FORMER RESIDENT VISITS HER FIRST HOME AFTER 50 YEARS
My name is Judy Dunivant.
With no warning or preparation, on my 14th birthday, a woman arrived at my home and started putting my siblings in her car and driving off, one by one they were taken away with no explanation. There was only me, the oldest of my mother’s ten children, my sister one year younger and my baby brother, three months old. We three were driven together to a foster home in the next town. My parents were declared unfit and we were all taken to foster homes or adopted.
My mother was the town tramp and my father was the town drunk. I learned later that only three of the ten of us were my father’s children. After the third grade I was kept home from school to watch my siblings in our tiny three-bedroom home. From then on I had been abused in every way.
Between the abuses from our parents, my siblings and I struggled to stay alive by avoiding them the best we could. I stole food, when and what little I could find. I learned to kick in slates in the back of other peoples coal sheds to steal small amounts of coal to keep us warm in the winter.
When I was left at the foster home I snuck out every night and walked the streets trying to find my old home, hoping my siblings were there. I don’t know how many times I tried before I finally found my home. I sat on the floor of that cold wet basement where I used to hide us and cried my heart out. I was so lost.
When I got back to the foster home I swallowed a drink of poison for every reason I wanted to die. When I found I was not dying I took all the pills in the medicine cabinet. I woke in the hospital and decided that even God did not want me, but I refused to live, I would not eat or talk.
My aunt learned of Children’s Aid Society, one of the past names for The Children’s Campus, and sent my sister and me there.
I don’t know how they went about it or how long it took, but the people who worked there finally got through to me. I know it took a long time; I would run away and hide in the ravine to quiet the screams I could hear in my head. I wanted nothing more than to be left alone.
I was never a kid and all I knew how to do was take care of kids. Mr. Pollitt, the director at that time, saw what I needed and entrusted me to babysit his children. I found a place I could fit in. I was needed and valued and even paid. Mr. Pollitt treated me like I was one of his own children. I felt like I had a real father and got to see how a father should protect his children and not harm them.
My house mother Mrs. Gertner was disabled but she managed to get down that hall to my bedroom and sit with me when I would scream out in my sleep. She showed me love and support. I learned I didn’t need to hide my clothes for a quick get away, or steal food for anyone. I could cry and not be beaten for it.
Slowly, I began to speak and eat. They redirected me towards positive and healthy thinking. I learned from the staff that there were wounded children all around. But we were not throw-aways; we were not trash.
When I graduated Mishawaka High School in 1960 I had to leave Children’s Aid Society. I had heard news in the late 1970s that there was a fire and I assumed the home had closed. I longed to return, I was so home sick for a place that did not exist.
As luck would have it, I found out The Children’s Campus was still here from a waitress who used to live in Mishawaka. I wrote to see if I could visit and was welcomed home like I was a celebrity!
The Children’s Campus has changed since I left 51 years ago. I was sad to see how much it changed until I learned how they now treat the whole family or a specific dysfunction. Had my parents gotten help we may very well have ended up a family again.
I started out with no desire for life but this institution, made possible because of the community’s generosity, showed me how to thrive and the result is a person who grew to give life and education to two children. I owe Children’s Campus my life, my children’s life and their child’s life; this will go on and on. Because of the little old ladies in 1882, the founders of this institution more than 130 years ago, who saw a need in a handful of orphaned children. Those compassionate woman gathered together their resources and all the resources they could find to make sure no child would be forgotten.
John Whitehead wrote “Children are the living messages sent to a time we will not see.” Well, here I am; you get to see me. I made it. Had I not been given self worth from the Children Aid Society, I would not be here.