According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are about 415,129 children in foster care. Of those children, 6 percent end up in a group home.
Chamberlain's Children Center, located off San Benito Street south of San Benito High School in Hollister, provides residential treatment in a family-like environment, for children who have been victims of child abuse.
It is the family environment that Knoelle Gaudet, 21, and Adrian Guevara, 24, appreciated while at Chamberlain's.
“Being at Chamberlain's has taught me that anyone can be your family, that there are people out there that love you and can see you going places that most of us kids can't imagine,” said Gaudet, who previously had been moving from foster home to foster home, never staying too long due to her trust issues.
Guevara, who arrived at Chamberlain's via the foster care system when he was 16, had a rough childhood and an anger problem that would turn violent. “Prior to arriving at Chamberlain's, I was very skeptical about the place. It was hard to adjust, but once I started to get to know the staff and kids, my opinion changed,” Guevara said. “It was like family to me, I still keep in contact with some of them.”
Like Guevara, Gaudet had a rough time fitting in at first. “I struggled with settling in. I was new and a lot of the kids would start fights with me or I would start fights as well. I blamed everyone around me for the way my life was. It was very hard settling in because just like me, all of the kids there didn’t trust anyone either so it was difficult finding friends. without friends or family, its very hard to settle in one place,” she said.
Nevertheless, Gaudet and Guevara had a lot of obstacles to overcome but with the help of the staff and their fellow peers, they realized they were not alone.
“I had to overcome depression and rejection. You can't just sit back and feel sorry for yourself because of the hand you were dealt in life. It is our job alone to make our life what we want and once I started to have that mindset I was able to find a family that considered me blood and visa-versa,” said Gaudet.
Yet, they would still push the boundaries every now and then. Gaudet remembers a time she ran away from school after planning everything out with two of her best friends from the house. She says, “I remember thinking ‘I've made it this far on my own, why not just run off? It's not like I'm important to anyone.” She later realized she was wrong. “When I was caught, I was brought back to the home and I saw how worried the staff were for my safety. It was then that I realized that I can't live on my own. I wanted someone to care for me the way that the staff had cared for me all those years,” she said.
Guevara recalls a time when San Benito Sheriff's Deputy Rich Brown chased him through a field because Guervara didn't want to go to school. “I didn't think he would catch me because he was a bigger guy but when I turned back there he was.” The memory is bittersweet for him he said, because it was a time of his youth. It seemed fun at the time, but now he realizes it was a bad situation.
Chamberlain's, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary on May 6, provides programs that help children change the behaviors that resulted in placement and prepares them for life on their own.
Guevara, who is now a father to a young daughter, said he learned different ways in which he could manage his anger without the need to get physical. “I owe a big thank-you to Rita,” he said. “I thought she was mean but I know now that it was because she cared.”
Gaudet was part of the Dreampower Horsemanship program which she explained is a form of therapy for the kids. “While I can say that those sessions did help me emotionally, helping me emotionally is not what saved me. What saved me was that I finally had something to fight for. The privilege of riding was given when you didn't have any physical altercation with someone else. This instilled my will to fight for what I wanted.”
Even through they took therapy classes, it is easy to see that they are children at heart, appreciating the simple activities Chamberlain's let them participate in.
Guevara said he enjoyed recreational time and playing football, but it was the outings that really motivated him to do well.
Gaudet’s favorite memory of Chamberlain's was when her father figure at the time would take the youth out to 7/11 to get Slurpees and Hot Cheetos. “This was near and dear to me because it was the only time I felt recognized and loved by someone,” she said.
Both agree that their time at Chamberlain’s was well-spent.
For Gaudet, it was the ability to realize her own potential. “I never thought I would make it to college and start a business and be as successful as I've been. But the staff at Chamberlain's always talked to me about my potential and saw good in me when all I could see was a broken young girl ready to give up on hope,” she said.
For Guevara, it was the tough love he needed and received.
Gaudet is now a business owner and cashier as well as a full-time student. She said she believes that “Not everything is supposed to become something beautiful and long-lasting.” She wants the children of Chamberlain's to know that “sometimes people come into your life to show you what is right and what is wrong, to show you who you can be, to teach you to love yourself, to make you feel better for a little while, or to just be someone to walk with at night and share your life with. Not everyone is going to stay forever, and we still have to keep on going and thank them for what they have given us.”
Chamberlain’s will be participating in Sillicon Valley Gives on May 3 as well as celebrating its 40th anniversary with “Blue Jeans, Boots and Bling Ball” at San Juan Oaks Golf Club, from 6-11 p.m.