Candali, Nurse Family Partnership Client
Candali Ndahiro is a young woman on a mission. It started at an early age, when she fled Rwanda at age seven. She came to the United States with her mother and siblings, moving to Tucson as a teenager. She was determined to find meaningful work and focused on a degree program; however, when she became pregnant and with few resources and little family support, she found herself in the emergency room in a critical situation. Fearing she would lose the baby, Candali was put in contact with the Casa de los Niños Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP). Slowly, she and the nurse worked through her acute medical issues. Their focus then turned to preparing for the arrival of the baby. After her healthy baby girl was born, the NFP helped Candali land a scholarship in order to complete her dental assistant degree. Candali credits the NFP with helping her to be a confident and good mother. “I was so uncertain about my ability to manage all of it, but my nurse was there through it all. She made sure I made good decisions, connected me to important resources, and encouraged me all the way.”
In the past 40 years, Casa de los Niños has cared for nearly 100,000 children. In 2012, the organization served 4,472 children and 2,740 families. The following are two stories of resilience and success.
The early years of Daniela’s life were tumultuous. At age four, she lost her mother. Daniela had no father figure present, so her aunt took her from Mexico to Tucson. Then the abuse began. After six years of suffering at the hands of the only adult male in her life, there came hope. First, her 18-year-old brother rescued her from that corrupt environment. Barely an adult, her brother was ill-equipped to care for 11-year-old Daniela, and after only a short time, Child Protective Services decided she could not stay with him. She needed a new place to call home.
Daniela calls Casa de los Niños a “safe haven,” and in 1993 at age 11, it was her safe haven. Therapy began immediately, but the memories she has of Casa de los Niños do not resemble a clinic. She remembers the morning cook, Toni, greeting her warmly with breakfast and the fish tank that remains today — both made her feel very comfortable. She recalls the way the staff would discipline her as an older child when she acted out. “To calm me down, they would take me into the nursery and let me play with the babies. To this day that is one of my favorite things to do — I love babies.” In spite of some good memories, Daniela was forced to grow up too fast. Having been assaulted by a white male, she was terrified of all white men. She had formed a damaging stereotype, but during her stay at Casa de los Niños she worked through her fears and began to heal. After spending three months at Casa de los Niños, Daniela bounced from foster home to foster home and cycled in and out of a couple of other shelters. She eventually aged out of the foster care program. Once in adulthood, she married and had two children of her own. The story could have ended there, but Daniela has a big heart.
Five years ago, the wife of one of her husband’s friends, whom he met during deployment in Iraq, encouraged Daniela and her husband to open up their home to foster children. Coincidentally, as they went through the licensing process, their neighbors experienced hard times and their 10-month-old twin girls were taken away. “They ended up separating the girls because there was no home for both of them,” Daniela explains. “It just broke our hearts.” She worked to have the children reunited and placed in her own home. Fortunately, the girls were only separated for a couple of days.
Since then, Daniela has fostered 13 children. She is proud that the four foster children now in her home have been with her for a year, and that the two who are siblings have remained together. Although she can’t change the process in which parents get their children back, she knows reunification with them is often what the children want, but that may not be immediately possible. “I try to keep the children in one foster home,” she says. Daniela knows from experience that children want stability, and that is exactly what she offers.
A five-year-old’s memories can be fuzzy, but the lowest point cannot simply be erased. Ryan came to Casa de los Niños in 1987 at age five, after Child Protective Services removed him from his mother’s care. “My mother was in an abusive relationship and alcohol contributed to that,” Ryan recalls. “Our home was not a healthy environment for either of us.” The ideal situation, if possible, is to return children to their parents; therefore, his mother was given time to resolve the problems and create a better environment for her son.
Casa de los Niños kept Ryan for about three weeks and his time there could only be described as normal. He watched movies, played outside and socialized with other children. “The thing I remember most is the comfort and normalcy it gave me,” he explains, qualities a home had yet failed to provide him.
For the next year, Ryan lived in a foster home. Eventually, his mother made enough progress to have him back, and for the sake of herself and her son, she continued to work toward a better life. His life became somewhat ordinary for the next 10 years, with involvement in youth sports and the addition of a stepfather when he was 10 years old. “The most important change came in the form of a stable family life,” he adds.
When Ryan was a teenager, he attended the Casa Car Show. He credits this occasion as the point in his life when he realized he wanted to help others who have experienced similar situations. Years later, as an adult, Casa de los Niños came into his life again. His boss was on the organization’s board of directors and, after Ryan expressed an interest, he encouraged Ryan to apply. Not wanting to impact the decision, Ryan initially withheld his previous involvement with Casa de los Niños. “My only intention was to strengthen an organization that contributed to a better life for me and many other children.”
Ryan served a single three-year term on the board of directors and also served on the executive committee and fundraising sub-committee. As a member, his responsibilities encompassed the promotion of Casa de los Niños’ mission to prevent child abuse and neglect. He intends to return to working with Casa de los Niños in the future and give as much of himself as possible. But for a while his plans consist of a normal adulthood, including a recent promotion to a senior finance position, a marriage later this year and children that he knows will not have to tolerate the same struggles he endured. “I think the key to ending child abuse and neglect will always be to identify the root cause(s) and be proactive in their prevention,” Ryan states.