Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Merry Christmas from Our Kids


This year has gone so quickly. This is their 4th Christmas in Texas, can you believe that?! We will be leaving Friday for Nebraska to spend the holidays with family. The kids are looking forward to spending time with their new family and hopefully there will be some snow to play in.

Last year for Christmas they got a number of ornaments as gifts. We bought a tree on sale so that they could have their own tree in their room. They had so much fun making paper gingerbread men and snowflake ornaments to add to their tree.

Each one took turns putting their ornaments on the tree. Chip was so excited. With each ornament he would say "Miss Stephanie, Miss Stephanie, Miss Stephanie, look, look where I put it," and he would giggle and laugh and jump up and down.
When the tree was decorated we sat on the steps to their room to admire it. Randy asked Chip what he thought and he responded in a soft voice, "Wonderful!"

Each night they are at our house we have to leave the tree lit until everyone has gone to sleep.

It has been a good year for the kids.

Marquel is getting tall and is doing very well in school.

Annie is our "drama queen", singing and dancing and keeping us laughing.

Charlie is again the smartest kid in his class and his new medicine seems to be working better, keeping him calmer but alert.

Chip has a really cute sense of humor, is quite smart and growing fast.

Mr. Thornton is doing well. The kids are a challenge for him, but they keep him going. Life is settling into more of a routine for them and the kids are thriving under his love and care.

None of this could be accomplished without all of you!

We all wish you a very Merry Christmas!

from

Stephanie and Randy, Turk and "our kids"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!


I recently started a new job at the local elementary school in their after-school program. The kids are fun and I enjoy them. There is one little boy who reminds me a lot of Charlie. He is a little louder and more energetic than some of the other kids. He tries hard but he is frequently in trouble for not listening. At times I wonder about his home life.


Yesterday I told him I was really proud of him for behaving so well. He proudly told me that his teacher gave him a smiley face. I told him that was great and that his mom would be really happy. After a few seconds he looked up and said, "Miss Stephanie - I love you".


This morning I watched the sky turn bright pink as the sun rose. It made me think of all the things we are thankful for:


Four kids sleeping soundly in their beds, looking forward to spending Thanksgiving at Miss Teresa's house


Their Father who loves them so much


Friends who are so generous with time, attention, love and gifts for the kids


Family who is supportive and loving


I set out to write a little note of thanks on this day before Thanksgiving, and I realize as I write that the common thread is the love that family, friends, acquaintances and sometimes complete strangers show to us and our kids.


Happy Thanksgiving from all of us!

Marquel, Annie, Charlie, Chip, Turk


and from Randy and I as well!




Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Great Christmas Gift Idea!

Do you have a teenager in your life that you love? Or do you love to read books that challenge you deeply? I would like to recommend a new series of books that would make excellent Christmas gifts!

As a fellow author, I have come to know Darryl via the Internet and have been inspired by his work. His experience with "at risk" kids (or "at promise", depending on how you look at it) has been invaluable to us as he offers insight and advice with "our kids".


Fantasy Novel Series: (author's website)


(Click on name of Book to purchase)











by Darryl Markowitz







Darryl taught school in the inner city neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. He developed a deep understanding and knowledge of how teens think and feel and the struggles that they face. His great love for the youth prompted him to write this series of books. While the morals and beliefs are Biblically based, there is no "religion" or "preaching" in them.

Not unlike many of our kids today, the main characters in this series come from a dark place, where all morals and beliefs have been denied. Together they explore, experience and discuss thoroughly the issues that they face. They must come to their own conclusions about life, love and the meaning of their existence.

If the reader is a teenager, they will live through the events and work through the discussions and decisions that Stephanie and Vaughn face, learning with them each step of the way. The sprinkle of fantasy characters makes it very appealing to the teens.

"One of the reasons I wrote what I did is because I witnessed how young people are so often failed by the adult world and I wanted to inspire them to THINK more deeply, FEEL more deeply the preciousness of life and the understanding that promotes the wonder of being a human BEING."
If the reader is an adult or parent, they will appreciate the depth of the subject matter. It is hard to comprehend what our teens think and feel at times. These books will make you examine your own beliefs in a new way.

"I just heard from a fan and she summed up very well the reason I wrote the novels: 'It gave me new insight into this thing we call life, and love and the preciousness of life'. And she said this noting that she herself was older!"

Author's Blurb:

"Today’s political and religious strife have torn our world apart, but the new country with no name vowed to punish and stamp out anyone holding the ‘old’ ways that caused the world’s destruction. One-hundred years later, teenagers Stephanie and Vaughn can’t help challenging everything about their corrupt surroundings, unaware that they are involved in a plot that extends far beyond their little town, their country with no name, and even the world as they know it.

Stephanie sees transparent gray arms reaching inside people’s heads and Vaughn’s vision of a blackness blowing people up from the inside-out leaves him wondering.

What is a faithwalker? Potentially the most powerful person alive -- Earth’s only hope against the coming evils, that is, if they survive the terrible hardships into which they are always born.

Faith in ones abilities, faith in a mere goodness beyond, faith in a friend… they will need all of that and more to keep from dying."

Give the gift of love to all the teens in your life this Christmas!

Until next time . . .

Stephanie

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Children, Poverty and Math

The other night, "our kids" got up in the middle of the night, got dressed and walked the one block to the bus stop. When no other kids were there and the bus did not come, they walked back to their house and rang the doorbell because the door had locked behind them. It was 5:15am when the doorbell awoke their father.

The next book on my reading list is "Whatever It Takes" by Paul Tough. It examines the Harlem Children's Zone project and it's founder Geoffrey Canada. It can be purchased at Amazon.com.

The NPR website has a 30 minute interview about the project and the book. I highly recommend it, but in case you don't have 30 minutes to spare, here is a synopsis:

Mr. Canada grew up in Harlem, managed to get himself through college, get a good job and move to the suburbs. Here he discovered other parents were doing things that he did not know about like Baby Einstein and reading to their toddlers, things most of us take for granted. He took these ideas back to Harlem and started the "Baby College", where he recruited pregnant and new mothers to join a class teaching them how to raise their babies in a different way. He then started a charter school that the children could attend to continue the "new" kind of education.

His first group of Baby College graduates now attend this school and the students of this charter school surpass New York's standardized testing in Math. Math is used as a guide to overall performance, because this is where children from poverty fail and eventually drop out.

Many parents (usually single mothers) who live in poverty sincerely want a better life for their children. But because they come from poverty themselves (generational poverty) they do not know how to break out of this cycle. Baby College gives them the tools, knowledge and a path to follow.

We have seen in "our kids" the struggle with Math, but it goes hand in hand with not having the reading and comprehension skills that middle class children learn from the time they are born as parents read to their kids and begin the education process. Things that seem simple to us, such as learning to tell time, are a struggle. They lived in a world where time had no meaning; there was no bedtime, no set time to get up to go to school, no schedule to their lives at all. They learn how to draw a clock in 2nd grade math, but they have a hard time grasping the meaning or relevance in their life.

Every weekend we spend as much time as we can reviewing homework, limiting computer games and TV and encouraging reading instead. Recently we made the kids take a rest time before a late evening of Halloween partying. I suggested that they could take a book to their bed and read if they did not feel sleepy. They were surprised and thoroughly delighted with this idea and it was very quiet in their room for the next hour!

Our kids have benefited greatly from the Communities in Schools mentoring and the tutors that help with Math. I am sure they are not paid enough for what they do, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude, as it reinforces what we have limited time to do on weekends.

Do you have one hour a week that you can volunteer to spend with a child? Can you be a mentor or a tutor? It may be the only chance that child has to take a different path in life.

Stephanie

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Trouble the Water" a documentary

Last weekend we went to Austin to view a documentary on Hurricane Katrina called "Trouble the Water". I wasn't sure what to expect or what emotions we might come away with.

As the movie ended, the people in the theatre sat in silence as the credits rolled. Were they interested in all the participants in the movie, or were they experiencing the profound sadness that I felt?

