I continued to rake and fill bags with leaves. I noticed him standing up and walking toward my garden. He walked over to me and asked if I needed help. I explained to him that these were volunteer gardens, and "yes", any help would be appreciated. He picked up the extra rake and began to work beside me raking leaves and filling bags. He was a handsome black teenager who appeared to be no more than 16.
As we worked, I found out that his name was Eric. I asked how he found his way here. He told me that he was 16 years old and a grown man now. His mother was a drug addict, and his father had left when he was a baby. He has been raised by his grandfather who had been a great role model. But his grandfather had died recently, leaving him with his new girlfriend who had children of her own. He was unhappy with how he had been treated since his grandfather died. So, this very morning, he (a full-grown man) had left home.
Through tearful eyes he told me that he was an honor student at a local high school. So, I asked, "Do you have a place to sleep tonight?" The answer was "no". "Do you have any other family in
Well, I knew there were many "projects" in
As I glanced at him sitting in my car, I thought about my own son--now 20. I thought about how his first years at college had been so hard. I thought about how but for the kindness of a stranger I might have lost him. My son had an apartment at 13th and Chestnut Streets. One night at (typical student hours) my son set off on his bike to see a friend in
Eric did find his glasses in lost and found. And from a search online I found his sister's application for city housing. She was living in
When we finally located his sister's building, my heart sank. The look on Eric's face said it all. He was petrified by what he saw. Here was a sheltered 16 year old who was nurtured by a loving grandfather in West Philadelphia near City Avenue, and his guide was a country girl transplanted to the suburbs transplanted to the city who was completely out of her element. At this point, I pulled the car over and asked Eric what he wanted to do. If he wished to stay here, I would wait with him, and if he wanted to leave I would bring him home with me. He and I both breathed a sigh of relief as we left the area for home.
So now what? It was now on a Saturday night, and I was searching for this child's next best step. If I did not succeed in helping him, he could end up on the street and become like the unfortunate people we had seen earlier that day -- high, hungry, and homeless.
A friend recommended that I call Covenant House. They were wonderful, kind, and caring. After a conversation with Eric on the phone, they determined that they could help him. They would even provide him with daily bus transportation to his high school to finish his senior year. So, at that evening, I was hugging Eric good bye as he was thanking me. He looked peaceful.
I called Covenant House several times to see how he was, but he never returned my calls.
I believe that sometimes people come into our lives when we need them. Sometimes we never see or hear from them again--like the stranger who helped my son. And that's really OK. What is important is that we can feel good about the choices we made.
Pamela Sodi lives, gardens and writes in West Philadelphia.