Alumni News: Bruno!

We are very proud to post the latest email and video from Bruno Dos Santos.  Bruno emigrated from Brazil as a youngster, but when he was 16, his mother returned to Brazil, leaving Bruno in Nashua.  That event created the avenue that brought Bruno to Nashua Children’s Home, then to our Transitional Living Program as a young man and eventually to the very productive adult life described below:

Hi David,

I hope you are doing well! I miss you Guys! Brian, his wife, you, Paul, Tara, Lee, Steve(maint guy), Scott, Liz, tell all of them I say hi!

I wanted to let you know that I graduated the past couple weeks with two different degrees (double Bachelors) Highest Honors “Summa Cum Laude”:

First: Information technology with concentration in artificial intelligence in robotics.

Second: Electric technology engineering.

No time to take a break I already signed up to pursue a MBA in IT management.  I wanted to let you know since you guys are my family and I like you guys very much. I also got married last year I added the link and some photos below. I wish you guys were there on all 3 events but didn’t want to bother you guys with it.  one day I will stop to catch up! A very special thanks to you for not giving up on me and believing in me when I needed it the most!  I also like to thank Lea Reilly for helping me finish High School and helping with college searching, she opened my eyes to more opportunities and made me realize that I needed to work hard in order to pursue my career in college. I love you guys!  You are the best!”

Bruno’s Wedding Video

Alumni Visit

dick chapmanOn August 30, the first day of school at Nashua Children’s Home, we were visited by Dick & Doris Chapman of Sanford, Maine, who were in the area for the day and took the opportunity to drop by.

Mr. Chapman’s mother had died in childbirth with him, and his father, a shoe worker, was not satisfied with his care in a local foster home.  He was brought here to 125 Amherst Street, then the Nashua Protestant Orphanage Association, as a two-year-old in 1937.  Mr. Chapman’s father later was killed in an accident.  Mr. Chapman remained at the Protestant Orphanage, one of three Nashua orphanages operating at the time, until he was twelve years old when he went to live with his grandparents.

Mr. & Mrs. Chapman toured the facility, with Mr. Chapman remembering the location of different aspects of the building.  We still retain three journals of hand-written admission records of youngsters placed here beginning with the founding of the Orphanage in 1903 through the later 1930s.  Mr. Chapman’s record, to his delight, was contained within the last journal.  His was the very last entry, which we copied for him.

Mr. & Mrs. Chapman left here for their drive back to Maine very pleased that they stopped in, and we were equally pleased to have hosted their visit.

A Long Journey Home for Oscar Villacis

Oscar outside the place he credits with "saving him", the Nashua Children's Home

By Carol Robidoux

Reprinted with permission from NashuaPatch.com

 

As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, Oscar Vallacis felt he always had something to prove.  Bullies reminded him daily that he wasn’t the biggest, toughest kid in town.  Drug dealers recruited him to deliver packages he was afraid to open, by bicycle, across town.

His next-door neighbor, a kid just like him, lost his mom most days to crack; a kid who was bullied more than Villacis.

“One day I saw this bike laying on the ground and a bunch of kids beating him up nearby.  I knew it was up to me, so I grabbed something, hit one of the kids  and chased them away,” Villacis said.

Of course, that only refocused the target on his own back and made his problems worse.  So when his mom annouced they were moving to Nashua, a place just named “the greatest place to live,” he was overjoyed.  He was 11 when they left NY and happy toget away from the bullies, but he soon found out they persist everywhere, even the greatest plasce on earth.

In lieu of a growth spurt, Villacis flexed some adolescent muscle to live up to the reputation- although unwarrented- that he carried to NH as a street-smart kid from Brooklyn.  “I wasn’t a tough guy.  Before coming to Nashua, I mostly stayed inside playing video games, afraid to be outside becasue of the bullies and crack dealers.” Villacis said.

“Looking back now, I just needed some attention, but at the time I made bad choices ,” Villacis said,  Hormones compounded by family strife led him down a one-way path to trouble.  One day, when a bully called him “shorty” in front of some other kids, he didn’t hold back.  “I punched him, right then and there.  The next day the police came looking for me.”

He was 13, and in and out of trouble after that; by 15, he was incarcerated at the Youth Detention Services Unit in Concord, spending his fifteenth birthday there.  Eventually he moved to a center in Rochester.  “After a while, my mom just wanted me to come home, but by then the system had me,” Villacis said.

His lucky break came when there was an opening at Nashua Children’s Home, which provides care and couseling for at-risk youth.

