I should note that on the Friday before graduation I learned I had two full scholarship offers to continue my education. I accepted the offer from Midland Lutheran College in Fremont, NE.

Ready or not it was time to leave from the safe, stable confines of Boys Town which I had known as “home” into the world of the unknown.

I arrived at Boys Town with a half filled brown paper bag and left with suitcases of clothes, boxes of books and mementos. I arrived at Boys Town hating school and left graduating in the top 5% of my class and a full scholarship to college. I arrived with many bad memories of years in foster care and left with memories of “short sheeting” the tough guys, fishing at the BT lake and eating freshly fried fish behind the dining hall, having freshly baked Danish with melted butter from the bakery, running across to the 10 Mile Inn to see if they would serve us, the 1st cigarette or choir section adventures. The “Twelve Night” celebrations, “intramural sports”, The “Boys Town Choir,” once nationally known from its’ tours and records, “Christmas Eve Midnight Mass”, even the two week Liturgical Music Workshop at Boys Town attracting, renowned musicians and scholars from across the globe, the “Trade School” in which many boys learned a skill that would provide a lifetime career.

Discipline was being part of the “floor shining gang.” Now, bear in mind this was not done with a power shiner. Let me describe this floor buffer for you. It had a metal pole about four feet in length. Attached at the bottom was a 15-20 pound piece of square iron with bristles on the bottom of it. This is what was used to shine the floors. One first went over the floor several times with just the brush touching the floor. Then you repeated the process with a cloth beneath the bristles.

Let me tell you, when one finished you could see your face in the floor. Your arms were also tired as heck. I made this floor shining gang more than one time.

As you can see, we boys of Boys Town were your typical teenage boys. These were some of the things that made all of us at Boys Town part of the community and “our home.”Though I didn’t realize it until years later…these were very good years. Sending me to Boys Town was the best decision made for me during my 18 years of foster care!

Boys Town had been more than just a place that the foster care system had dumped me into. It had raised me, given me an education, nurtured me, given me a spiritual basis for my life and so much more. It had in fact been a “home.”

I have returned to Boys Town for class reunions and will do so again for my 45th is just a few weeks away.. Though the changes have been made and continue, I will make the most of my time there…I will make it “my home” even if it is just for a weekend…it is still the only “home” I have ever known. “Home” was taken from me far too many times in my young life…I won’t allow anyone to take “my home” from me now or ever!