Former residents Esther Swarray Butler (left) and Tykara Evans (right) reunite with their “teaching-parents,” John and Cory Richardson-Lauve, in front of a Virginia Home for Boys and Girls group home. Photo courtsey Virginia Home for Boys and Girls
When she was 4 months old, Tykara Evans was adopted. At 10, her mother left. At 11, her father began raping her. At 12, she was placed in foster care, where she was further abused, sexually and physically. At 16, she moved to the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls, finally locating the anchor she needed.
"The last time I saw my adoptive father was when he was charged with molesting me," Evans says quietly. "He was an alcoholic. I believe he's on a liver transplant list." She adds, "I'd like to find my birth mother. I understand she lives near me, but I haven't found the courage to approach her."
Cory Richardson-Lauve and her husband, John, became the first couple to live as teaching-parents for girls at the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls (VHBG). Founded in 1846 as the Richmond Male Orphan Society, the VHBG has provided a home for more than 20,000 children over the years, and is celebrating its 10th year of accepting girls. The couple, who met at Camp Hanover as counselors during their college years, came to VHBG in 2003.
"For the first six months, we worked with boys," Cory explains. "Then Home 13, specifically for girls, was opened. Our biggest challenge was wanting to care for them and love them, while realizing that — for some of them — the best they could do was push us away. It's very threatening for someone to get close. I'm amazed at their spirits and what they've accomplished, considering the many losses: parents dying at an early age, being abandoned, being separated from siblings, having different foster and group homes. Many have experienced mental, physical or sexual abuse and neglect, or a combination of all of them. "
Evans, now 26, lives in Richmond with her husband, Darrell, a mechanic, and four children ranging in age from 2 months to 5 years. The stay-at-home mother says, "I want to help others because of my experience. I'm taking online classes through the University of Phoenix to become a counselor." She continues, "It took me at least six months to get used to the VHBG situation. I finally figured out [that] letting Cory and John in emotionally and trusting them wouldn't be so bad, although I ran away a few times. When I got my head on right, I apologized and moved forward. I love Cory and John and will always stay in touch with them. The most valuable thing they taught me was how to be independent."
Cory explains that the Teaching-Family Model, which the Virginia Home uses, came about in the late 1960s in Kansas as a solution for group homes. "[It's] grounded in the belief that there are no bad people, just bad teachers," she says. "It's very optimistic, which resonated with John and me."
VHBG is the only provider in Virginia of the internationally accredited and evidence-based Teaching-Family Model, a program of multilayered care for at-risk youth. VHBG was accredited in 2003 by the Teaching-Family Association, whose office is in Midlothian. There are six homes at VHBG, providing around-the-clock care. After spending seven years as a teaching-parent with the Virginia Home, Cory moved into training others for that role, while John works with ChildSavers as a licensed clinical social worker and therapist.
Claiborne Mason, president of VHBG, says that nationally, "there's an extreme need for services in support of children who experience abuse and neglect in their homes so they can find their way back into a safe, stable community. The ones we see are from families who aren't able to seek private support and are referred from social services. Children at VHBG have been removed from their homes because their home wasn't safe.
"Our work is geared toward reuniting the family," she adds. The campus includes the John G. Wood School, an alternative education program for students from grades 6 to 12, which also serves some students from the community. Many of VHBG's youth attend J.R. Tucker High School. Each year, VHBG provides a home for more than 50 youths 11 and older. Currently, about 30 teenagers live there. Public funding covers about 70 percent of the operating costs, augmented by philanthropy and investments.
Children come to Virginia Home from near and far. Esther Swarray Butler, now 23, is originally from Africa. "My older sister and I lived with a cousin in Sierra Leone," she says. "We grew up being told that our mother was dead, which was true, and that our father had abandoned us, which wasn't. We came to America when I was 14."
She lived for a while with a cousin in Richmond's East End, but after her cousin's boyfriend started doing drugs, Butler ended up in a transition shelter and eventually at the Virginia Home.
She acknowledges that she was very angry at first. "That changed with music therapy, which allowed me to express myself through song. I was in the Art 180 program after school twice a week, too, which helped. Cory and John believed in me, helped me make good choices and made me a better person. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be what I am today."
Butler communicates via Skype with her four older siblings — all living in Africa. "My dad found me through a relative when I was 16," she says. "I speak with him and my stepmother twice a week."
Now married, she works full time as a T-Mobile customer service representative and her husband, Christopher Butler, works at Sam's Club. They have a 3-year-old daughter. Esther Butler also takes online classes through J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, studying graphic design.
"The biggest reward was getting to know them," Cory says of the girls she worked with at VHBG. "Some are mothers now, so we talk about their roles and how important they are to their children. They're remarkably resilient. That's what gave me the strength to do the job — the sense of hope, of what could be."
To learn more or volunteer or see a "wish list" of items needed for the VHBG, visit vhbg.org or call 270-6566.
©Nancy Wright Beasley 2013. All rights reserved.