Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from The Henry and William Evans Home for Children!
Thank you! You have allowed us to share another year in the lives of extraordinary children. Whether your contribution came in the form of cash, services, goods, or your time, the following is a small testament to what has happened because of your patronage.
This will be my 18th Christmas at the Evans Home (thank you, Kirby!), and I’m amazed when I think of how much has changed … and not? My cue to begin thinking about summarizing the year isn’t just that it gets cold. It’s not that the days are shorter, or even the big turkey dinners with the usual and accumulating smiling suspects here and in the Jaccard house. For me, the reminder is that the office begins to fill with dolls! But that’s another part of the Evans Home story. This one is about the kids.
I had the most remarkable comment from someone the other day. She had been working hard to help coordinate giving to our home, volunteering her time and resources during this season when both are so scarce, and she asked, “Can you tell me how children come to you, and about the role the Evans Home plays in helping kids?” I was struck by the generosity of someone who would be so dedicated in offering support without the benefit of knowing how and why we truly appreciate it so deeply. I’d like to share an overview here, in case there are any others of you kind-hearted patrons who might not be sure of the magic you inspire.
So the short answer is that children come to our group home in two ways:
1) Most enter via Social Services, and have been removed from home because of severe and sustained physical and/or sexual abuse and neglect. Foster and adoptive families have been tried in most cases, and the children have bounced from home to home, not thriving in those environments (usually because of something called Reactive Attachment Disorder or loyalty related to parents), but in some cases is also because one or more of those placements actually wound up abusive as well. Many of our children have been in 10 or more families before coming here. I have been a foster parent, and I am an adoptive parent, so I’m not condemning that system at all, just that it didn’t work for our kids.
2) Some of our children are placed with us directly by parents who are homeless and have no safe way to care for them. This allows the parents to focus on improving their circumstances while their children can be safe and focus on school and kid stuff. They can visit any time, take them anywhere any time, and we make sure to include the whole families in our family celebrations, etc. It’s kind of like we’re a boarding school situation as needed.
Our children aren’t here because they’ve done anything wrong, which is often a misconception I run into in the community. They attend public schools, and they have to be 5 to 17 years old (school-aged) when they enter.
We have two sets of house parents who live here every other week with the kids and are the true heavy lifters in our home; both are amazing at being mom and dad to this crazy crew! Both have decades of experience working with at-risk children, both naturals at being able to love the children long before the kids begin to love them back. And it works. Not always, and never quite as we plan, but often and with heart-warming results. Maybe our children see this place differently to those other places, because no one here is the “guest.”
We are a forever family. One of our coolest things is our Lloyd House. This is a building we opened next door almost 10 years ago for former residents when they need some more help (even if it’s just a place to stay during college breaks). As far as I know it is the only one of its kind anywhere. With our permission, any of our former kids can move in there and stay as long as they need (with their kids if need be), as long as they work and pay $100 a month rent. They can also go to LFCC on scholarship. When they move out we give them all of their rent back!
This has been another busy year! We’ve had 15 children move in and 14 move out. Five graduated from Handley High School last year, and all 5 went straight into college! One has since decided to put education off for a time, but doing great. She’s working hard to save money and living in our Lloyd House with her peers. Our family has ranged in number between 6 and 16 children at a given time, currently 12.
The Handley High School Construction Class built us a storage building! Every school day last year 3 classes met instructor Jimmy Robertson, bedazzled with tool belts, work boots and hardhats, and walked from the bus stop at the bottom of the hill to the other side of the basketball court … and the result? A beautiful new 40 by 24 foot storage building! Almost all of the materials were donated for the structure, and the leftover funding necessary was raised by the Handley Interact Club! One of our own was on the crew, and I bet all those kids will be proud to come by and show folks what they accomplished in school for years to come.
Last December we celebrated 3 birthdays, plus the usual whirlwind of holiday parties, plays, gatherings and concerts designed to warm bodies and souls. A difficult season for our bunch to be sure, but thanks to a wonderful community we never have time to let the painful memories linger for too long. Former residents constantly tell me how Evans Home Christmases were the best they ever had … and the presents! Santa must take time to clean his reindeers’ hooves on our roof while his elves lightened his load… The children also threw their own party as always, inviting their favorite teachers and other special adults so they could thank them in their own special way.
In January one of our brother-sister acts drove to Richmond for a family funeral. Concerned his car wouldn’t make it, the 18-year-old brother asked if he could borrow the “new” one that had been donated to the home in December? Of course. Armed with housedad Mike’s GPS and every number we knew to give them, away they went. They made it to the funeral, and part of the way home. Confusing GPS messages to take every single westbound exit from I-95 with “stay north until you leave the Commonwealth,” our duo called in a panic after attempting a late-night u-turn over a tall curb somewhere in Maryland. Mike managed to find them in the wee hours of the morning, and he and Laura arranged for the car to be towed home to close friend Blaine’s auto hospital. Everyone was better after some TLC all the way around.
