Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Where are they now?

It has been 7 years since Hurricane Katrina, and 5 years since I finished my book telling their story.  I thought it would be a good time to update everyone on where the family is and what they are doing.

When the book ended, Mr. Thornton had retrieved his wife's 4 youngest children from New Orleans at his wife's request.  Marquel was 8, Annie was 6, Charlie was 4 and Chip was 10 months.  We will never forget how skinny and dirty Chip and Charlie were and how happy Charlie was to get back to San Antonio and his own bed, complete with his own pillow and blanket.  Chip recuperated from his malnourished state and is now almost as tall as Charlie.

Mrs. Thornton has 3 older girls who are all now back in New Orleans.  The oldest, the little 14 year old girl who sat on our back porch with tears streaming down her face as she told her us sad life story, is now almost 21.  The youngest of the 3 called Mr. Thornton recently to inform him that she had a baby.  She is 17.  These girls have been in and out of jail and mostly live on the streets.  We understand that Mrs. Thornton has had at least 2 more babies since she went back to New Orleans, which would make total children for her 10, counting the one who died years ago due to neglect.

Thanks to a lawyer friend, we were able to help Mr. Thornton get a divorce and custody of the 4 kids who live here in San Antonio with him.  In order to help him with school, doctors and therapist, another friend helped us get a lawyer who composed a Durable Power of Attorney, which allows us to help Mr. Thornton take care of the kids needs.  Doctors, dentists and therapists are not part of their culture, so we make the appointments and make sure the kids get the health care they need.  The POA allows us to talk to the school and teachers, where due to privacy laws, this would not be possible otherwise. 

Mr. Thornton is now 75 years old (don't tell him I told you that!!)  He lives on the opposite side of San Antonio from us - a 45 minute drive each way.  Over the last 7 years we have put thousands of miles on our car helping him take care of the kids and other errands.  San Antonio is still a huge, bewildering place to him - he spent most of his life in a city he knew like the back of his hand.  We still have to help him if he needs to go more than a few miles from his house.

Marquel is 15 now and will be starting high school.  She has attended King Academy, which is an 8 grade school, so she has been very comfortable in a smaller school with the same kids and teachers for the last 6 years.  The thought of a huge high school has her scared to death.  Her goal at the moment is to be a Silver Spur (the San Antonio ladies basketball team) someday.   She is smart and she wants to be a good person, so we hope that sports and coaches will help her get through the difficult years to come. 

Annie is 12, and going into 7th grade at King Academy.  Because these kids were so neglected and abused, they have a very difficult time bonding with adults who want to take care of them.  It is difficult for the caregivers because as much as kids want a secure relationship, the relationships of the past have been so hurtful that they push the adults away as forcefully as they really want and need the security.  This constant push-pull behavior is tiring and frustrating to the parent.  Annie suffers deeply from the abandonment by her mother, and refuses to allow herself to bond with Mr. Thornton.  We are increasing worried about their relationship as the frustration in the home increases.

Charlie is now 10, and going to be in the 5th grade.  Charlie was 3 when little brother Chip came along.  Prior to that he had bonded with Mr. Thornton, and even at that little age would kick his mother away.  It gives us a clue as to the extent of the neglect and abuse he had endured from his mother.  Four weeks after little brother comes along, Katrina came, another huge trauma.  As time went on, he felt more and more like his step-father was pushing him aside for this new little brother, and that once again he was on his own.  The trauma came out in bad behavior, and there came a point when we decided he could not longer thrive in that home.  He came to live with us 2 1/2 years ago.  It has not been easy, but we feel he has bonded with us.  One of his biggest struggles has been learning to eat.  He is still very thin, but he is getting used to the idea of eating 3 healthy meals a day.

Chip is mostly a happy kid and is excited to be going into 2nd grade.  We began to notice some of the characteristics of ADHD and with medication, he is doing much better.  As the doctor explained, kids with ADHD are usually labeled "bad kids" because they brains are wired differently and they have so little control over their impulses.

In spite of all the traumas these kids have endured, they love school and manage to be on the A-B honor roll every year.  This says a lot for their determination and will to thrive.  We are so thankful for all those who have helped these kids;  the teachers, counselors, and of course all of you who give your support through love and monetary support. Mr. Thornton is receiving some family counseling with the girls, and Charlie has an awesome counselor we take him to.  No matter what we think of the cost of Medicaid in this country, here are 4 kids who desperately need the services they can get in order to break the cycle that their older sisters are continuing. 

