A Look Back: How I Remember CEDARS

The following story was originally published in the Summer 1976 Little Voice Newsletter. The young woman’s personal account of her time at CEDARS reminds us that the emotions of leaving one’s family and the need for a safe and loving alternative will always exist. Your support has, and will continue to make a difference to children like Janie.

It was two months after my seventh birthday when I first saw CEDARS. My brother Bill and I were in a car with the social worker and we turned into the drive of this big brick building. I didn’t want to go in there. I wanted to run. Too many bad things had been happening since my birthday.

On my birthday, our mother had taken sick. I didn’t know it then, but I know now that she had a nervous breakdown from the strain of a divorce and trying to keep her children with her. Her friends, the Bensons, asked the social worker if they could take us rather than have us in a foster home.

I suppose they tried to be nice to us, but too much had happened. Can you imagine what it’s like for two little kids to watch their mother bake a birthday cake in the morning and be gone by evening? It was to be such a special day for me and here I was trying to eat my mother’s cake in somebody else’s house. My world had fallen apart and all I could do was cry.

Once in a while my mother was able to leave the hospital and visit us and those were our best days. Eventually, my mother could see my misery and I suppose the Bensons were at the end of their rope in knowing how to take care of us. They agreed that we should ask for a place at CEDARS.

As we stopped in front of CEDARS, I was scared out of my wits and crying. Bill looked like he would run. We wanted to be with our mother and we knew she wasn’t there. We got out of the car and a strange woman with brown hair came out to meet us. Somehow she looked a lot like Mrs. Benson to me.

She said, “Hello, Janie. Hello, Billy. I’m Mom Kuklish. Welcome to CEDARS.”

I didn’t know she was trying to be nice. I thought she was trying to trap us into living where we didn’t want to be. By this time, Billy and I had decided we just had each other, I guess. I remember hanging hard onto his hand as we went up the walk. Maybe I was afraid he would run away if I didn’t. How would you like to be seven and feel responsible for a little brother as you both walk toward a strange, unknown building?

The new lady introduced us to some other children and they acted as if they wanted to play with us, but we were afraid of them. They might tease us. I kept to myself as much as I could, just doing the little jobs I was told to do, afraid that I would be punished for breaking rules I didn’t understand.

I remember wondering what the punishment was in this place. Children who disobeyed didn’t have to go without meals. “They must have something worse,” I thought.

We had been there about two weeks when Billy decided it was time for him to explore the countryside, and he started walking down the road. I saw him going, but I was so afraid for him that I didn’t want to say anything. Then Mom Kuklish found that he was gone and asked some of the older kids to go after him. They found him about a mile away, chatting with some children. He came back with the CEDARS kids and they were laughing, but I knew there was nothing but trouble ahead for both him and me.

Mom Kuklish met him at the door and took him into her office. It was ages before they came out and Billy wasn’t even crying. Both he and Mom were smiling and seemed to be friends.

Mom saw me there and said quietly, “Janie, you look worried. Don’t worry. Billy and I decided he shouldn’t have left the grounds without permission.”

I said, “Won’t you lock us up in our rooms or spank us or anything like that?”

Mom replied, “Billy isn’t a bad boy. He just wasn’t thinking when he left.” To me it was like a heavy load had been lifted. I no longer needed to worry about Billy.

As the weeks went by, I began to like the other children better as I worked and played with them. I found that if we made a mistake one day and did something wrong no one accused us of being bad. It had been a mistake that we could correct by not doing it again. It was like being home, where people loved you and were willing to forgive mistakes. I was part of the CEDARS family now, and it was our job to help each other.