Orphanages are not cruel institutions as so many people think. It is a home where children have opportunities to be loved and given care so they can grow up into wonderful, healthy individuals. I think of all the lives that could have been saved if more orphanages were still available.
Not all children love to live in an orphanage, because they do miss their home and dream about having their own someday. No matter how wonderful a place, it takes right much for a child to adjust to a new life away from where she felt secure and, most of the time, loved. However, with love and understanding, it soon becomes a home.
One little boy at Thompson Orphanage, Howard, was so traumatized it caused serious problems in his life. The day he and his brother went to the orphanage, two men in black escorted his father with the boys to the home. Howard told me he cried and screamed for his father not to leave. What he didn’t know was that the two men in black were taking his father to federal prison.
Howard grew up thinking he was abandoned because no one thought it necessary to explain that he was there because he was loved and his father wanted to make sure he could get the opportunity to grow up with an education and a chance to make something out of his life.
My belief is that a very large mistake was made when the powers that be decided orphanages were damaging to a child. Being without a family is damaging, but having a place to grow up and not be shifted from one home to another is very healing.
It is true that some children can’t accept institutional life, but there are those who thrive, feel safe and secure. I have talked to many foster children and most of them tell me that they never felt like they belonged, regardless how nice the foster parent was to them.
Thompson did a wonderful job but was very unfair in some cases. Six of the high school-age girls decided they would slip out one New Year’s Eve and go see a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movie. Three of the girls got caught before the other three could get downstairs.
None of them ever dreamt that this meant being kicked out of their home. Two of the three girls punished this way literally did not have a safe place to go. These girls should have been restricted by not being allowed to go off the campus for a couple of weeks.
However, due to the things we were taught, the girls who did have to leave had the determination to not give up, finish school and end up well. None of their children had to go to an orphanage or foster care.
At first I hated being away from home and wrote letters to my mother and put them in my dresser drawer. I would not mail them because I realized mother was very ill and didn’t have a choice. When my brother and sister-in-law visited, I let him know my feelings. I told him not to tell my mother, but he did. She wrote me, “Stella, honey, I guess you will always be miserable like me.”
It was at that moment, that I realized I had a choice. I said to myself, “Stella, no you won’t, if you straighten up you have a chance to make something of yourself.” I always had dreams about what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I realized I had a choice, I stopped resenting my housemother and anyone in charge. I started looking at all the good around me. I learned to love the place and everyone in it.
There are so many needs, many different programs must be put in place to help the lost, lonely, abused and abandoned child. I am only saying, do not disregard the importance of orphanages.
Stella Batson grew up at Thompson Orphanage in Charlotte, North Carolina. A longtime secretary who later worked for the U.S. Postal Service, she collected the stories of other people at her orphanage in a self-published book.