Filmed by a New Orleans native with a newly purchased used video camera, the story is told by Kim and her husband as they record the events going on around them. Their ability to remain calm as the water rose chest deep around their home, their generosity in hoisting neighbors into their attic, the neighbor who helped them escape to higher ground, and their upbeat attitude sprinkled with humor at their situation made the movie. We recognized the accent and lingo that "our kids" use.

The most poignant part was when they managed to trudge through the water to dry ground and found themselves in front of a naval base that was partially closed. The housing units at the base were no longer being used, but the guard at the gate immediately called for backup. With guns pointed at them, they asked if they could spend the night, and when they were refused, they asked if the women and children would be allowed in. Again, they were refused. President Bush later sent the base a letter of commendation for "diffusing a potentially dangerous situation".

After finding their way to Memphis, they were unable to find jobs that paid a living wage. Not really wanting to return to New Orleans, they had no place else to go. Kim's husband got a job working for a contractor and was thrilled to be learning a new trade and earning a wage that allowed him to feel like a productive member of society again.

Kim's mother died when she was young of aids resulting from her drug habits, and Kim was determined to live a life that her mother and grandmother would be proud of. The movie features several of Kim's original songs, sung in rap style but with words that were upbeat and optimistic, yet telling her story of her struggles in life.

Currently this movie is being shown in limited cities, but if you have a chance to see this award winning film, please make an effort to do so. Like the movie advertisement says, "It's not about a hurricane. It's about America."

Learn more and check movie locations at: www.troublethewaterfilm.com

Until next time!
Stephanie

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hurricane Ike and Aftermath

Thanks to all of you who emailed wondering how we are the kids were affected by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Thankfully (for us) Ike turned north before reaching San Antonio. Instead of 70mph winds that had been predicted early in the week, last Saturday was the hottest day of the summer at our house with the thermometer reading over 100 degrees and not a bit of breeze. It felt as if all the energy in the atmosphere had been sucked into the storm.

After we left the counselors office Friday afternoon Charlie asked me in an excited voice with an edge of concern, "Miss Stephanie, did you know that there is a storm in the Golf Course?" When we arrived at our house he jumped from the car and ran inside to ask Randy the same question.

As we did with Hurricane Gustav a few weeks prior, we assured the kids that the "golf course" was a long ways away, that we would be safe, and most importantly, we live on the top of a hill and no water will come into our house - ever!

Much of Houston and surrounding areas are still without power and Galveston was pretty much washed away. When people evacuate they think (or hope) that they will be able to return home in a few days. I try to imagine myself sleeping on a cot in a shelter and wonder how people do it for weeks on end with no privacy and none of the conveniences of home.

The lucky few who have savings to get them through or insurance to help offset the costs can find a hotel. Some stay with friends or family, but you know what they say about having company for more than a few days. No matter what the situation, it becomes a trying time for everyone and soon nerves are on edge.

If you want to help, local shelters can always use volunteers. The San Antonio and Houston chapters of the Red Cross are the places to contact. Volunteers will be needed as long as the shelters are open to those who cannot return home. Whether it is mopping or floor or lending an ear to someone who needs to talk, the volunteers make the shelters possible.

The local news asks for donations to the San Antonio Food Bank as they are primarly responsible for feeding thousands of evacuees. The best way to donate to them is with cash, as their needs change daily for food and personal items such as underwear that needs to be purchased.

The Houston Food Bank has been serving those who have no electricity so they can have clean water, ice and essentials.

Your church may have disaster relief services or funds, or there are numerous organizations such as the Red Cross who provide support and services.

The vast majority of the responsibility of caring for evacuees falls on the community that takes them in. It is the volunteers and the donations that make shelters, food and comfort available to those who have lost their homes or cannot return to their homes yet. Please think about what you can do to help them out.

It was through volunteering at a shelter following Hurricane Katrina that we met the Thornton family and we now have the joy of "our kids". While we never expected to find this family that we "adopted", we never know what life we may touch.

Until next time . . .

Stephanie

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Disaster Relief - What is the best choice?

Talking to "our kids" about Hurricane Gustav turned out to be an interesting and at times rather entertaining discussion. We knew that if they had not already heard about another storm in New Orleans, they soon would, as they hear everything. We felt the best thing to do was to have a little meeting about it so that we could confront any fears that they felt. We explained that "mandatory evacuation" meant that everyone had to leave. If they did not have a car, they could take a bus to a safe place.

Annie: "What about my baby sister?" (yes, their mom had another baby!)

Marquel: "Will Chantal (their mom) come to San Antonio?"

Charlie: "Girl, don't be crazy. You know Father won't let her come here."

We listened to their comments and the underlying concerns and did our best to reassure them that their sister, mom, grandpa and grandma, great grandma and cousins would be OK.

Now that Gustav is dissipating, there are 3 new storms to be concerned about. You will hear lots of invitations over the next few weeks to give to charitable causes.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina and our resulting mission project, we would have thought of the most high profile organizations, Red Cross, Salvation Army, etc.

Following Hurricane Katrina we learned things we had never considered. In the aftermath of Katrina, millions and millions of dollars were given for the victims. This money did not necessarily get to the victims. If an organization's main focus is to see that immediate needs are met, that is where the money is spent, with any excess staying in their bank account for the next disaster.

So how should you decide what is the best contribution to make? First you must consider that money is not the only donation choice. Do you have some time you can donate to a shelter? You might be good at cooking, scrubbing floors, or lending an empathetic ear.

You might be part of a church or civic organization that could use your donation of time or money. There are still many churches sending volunteers to help the gulf coast rebuild from Katrina. They need cash donations to be able to send those volunteers and purchase supplies needed.

Everyone has their gifts and talents. Decide what you have to offer. As the giver, you can do a little research and decide what would be the best option for you.

Last night on the local news they talked to a single mom who had evacuated to San Antonio with her small children. After living through Hurricane Rita, this time she knew had to leave home. She had spent every penny she had on gas to get here. Now how was she going to get home? And she may have been wondering how she would feed her children, and keep up with rent and other necessities.

As we have learned, the trauma and tragedy of these disasters lingers on long after the storm is gone, and in ways that we sometimes don't think of or comprehend. It does no good to think "well, that lady should have planned for something like this". We have to understand that she is most likely doing the very best she can with what she has, just as any of us do.

As I thought about any recommendations I might have, I pulled up a website set up by the RNC - www.CauseGreater.com I think this is an excellent place to start. One of choices is Aidmatrix - where you can choose a state and find links to all kinds of organizations who can use donations of cash or time.

While Red Cross is great at immediate relief, there are 2 church groups that I would recommend for the on-going rebuilding efforts. I have personal experience and knowledge of both of them:

Lutheran Disaster Response
Adventist Community Services

As you go about your daily routine, try to stop and remember those who are not as fortunate as you are. When you are at the grocery store, purchase a gift certificate of what you can afford for the local food bank. They are always in need of cash.

Maybe your church has a family or cause they are supporting. What do they need?

Give some thought to your giving - and you will be blessed in the long run! We know we have!

Stephanie

Thursday, August 28, 2008

3rd Anniversary of Katrina - #5

Three years ago Huricane Katrina made landfall. Today we watch as Hurricane Gustav appears to be headed in the same direction. Mr. Thornton has received phone calls from his sister and nieces asking if they can come stay with him for a few days. This time there is an evacuation plan for those who have no way to leave on their own.

Mr. Thornton is glad to be living in San Antonio, away from the threat of another storm. He has struggled to rebuild his life as best he can. He doesn't ask for much, only a home to live in and a safe place to raise his kids. His greatest desire is to give them love, security and the opportunity to have a good future. Having a home, a bed to sleep in, wholesome food to eat, and the love and attention of their father is allowing the kids to blossom.

Statistics show that education is the key to overcoming poverty. We have the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty for 4 children and their future children. It is also proven that the most effective way to help people out of poverty is done through a one-on-one basis by people in the community - not some government program. It is the friend and neighbor who reaches out to show love, mentoring and a helping hand. This is when a hand-out becomes a hand-up.

A while back one of the news stations featured an Everyday Hero. This lady was a nurse. She decided to adopt a Kindergarten class in the poor part of town. She followed them all the way through high school, calling them every day, making sure they got the help they needed, and letting them know that college was the expected next step. Every child had graduated from high school and all of them were in college except two, one of which was in a trade school and one doing an on-the-job training program. One person can make a difference. It does not have to be a whole class, it can be one child at a time.

