Stella, one of my favorites…
As I described in a previous entry, it is not often that I get a chance to have much interaction with the families that we serve. However, every once in a while, I get a call from one of our families that just further reinforces why GOTB is so necessary. This was the case with my dear friend Stella *:
I met Stella * last year totally by accident it seemed. I was on the phone and she called in and was speaking to my assistant at the time. My assistant needed to speak with the person who I was assisting so we just swapped calls. From the moment I got on the line with Stella *, I knew this was going to be one of those conversations I wasn’t going to forget.
Although I have never met Stella * in person, I can tell you from our many phone conversations that she knows how to get what she wants. I think her gift in doing this is the way that she uses her charm and sense of humor. She is always cracking jokes about the pitfalls that life has handed her and I must admit, she really is hilarious. Stella * is also a very devout Christian. One thing that I noticed about Stella * is that no matter how crazy things in her personal life get (and believe me they do) when I ask her how she is doing, she simply answers, “Maria, I am blessed.”
On our first conversation, without any explanation as to who she was or what this was about, she confidently said, “Maria, you need to help me.” To that, I said, “Okay, I’m going to try, but can you explain how you would like to be helped first?” With that, Stella * let out a hardy laugh and followed with this story:
She told me that she had been doing some research on transportation programs that bring people to the prisons and that GOTB had popped up. She said that her boyfriend was at CMC prison and that his kids needed to see him. I kindly explained to Stella * that our deadline for this year had passed and that the only way I could help her is if her boyfriend had signed up for the program. As I searched for his name, she continued her story without skipping a beat.
She told me that her boyfriend had two children Bobbie *, 8 years old and John *, 6 years old. Bobbie * and John * had lived with their biological mother all their life. However, 2 months ago, their mother lost a very quick battle with breast cancer and the boys were taken from their home in LA and shipped off to San Bernardino, a county in the middle of the desert about 50 miles east of LA, to live with an elderly aunt. The aunt La Quinta * was about 80 years old and didn’t have great mobility and was less than pleased to have inherited the two little ones.
Stella * takes the boys every other weekend to do something fun. When she had taken the boys that past weekend, they broke into tears. They said that they missed their parents. Since their mother died, the boys had been asking her if they could go see their dad. Because of the family’s financial situation, the boys hadn’t seen him in over 4 years. Stella * pleaded with me asking if there was anything I could do for her?
Just then the most miraculous thing happened; I found an application from her boyfriend!! Our bus coordinator had contacted the family and La Quinta * said that she wasn’t interested in the program. However, I told Stella * if she could convince La Quinta * to let the boys be escorted by her on that day, this could work. Stella * immediately started to cry and said that I had been a gift sent down from heaven. I told her not to get too excited because we had a long road ahead.
When we first got a hold of La Quinta *, she said that she wasn’t interested in letting the boys go. With about two weeks left until the trip, I thought this was definitely going to be a no go. However, after much smooth talking from Stella *, Karen and I, she decided to let the boys go with Stella *. All of the paperwork was in and I was expecting that this was a done deal until I got another call from Stella * about 3 days before the trip. She said that she didn’t have a photo id. This was a major curve ball, as you need to have a valid photo id to get into the prison.
Stella * and I both spent hours on the phone with the prison trying to find a way to make this work. The day before the visit, we found out that it just wasn’t going to. Depressed and distraught, Stella * pleaded for me to make this trip work for the two little boys. I remember making a desperate call to Karen about the situation. Karen drove out to San Bernardino and got more paperwork signed so one of our volunteers could escort the two boys the next day. Without hesitation or sleep, Karen did it.
The next day the two boys got on the bus to see their dad for the first time in over 4 years. They had a wonderful visit and afterwards went to a local church in the SLO area to be welcomed. Everyone had the opportunity to share what the day was like for them. John * the youngest boy asked if Karen could come up to the microphone with him because he had something to say. John * got up to the microphone and then backed away because he was scared. He then whispered what he wanted to say to Karen. With a tear in her eye, Karen delivered his message, “John* wants everyone to know that today was a very special day for him because his dad got a chance to sign his cast so his dad is going to be with him for a long time.”
After the visit, Stella * called me and left me a 10 minute message saying how much it had meant to those little boys that we gave them the opportunity to see their father. They were now doing better in school and adjusting to life. It was still hard for them to cope with their mother’s death, but now knowing that their father was there to support them, made a big difference.
Stella * called me this Thursday just to update me on everything that was going on with her and the boys. Her voice reigned clearly over the phone. Without any introduction, I knew it was her when she said, “Maria, Happy 4th of July, Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Valentine’s Day, I’ve missed you.”
After last year’s chaos, she got her photo id and has been up to the prison with the boys two times since the GOTB trip. She jokingly said that on her last visit, she told the people at CMC not to mess with her because she “knows” people and then she pulled out her phone before putting it into a locker and said, “Look, I’ve got Maria on speed dial.” It wouldn’t be Stella * without some type of drama. A month ago she was in a car accident and is now at home recovering. She wanted me to know though that she will be fine by the time GOTB comes around and she was upset that this ruined her plans of being a bus coordinator this year. She told me that when the EMT pulled her out of the car, she said that she was crying and the EMT asked her if something was wrong and she replied, “I really wanted to be a bus coordinator for GOTB this year and now I can’t.” The boys are doing very well and are very appreciative to have their dad back in their life.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you and I would like to once again thank you all for supporting me. I still have a long way to go. GOTB is comprised of many stories and a lot of love. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day and love, if you would like to support children just like Bobbie* and John*, please make a donation toward this program. For this weekend, Joe and I will do the same. If you donate to me today or tomorrow, I will match your donation. GOTB was founded on the $5 and $10 dollar donations. There are instructions on the right hand side of this page of how to give. Thank you again for believing in me.
* Names have been changed to protect identities.
* Names have been changed to protect identities.