I first met a girl (who I will refer to as “Lydia” for her privacy) while volunteering in the 4 year old classroom at Childhaven. When Lydia walked into the room, she could not, and would not be ignored. She was a tall, gangly, whirlwind of energy, with a fire that I've never seen in a child before or since. Yet, with all this bravado, she was also as fragile as a piece of glass.
I didn't know the specifics of Lydia's story. I didn't need to know them to see she was already struggling with the effects. I did know she had been passed around through several foster families. With this journey she had developed an amazing talent at reading people. It gave her the wisdom to see any oncoming signs of danger or disappointment, but it also put her on edge. She was constantly feeling attacked and slighted. When Lydia first came to Childhaven, her temper was jarring. She could go from quietly playing, to a complete meltdown in just a few seconds. It wouldn't take much - just a sideways glance from a classmate, or a delay in attention from the teacher. Her emotions were so raw, that she was like one big exposed nerve ending. Lydia was one of those children that many people would have dismissed as uncontrollable and destined for trouble. But, I soon realized that her flashes of anger were cries for help.
When Lydia had her big meltdowns, one of teachers would simply hold her. After awhile, her crying stopped, her breathing came back to normal, and she returned to the group. I was amazed that this firm, yet loving embrace was so effective. All she wanted was security and two arms to hold her. Over the course of several months, she began a metamorphosis. She began sharing toys, getting along better with the other children. The light in her eyes began to shine. She was brilliant, in many ways. I remember one arts and crafts session, while we were pasting together a collage of feelings out of scraps of magazine photos, I thought, "this girl could grow up to be anything."
Then one spring day, I came in and noticed something off with Lydia. She seemed to be sliding back, acting out like she did when we first met. I asked one of the teachers if she was ok. The teacher pointed to a plastic zipper bag on the counter.
"See that?" She said. "Another foster family said they couldn’t handle Lydia. She's headed to a group home now… that's everything she owns in the world."
Everything she owned fit into a plastic bag that you get at Target when you buy a comforter.
It was the only time I left Childhaven and cried.
That's why I am dedicated to raising money and doing everything I can to help support this charity. Because these children have done nothing to deserve the challenges they've been handed.
By the way, a few months later Lydia left Childhaven and headed to kindergarten. On graduation day she got a brand new winter coat and a Dora the Explorer backpack full of school supplies. The last time I saw her she was smiling ear to ear and showing a classmate her pencils and pens.