A Basketball Lesson
I was angry. Angry at the social worker who dropped him off in khaki pants that wouldn’t button around his waist and a polo shirt that fit more like a dress. Angry at the people who donated a duffle bag (labeled for “Boy - Size 10”) with a travel toothbrush, discount toothpaste, women’s deodorant, and stained clothing. Angry at a system that forced a ten-year-old boy to bounce from stranger to stranger…from group home to group home. Angry at the helplessness I felt. I was incredibly angry, but I wasn’t angry with him.
Mr. Basketball arrived at my home with a nearly empty duffle bag and earned his nickname quickly because of his passion for the sport. All evening, he told us about his favorite teams and players and impressed us with the stats he had memorized. The next morning, as we waited for his social worker to arrive, I noticed his duffle bag was bursting at the seams. When I asked to take a look, he reluctantly agreed. Inside, I found half a dozen Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and three sets of Legos, all of which belonged to my seven-year-old son. Mr. Basketball lowered his head and averted his eyes.
When he looked up, I explained that I couldn’t let him take someone else’s belongings. However, I promised him that I would do my best to get him everything he needed and maybe even a few things he wanted…a basketball? Legos? Diary of a Wimpy Kid books? I asked him if he would help me make a list. Without meeting my gaze, he asked for the first thing that came to his mind. In the most vulnerable and sincere tone I’d ever heard, he whispered: “Can I please come back here tonight?”
I offered this young man a virtual blank check, and he requested something money couldn’t buy.
Mr. Basketball had been placed in my home for 24 hours to keep him out of a group home where he’d be living with young men four to eight years older than him. Our home was already over capacity, but the county agency had granted a special limited waiver due to a critical shortage of foster homes. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to grant his request. We had only been able to delay the inevitable, and Mr. Basketball was placed in the group home that night.
I wish Mr. Basketball’s story was an anomaly. I wish he was the only child I knew whose needs weren’t met. Instead, he is one of dozens. For every child we were able to welcome into our family, four or five children were left waiting without a home.
Mr. Basketball taught me a lesson that I’ll never forget: a safe and loving home is the best gift we can give to a child in need. It’s what they want more than anything else.
This Christmas, will you consider the role you could play in providing safe, loving homes for children in foster care? Maybe you feel an undeniable tug to learn more about becoming a foster parent. Or maybe you can offer support to a foster family. You could leverage your skills and talents to bring more awareness to the issues surrounding children in foster care or invest your financial resources in the mission to provide a loving home for every child in foster care. Everyone can do something to care for vulnerable children. What gift will you give?
Let’s work together to make sure children like Mr. Basketball
always have a safe, loving home and a community of people who care.