By Bruce A. Smith
Chapter 29 – Saying Goodbye
By first snow, everything we had built was gone, but not without a fight. Surprisingly, Anita Bouchart had championed our cause.
“Dave,” she said to me at an emergency staff meeting in December, “I know you think I’ve never been a big supporter of Unity House, and perhaps you’re right. I do think most kids fare better in family homes, not residences like Unity.
“But,” she continued, “I’ve learned a lot in the past month by getting back into action here. These kids are thriving at Unity better than they have anywhere else.
“So, I want you to know that I argued hard and long with DSHS, but the fact is they’re out of money. Everyone’s out of money – the State, Unity, and the Feds. No one can give us another dime. Everything is going to reconstruction and military defense. Plus, we’ve got over three-hundred newly orphaned children in Worcester to deal with. Nobody has the $6,000 per kid for a place like this, so I don’t see any other way. Although it hurts me, and I know it’s going to break your heart, we have to close Unity House.”
The words stung me deeper than I knew words could. I slammed my coffee mug on the table and was about to hurl it at the wall when I saw the image of Adam Peronski hanging from a memorial plaque behind Anita.
You’re getting emotional, Dave, I heard him say in consciousness, and remembered how he had calmed me down during my flair-up at Unity.
I put the cup back down on the table, softly.
I shook my head and said between clenched teeth, “There’s-got-to-be-a-way… We can’t turn these kids loose – not after what we have done, not after what they have become. How the hell is a regular BRS bed gonna handle them? Never did in the past, that’s why they are here. That’s why there’s a Unity House in the first place!”
I took a big sigh and leaned back in my chair, staring at the ceiling. I knew Anita was telling the truth.
“I agree, Dave,” Anita replied. “I’m hoping we can get Deon, at least, into a residence in Boston. I know he’s still not ready for a Behavioral Rehab bed in somebody’s home. He’s come a long way in a very short time, I agree, but… well… I’m keeping my fingers crossed. As you know, DSHS and everybody else is jammed. It’s a new world out there and nobody has the resources they once did.”
“Some of the kids, like Kevin P and Kevin A have made great strides,” added TT. “They might make it in a BRS placement. I know it’s gonna be toughs for them, but everything in the world is tough these days. We just have to make the best of a bad situation. Everybody in Worcester is coping the best they know how. We just have to prepare the boys as best we can for their new home.”
Kevin A went to a home in Fitchburg with a family that had a good track record of working with their foster kids and owned a nice kitchen. I hoped they could handle his mood swings.
KP went to a group home in Concord run by a family of former residential counselors. Over the phone, they described it to me as a halfway- halfway house, and Kevin said he ‘kinda liked it’ after his initial visit.
“They have even more rules than Unity,” he exclaimed, “and I didn’t think that was possible! But they have a big screen TV and the school has a Junior ROTC, so it’s okay.”
Naleef went to a Cambodian family in South Quincy affiliated with a church ministry helping with the placement of the new orphans of Worcester. They seemed like decent people when we checked them out, but under their one roof they had five adults, three bio kids and four foster children.
I hoped Naleef wouldn’t get lost in the crowd.
When we walked back to the car, Naleef put his hand on my arm and said, “I’ll be okay, Dave. You don’t have to worry about me.”
Deon, fortunately, got a bed in a residential treatment facility in rural Newburyport. Unfortunately, Roberto ran, so Deon had two loses: Unity and his foster brother. Roberto also took his sidekicks from the pot dealing days, Tony, Trevor and Rick.
But Rick and Tony came back the next day, saying they had found Tony’s long-lost grandmother in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. DSHS said she checked out, so we transferred them both to Rhode Island DCFS. The guys wore their yellow scarves and red berets getting into the Division of Child and Family Services van transporting them back to Granny’s. Waving goodbye, I had a good feeling about them.
All the Men of Honor were gone by the end of the second week of January, joining in retreat the Army and all the medical personnel who had left by Christmas.
Unity House was boarded up February 1st, and I was out of a job.
I was numb. I didn’t even care about the political debate raging in the country over why the government was still unable to identify the people responsible for the attack. I simply didn’t give a shit.
Driving away on my last day, only Willy, Ryan, and Trey shone in my eyes. Everything else looked like a sad tragedy, with rubble and wrecked homes as far as I could see.
What a mess, I thought, driving down Grafton Street. Repair crews were tearing down half-wrecked buildings for the reconstruction soon to come. But it was beyond me to imagine.
I turned east on 20, hopped on the Mass Pike, drove and up 495. I was glad I had a home to go to because inside I was as lost as a leaf in a hurricane.
But Worcester had lost over 47,000 people and ten-square miles of downtown.
Worse though, for me, I thought our country had lost its soul turning its back on the Men of Honor and all foster kids in our country. Social programs across the country dissolved in a rush to fund Homeland Security, tax breaks, and our rebuild. But, why isn’t there money for the Men of Honor?
After a few weeks, I stopped wondering and faced my own reality. I was broke.