"Our kids" are far more perceptive than "normal" kids, they have had to be as a matter of survival. They deserve to be kids without the worry of where they will live or what they will find to eat. They deserve a new pair of shoes on the first day of school and a backpack with paper and pencils, so that they can walk into school with their head held high, ready to learn. They deserve help with learning to live with the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the trauma and the abuse, neglect and abandonment by their mom.

If we don't learn how to help Charlie, he could end up in serious trouble one day. It would break our hearts. And yet every day we look across town and down our noses at the kids who do get into trouble and wonder why they do these things.

Sometimes we wonder if those who help Mr. Thornton keep his family together really understand the impact of what they are doing. I don't think we can get Social Security to amend the SSI rules so that he can have a job, so we have to rely on the generosity of others to help him keep his family together.

If you want to know how you can be a part of this success story - click here.

Thank you to all who have helped these kids achieve phenominal things in 3 short years!

We look forward to giving you lots of wonderful updates in the future.

Stephanie and Randy

3rd Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina - #4

Alonzo (AKA Chip) was 4 weeks old when Katrina hit New Orleans. After weathering the storm, the family left their home when the water started rising in the street. By the time Mr. Thornton threw a few things together that they could carry, he placed Alonzo in a cooler with a can of formula and 2 bottles of water. How he survived the next 4 days of heat and chaos with 2 bottles of water is a miracle in itself. Arriving in San Antonio, the large shelter had a team of doctors and nurses ready to take care of Chip.

Luckily for Chip he was to young to remember the sights and sounds, but that does not mean they did not affect him. This was on top of alcohol withdrawal, and over the following months the high level of stress within the family. Then his mom took him back to New Orleans where he was completely neglected. When we rescued him 2 weeks later he was malnourished and had sores on the back of his neck where formula had been allowed to run and collect as he lay unattended day after day.

Even though Chip was so little, we see some of the same symptoms of trauma that we see in the older kids. We sometimes wonder how much comes from within and how much is learned behaviours from his older siblings.

Chip is now a healthy, happy and very smart little 3 year old. He loves music and claims the keyboard as his. A few weeks ago I was flipping through TV channels and ran across the opera version of Romeo and Juliet on PBS. Chip was walking through the room and stopped dead in his tracks. He stood in front of the TV with his mouth open, taking in the singing and acting. A couple of times he started to turn and walk away, but he would stop and continue to stare at the TV. In church Chip loves to watch TJ play the piano and direct the choir.

They like to say their prayers when they go to bed. Marquel, then Annie, then Charlie who likes to say the Lords Prayer. One night Charlie finished his prayer and in the bed next to him, Chip started praying. It was the first time he had done this, and I couldn't understand most of what he said, but I did hear mention of the movie The Lion King. I guess he was asking God to take care of the lions. The next night I sat on his bed and he prayed again, this time I caught, "don't yell, don't run, don't hit . . ."

Chip has always been very observant. As a tiny baby he would watch intently everything that the older kids did. Now that he is old enough to talk, he amazes us with his understanding of what goes on around him. We think Chip will be an amazing person one day.

When we met the family following Katrina, Charlie was 3 1/2 years old. Chip is just a few months shy of that age now. We wonder what would have happened to Chip if he was still in New Orleans. Would he even be alive?

Marquel let us know early on that she knew there was a better life out there for her, and she wants it. When she would meet our friends or church members would stop and talk to her she would say, "I wish I could spend the night at their house." At first I thought that in her mind that must be the ultimate acceptance, but over time I realized she just wanted to see how other people live. We use this to encourage her, to keep working and studying so that one day she can own her own house and have pretty things. Marquel has good taste and she knows what she likes. I can't wait to see her house some day!

Marquel is growing tall and beautiful and is smiling and happy most of the time. She now holds herself a little taller, more confident of herself and her abilities. She asks lots of questions, and she is learning that beauty comes from the inside.

Last year Marquel would roll her eyes about Victoria, who was the smartest kid in her class. During the summer, Communities in Schools had a summer program that we signed the girls up for. It was limited to 20 kids, and guess who was in the program. Victoria.

By the end of the 4 week program, Marquel and Victoria had become friends. After we had our meetings with the counselors at school, Marquel could not wait for school to start. She counted down the days. She could not wait to see Victoria again.

Now Marquel knows that she is just as smart as Victoria, and with a little time to catch up and lots of hard work, she can be on the honor roll too. We are going to work very hard to help her make that happen!

After our meeting at the school, I wanted to scream to the world, "This is huge!" This is so much more than just passing a test. This is a new beginning for this girl who now knows she can do whatever she wants to do.

What an accomplishment for a little girl who did not go to school until she came to San Antonio. Where would she be if she was with her mom in New Orleans? She would be on her way to another generation of illiteracy, drugs and welfare dependence.

Randy and I feel like we have a very unique position. We are not the parents or grandparents, therefore we do not have the same biological attachment to the kids. This allows us to be a little more objective and at the same time thoroughly enjoy the achievements of the kids.

We are to thankful for all those who help and support us. And we are so happy to be able to share these achievements with all of you.

To be continued . . .
Correction: Yesterday's reference to the story about pigs was on the National Geographic Channel


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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

3rd Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina - #3

Annie (short for Anthonyione) was such a cute little 6 year old girl when we met her at the shelter. She had the biggest smile and most contagious laugh. She and Charlie competed for attention, fighting for space on our lap.


Over the last 3 years we have come to know Annie as a very smart little girl, with the ability to think through and reason out problems. She gets 100's on her report card and wants to be a doctor when she grows up. She can be a real charmer and keep us laughing with her dramatic flair. At the same time, she exhibits more symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress than the others.


Recently the Discovery Channel featured the results of a study on young pigs who suffered PTS caused by weening too early. These stressed pigs were more aggressive, fighting until they dropped. When they were placed on an elevated platform their anxiety level would rise and they would stay in a safe zone where Plexiglas surrounded the platform. There was a decrease in memory which prevented them from learning and remembering how to do an easy task.


The visual impact of the healthy pigs vs the stressed pigs was eye opening. Trauma is an unseen but very debilitating injury and a silent stalker of it's victim, knocking them down when they least expect it.


For "our kids" the trauma began long before Hurricane Katrina, when they were "weened too early" by lack of attention and affection from their mom. Following Katrina, when the kids would pile on our laps with a book their mom would accuse me of "spoiling them".


The Mayo Clinic has a list of common symptoms resulting from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. "Our kids" are very fortunate that they do not have the deformaties or mental retardation. The last symptom on the list, however, is very familiar:


"Abnormal behavior such as a short attention span, hyperactivity, poor impulse control, extreme nervousness and anxiety."


We are fortunate to have a wonderful group of therapists for the kids to help them work through these problems. Progress seems slow at times, but then we think of how far they have come.


Annie will need some help to give her big smile a beautiful new look. Tomorrow she will get some baby teeth pulled that will not come out on their own. Losing her double set of front teeth will help her eat easier. Then she will get her first set of braces on September 4th. She has worked hard to speak more clearly, and getting her teeth straightened should help that as well. The self confidence that will come in the end is worth as much as the million dollar smile she will have. Our huge thanks to a very generous orthodontist!


Annie is learning how to coordinate her clothes (not that she really cares that much!) This photo was taken October, 2005, the day that they moved into their house. It reminds us how much she has grown, and it always makes us smile.



The other day Annie told me she wanted to be the kind of doctor who takes care of kids. She would be a wonderful Pediatrician. With her charm, intelligence and spirit, she will be able to do whatever she wants to do with her life.



To be continued . . .










Tuesday, August 26, 2008

3rd Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina - continued #2

We have been so blessed by all who have helped "our kids". Sometimes I wonder if those who have been so generous with their time, talents and money truly comprehend what a huge difference they are making in the lives of 4 little kids. This tribute is to them as well "our kids"!

