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“Youth Estate,” said the sign over the entranceway. It had been almost 20 years since I had entered this orphanage's gates. I had come out to the Boy's Estate back in the 1980s to help them install several wood burning stoves in the dormitories so the children could have heat for the winter. About a year later, I heard that the orphanage had closed its doors.
Judy and I were coming out to see a friend of hers, also named Judy, who hoped I would become a surrogate parent to one of the boys now living at the home. As we walked around the grounds I noticed that the 100-year-old orphanage had really lost it luster.
When we entered the old gymnasium building, I could hardly believe that the temperature was over 100 degrees. The old air conditioner had given out many years ago and there just weren’t enough funds to have it replaced or repaired. Still, the boys were playing basketball as if they had no cares in the world. As we stepped back out into the 98-degree weather, it almost felt cool to me.
"Roger, this is Bill, the young man I told you about," said Judy Floyd.
"Hi, my name is Bill," said the young man holding out his 14-year-old hand.
"Roger," I said as I reached out to shake his hand.
I was rather surprised when I took his hand. It was like shaking a rubber glove full of pudding. There was absolutely no firmness to his handshake whatsoever.
"Thank you for coming to visit my home," said the young boy.
"Well, I am very glad to be here," I replied.
“Miss Judy, can we show them our kitchen and where we eat our food?” Bill asked.
"Maybe some other time," said Judy.
He smiled and then turned to walk away. I watched him as he slowly, with shoulders and head down, disappeared around the corner of the building. I knew very well what the young man wanted to show me. He wanted me to see the only thing he truly owned - the chair where he ate his meals. That too was the only thing I ever had that I could call my own when I lived in an orphanage.
“That is one of the nicest kids I have ever known,” Judy said to my wife. “He has absolutely no one on the face of this earth, except himself.”
I excused myself and walked into the bathroom. I locked the door behind me and bent forward on the sink. For about a minute, I slowly looked at every wrinkle and sag on my face. I could not help but notice that it was still the face of that same unhappy little boy that I knew in the orphanage almost 45 years.
"Roger, I don't know if you can do this again," I thought.
I took my right hand into my left hand and shook it one good time. It was a bit firmer than that of young Bill's, but still it lacked the feeling of being the hand of someone who felt they were worth loving. Biting my lip, I stared deep into my eyes.
"Let's go save that boy," I said out loud.
From out of nowhere came this great big wonderful smile.
Judy and I left the Children's Home that day with a new mission in life. Let there be no doubt that when we save a child, we may also save ourselves.