Monday, August 1, 2011

A Lesson in Hope - By Allyson Holminski

It was 1982.  I had just graduated from college in Los Angeles and moved back up north to San Francisco.  At that time, there was an outfit in SF called the Volunteer Bureau - if you wanted to volunteer, you called them and gave them your parameters, and they put you in touch with a needy organization that could use your time and talents.  "I would prefer to work with children, or maybe the elderly, and would like something face to face - not a hotline situation please..."

And thus began what has been a nearly 30 year relationship with Family House.
Back then, the house on Irving was the only facility - there was no 10th Avenue location, and the Annex in the hospital was just a glimmer in the mind of the fabulous Dr. Ablin.  The basement in Irving Street was not built out yet - it was kind of a dark and dank place, with a washing machine and scary shadows.  And when that basement went through its first improvement, what is now offices was a playroom with toys and games (mostly donated) and books (also donated, some rather dog-eared).

There was no Volunteer Coordinator back then - the House Manager (Meg, I think it was?) lived in a little apartment over the garage, and her domain included finding people who could volunteer and scheduling their time.  I went to Family House once a week, on Wednesday nights.  My job was to help families who arrived at night get checked in, show them around, and answer their questions.  If no families were arriving that night, my job (although I never really saw it as "work") was to play with kids, talk (or listen) to the parents, and just generally hang around and try to make people more comfortable.  I LOVED it!

I really felt connected when I encountered the same family on multiple nights.  Probably the most stunning example is Mac and Adam, from a small town in Idaho.  Adam was a precocious 11 year old with a brain tumor.  His father, Mac, brought him to SF for treatment, and then back again and again for follow up sessions.  At some point, Adam required months of chemo or radiation, and Mac and Adam stayed at FH for months on end.  Adam's mom stayed behind in Idaho with Adam's sibling(s).  I could always gauge how Adam was doing by the look on Mac's face when I walked in the door.

What has stuck with me all these years about Adam was his upbeat attitude, even when things weren't going as well as he wanted.  One time, he was talking to me about school.  He had missed quite a bit of school because of his trips to SF; even when he was home, sometimes school just wasn't in the cards.  "I just REALLY REALLY hope that I can go into 6th grade.  I REALLY don't want to have to repeat 5th grade....  I HOPE so much that I can move on...."  And then he became a bit wistful...  "But then, that's really all we can do is hope...."  And with that, he turned and continued playing with whatever had been occupying his attention before we began to chat.

WOW!  Really??!  How old are you??  From the mouths of babes and all that.
I think about Adam and Mac sometimes and wonder how Adam is.  That cherub-faced little boy would be about 40 now!  I wonder if his body continued to cooperate with his treatments and wishes.  I wonder if he found love and married.  Did he have children (a concern of Mac's, due to all the treatment he had to endure...)?

Those two people probably have NO idea the perspective they brought to my life, and that I still think of them.  I really REALLY hope that they are both still out there, enjoying life and each other.  But then, that's really all we can do is hope, right Adam?

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