To understand Charlie, we have to go back to the beginning. Here is a recap:

August, 2005, Charlie was 3 1/2 years old. He had been the baby until 4 weeks prior when little brother Alonzo (now AKA "Chip") came along. This would have been traumatic enough, but then Hurricane Katrina came along, followed by the water, nearly drowning when the water pushed him under a dumpster, no food or water to drink while they waited long hot days to be rescued, and then the commotion and confusion of shelters in San Antonio. His mom would disappear all day to drink with her friends.

Then a man named Mr. Jim took Charlie and his family to a shelter in the "hill country". Here at least he had lots of room to run. And run he did. He ran and ran and ran, as if he could run off all the trauma.

After 6 weeks at this shelter, they moved into a house in San Antonio.

May, 2006, his mom took him, his brother and 2 sisters back to New Orleans on a bus. He did not want to go, so he hid in his closet. His mom found him and beat him.

Two weeks later we and his Dad (Mr. Thornton) came to get him and his little brother. He was in filthy clothes, no shoes, and had lost so much weight his pants would not stay up.

We have learned far more than we ever thought we would about Post Traumatic Stress. We have had people say, "Well just get over it, kid!"

No one "gets over" PTS, they can only attempt to learn how to live with it and deal with it. How I wish Charlie could "get over it". He tells us that the only time he does not think of the water is when he is at school, because he is busy there.

In addition to the PTS there is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Medication calms him down so that he can learn to stop and think before he reacts.

No medication will make up for the beer his mom drank while she was pregnant and the resulting Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. When we first met Charlie, his nickname was "Bud" in honor of all the Budweiser beer that his mom drank. And medication cannot make up for the abuse, neglect and abandonment by his mom.

While Charlie is behind in his emotional development, he is way ahead in the smarts department. No one is a stranger to Charlie, with his charm and good looks he can strike up a conversation with any one. He hears and sees everything, and he can explain or describe things in great detail.

While sitting in Time Out he would stare up at a picture that my nephew took of a waterfall. One day when Charlie was excused from time out, he proceeded to tell me in great detail how he could build that waterfall. He would need big rocks and little rocks. The big trees needed to be there already, but he could plant the small ones. He ended with, "I sure would like to see that waterfall." I promised him that some day we would find a waterfall in Texas that we could go see.

Do you think he would have the opportunity to see a waterfall if he still lived in the Projects of New Orleans?

Charlie still has a special bond with Mr. Jim, the man who rescued them from the chaos of the big shelter in San Antonio. He loves to go swimming in Mr. Jim's pool. Yes, Charlie loves to swim.

Last week we met with the Special Ed diagnostician who had tested Marquel. Half way through the meeting he looked over at Charlie who was sitting surprisingly quiet against the wall and said, "And that boy is going to be President one day!"

What an awesome future Charlie has ahead of him.


To be continued . . .



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Monday, August 25, 2008

3rd Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

August 29th, 2008 will be the 3rd anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Over the next week there could be seemingly paradoxical reports; those lamenting the lack of progress and others with accolades on the progress made.

But this milestone may be overshadowed by the Democratic convention and the first African-American nominee for President. Whatever your political persuasion, we have to appreciate the determination and this great country where anything is possible.

The other day a friend told me about her sister-in-law whose church is sponsoring 2 families from New Orleans. Her sister-in-law had told her, "These kids are so lucky that Katrina came along". At first my friend thought it was a rather arrogant thing to say, but then she thought of us and "our kids".

As she talked, an image flashed through my mind, a mental picture of where "our kids" might be if they still lived in New Orleans. I pictured the Projects where their mom hung out, the red brick 3 story buildings that stretched for several blocks separated by blacktop, with foul-smelling dumpsters that overflowed onto the ground. I could see people hanging out on the steps and gathered in boisterous groups. The adults pay no attention to the kids nearby, running and chasing each other, laughing and chattering, their imaginary games making up for the lack of toys.

The atmosphere is static as the adults, beer in hand, keep a watchful eye on anyone who might be ready to cause trouble for them. The kids seem to be in their own little world, but their eyes dart around as they recite their made up poems, their hands slapping and clapping with the rhythm of the words.

As darkness comes, the gathering of adults grows by numbers and in volume. Empty beer cans are thrown in the direction of the dumpsters. Leaning up against the dumpsters are those who have passed out from an overdose of beer and/or drugs. The children eventually find their way into an apartment, whether it is theirs or that of a friend, to fall asleep on a couch if they are lucky, but most likely on the floor with the "cockyroaches" and "squeeky mices". Pajamas are unknown to them. They have never had a bed of their own. Their stomachs empty, but they are used to the dull aching.

They sleep until they wake up, there is no meaning for time of day. It may be the stirring of others that wakes them, or when the hunger pains become more intense. If they are lucky they can find something in the tiny kitchen to eat; a cinnamon roll wrapped in cellophane or a package of chips.

As the adults came to life, they ask about their mom. Did anyone know where she had spent the night? They had heard about a "raper man" and finding mom would give them a sense of security.

This day would be no different than the previous one or the one to follow. Making up new variations on their games, seeking out something to eat, keeping an eye on who was around and an ear to everything that was going on; these were the activities that filled each day. Survival depended on it. School would have been a welcome diversion to the monotony of the Projects, but since mom did not see the value of education, they seldom went.

"At least here they have someone who cares about them." My friends voice brought an abrupt end to the video that had been playing in my mind.

As I thought about what to write about as the anniversary of Katrina approaches, I decided that this week we will celebrate the success and achievements of "our kids".

To be continued . . .




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Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Katrina's Children - a Documentary" by Laura Belsey

Several weeks ago I ordered a DVD documentary "Katrina's Children". As I watched I would rewind and watch again, trying to catch all the words and feelings of the precious children featured in this documentary. I probably watched the entire DVD 3 or 4 times, each time hearing more of what the children said.

Some say "children are resilient". Others say "just get over it". These children demonstrate how both of these are myths that we adults propegate in order that we do not have to feel the pain that others feel. We want to push it out of our minds saying that "those people" are somehow lower than we are, less intelligent, less capeable, lazy and poor - all by their own fault. If we don't learn about them, then we can condem them and complain about the bleeding heart liberals who want to give them more of our hard earned dollars.

In the meantime, the children are left behind.

As I watched Katrina's Children I saw "our kids" reflected back at me. "Our kids" do not talk much about Katrina, and at the advice of experts, we do not push them to. We listen for the little comments and the actions that speak far louder than words.

In Katrina's Children I heard familiar comments such as "I wish I was white". I watched the girl who kicked and pulled at the padlocked gate to the fence that surrounded her school. She was so frustrated that her school was not open. And yet she could not read a sign warning about the consequences of bringing firearms onto school property. It reminded me of "our" Aleisha. Poor Aleisha, so left behind, and as she screamed out through words and actions for help, she was ignored even more. No one had taken the time to hear her story, the incredible pain this little girl suffered because of abuse and neglect. As she told us her story with tears flowing down her cheeks, I wondered if anyone had ever seen this vulnerable side of her. All they saw was the anger that came from a heart with hurt so deep that none of us adults could begin to comprehend it.

In this documentary each child draws a picture to represent their feelings. I watched to see if any of them would draw a picture like our Charlie daws, with a house on stilts and his bed in the attic.

I was struck by the little girl who did not cry in front of her mom because she could not put into words why she was so sad. It made me wonder how much "our kids" wanted to say but felt they couldn't. Children do not have the wisdom that comes with years to deal with or describe their loss and grief. And yet they are so very wise.

This documentary features kids from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and yet it could be children from any city across our country. They beg to be heard. They desperately want to go to a good school, to learn to read and understand what they are reading, to be treated the same no matter the color of their skin.

We can make a difference. But we have to be willing to put aside our pride and our arrogance. We have to be willing to be quiet and listen to their words both spoken and unspoken. We have to be willing to give them friendship and not be judgemental. It must come from a sincere desire to make a difference, and these kids can spot a fake in a minute.

Please take a minute to visit http://www.katrinaschildren.com/ and purchase a copy of this DVD. You will be helping a good cause.

If you want to read a great review of "Katrina's Children - a Documentatry" - click here

If you want to share the story of "our kids" with a friend, click here.

Until next time . . .

