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Healing the Children

Reflections From a Host Parent

host familyHTCNJ welcomed two-year old Luis from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey to receive treatment for pediatric cataracts and for strabismus.   Host parent Jennifer Bonomo shares her experience.

When I was 14 growing up in a small town with five siblings, my parents hosted six-month old Mayra from Guatemala.  Mayra had a bilateral cleft palate and immediately bonded to me as I was the only dark-skinned, dark haired person in the household.  With her head full of black curls and her face flooded with big and sad brown eyes, she immediately became “mine”.  I cared for her since the first operation until her last and was there to wave her off when she went home.  I have never heard from or seen her again.

Ready to do this again? was my thought, 25 years later.  Only this time, I would be the host parent and have more responsibility.  I have a full time job, a part time job, a six-year old son and two rescue dogs.  I may not have enough room in my schedule, but I do have room in my heart and that in turn, makes room in everything else.

Luis, a visually impaired two-year old Dominican boy, came to stay with my family.  Of course, we got confused stares from people.  I was often ignored by mothers at the park because they thought I was the nanny.  Some were bold enough to congratulate me on adopting a child.  Kids would make innocent comments on his crossed eyes and parents would be quick to scold.  There would be gasps when Luis would run into a lamppost or a fence, then shake it off and run the other direction.

Your life is not the same, but not much different either.  You do get to see a child with a disability in a different perspective and realize that you will help this child to have a more promising and progressive life.  You will be part of that and gain satisfaction in knowing you were a component of a greater picture.

We humans are routine in nature and to think of a disruption, big or small, makes us panic.  Of course, Luis disrupted our daily lives, but not as great as I first thought.

When something adverse walks into your life, it is surprising to see how people who are around you on a daily basis suddenly offer their assistance.  We have lived in our apartment for over three years, and the maintenance men we passed through the hallways every day as they were mopping,  vacuuming or taking out the garbage were obsolete to us.  They didn’t know us and we didn’t know them.  When Luis came along, we suddenly became celebrities.  Well, Luis did.  We were his groupies.  We discovered that 90% of our maintenance and doormen are from the Dominican Republic and some of them are from his same town.  Suddenly, the entire complex knows who Luis is.  “Hi Luis.  Oh, and who are you?”

LluisLuis has forever touched our lives.  We will remember him, even though he won’t remember us.  We will remember his wide smiles, curiosity, the way he would ask for his glasses in the morning, his love for “pizza pizza” and “papitas” (French fries) and all the little, nonsensical things that we shouldn’t remember but do.

Who coined the phrase, diversity is the spice of life?  I don’t know, but it holds true.  At times, you add a little extra ingredient to make for a wholesome meal.  Louie was that little extra ingredient in my life.  Not enough to change the entire taste, but just enough to enhance it through a couple of bites.  Has it changed our lives?  No, not really.  He surely made an impact, but it was not life-changing like winning the lottery or surviving a near death experience.  What it DID do was broaden our outlook on things, make us appreciate ourselves and others a little more and render us unselfish ambassadors in a world where greed and self-interest seem to be acceptable realities of society.

This may seem like the premise of a bad joke.  What do you get with a blind boy from the Dominican Republic, a Korean mother and an Italian father with a six-year old son and two rescue dogs?  A whole lotta love.”

HTCNJ would like to thank: The Bonomo Family for hosting Luis; Dr. Donald Cinotti and Dr. Cesar Samson for providing pro bono surgical treatment; Pavonia Surgery Center, Pavonia Optical, and Notchview Pediatrics for providing pro bono care; American Airlines Miles for Kids in Need Program for donating the round-trip airline ticket for Luis; Airline Ambassadors and its volunteer escort Amy Watson.

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