We have to be most thankful to Mr. Thornton for his willingness to take on his wife's kids.  He knew that he could not do it on his own.  His Social Security and Disability do not cover the cost of raising 4 kids.  The SSI (disability) denies him the right to have a job.  So he does odd jobs, raises a few sheep and pigs, and does what he can to supplement his income.  Most people do not spend their retirement years raising 4 kids!

When Mr. Thornton took on these 4 kids we promised to help in any way that we could.  We knew it would be an ongoing project - at least until the kids are grown and on their own.  "Welfare" is an outdated word, but it does provide a small amount each month for food only (no necessities like soap or toilet paper), and it does provide the kids with health care.  That is it - no cash, no help with rent or utilities, no clothes or other necessities. 

Each month we are thankful that the fund at church has enough to help Mr. Thornton cover the basic costs of providing a home for the kids.  He would not be able to keep them otherwise.  And we cringe at the thought of where they would be if he could not do that.   Here are 4 precious little kids, who did not ask to be born to an unwed, alcoholic mother who comes from generational poverty.  They have a huge desire to learn and be "good kids", and they deserve a chance for a healthy, productive life.   It is the only way they can break the cycle that their mother and older siblings are caught up in. 

I understand this is not the most glowing report, there have been and will be many challenges to face in the future.  But with the love, prayers and support of many people, we are optimistic.

Until next time...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ready for School

Last Thursday was a marathon day of school registration.  Chip and Annie will be returning to King Academy, Marquel at Sam Houston High School in San Antonio, and Charlie at our school in Bulverde

King Academy is an elementary and middle school combined.  It has been good for the girls because they can be with the same students and teachers through 8th grade.  For kids who have had so much trauma and uncertainty in their lives, the safety and stability of this type of setting has been good for their security.

At the high school, Marquel and I had the opportunity to sit down with the director of the magnet school which is located in the same building.  "New Tech" is a new concept in magnet schools, and we were able to have a lengthy conversation with the director.  He explained to Marquel that even though their fields of emphasis may not be what she continues with in college, it is a college prep program and she will have the opportunity gain some college credits.   They will also spend a considerable amount of time working on character development, studying book such as "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens". 

I was thrilled when Marquel said she would sign up for the program.  The magnet school classes will be in a different wing of the school, where she will be surrounded by kids who are serious about learning, with teachers who are extra dedicated to their students and helping them succeed.  The curriculum is more hands on, which will be good for Marquel.  It felt good to be able to visit with the director of the program, explain Marquel's background and needs, and know I had a contact person who was genuinely interested in each student.

I was also glad that Marquel had balked a little at purchasing the typical khaki pants, which is the uniform for San Antonio ISD.  In the magnet program she will be required to wear black pants, white polo shirts, and they will have "wear your favorite college t-shirt" and "wear your favorite sport t-shirt" days.  I will take her shopping one day this week for her new uniform clothes.

At King Academy I was able to sit down with the Communities in Schools counselor and begin to formulate a plan for Annie to help her succeed.  This is an awesome organization and we have relied on them heavily for help with school supplies for the kids.  If you see one of donations sites for "Stuff the Bus", please consider donating school supplies or money.  They have provided an invaluable source of counseling and support for the kids.

Because Annie will be involved in after-school sports, I signed Chip up for the after-school program run by the Boys and Girls Club.  The director is very dedicated to helping kids with their homework, which is great because Mr. Thornton has too many other things on his mind in the evenings.  It also gives Chip a little extra social time with kids his age.

Charlie is not ready for school to start.  He even told me he would prefer to stay home and do home school!  (Unfortunately, I do not feel "smarter than a 5th grader" and not sure I could accomplish this!)  I was surprised because he loves to be with his friends, but it made sense in that he is feeling more comfortable with us and wants to catch up on the "mom and me" time that he missed out on.  We have met his new behavior teacher and are encouraged by his dedication and willingness to listen to our ideas and concerns.

Over the past 7 years we have truly learned the meaning of "it takes a village to raise a child". We thank all of you who have helped the kids get the clothes, shoes and supplies they need to have a good start to school this fall - we couldn't do it without you!

Until next time. . .