Stephanie

Friday, August 15, 2008

Prayer Works!

Yesterday we met with the Special Education counselor at the kids school. He had called asking us to come in to talk about Marquel and the results of her testing. He was so excited to give us his news.

The middle of last year, Marquel was really struggling in her school work, particularly in math, which she was failing. After talking to her teacher and the principal we decided to sign her up for special ed testing in the hopes that if there was a learning disability she would be able to get the right kind of help. She had worked very hard and I did not want her to get discouraged and give up trying to learn.

We continued studying with her every weekend in the hopes that she would be able to pass the achievement tests. You may recall, or you can go back and read the older blog posts as we worked and prayed that Marquel would be able to remember what we studied.

Yesterday the counselor explained that from the time we began the paperwork for the special ed testing until the time the testing was actually done the first part of June (it takes a long time to get that ball rolling!!), Marquel had not only passed her achievement tests, she was able to pass the special ed testing with flying colors. The test results showed average to higher than average intelligence and abilities.

While we thought Marquel would always have to struggle, he explained that starting now, she will need to be always challenged or she would become bored and get into trouble. He said that if she pursues her current desire to be a teacher, it would probably prove to be a difficult job for her, that she might instead think about being a lawyer! She has the potential, a desire to learn, and we have seen a new twinkle in her eyes. He even went to far as to say that she had traits that they look for in Gifted and Talented students, with the potential to be anything she wants to be. He gave us some good suggestions to help Marquel keep focused in the right direction.

There are a few things we need to work on, seemingly simple things like telling time and counting money. The counselor confirmed what we already knew, that in the Projects there is not much need to know how to count money, and the passing of time has little meaning.

Her math scores were the lowest on the testing, so last night I told Marquel I would print off the study guide for 5th grade achievement (TAKS) tests and work really hard so she could get a good grade in Math this year. "Oh, can we do it right now?" she wanted to know.

After a long day of school meeting, counselors, and running errands with them, I said "Let's start tomorrow!"

I have always felt that Marquel has an innate desire to live a better life than her mom. Now she has shown us how hard she is willing to work to achieve it. Thank you for all your thoughts, prayers and words of encouragement. Once again, I think God is reminding us that he has great plans for Marquel.


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Friday, August 8, 2008

Bulverde Texas Couple Questioned in Houston Kidnapping Case

Thursday, August 7th, 2008. I received an email from a friend that said:

"ABC Good Morning America had a segment this morning about a woman in Houston who has been caring, with the help of her church, for 5 children for the last three years since they evacuated New Orleans. The children's 22 year old mother showed up with her boyfriend wanting her children back. The Houston lady took the children on "vacation" around the state of Texas but has agreed to relinquish the children to Child Protective Services."

I answered her back that Randy and I might have been tempted to do the same thing before Mr. Thornton got custody of "our kids".

The kids have been at our house this week and they have been very good and patient while we did our work. Each morning I take advantage of the coolness to work on painting our house until the heat makes the paint glob. The afternoons are spent either in the coolness of the house or we fill the small swimming pool with water so the kids can cool off and wear off some of their vast amount of energy.

Yesterday afternoon we decided to take the kids to Guadalupe State Park, a few miles down the road, where the shallow river is perfect for the kids to play. Driving into the park the speed limit is 20 over numerous speed bumps. The kids laugh and scream if we go a little faster and they are bounced in their seats. Weekday afternoons there are only a few people, and we can relax and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Arriving home, the kids headed for the shower while I made them a quick dinner. Randy made a grocery list and headed out the door to the grocery store. He was a little bit surprised to see a Bulverde police car and a Sheriff pulling into the driveway.

The officers asked who had been driving the silver Sante Fe at Guadalupe State Park.

"I was" Randy said, thinking to himself "I was only going 30 mph in a 20 mph zone!"

"Who was with you?"

"My wife and 4 kids".

"Were the kids black?"

Now it dawned on Randy why they were at our house. There was a bit of panic in Randy's voice as he came in the door and asked me where the custody papers were. My first thought was "how does their mom think she can come for these kids now?"

Not knowing what was going on, I rushed the kids into our bedroom and told them to wait until we came for them. The officers had not heard the news story, and had to call for the names and ages of the missing kids in order to compare their list with the names on the copy of the divorce/custody papers that we showed them.

While we waited for the officers to finish their work, I went to check on the kids. They were sitting silently in a row at the head of the bed, big sister Marquel in the middle, the others huddled tightly by her side. They looked at me with big eyes and their faces showed their relief when I said it was OK for them to come out, that the police were looking for some other kids.

Following me back outside, Charlie made a beeline for the police car, peering in the window. "There is lots of cool stuff in there, lights flashing and all" he said as we herded the kids back into the house.

We sat down with the kids to talk about why the officers had come to our house. Randy explained that was why we had gone to the judge to have her sign papers that said no one could take them away from their Father and that they were always safe with us. "Whew!" Annie sighed, rolling her head and her eyes in her drama queen way.

With the kids off to watch their night time movie, Randy and I called our friend Teresa who had sent us the story and thanked her for the "heads up". We had not given being seen in public with the kids a second thought. Randy and I had not noticed anyone watching us at the river, but obviously someone had been on the lookout.

Today the kids in Houston are back with their mother under the supervision of CPS. As we go run errands we will take our copy of the custody orders with us just in case!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Good Reads

This morning I awoke to the news of yet another FEMA fiasco, warehouses in Mississippi filled with household items that were sent to the Gulf Coast to be distributed to hurricane victims, but never got to them.

I recently ran across a couple of blogs that I thought were worth reading. This first one is a little lengthy, but believe me, you will not stop reading! I think I saw this guy on the news in the days following Hurricane Katrina, sitting on a balcony with his dog and his guitar.

Click here to read Michael's first hand account

Another blog post caught my attention because it is written by a visitor to New Orleans and I appreciated his open mind and empathy. Look at the date on this post: July 6, 2008. Click here to read

Nearly 3 years later, and it is still necessary to take a van tour of the devestated areas. I am sure it looks much like it did when we were there to pick up Chip and Charlie in May, 2006. The bus driver is one of a thousand stories just like his. His home, his life and his livelihood were washed away. The government programs are difficult if not impossible to maneuver (we think this is done on purpose!) and yet they go on with so much faith and determination.

How thankful we are to each and every one of you for your love, care and concern. We are so fortunate to have your support behind us and the Thornton family. We may not be able to go help rebuild a house in New Orleans, but we have a family right here who needs a home so that they can stay together. We appreciate the dedication of so many who understand that this is an on-going need. It seems we are always saying "thank you" to someone for what they have done, but I can't say it enough!

THANK YOU!!

Stephanie

If you would like to help, click here

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Success at School

With school out for only a few days, the kids were bored and ready for school again!


Charlie's kindergarten class had a graduation ceremony, which was as cute as could be. He is thrilled that he has graduated to 1st grade.














In a special ceremony, Annie received a trophy for being on the honor roll all year.












Marquel received a certificate for completing her tests. . .












And Chip just enjoyed the party!




Each 9 weeks, the school gives out ribbons and certificates for perfect attendance. The kids are so thrilled to be able to walk across the stage and get their ribbon.



We are so proud of the kids for their accomplishments. They have a new understanding for how important school is. It is reinforced to them each time one of you congratulate them on their achievements.

The girls are attending a 3 week summer program at their school that is Sponsored by Communities in Schools. They will watch the movie The Wizard of Oz, read the book, and learn life lessons from the movie. Of course they are most excited about the field trips, which include the Wax Museum, IMAX Theatre, and Sea World. This will give Charlie some much needed time with Dad.

June 29 - July 4th the girls will be going to Lutheran Camp Chrysalis, and they are really looking forward to that.
Randy's sister will be coming to visit for a week in June and Charlie and Chip will spend that time at our house. Charlie's request was for Miss Debbie to play lots of games with him.

Mr. Thornton, the teachers, counselors, tutors and all of you who have given the kids little words of encouragement along with your prayers, deserve a pat on the back and a huge THANK YOU from us and the kids.



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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Walking on Clouds!

We are all walking on clouds today - Marquel passed her TAKS (achievement) tests!

