The 17th Annual Abbott House Golf Outing May 18, 2015, ended with a dinner at the Elmwood Country Club and was capped-off by an uplifting and inspirational testimonial by a former foster-care youth. Now 30 years old, Devon Chisholm, a SUNY Buffalo graduate and Scarsdale resident spoke movingly of his journey from childhood neglect and abuse to his present status as a full-time Yonkers Firefighter, EMT, Hazmat Technician, and FEMA certified disaster specialist. Mr. Chisholm credits the programs and services of Abbott House for helping him realize this success. Here is his story in his own words:
“I, Devon Chisholm, am a success story thanks to the support, nurturance, and guidance I received from Abbott House. Abbott House gave me the foundation and the tools that have enabled me to become the man I am today. I am now thirty years old and have a bright and promising future. But things were not always so bright and promising for me. Before coming to Abbott House, all I ever knew was misery, deceit, abuse, and neglect. To better understand and appreciate the role Abbott House has played in my life, I will have to bring you along my tumultuous journey.
It began in Nyack, NY, where I was born on August 9th, 1984. My mother was seventeen years old and I was her second child. She was fourteen when my sister was born. From what I’m told, my mother actually took good care of me and my sister at first. We had a large extended family, so what my mother lacked in money and resources, the rest of the family was sure to assist. My father was in his early twenties when I was born. They never married or even lived together. Perhaps a year after I was born, watching over my sister and I became stressful. You could imagine a teenage mother wanting to enjoy her time with friends and be a teenager. There were times when I was left, as a one-year-old, in the care of my then four-year-old sister. My mother would put a bottle in my mouth, hand me to my sister, and take off. I’m told she was enjoying the company of her friends, which included smoking weed and experimenting with other drugs. This happened several times a week, and then, almost every day.
Then, one day, I became the baby on the doorstep. I was left on a doorstep by the same woman who was supposed to love me. According to several people I spoke with, I was left there for several hours in the hot sun, bitten by mosquitos, subjected to a potential kidnapping, and left to whichever animal happened to stumble upon me. See, the doorstep I was left on was my father’s. He had been inside of his house without any knowledge of me being outside until he received a knock on the door from a neighbor who had just come home from work. My father brought me inside but was absolutely livid. My father took care of me for a few months, against my mother’s will as she had only intended for him to watch me for a day or two. This created a hostile environment and because of numerous arguments, the police were frequently called. Christmas eventually came and I was still in my father’s care. My mother begged and pleaded until my father finally gave in to the wishes of my mother for me to spend Christmas with her. Once in my mother’s “possession”, I was not let go. My father had arranged to pick me up the next day but instead a melee ensued between my mother and her family and my dad and his family. The cops were called and to make a long story short, it was that day that I became a ward of the state at the ripe age of three.
It’s important to note that the foster care system was all I knew. I hated it because at that young age, all I knew was that someone, a stranger, was keeping me from my parents. As I grew up, I encountered many different people. The first I remember was a woman who lived in Haverstraw. She had about seven foster kids, all of whom she loved to physically and emotionally abuse. Another foster mother made me play outside every day and told me I was ugly every day. It was this emotional abuse that created a rebellion in me. I rebelled and I rebelled hard. I eventually landed myself in Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Center. It was here of all places that I found my voice and resolve. Just as I had found my voice and resolve, I was introduced to a woman who had come to “rescue” me from the psychiatric center. She told me about Abbott house and that it serves homeless, neglected, and abused children. She told me this was my way out. It was.
After a brief placement in a foster home in Greenburgh, I was moved to an Abbott House foster home in Yonkers with the Fitch family. This is where I came into my own, where I flourished and identified with who I was and where I wanted to be. Finally, I felt safe and secure and was provided with the support and nurturance that enabled me to begin to heal and move forward with my life. With the help of my foster family and Abbott House staff, I was able to see a light at the end of the tunnel and began establishing goals for myself. One goal I had early on was to become a firefighter.
When I was in Rockland Psychiatric Center, it was Abbott House that came to my rescue. When I was depressed and felt unwanted, again it was the staff at Abbott House that came to my rescue. The doctors, nurses, counselors, child care workers, social workers, and many others worked as a team to fulfill my needs, physically, emotionally, and socially. The work that these men and women do is often taken for granted and goes unnoticed from children in the “system,” but this product of the system is steadfast in the belief that Abbott House is changing lives and I am living proof of that.
It would not be right to complete this without applauding individual efforts of people like Jim Morris, Dr. Alan Dubro, and my foster mother, Christine Fitch, who I now consider my mom. Jim, I have known you longer than any of your colleagues here have known you. It seemed that we were destined to work together since our first meeting at St. Agatha’s when I was four or five. You were patient, helpful, calm, and easy to talk with. A few years down the road, we connected again, this time you happened to see me around the age of 12 at the psychiatric facility. From age twelve to eighteen I took for granted the help and support you gave me. It is because of people like you and the staff at Abbott House, that I am able to stand here today and tell my story. Thank You.
Well here I am — the product of Abbott House, a beacon of hope, if you will. Their services and commitment to me allowed me to attend the State University at Buffalo and become the man I am today. Today, at age thirty, I am a full-time firefighter for the city of Yonkers. I own my own car; I live in an upscale apartment complex in Scarsdale with a beautiful pool; I am an EMT; I am a certified advanced Hazmat Technician; I am FEMA certified and able to assist in the event of a disaster; I am in the process of getting a book deal; and I’m not stopping there!
I encourage you to recognize these men and women as I do, who meet the emotional and physical needs of children, while bringing healing and restoration to their lives. That is no easy feat. I am proud to say that because of Abbott House’s commitment to children I am here before you, sharing my story of success as a productive member of society who is now giving something back.”