“I have to say that NCH saved me.  It was the right place for me.  The other places were jail, plain and simple.  NCH was a home away from home.  It was a warm staff and they really changed my life around for the better.  They are the reason I am who I am today.  When you put a young adult into the system who’s acting out, what they need is healing.  A jail cell might tame them, but once you let them out, they will act out again.  You keep doing that consistently without the healing , and that person will never get out of the system,” said Villacis, sounding wise beyond his 25 years.

Once he aged out of NCH, he limped along on his own.  Finding himself on the edge of trouble again, he returned to NCH for advice.  His counselor told him plainly, it was time to stop messing up.  “I finally woke up.  My counselor told me that the next time he saw me would be because he I was going to jail.  I knew it was time for me to get it right,” Villacis said.

He made connections within the Latino community and was inspired by start-up business projects, including streetwear enterprise DeFamNation.

Next, he followed his heart to Germany after falling in love with an au pair.  He bussed tables until he found a job working for an international school in need of a native English speaker.  “I was really blessed by that whole experience.  I didn’t speak German and the kids didn’t speak English, but we taught each other.  It was a fantastic experience,” Villacis said- but one that soon ended when he got word that his grandfather in Ecuador had died.

After attending the funeral, he was struck by home much he missed his family, particularly his mom in Nashua.  “I could have stayed in Germany and had a different life, but at that point, I knew it was time to come home to Nashua.  My family is everything to me.  Working with the kids and growing up a little along the way helped me focus on what I really wanted to do,” said Villacis.

Now, he has a good job with Apple Inc., and dabbles with fashiion design on the side.  He is currently in the dream stage of opening a community center downtown called Untouched Talent, a place where kids can explore the arts and develop inner talent that otherwise might never surface.

He’s making connections throuhg the city’s Arts Commission and Visualize Nashua, two avenues that might bring his dream closer to reality.

His vision includes hands-on arts experience, lining up mentors from different art disciplines to teach kids new skills.  He envisions a series of kid-centric events all with the goal of establishing scholarship funds to help aspiring artists pursue their talents through higher education.

“I keep thinking if I had a place like this, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten myself into as much trouble,” said Villacis, who says he sees his little brother, 11-year old George, as the perfect example of the kind of kid who could use a place like Untouched Talent.

For now, he will continue to do what he does best; follow his heart.

“I know that everything I’ve been through has led me back to this place.  I love living on Main Street, and being part of what’s happening every day.  This is my dream, and I’m going to make it happen.  It’s going to take some time, but I feel ready now to make a difference, to give something back.”

Oscar with his younger brother George and their mom, Fanny, at his mother's home in Nashua.

Orphanage Memories

Having served as home for scores of children for over a century, we sometimes receive communications from alumni that are particularly compelling. Following is the text of one such e-mail received earlier this Spring:

You don’t know me but – I used to live at the orphanage on 125 Amherst St. Of course it was called the Protestant Home for Children back then.

Hi

My name is Fred J. Blake, a.k.a. Frederick E. N. Gilchrist. I entered the home on Feb 2, 1965 and left on Aug 19th, 1969. My sister Dora was there as well.

I remember we had 12 boys on one side and 12 girls on the other in the upstairs dormitories. I remember my first day and I was given the bottom bunk and two card board boxes to put my stuff in. I was very scared but had to act brave in the eyes of my sister. I remember we always lined up according to age when ever we did things and we always had chores that lasted for 30 days before moving on to the next chore. Fridays was fish day. I always ate with one arm curled around my plate in order to protect my food from being stolen from the other boys. I remember our study hall room on one side downstairs and the play room with the storage bins (we called them tilts). Mine was the very first one as you enter the room. All the light switches were push button. I remember the phone was all black and rotary. It was very heavy and also hidden from all of us. I only got to see it one time. I remember helping Mr. Cogdon build the new merry-go-round…it looked like a flying saucer.

All of us couldn’t wait for the summer to come. This was a special time when many of the teachers from the Nashua school would come to the home and we would learn so much for the next 8 weeks. Each week we learned something new and by the end of the week we were traveling on a bus to visit the place we had learned about. We couldn’t wait until the last week because it was the time of our lives. We got to go down to Anthony’s Pier 4 for lunch and in the morning to a historical place – but the best part was the Boston Red Sox game.

I’m sorry to have bothered you. I am sitting in the Marriott Hotel room in Vienna, Austria and I’m about to retire from 31 years of Federal Service to our Government and was thinking about my life and all of the wonderful things that have happened to me to get me where I am today. If it hadn’t been for those wonderful teachers and my last Foster Home of James and Judy Blake, I don’t know what would have come of me.