I stopped at the school to drop off some paperwork and Marquel's teacher stuck her head in the door. "Did you talk to Marquel? She has some really good news." Miss Young was beaming.

I had seen Marquel going into the lunch room, so I found her and told her I heard she had some good news. Marquel is a little timid with us around her friends, as if she is not quite sure what they will think of us. She sat hunched down in her seat as if trying not to be seen.

"I am so proud of you!" I told her. At this she straightened up and her classmates all told me that they had also passed their tests. This brought a broad smile to Marquel's face, as if realizing that it was really OK for me to be there, that her classmates were not going to be judgemental.

A huge thank you to Miss Young, and to Teresa and Margaret for their help in tutoring, and for all those who kept Marquel in their thoughts and prayers.

With Charlie being the smartest in his Kindergarten class and Annie who gets 100's on her report card, this is a big confidence booster for Marquel, and a badly needed one.

Thank you all!
Stephanie

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Marquel turns 11!


May 19th is Marquel's 11th birthday. As with Annie, we are reminded of the little girl that we met at the shelter 2 1/2 years ago. She was such a cutie, loving to tell stories in language that we could not understand, but she made everyone laugh with her because of her enthusiasm. She did not exhibit the symptoms of trauma that Charlie and Annie did, but of course we know it affected her as well.


Following the horrors of Katrina and the evacuation, the trauma inflicted by her mother over the following 10 months did further damage. Returning to San Antonio and learning to live a "new" life proved traumatic as well.


After so many experiences of being abandoned, left to fend for herself and mistreated by her mother, Marquel has had a hard time accepting the fact that her Father and Randy and I will not leave her. "Love" from her mother meant a show of favoritism, so it is easy for her to say "you don't love me" when one of her siblings is getting attention. Time will teach her that true love is constant, not shown by giving treats or special treatment.


Marquel has thrived under the care and nutritional food of Mr. Thornton. She is now a healthy, tall and beautiful girl. With the help of outstanding counselors, she is smiling more and learning self esteem and respect. She spends more and more of her time just being a little girl, and not trying to be the "mom" of the house, which of course is not her job. We want to thank all of you for your prayers for Marquel, we do see the results.


As we started construction on a room addition to our house for the kids, we could see that Marquel has an aptitude for thinking through and seeing the finished project. She knows what she likes, and enjoys drawing very pretty pictures and cards. Maybe we can see an architect in the future, who knows!


Marquel has worked hard on her school work this year, and we are holding our breath for the results of her achievements tests. We pray that she at least passed.


A huge thank you to all who have shown Marquel so much love and affection. She loves you all and prays for you every night "for everyone at church, and for those I know and those I have yet to know, please send your Angels...".

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Annie's 9th Birthday

This coming Sunday, May 4th will be Annie's 9th Birthday. We think back to the first few days we knew her at the shelter. Once the initial trauma wore off, she transformed from the little girl who would throw herself into our arms to a little six year old with a big smile and contagious laugh.

It is hard to believe that two years have passed since her 7th birthday, the birthday that her mom spent drunk on the driveway with her friends, and the day before mom and the kids left for New Orleans.



The picture at the right was taken at the bus station the day they left, May 5, 2006. How little they are!


Many times we have wondered what happened to the kids while they were in New Orleans, the boys for 2 weeks and the girls for a month.

Shortly after the girls returned to San Antonio, Annie began wetting the bed, she was always the last one to go to sleep, and as time went on, she would cry inconsolably at bedtime.

After much prodding, she admitted that everything was scary at night. The curtain swags "smiled" at her, the TV in the living room cast moving shadows, the cars driving down the street made shadows on the wall, the voices of the neighbors scared her, she saw faces in her room, and she diligently made sure that all blinds were closed tightly and the doors were all locked.

No amount of talking, reassuring or coaxing would convince her that she was safe. The tears still streamed down her face. She tried sleeping in her own bed on the top bunk, but soon moved down to sleep with Marquel. This did not help calm her fears.

In desperation we asked her therapist to help us out. She referred us to a Psychiatrist, who prescribed medications to help her with the anxiety. He explained that when the brain is so thoroughly traumatized, it interprets everything as being evil or scary. After several months on medication, Annie has improved greatly. While she still checks the blinds and doors, she can sleep in her own bed without crying herself to sleep.

At times Annie will get a distant stare in her eyes. If I don't hear her voice in the house, I look out the window to see her on the swing set. This seems to be her escape to quiet time by herself. Sometimes she just swings and swings, and sometimes she sings to herself as she swings. I wonder what is going through her mind.

Annie is an amazingly smart little girl. She has ability to think deeply, thinking through problems and reasoning out solutions. She is quite determined that she is going to be a doctor when she grows up, and with her straight A's, she certainly could be anything she wants to be.

Most of the time she has a big smile on her face. She has a way of "flying under the radar" when the others get in trouble for various rule infractions. She loves to sing and has built in rythm. She is our little drama queen, her enthusiasm makes us smile. She has a special sparkle in her eyes and the most contagious laugh.

In addition to the flood, the horrible sights and sounds, the evacuation and the shelters, and a mom who went off the deep end, we have no idea what further traumas Annie witnessed or was subjected to, and we may never know. When we picked up the girls in New Orleans, she and Marquel came running out as fast as their little legs would carry them. Annie threw herself into my arms and held on for dear life.

While she does not want to go live with her mom, she misses her. Or I should say, she wants her mom to be loving, caring and nurturing. While no one can ever replace her mom, I see her face light up when she sees Janet, Mary Ann, Mardi, Teresa or Mary and many other friends who show the girls special attention. Through their love as "surrogate mom's" the girls can learn how a "real mom" shows love and affection.

Randy and I cannot thank you enough for your part in nurturing "our kids".





Picture of Annie was taken
April 6, 2008 in the Peace Garden at
St. John Lutheran Church.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Superglued Forever!


"You are now superglued. No refunds, no returns". This was the judges verdict!

What a relief to Roosevelt to have full legal custody of the kids. A huge thanks to Atty. Judith Wemmert for her perfect execution, and the judge, Hon. Martha Tanner, who made the proceeding relaxed with her great sense of humor. Charlie made instant friends with the Baliff, (he wishes to remain anonymous so that no one knows he has a softer side!)

To Pastor Schulte, thank you so much for taking time from your busy schedule to attend the hearing and for your meaningful remarks showing the dedication and support that St. John Lutheran Church has made to Roosevelt and the kids.

Thank you to all who came to show their support. As we all gathered around the judges bench, it was so comforting to know that we have so much love, compassion and dedication behind us.

We want each and every one of you to know how much we appreciate every thing you do, every kind word and gesture, all the prayers and good wishes.

A special thanks to Sharon Tschirhart for always having her camera handy. Click here to watch the video (scroll down on page).

Monday, March 3, 2008

Poverty and Education

Please pray for Marquel as she begins taking her TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) achievement tests. Her 4th grade tests will cover Reading, Language/Grammer and Math. Passing these tests is a requirement for proceeding to the next grade level.

Marquel has had a tough time in school. Randy and I were completely unaware of "Generational Poverty" and how the rules of poverty apply to children and education. What an education we have had! Let me explain:

When Marquel came to San Antonio following Hurricane Katrina, she had just started 3rd grade. The shelter quickly threw together a school for the kids, but after a week they moved to Camp Promise (where we met them), and school was interuppted again as arrangements were made for registration and transportation to the closest school district. After a month at this school, the family moved into their new home in San Antonio, and another school transfer was made. By this time, over 2 months of precious and important school time had elapsed.

With the family settled in their new home, Randy and I backed away for the most part, allowing the family to regroup and begin a new life. The girls were enrolled in school, Marquel in 3rd grade and Annie in 1st grade.

One day we stopped by their house and the kids were not in school. Asking them why, one of them said, "Mom has a headache." Looking over at Mom, she nodded her head in acknowledgement and I realized "headache" really meant "hangover".

