Eight years ago, Corinne stepped off a Greyhound bus in Springfield, by way of Tennessee, where she had pursued a new start and a new life that never materialized. With two young children in tow and another on the way, she was looking for an escape from an abusive relationship that had festered for years.
She spent her own childhood bouncing from temporary homes in “other peoples’ basements” with her father, and found herself living on the streets by 13. At times, friends would offer short respites on couches and the like. Other times, she slept outside. Corrine spent two years in foster care and was pregnant at 17, essentially abandoned by her family.
Although she wanted more for her own family as she grew older, she found herself on a similar, bleak path.
“I got off that bus, went right to the Department of Transitional Assistance with really the clothes on our backs and said ‘We have no place to go.’ I had no idea what would happen to us,” Corrine said.
Permanent Supportive Housing is one of many programs run by CHD to combat homelessness for families and children. To date, it has been the last stop for Corinne, and her family has brought a welcome measure of stability. The program is among many shelter services CHD provides to ensure children and families are warm and safe, with an eye on permanent housing.
“Without CHD’s help, I may be living under a bridge somewhere with my kids. I don’t know,” Corinne said.
“My kids really go all year without really getting much, and they never complain. Christmas is a big deal for me because it’s the time I really want to show my kids how important they are to me and how much I appreciate them, but this year is going to be really, really hard,” she said.
MECP2 duplication syndrome occurs almost exclusively in males and causes severe to moderate neurological and developmental delays. The disorder was only discovered in 2005 and occurs in only 1 in 10,000 babies, according to available statistics.
After being diagnosed with MECP2, a rare, chromosomal disorder, each passing year for Dylan will be a bigger miracle.
“He’s been in and out of hospitals almost his whole life,” said mom Christina Montes-Peralta, of Springfield.
She and wife Roselin Peralta trudged from one doctor’s appointment from the next in the first months of Dylan’s life, getting few answers.
“They kept saying ‘he’ll grow out of it,’ but we knew something was really wrong,” Peralta said.
The moms found a welcome advocate in Cindy Napoli, program supervisor for CHD’s Early Intervention team, which serves around 300 children from birth to 3 years old who have various developmental delays.
Napoli pushed to get Dylan to the proper specialists and finally received the MECP2 diagnosis, which – while grime – gave the family and Dylan’s clinicians and CHD therapists a handle on how to care for him. Under that broad umbrella of care, Dylan has flourished.
“Without Cindy we wouldn’t have known where to turn. Now, Dylan keeps surprising his doctors … every milestone is a miracle. Each year will be a miracle,” Montes-Peralta said.
The moms, Dylan, and their older son, 11-year-old Noah, an honor student at Deberry Elementary School, said the winter season and holidays can become overwhelming since both were forced to stop working to manage Dylan’s essentially ‘round-the-clock care.
“Noah is always so sweet to his little brother. Sometimes I’m a little fearful he’ll feel ignored. But, he never complains. We would love to give him a special Christmas,” Montes-Peralta said.
Melissa felt she had turned a corner in her recovery from drug abuse as she cut through a side street to take a city bus to her therapist’s office.
Only months clean and fairly fresh off a month-long stint in jail, she spotted some tiny, familiar glassine baggies on the ground, and kept walking.
“Once upon a time I definitely would have picked those up to see if there was any heroin left in them,” said Melissa, a client at CHD’s Outpatient Behavioral Health Clinic on Pine Street in Springfield.
She celebrated the moment with her therapist, Donna St. John, LICSW, a social worker who helps adults with mental health and substance abuse histories, as well as gambling addictions.
The clinic is among many community-based behavioral health clinics CHD provides across western Massachusetts and Connecticut.
She attributes the downward spiral to sexual abuse she suffered as a child, which re-emerged as a young adult after she convinced herself she had sufficiently tamped down the anxiety and trauma the abuse left behind. Melissa, 37, started using opiates to cope and to sleep, then progressed to heroin. She began stealing from employers to support her habit and nearly surrendered her marriage and family.
“My husband told me he knew I was using again, and if I didn’t get clean he was going to divorce me and take my kids. I couldn’t let that happen. I couldn’t do it to them and I couldn’t do it to myself. We all deserved better,” said Melissa, who credits St. John as a critical component in her ongoing sobriety.
“Melissa is a wonderful and devoted mother. She’s a hard worker. She works hard on herself and she volunteers to help other addicts,” said St. John, who has been a social worker and counselor for decades, and has worked with children, adults and now the elderly as well.
Many of them are parents fighting to do right by their children, and there is a particularly fine point on that around the holidays.