Sometimes I wish that I could go back in time and revisit all of the people along the way that had such a profound impact on me. Unfortunately they have all passed away.

I took a look at the Nashua Children’s Home website and was hoping that your webmaster might have had a section of pictures from years gone by so that all the children past and present could look through them and remember when.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention… I am a U.S. Diplomatic Courier working for the Department of State for Madam Hillary Clinton. She is just the latest in a long string of Secretaries of State I have had the pleasure to have worked with. I have met hundreds of dignitaries from around the world.

So, you can tell all of your students that at least one kid made it out in this sometimes cruel world. I am truly a walking success story.

Thanks for your time.

Respectfully,

Fred J. Blake

U.S. Diplomatic Courier

American Consulate Frankfurt, Germany


Photos: TOP An adult Fred Blake

BOTTOM Fred (circled on right) and his sister Dora (circled on left) attending a holiday party for the home sometime in the late 1960’s.

Mark

Mark was placed at Nashua Children’s Home in 2005, less than two months before his 16th birthday. He was from Concord, wanted to return to Concord, and frankly, was a bit rambunctious for much of his placement at Nashua Children’s Home. He maintained a relationship with his mother, but reunifying with her was, and continues to be, unrealistic.

Most often, 16-year-olds transition to our Independent Living Home (IL) after a period of exceedingly positive behavior, which we use as an indication that they can manage a setting with less intensive supervision and more responsibility. While it’s not necessarily a “reward” to move to the IL setting, we do use it as a bit of a carrot for our youth. Mark, with his verbosity getting in the way, was never quite able to meet this threshold. At long last, we simply made the decision that Mark needed the IL setting, predicted that he would do well in this setting, and moved him. He excelled in the IL program, maintaining employment, doing well in school, and generally behaving himself.

When Mark turned 18 during his senior year at Nashua North, when he essentially had “aged-out” of the child-protective system, and was free to return to Concord to play his own way, he instead petitioned the Concord District Court to continue his placement at Nashua Children’s Home. Mark graduated in 2008, and then took up tenancy in our Transitional Living Home, while taking classes at Nashua Community College.

Like so many of us, the source of some of Mark’s problems, his “big mouth” (for lack of a better description) was also his greatest strength. Last August, Mark enrolled in the New England School of Communications in Bangor, Maine, and is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications. One of his projects was to produce a Public Service Announcement for Nashua Children’s Home

Now, home for the summer, Mark was in need of housing and a job, both tight markets in this area. We were able to offer Mark housing once again in our Transitional Living Program and have hired him on to assist our maintenance staff this summer

When the need for aging-out youth to have “permanency” is trumpeted, the continuing role played by Nashua Children’s Home is often downplayed. “Youth need someone,” the experts argue, “whom they can call if they have a flat tire at 2am.” Simply put, Mark would call the staff of Nashua Children’s Home, and would be appropriately confident that those counselors, with whom he continues to maintain relationships, would be there to help.

Bruno

Bruno, a young man of about 22 (or 24…we were never really sure of his age) came in to see me recently. Bruno was 15 years old when first placed at Nashua Children’s Home. His family had emigrated from Brazil, but his step-father rejected Bruno as his skin was “too dark” and he and Bruno’s mother moved back to Brazil, leaving Bruno to fend for himself in Nashua. He spoke very little English, had the support of a married sister, but lived where he could, and worked long hours at Market Basket to support himself, most of his earning going to a landlord who essentially took all of his money.

Bruno at first objected to his placement at Nashua Children’s Home as we would not allow him to work upwards of 40 hours per week. He had his troubles here, both within the program, at school, and in the community. Some run-ins with law enforcement jeopardized his immigration status and there was concern voiced around whether we should maintain our commitment to Bruno. His English improved, he played football at Nashua High, and eventually earned his high school diploma.

Bruno took up tenancy in our Transitional Living Program, generally did well there, and eventually moved out to his own apartment.

When he came in today, he had a number of baseball caps that he said he wanted to donate (predominantly Yankees hats; I pretended to throw them out the window). He then told me that he had been promoted at work, showed me his company picture-ID, and said, “I want to give you this as well,” and proceeded to take a wad of bills from his pocket, the first one being a $100 bill, and handed the wad to me. He said, “I told God that I wanted to give back, and I was going to give this to the church….but I’m giving it to you.” I peeled of a half-dozen hundred dollar bills, followed by a few of smaller denominations. All told, Bruno donated $654 to Nashua Children’s Home today; he gave back.

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