School became more and more sporadic, and we began to realize that mom's lifestyle was paramount, and education for her children was far down on her priority list. When Randy and I learned about "Generational Poverty" we realized that there were really 2 reasons for Mom's way of thinking: 1) What Mom wants (more beer) and needs (plenty of party time) is the most important thing on her agenda for any given day; and 2) Education for her children is not important for 2 reasons: a) she cannot perceive her children to be smarter than she is, as that is a threat to her Matriarchal position, and b) there is no thought about the future or belief that an education can ultimately be a bridge out of poverty (there is no comprehension of any other way of life, so there is no point in to education. After all, Mom can function quite well in her world).

May 5, 2006, Mom took the kids back to New Orleans with her. There was no thought of checking them out of school, because there was no thought of enrolling them in school in New Orleans. A month later, when Mom allowed us to come get the girls one of Marquel's first questions as she climbed into our car was, "Am I going to go to school tomorrow?" The look of excited anticipation quickly turned to disappointment as I explained that school was over for the year.

August, 2006 - When we went to enroll the girls in school we learned that Marquel had not passed her 3rd grade TAKS tests and too many days of school had been missed the prior year. Marquel and Annie were both required to repeat 3rd grade and 1st grade, respectively.

This was a hard pill for Marquel to swallow, and it took Annie most of the school year to figure out that she wasn't in 2nd grade. As the school year progressed it became clear that Annie was doing exceptionally well, loving school and learning quickly. Marquel was having a harder time, and I spent as many hours on weekends as I could helping her study and review for her tests.

One day I said something to her about 1st and 2nd grade in New Orleans (before Katrina). "I didn't go to school in New Orleans," she said. When Charlie was elaborating about something fun he had done in Kindergarten class, Annie said wistfully, "I wish I could have gone to Kindergarten." We questioned the girls several times, but they had no memory of school in New Orleans.

Why this is, we are not sure. Did the trauma of the hurricane create memory lapses, or was it that school was not important to Mom, and therefore not important, and not even memorable to the girls? Was their life so focused on survival that school was secondary? Or was school more like a babysitting service than a focus on education?

Marquel passed her 3rd grade tests, much to our relief! She continues to work very hard, and we have made a more concentrated effort to study with her on a regular basis. Without the basics of 1st and 2nd grade, it makes 4th grade work much harder.

We are so very thankful for the Angels who have offered to tutor Marquel. Her session with Miss Margaret every Sunday is her own special time (the high school English teacher who lives across the road from us). Our friend, Teresa, comes on weekends and spends time helping her as well. The girls adores Miss Teresa, because she does all the "girly" things with them - like pretty smelling lotions and fingernail polish.

There are many more Angels: Randy's sister, Deb, who is a teacher and her friend Cec (too bad they live in Nebraska!), and everyone who gives the kids attention and encouragement. I don't think people really understand the profound effect that a few words can have to kids who look up to and adore them.

Several weeks ago we asked that you remember Marquel in your prayers as we worked with her therapist. I know the prayers were answered, as some of you have commented on how much she has blossomed in the last few weeks. She opens up to us a little more all the time, allowing us to help her work through her feelings and thoughts.

Please keep Marquel in your prayers as she takes her tests over the next few weeks. Ask that she will be able to remember what she has worked so hard to learn. We know that God has special plans for sweet, tender-hearted Marquel!

As always - thank you!

Stephanie
Learn more about Generational Poverty at http://www.ahaprocess.com/ I highly recommend "A Framework of Understanding Poverty" available in the book section. Click here for a preview used by permission.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

On Politics, Poverty and Hurricane Katrina Survivors

Today my Google Alert directed me to an article in the Washington Post titled For Katrina Evacuees, A Chance to Be Heard (click on underlined to read the article).

I was interested in reading both the article, and in particular, the comments left by readers. Articles such as this tend to bring out a lot of passion in the readers.

I feel so fortunate to have met Mr. Thornton, his friends and family. By knowing him, I am able to understand the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina much more clearly.

After reading some of the above referenced comments, I have a few comments of my own:

1) Meeting so many of the Hurricane Katrina evacuees, through Mr. Thornton and while sitting at various agencies, I have come to understand that the vast majority of them want a hand-up not a hand-out. All they desire is a way to start over and survive in a new and often hostile environment.

2) For those of us who live in a very mobile society, it may be hard to comprehend the community that was New Orleans. Families lived there for generations. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and children all lived within a relatively short distance. This support system is incredibly powerful, comforting and supportive. All this was pulled from under their feet.

The loss of home and belongings is nothing in comparison to the loss of a support system. This disaster cannot be compared to other storms or hurricanes, or even other parts of the Gulf Coast that were affected by Katrina and Rita, in that many of these people cannot return to their homes to re-establish their life. In Mr. Thornton's case, his rental home in New Orleans is now being rented for several times what he paid. His family and friends are scattered across the country, and his job is gone.

Finding a new job was not feasible for Mr. Thornton. At the age of 70 and disabled, the laws work directly against him. We have searched to find any angle that would allow him to have an income, but to no avail. This is not his fault. There are loopholes for those who want to find them, and there are cracks in the system that is meant to be a safety net. Mr. Thrornton falls into those cracks.

3) Prejudice is alive and well. We see the looks, hear the comments and feel the attitudes. It comes from individuals, agencies, government, and prospective employers. At times I wonder how people like Mr. Thornton hold their heads up high and make a good life for themselves, in spite of the constant thumping over the head in an effort to push them back down. I have huge respect for him and so many others we have met.

4) Post Traumatic Stress is not something you just "get over". While we see the effects on his mind and health, we cannot comprehend the depth of the trauma. Sleep is difficult when every time he closes his eyes, the events play over and over like a horrifying movie. Lack of sleep leads to a host of other problems, on top of frustrations of starting a new life with nothing.

5) There were some who took advantage of the system. This is NOT true of every one! What is true is this: There are those who know how to rip off the system and will do it again and again - they are in every corner of this country and come with various skin colors.

These are just a few things to think about. There are also the politics of New Orleans, the lack of good schools, the lowest wages in the nation, the destruction of the wetlands and the neglected levies which allowed New Orleans to flood. It is hard to comprehend what this opression must feel like. Looking down our nose at other people is not going to lift them up, it is only going to push them down further.

I feel sorry for people who are quick to criticize as they show no willingness to learn to understand people who come from a different place, culture and way of life. To close our eyes, ears and heart is choosing to remain ignorant of what happens around us every day.

If we say we are Christians, or even comassionate, we will make an effort to understand those around us. Red or blue does not matter, what matters is what is in our heart.

Any comments?

Stephanie

Monday, February 11, 2008

We are Godparents!


February 10, 2008 will be a new anniversary for us!

We accepted the position of Guardianship of "our kids" in a ceremony at Temple Missionary Baptist Church.

It was an awesome experience in many ways. Many of our friends joined us in person and in spirit as we vowed to accept this responsbility. Thank you to everyone for your support!

A former pastor had made an unexpected visit, and his message seemed heaven sent. The sermon centered on opening our hearts and minds to what is possible, and that God will give us what we need.

As we considered accepting this assignment, we knew one thing: God has worked very hard to bring these kids into our lives, and keep them here. If He has worked this hard, He must have a very special plan for them, and we must do our part in fulfilling that plan.

We hope that their Father will live a long and healthy life, but we also have to face the reality of his age and the detrimental effects that the trauma has had on his health. Seeing first hand the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress is an eye-opening experience.

We thank everyone for their prayers and best wishes. We could not do this without each and every one of you!

Stephanie

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Can You Help These Kids?



What are your New Year's resolutions? Have you given thought to your charitable contributions?



I would like to ask you to consider a very deserving family. Please browse through my website by clicking Here and consider the way that you can help by clicking Here.


Here is a brief overview:


Following Hurricane Katrina we met a family at a shelter where we volunteered. We made friends. We spent hours playing with the kids, and fell in love with them. A month later we got them setteled in their new home. A few weeks later, the mom left with the kids, running back to her parents. We thought we would never see them again. But they came back.

A few months later she took the kids and went back to New Orleans. Once again, we thought we would never see them again. A few weeks later the kids were back with their step-father, although the mom chose to stay in New Orleans, choosing to live on the streets with her friends and her beer.

The Step-father is 70 years old, and while he is not the biological dad, he loves these children dearly. He is willing to give them a good home and teach them how to live above poverty.

