catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 17 :: 2005.09.23 — 2005.10.06


Another thing we ought to be doing

Thirteen-year-old Becky has this to say about the community she lives in:

Hope Meadows saved my life. I came here and met my [adoptive] mom, who has really been an inspiration in my life. I would probably be down at the corner smoking dope and shooting drugs in my veins if it wasn?t for her. I would probably be a prostitute today if it wasn?t for her. My birth mother was leading me in the wrong direction. She was not showing me the right way. My mother now is showing me the road to success.

I?d like to be able to say that this is part of a story of how faith can turn your life around. I?d like to be able to say that Christian support for adoption as an alternative to abortion provided the vision for the community this little girl is a part of. I?d like to be able to say that Wes Smith?s Hope Meadows is an excellent example of the difference Christians can make in the world through compassion, caring, and community. I?d like to be able to say that Hope Meadows describes how Christians are offering a brilliant solution to the problem of abandoned, abused, and neglected children, and offering a blueprint of how welfare might be fixed. The problem is, it isn?t really a Christian program.

Sociologist Brenda Eheart, frustrated over the continual failure of Illinois?s child protection system to offer a secure home to difficult children, developed a vision for an intergenerational support community, lobbied, got funds, and purchased a section of an abandoned air force base, and built the community of Hope Meadows.

Here?s how it works. Families interested in offering foster care or adoption apply to the program. If accepted, they are given the opportunity to buy a low cost home in the community. If one parent elects to stay home with young children, the community provides a subsidy. At the same time, senior citizens (many of whom struggle with fixed incomes and grief over the loss of a loved one) can also apply for a $300 a month apartment. The seniors have to agree to put in a certain number of community service hours each week acting as grandparents to the kids. Finally, Illinois?s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) provides children who have been taken away from families that are so broken they are unrecognizable as families. These children have been burned and cut by their parents, starved and sexually abused, ignored and neglected. Hope Meadows gives them all a home, manages to help kids who have come out of abuse, neglect, and poverty to heal and regain their childhoods, and gives seniors a reason to be alive.

Chicago Tribune reporter Wes Smith interviews parents, grandparents and kids and provides an interesting series of perspectives. The stories are heartwarming in the genuine non-Chicken-soup-for-the-Soul sense of the word, inspiring (to the extent that I found myself seriously considering quitting my present job and moving to central Illinois in order to apply to be a part of it), and moving (I am a macho guy and I got the sniffles at one point). The community is not perfect, and Hope Meadows has had some difficulties, but by and large it seems to be working?a community that cares for itself.

One of the adoptive parents, named Elsa, puts it this way.

When I lived in a condo, I didn?t even know my neighbors? names. I?d ride up the elevator with them and we didn?t speak. It is so different here. I do feel like I am part of a community now?. A few days ago we went to a social skills group for five through seven year olds at the Intergenerational Center?. I was sitting there talking about it to [my daughter] Katara and her friends, Shannon and Elizabeth, when Steven ran into something and cut his leg. He had this big scratch and it was starting to swell. Katara ran up to him and said, ?I?ll take you home and take care of you, Steven.? She started walking him down the street, holding his hand. Marisa ran up and grabbed his other hand and I thought, ?This is one of those moments when it is all worthwhile.?

There are stories here about senior citizens who, after losing a spouse, were sliding into depression, came to Hope Meadows, and found out that they could be not only vital, but useful. There are stories of children ignored by drug-addicted parents, rejected by foster parents unable to deal with the childrens? emotional acting out, who found a home and eventually a way to trust again. The community doesn?t come across as a perfect Pleasantville of fifties era nuclear families, but it does seem to be a family of broken people who care for each other?seniors making meals for working families, kids checking up on sick seniors, parents taking turns babysitting each other?s children. Listen, you need to read this book. I?m serious.

And, as I said in the beginning, the only sad part of this otherwise encouraging book is that this solution is so obvious to Christians, and yet it was not Christians who came up with it. Some of the families in the book speak of their Christian faith, but the founding of the place and the vision are separate from our Christian world. North American Christians ought to be the ones with the vision for community, but instead we tend to wallow in narcissism, individualism, and materialism, just like everybody else. For me, this book was not so much an uplifting story that gives me hope for the future (I already had that) as it was a kick in the pants reminding me that we Christians have got work to do, and we?d better get off our collective butts and get going.

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