Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

  Nov. 10, 2003

Sometimes it just takes someone who cares

Tommy was a notorious brat. The social workers who had to track him from one foster home to another and make a home visit each month in order to assess his progress in foster care could hardly stand to spend one hour a month with him.

Tommy, if he saw us coming, would make a serious effort to hide, running out the back door and into the woods.

Of course officially he wasn't called a brat. He was known "as a child who had been traumatized by abuse and neglect," "suffering from ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), "in need of constant supervision," and "lacking in socialization."

All the Ritalin in the world couldn't seem to calm him down. He was moved from one foster home to another, a ten year old nobody wanted. That is, until he lucked into some foster parents who had never given up on a child.

The first time I visited Tommy with these new foster parents, we had arranged to meet at a McDonalds. This was one of those McDonalds which has a mini playground.

Tommy went wild in the play area and knocked a three-year-old down after one of his swings on the monkey bars. The parents of the toddler dragged Tommy over to our table when the foster parents were just sitting down. They frog marched him up to us and said, "Is this your kid?" The foster parents got up and put their arms around Tommy and said, "Yes sir, this is our little boy. Did you get hurt, Tommy?"

They didn't say, "This is a foster kid." like I was tempted to do. Tommy visibly relaxed. He looked up at them and it was the first time I had ever seen him smile.

Tommy ended up as one of the few of our foster children ever to graduate from high school.

When he went into the Army after high school, he took his furloughs back to those same foster parents who had attended his graduation from basic training, the only "family" he had who came to see him graduate near the top of his class.

It was foster parents such as those who kept me humble. When I left work at 5 p.m. each day, I was done for the day and I didn't have to think about work again until 8 the next morning.

For foster parents it was different. They had to live with the Tommies of this world 24/7. When they came home from work, they had to help with homework, take a child to the doctor, break up fights and listen to "I miss my mommy."

It was foster parents who made the whole system work. Without them, there would be no solution to the plague of child abuse and neglect, which affects thousands of children in our country. It fills our prisons and homeless shelters and makes life miserable beyond belief. Sure it takes a village, but how many Waverlys do we have these days?

Right now foster care in the U.S. is in crisis even though some progress has been made. Children's safety, thanks to new laws, now precedes family reunification and Congress passed an amendment to the Child Welfare Act to sever parental ties when there is no chance for reunification, a law that speeds up the chances for a child to find a new family. Permanency planning they call it.

Now there is added protection for the 20,000 youth a year who "age out" of the state's system and qualify for health, education and housing from the government until they are 21 years old.

But still, these programs and other new measures have not kept pace with the shortcomings in the system, or the growing demands of the more than half a million children in foster care.

Right now there are only 142,000 foster families in the country, but nearly 542,000 foster children.

Wright County needs foster parents just like the rest of the country. In fact, they need even more nowadays because of the rapid growth of Wright County's population.

If you are interested in being a foster parent, call (763) 682-7400 and ask for Richelle Kramer. The pay for fostering is from $20 to $60 per day, depending on the needs of the child.Tthe State of Minnesota offers a free 36-hour training course, though not always required, and Wright County offers free one-day orientations for those interested.

Besides foster parenting, Wright County also needs other help, such as volunteers for Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Heather Wynia Neenan at (763) 242-2557 (or toll free at 866-789-2557) is an eager recruiter for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, but needs many, many more volunteers for this wonderful program.

She tells me that right now she needs volunteers for 30 boys and 8 girls who are on her waiting list.

New Beginnings

As most of you know, Vice President Humphrey's property on Waverly Lake is now a treatment center called "New Beginnings."

I was delighted to see the place turn up in "The Denver Post." A columnist for the Denver Post, Cindy Rodriguez, had written about a homeless man in Denver named Steve who wanted to seek treatment for his alcoholism.

"Much of his family had long ago written him off," she wrote. "A wealthy entrepreneur from Chicago saw her column and, being a recovering alcoholic himself, thought helping Steve would be the perfect way to celebrate his 20th anniversary of sobriety, so he recruited two friends to find that man and urge him into rehab.

"He fronted the money and wants to remain anonymous so people would focus on his good deed, not on him.

"The month long treatment costs $15,000. The entrepreneur paid $9,000. The rest of the money is being absorbed by the center and its shareholders, including the two men who picked him up off the street.

"None of the men involved wanted their names published. When they found Steve, he couldn't believe that strangers could have that much faith in him.

"Standing there, in his raggedy clothes, Steve's eyes got watery.

"'Hey, guys!' he announced to two homeless men near him. 'I'm going to Minnesota. I'm going to get sober!"'

"'Way to go, man,' said a guy in a wheelchair. The other guy shouted, 'That's great. I'm proud of you.'

"After buying him new clothes, Steve was on a plane, headed for an alcohol treatment center in Waverly, Minnesota."

Way to go, New Beginnings.

And way to go, Steve!

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