We will do anything in our power to keep this family together. The dad's income is Social Security and Disability. The Disability denies him having any type of job, even one that he could do. But of course, the Disability pay is not enough for even one person to live on.

A recent illness reminded us that the Dad may not be able to raise these kids indefinitely. The kids spend every weekend with us and more, and they look to us as "co-parents" with their Father. We wish we were rich, but we are not. Adding on a room so that the kids don't have to sleep on the floor and have a feeling of stability has become our priority.

We are so thankful for all those who have donated cash, clothing and household items. Due to their generosity, we have been able to keep this family in a home with their basic needs met. But we know that the cost of raising 4 kids will only increase, while Dad's income will not.

So often we have asked ourselves these questions: Why did we happen to volunteer at this shelter? Why did this family happen to be there? Why did we form a friendship with them that resulted in our "Sponsorship" of this family? Why did the Mom send the kids back?

All we can think is that God has big plans for these kids! He has worked very hard to bring them back to their Step-Father and to us. It seems to me that we must continue this mission, no matter how hard it may be at times. These kids deserve the chance to live a life free of fear and with dreams for the future.

We have the opportunity to save these children from a life of alcohol, drugs and abuse that comes with living on the streets. What could be more important?

Can you help us in our journey? You can be assured that every dollar is used wisely to provide for the basic needs of the family. Our goal is to keep them in a home, provide heat and a/c, and make sure that they have what they need to live. Funds are used to provide the basics and fill in the items that are not donated.

Here is the link to the donation page on my website - Click Here!

Here are some things to think about:

Billions of dollars were donated to large agencies following Hurricane Katrina. These funds were meant to go to the people affected. It did not get to them.

Rebuilding in New Orleans is being done in a large part by very dedicated volunteers. There are many who cannot return to their homes. They are scattered across the country and left to fend for themselves. Their only choice was to turn to the communities that took them in, but the people of the communities had already sent their donations to the large agencies.

Not only were homes lost, families were torn apart. Family dynamics change, leaving parents disoriented and children bewildered. Learning to recognize the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome has been an eye-opening experience for us. It can knock a person down until they can't function. A 5 year old boy draws a picture for his therapist of a house built on stilts so that the water can't come in. A 10 year old girl cannot enjoy being a little girl because she has to take care of everyone, making sure they are ok. Time does not heal everything!

Please give the kids a chance!

Stephanie

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Prayers of a Child

To understand how amazing Marquel's prayers are, I must first tell you of her background.

Born in New Orleans, she was the 5th child of an alcoholic mother. An older brother had already died of neglect not long before she was born. Another sister and brother would be added by the time Marquel was 5 years old.

Her mother could not hold a job, had no real desire to have one, and would do anything for her beer. The one room apartment had a bed with a filthy mattress, but no sheets. There were no clothes to wear. While mom was naked with some man, the kids were naked as well.

Hard to envision, isn't it? What horrors little Marquel must have witnessed and been subjected to.

At the age of 5, along with her sisters and new baby brother, she went to live with her mom's new boyfriend, Roosevelt. Having a bed and clothes to wear must have seemed like heaven.

After their evacuation to San Antonio, mom could not begin a new life, so she ran off to New Orleans. Marquel now lives here with Roosevelt, her younger sister and 2 brothers.

At the age of 10, Marquel amazes us with her desire to live a "normal" middle class life. She saves her money diligently so that she can go to college one day. She soaks in all the friends and people in our life that she can look up to and admire.

Her tightly held shell is slowly cracking and she lets us into her thoughts a little more all the time. She is beginning to trust us enough to ask us for help with her inner struggles.

Every night she prays. Her prayers touch us deeply.

Lord, please send your angels to watch over us
Please send your angels to watch over my Father
Please keep him safe and well
I love you, Lord
Lord, please send your angels to be with ...(and she goes on to list everyone who has been an "Angel" to her)
Lord, please send your angels to be with everyone I know, and everyone I will know
I love you, Lord
Lord, please keep us safe

Her only request for herself is for the angels to be sent to watch over her.

A few weeks ago her father became very ill while Marquel was at our house. Not knowing what else to do to calm the kids fears, I asked them if they wanted to say a prayer for their Father. We did, and I put the kids to bed with a movie to watch, hoping that they would be able to go to sleep.

After a few minutes I noticed that Marquel had her hands folded tight. Soon she was up on her knees, hands folded and face turned upwards.

Where does this child get her faith? What great things does God have in His plans for her?

The kids spend most weekends with us. We go to church. We spend time with friends. We pray before meals and we ask the kids if they want to pray at bedtime. If they don't it is ok. We don't force "religion," we just let them soak up what is around them.

Please keep Marquel in your prayers, as she is including you in hers!

Stephanie

Friday, January 4, 2008

New Christmas Adventures

What a great Christmas we and the kids had together! Their Father wanted to go to New Orleans to visit his family, so we took the kids with us to Nebraska to visit Randy's family.

Generous gifts of books and DVD's came in very handy on the 14 hour car ride. When we stopped in Kansas to eat lunch, we got to have our first "ball fight with snow" as Annie put it. The look on Charlie's face when I picked up some snow and tossed it at him was priceless. The initial look of irritation quickly turned to a mixture of surprise and delight.

Arriving at Randy's sister's house, the kids jumped out and ran into the snow. Not really dressed for this, Charlie soon came back crying because his feet were so cold. The snow was deep enough to fall into his boots, so he took his boots off, and well, that didn't work too well!

Randy took Marquel with him to pick up the flowers for his mom's birthday party. Marquel had taken note of Deb's nativity set, and spotted more figurines in the shop. She picked up a little dark skinned angel who was holding a heart out in her hands and asked if she could buy it for Deb. Then she reached up on a shelf for another one. Randy helped her get it down and realized that it was a mother and daughter, reaching their arms towards each other. She wanted to get that one for me. It was very touching to receive this special gift from my new "daughter".

Chip made us all laugh when he put himself in time out. I had scolded him for getting M&M's out of Bryce's candy dispenser. He followed me up the stairs, walked down the hall and sat down. When I realized what he was doing, we all had a good chuckle.

Getting ready to spend some time in the cold and snow, I told the kids to put on the layers of pants, shirts and socks that I had packed for them. They thought I was really crazy! But when they came in, they said they were glad because they had stayed warm.

Randy's sister is a grade school teacher, so Deb went to the school to look through the lost and found for boots and snow pants for the kids. They came back all outfitted and ready for hours in the cold. They looked so cute all bundled up. The kids went down the hill behind Deb's house on their saucers, then ran back up the steep hill, over and over and over. After 4 or 5 hours, Deb would coax them to come inside. What a treat this was for the kids.

They learned to play Mexican Train Dominoes, and Annie was the champion as she figured out the strategy really quickly. I thought to myself that the kids Dora Dominoes that I had bought them as a Christmas present might be a little boring after playing the real thing!

One night as we played dominoes, Charlie got tired and curled up on the couch. Randy reminded him to say his prayers, and 5 year old Charlie recited the Lord's prayer perfectly all by himself. Deb had tears running down her face by the time he finished.

Dear friends Mardi and Gerry had told the kids to ask the Guaradian Angels to go with us on our trip. Each night the kids asked God to send the angels to watch over them, and to be with everyone they knew, naming them one by one.

Mardi told the kids the Christmas story in an animated, entertaining way. Each time we passed a nativity set, the kids would comment on what was missing - the angels or the shephards or the rich men who brought presents. They thoroughly enjoyed retelling the story.
There were so many new experiences; "Grandma" Ehmen's 90th birthday party at the nursing home, Christmas with Randy's brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and all their kids, Deb and friend Cec helping the girls with their workbooks, hiding eggs and hunting them with cousin Dianne, and Charlie got to drive cousin Jr.'s really BIG farm tractor! Everyone doted on them and had great fun. What wonderful family time the kids got to experience for the first time. We hope we gave them some good memories.

We have lots of new Angels to add to our list. Click here to see pictures

A HUGE thank you to all who helped "our kids" have a wonderful Christmas!

Until next time

Stephanie