Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

 
James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning


My Extended Family

Dorace (Salyer) D'Alessandro


A few months ago, I made a trip to Albany, N.Y., with my former boss who had been appointed by the governor to serve as a member of state commission on Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention and the commission on the foster care system. During the course of our conversation, she asked me what I thought about “orphanages.” Although she and I had become good friends in the years we worked together, I had never told her that I was raised in an “orphanage.” Before I could express my thoughts on foster care vs. children’s homes, she told me she felt children’s homes served children and their families far better than the foster care system. I agreed!

In telling her “my story,” I realized how very much the contacts I retained with some of the kids and houseparents I lived with meant to me. These people remain my “family.” I can never forget the many families who supported us financially, entertained us and became, in many instances my extended family.

In my current position as office manager for a state (elected) official, I am constantly confronted with problems experienced by families who have children in the foster care system as well as children who might be better off living in a children’s home. There seems to be so many disturbed young people today—perhaps it is that there are more children in the world than when I was growing up, but young children need a stable environment to thrive and I feel that is lacking in the present system. Children’s homes fill a valuable need in our society, whether the child is placed there on a temporary or permanent basis. Many of the children I grew up with at the Baptist Home, were there a few months or a few years. Others of us spent our entire childhood living at the Baptist Home.

Last year, a call came into the office from a young mother who was extremely distressed about her situation. She was on welfare, had three young children, and was expecting a fourth. Prior experience has taught me that I cannot allow myself to get personally involved in these situations because many of the people who call the office only want more. They whine, they curse and they blame everyone for their problems but themselves. But, something about this young lady made me think she might be different! She wanted to change her life. She was not whining, and she did not blame the system or the people who support the system. I have worked with her for almost a year now and, although she has the new baby to contend with, on her own she found a Christian school that was willing to give her two oldest children a scholarship. She enrolled in school and recently took the GED test. She has secured a job interview and is looking forward to leaving the welfare system in a few months.

When my son was in high school, we experienced a serious problem with him. Although extremely bright, he did not want to sit in a classroom with disruptive students and he refused to attend class. I spent so much time in the principal’s office that I was becoming a part of the school. I was so impressed by the principal’s passion for helping the troubled young people that I coerced my employer to secure sources of additional funding for the school and I worked with him to achieve positive recognition and to effect changes in school policy. In fact, the principal was recognized by Readers Digest last Spring for his work in turning around this troubled school. And, I was honored at the annual awards ceremony for “service above and beyond.”

Also, I am a board member of an arts council that sponsors new and aspiring local talent. This organization has worked with students at the aforementioned high school on various projects in an effort to make these young people aware of the value of volunteer efforts. I am an active supporter of a children’s home and support its endeavors to make life better for their children.

Why am I “tooting my own horn,” so to speak, when this is supposed to be “my story” about living in the Baptist Home? Well, I have given months of thought to “my story,” and this is a continuation of my earlier years at the Baptist Home when the value of caring for others was instilled in my being.

I entered the Baptist Orphan’s Home with my older brother and younger sister on June 22, 1948. I left after graduating from high school in 1962. The time I spent growing up at the Baptist Home and the lessons I learned about giving and sharing remain strongly imbedded in me. In addition to the many valuable talents and skills I was taught that have enabled me to survive in adulthood, I learned to be responsible for my actions and that I am responsible for others.

Do I have memories of bad times? Of course, I do! The time I was punished for stealing Connie Tedder’s unmentionables; the time(s) I was grounded for not achieving in school; the time I was physically punished for hiding my un-ironed clothes under the bed, in the closet and in my dresser drawers. Weekends spent alone when members of my family did not visit were the worst times for me. The most embarrassing memory I have is of a physical, knock-down, bloody fight I had with Sharon when we were teen-agers. Sharon and I were close friends and I don’t even remember why we fought—but I do remember that we both had to go to school the next day with Mercurochrome on every little scratch and cut on our bodies and faces! I wonder if anyone had any idea of what had happened!

It’s true that as we grow older, we reflect on our youth and the things we did, the things we wished we had done, or wished we hadn’t done. I used to think I had it so bad without a real home and family and all the exciting opportunities I heard others talking about. In reality, I did have all those things and all those opportunities.

There are times, though, that I wish I could tell the Mace and Wells families of Purcell, the Davis, Chamberlain, Bauman and Carruthers families of Lindsay (to name a few) how much their kindness meant to me. My life has been greatly influenced by their examples of generosity and kindness.

Mrs. Huffman, my housemother, would be pleased to know that I am an excellent cook—I can make dinner rolls from scratch, I can pluck and cut up a chicken, I make delicious biscuits and gravy. I am a skilled seamstress and for many years made all my daughter’s dresses and coats (Mrs. Selvy would be so proud of my “blind” stitch!!), but the most valuable lesson I learned is that of sharing with others.

Yes, I have gone through some difficult times in my life, but everyone ought to have to face some adversity in their life—it builds character and makes a person stronger and more interesting.

Words that have meant much to me: “Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you.”

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