In February one of our boys went to Roanoke for his brother’s wedding! He was best man, and he was SO nervous. But he looked like a million bucks, practiced his speech with each of us about a million times, and came back with a million wonderful stories. Also that month all 5 of our seniors spent a day at Lord Fairfax Community College filling out FAFSA forms. We had two birthdays, and several Valentines activities, including a visiting magician and decorating cookies with college students!
In March one of our seniors made it to the state DECCA conference in Norfolk! Her presentation in the category of Hospitality Management won her top 10 honors (state-wide), and brought her within a pig’s hair or moving on to Nationals … Just as importantly, one of our middle-schoolers had artwork on display at the Spring Art Fair … (shorter) road trip!
April meant we had made it through the short days after the holidays (all of us, right?), and last year it also meant Senioritis times 5 in our house. To chip away at this ailment, one of our seniors went to an independent living conference in Richmond; another coordinated a “teen planning” intervention with all of the important people in her life; another finally got her driver’s license (!); and all of them scoped out their tuxes and gowns for prom. Spring Break brought Egg hunt(s), a family feast (as always), sugar overloading of all sorts (it is our way), and ended with backyard garden beautification. (But of course …?)
May started with Apple Blossom. As always, we DID the Bloom! From arm-band night at the carnival to Sunday in the park … crazy fun. We parked cars in our yard before Saturday’s parade for later summer vacation spending money, and Sheriff Lenny brought Doug Flutie by to say hello! Also in May was the actual Prom (our kids looked mahvelous), a birthday, a couple of picnics and our seniors’ last day of high school, ever.
In June we partied. Our graduation celebration was a catered affair with 40+ guests … the only ones missing were the houseparents! Mike and Winona had been invited to the wedding of a former resident in Florida that day, and scheduled their vacation so they could attend. This wouldn’t have been a conflict, but Handley’s graduation was changed, up by a week, late in the year. It turned out that they were the only family present of the bride… kind of important! So our party was planned, our kids were pumped, and then one of the seniors had an emergency appendectomy the night before the big day (sigh). But during the festivities he came and thanked everyone, looking just like Casper.
Also in June, I had an invitation I couldn’t refuse. One of our former girls invited me to come to her graduation in New Jersey … from Medical School! She has since “matched” in her field of choice, emergency medicine, and begun her residency in Louisiana.
In July we did lots of summer stuff … like fishing, sports, day camps, overnight camps, and a family outing to a Nationals Game! We finished the month by scheduling everyone’s work around vacations. Two of them: one to Virginia Beach, and another in a cabin on a river in West Virginia. All in all, some pretty wonderful childhood memories!
In August we said farewell to a dear adult member of our family. Frank Paige, Independent Living Coordinator, left us to join the administration at Skyline High School. How did we deal with the news? (We threw a party … it is our way) Franky was with us for over 15 years, and thanks to the fact that he visits often, we keep telling ourselves he hasn’t really left, he just isn’t here as often as he used to be. Also in August our Seniors walked down the gangway … or what seemed like the plank, eyes open, hopeful but terrified. One headed for Fredericksburg and Germanna Community College, one to ODU, and the rest right next door to the Lloyd House and LFCC! The rest of the crew got new haircuts, back-packs full of supplies, beautimous school clothes, and practiced waking up at 6:30 in the morning! I believe Brent started things off with a fire drill?
By September we were fully into the school swing. Up early, big breakfast, rooms cleaned, chores done, back-packs packed and out the door. Somebody forgot a science project? What about the field trip money? Whose calculator is this on the floor of the van? Wait, didn’t you wear that outfit yesterday? (I do not see how the house parents do it!) One of our girls got her driver’s license, the THIRD time she took the test, and we said goodbye to one of our long-timers … a 16 year old who had been with us since he was 8. The whole family went to breakfast at his favorite hangout, and waved bye as he pulled out with his new adoptive family. 30 minutes later, our phones began to ring. We wish him well and we miss him!
In October one of our boys, age 12, was playing in our field. He heard a woman cry out across the gravel lane and saw that she had collapsed in her yard. He ran to her and she asked him to get her daughter next door. So he flew over there and told her what was up. The daughter stayed inside and called 911 while our little guy flew back and stayed with our neighbor until help arrived to care for her. Needless to say, when we found out, he got the reception of a hero (ice cream). Also that month, we went to a very special party at Robert Duvall’s house! Then spooky decorations came out of hiding and scary outings were followed by what else … sugar overload.
We carved some very cool pumpkins and enjoyed fall treats like apple doughnuts and hot chocolate while watching scary movies. No trick-or-treating this year, our 7 year old hadn’t moved in yet!
November was time for an overnight trip to VCU for our current senior to try out her dream for next year. Kris took her, and they had such a good time that I think both of them want to apply! And then preparations for this year’s Holiday festivities began…
It is difficult to describe the profound privilege we adults in the Evans Home feel about the time we share in the lives of these children. They are our heroes. They inspire us by virtue of their perseverance, resilience, and their capacity for joy.
You are their patrons. Without your support, none of this would be possible.
On behalf of the adults and children and pets of the Evans Home, I thank you once again with all of our hearts, and I wish you the happiest of holidays and a wonderful New Year!