Sunday night. What do you picture when I say the word "home"? Visions of Mom and Dad and your siblings and the cat that you grew up with? Your childhood bedroom complete with stuffed animals, Duran Duran posters, and your doll collection? Perhaps it's your spouse and children and the home that you've all made together. The official definition talks about a house or place of birth and those are both true, too.

What about the over 500,000 children in the United States who have been removed from their homes due to neglect and abuse, and placed in the foster care system? These children have had their confidence and self-worth destroyed, and even more devastating, have experienced the loss of family and identity, leaving them searching for a sense of belonging. What does "home" mean to them?

Nearly a year ago, I began volunteering with Voices for Children and became the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Alcott (a pseudonym), the most fantastic (then) 13 year old boy ever. Quiet and reserved, he was not easy to get to know but, as I persevered, I found a gentle spirit, a quick mind, and a heart-breakingly beautiful - albeit rare - smile. As the months have passed and I've become part of Alcott's extended "family" (CASAs, foster parents, group home staff, his siblings, his caretakers), I've watched him in many different situations and, while he's nearly always polite and agreeable, he always kept a piece of himself removed, safe. I've had to break his heart and very nearly lost hope that things would be OK.

Then, about a month ago, his situation changed and so did everything else in his life. Another woman that knows him remarked upon the change in him and I have seen it, too. I've tried to describe the outward manifestations of the change - he's more relaxed, he smiles and laughs more, and he's more self-assured - but then I realized that none of that told the whole story, that my words were inadequate to describe the magnitude of what had happened. And then the right words came to me: he's home. He's found that place where he can exhale and stop protecting his heart because he's safe and he's loved and there's no need to hide who he is. It's a place most of us take for granted because we've never known a life without it, but, as he has so many times in the months we've been together, a little boy has shown me just how lucky I am.

Goodnight, Alcott, and Welcome Home.


Alda said…
What a beautiful and moving post, Denise.

Sadly even those who grew up with all the trappings of security and comfort often have to protect their hearts. I think it's part of being human. Being a mature, responsible human means knowing when to protect your heart, and when to let people in. I'm sure you're teaching him so much - good luck to both of you.
JessiferSeabs said…
I think this is a lovely post, and I hope that you realize that you are a huge part of this change. YOU are his home - his "casa," (The spanish word for "home"), and you've changed a persons life...
How wonderful! Thanks for giving so much of your time to help him achieve this feeling.
betsy said…
Beautiful post Denise. You have such a way with words, and your heart! =)

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