On the first Thursday in March, a very unlikely reunion occurred for two men who are brothers, not by birth, but by human circumstance. They met for the first time in fifteen years on a stage celebrating a place they still call home and a place that is the principle reason for their brotherhood.
Both men are in their mid thirties. They grew up on the North Shore. Many would say each came from privilege. That March night, before an audience of over four hundred people, they both said that their privilege and opportunity were marred and impaired by serious family dysfunction and emotional abuse.
NR grew up in Setauket. He excelled in academics and sports. EJ grew up in Mount Sinai and admitted that he excelled in mischief and non-compliance. Before coming to Hope House by way of the Congregational Church in Mount Sinai, he was living in the woods around Mount Sinai. In the late nineteen eighties when they were in their teens, they found themselves going to high school together, referring to one another as brothers and referring to Hope House as their home.
They were a year apart in age. EJ graduated first and went off to college in Buffalo. He admitted on that Thursday night that he went away to school more for the adventure than the opportunity to pursue a career. NR went away the following year. He left for the Catholic University of America with a full four-year scholarship. He started off studying the classics and ended up graduating with a degree in social work.
NR stayed connected to his home throughout school and up to the present moment. After graduation, he worked in Washington, D.C. and then got a job in Chicago where he works today.
EJ stayed connected while away at school and then set off on an odyssey of self-discovery that took him across the country. As he was trying to find his way, he worked for Habitat for Humanity, the AIDS coalition and a variety of other human service positions. Ultimately his journey led him to his home in Portland, Maine.
Each of these young men is very different, but they share a bond that has supported them for a better part of their lives. They admit that so much of who and what they have become today is thanks to the loving and nurturing support they received during their high school years.
As teenagers, they were encouraged to think for themselves and choose career paths that would make them happy, but also make a difference in the larger community. NR never thought his journey would lead him to Chicago to the not-for-profit community. His first job was as a development director for "City of Hope" which is a program dedicated to raising money for cancer research. Presently, he is the development director for "Jumpstart" in Chicago, which is an outreach program to young, underprivileged children.
In November 2002, I received a call from an LA Times reporter. He asked if I knew a man who claimed to be from Mount Sinai and who had lived at Hope House in the late nineteen eighties. In an effort to protect his confidence, I was reluctant to say anything to that reporter, so I hesitated to return his call.
A day later, after more than thirteen years of not communicating, I received a phone call from EJ. He found our number among some old papers he kept from his college days. We spoke for about an hour. He apologized for not staying in touch over the years, but wanted to let me know where his life was. I told him about the LA Times. He then told me why they had called.
After moving to Portland, he became very concerned about a number of environmental and social justice issues. He had become active in the Green Party and was urged to run as a Green Party candidate against the Democratic machine in Portland. He never thought he had a chance to win, but he took to the streets. His tenacity, his insight on the issues and his gift of gab propelled him into the local and national spotlight.
On election night that November, EJ won a seat in the State House of Maine as the first Green Party candidate not only in the state, but in the nation. (Thus the reason for the LA Times calling me.) Not only did he win, but he won with over 70% of the vote.
Who would ever have thought back in 1987 that this mischievous teenager would one day be the "Honorable" EJ, state representative for the state of Maine, the first Green Party candidate in the nation to be elected to a state house?
Each stood before this crowd of over four hundred people and spoke about the simple, but profound impact that a place they call home has had on their personal and professional lives. NR said he moved into the not-for-profit community because he wanted to give back because he felt his life was so blessed. EJ chose public service because he remembered as a struggling teenager the random acts of kindness and compassion that he credits with shaping the course of his life. He recalled a conversation we had when he was a teenager "that you have the power to make a difference." He has never forgotten that phrase. He has elected to make a difference through elected public service.
Those two men and a number of other alumni from their time stayed up till the wee hours of the morning that Thursday night reminiscing and sharing stories from their youth. All of them commenting how grateful they are today that their paths have crossed and how their lives have been enriched. They vowed to stay more connected and not let time and other commitments get in the way of their sense of family and brotherhood.
Needless to say, I was very proud to see the men they have become and to see the careers they have chosen. As I listened to them speak that Thursday night, I realized that all they have become wasn't due to one person's efforts, but the collective energy of many caring hands and hearts.
So often this space is filled with people's heartache. How great to celebrate transformation and hope. Thank you to all those who help to make a difference.