Family Affairs

A professional Phoenix woman wanted to help one poor, "at risk" family. It was the type of private initiative that both political parties say will ease the harsh impacts of welfare reform. Her three-year experiment in personal responsibility rescued an 1

Barbara lost her part-time job at the library shortly before the hearing. Her world is in such total disarray that she grasps at shards of relief. She made a new friend at the library, someone who was not a pimp, a john or a junkie.

"He's a hairdresser in Scottsdale. Yesterday he did my hair, so that I would look presentable for court. We had lunch at the Red Robin in Scottsdale. It was so nice to get away from my life for just one day.

"If people could see what I'm going through instead of looking down their noses at me . . ."

She let the thought trail off like sour-smelling smoke.
After a short pause, she continued.
"If anyone could see what I see, they'd terminate me."
At the end of lunch, her mother's ache returned.
"Did you see Richie in the parking lot?
"It's like I embarrassed him."

As Barbara finished her meal, she said her period had started, and she had no protection. Grabbing some paper hand towels from the rest room, she asked to be dropped at Grandmother Annie's, instead of Veterans' Memorial Coliseum.

Following the hearing, Richie was completely lost and despondent.
"I couldn't concentrate on anything all day," he said.
He had dressed himself for the hearing, choosing a polo shirt with a collar, conservative slacks and a pair of Dr. Goldstein's shoes. His own appearance mattered to him.

And Barbara's appearance shocked the young boy.
"My mom, did you see how she was dressed, a sun dress, no hose, no underwear?"

Barbara had said she overslept and just threw on the first thing she could reach. The skimpy outfit revealed scabs from the top of her head down to her feet.

In a conversation outside the judge's chamber, she denied that Dion had beaten her again, as Richie suspected. She said that a stranger mugged her a day or two before the court appearance.

The only thing Richie could remember about the closed-door sit-down with his mother was that she had passed gas loudly in front of the social worker.

He spun into a major cycle of depression, unable to function for two weeks.
Richie was mortified by his mother.
"My mother never cared about nothing. If the cops brought me home, she was all, 'Well, what'd he do now? Take him to jail; he'll learn his lesson.'

"She only worried about how she'd get her drugs, not about how we'd eat or sleep. Nothing's changed."

By the time Barbara finished her appearance before the judge, Esther no longer suffered pangs of guilt.

"She told the judge, 'I love my children,'" recalled Esther. "'I want to see them, and the only reason I haven't done urine analysis is because I've been too busy looking for a job.'

"Can you believe the nerve?
"When I watched her, I realized she wasn't good enough to be Richie's mother. I'm better."

In November, Barbara got into a physical fight with her daughter Helen inside Grandmother Annie's apartment. Mother and daughter argued over a tube of lipstick.

In the struggle, Barbara kicked infant Mary Jane.
Marjorie, the apartment manager, called the police and permanently barred Barbara from the complex.

Tidal Shifts
Shortly after the misery of September's custody hearing in 1996, bubbles of good news popped.

Test results in October showed no recurrence of Dr. Goldstein's cancer. For the time being, he was clean.

Carol found a job in a major law firm, and Sarah prospered in an East Coast ad agency.

And then Richie, on his third attempt, passed the soccer test.
On his way to an October game he would referee, Richie found little cause for excitement.

"I don't really like it all that much," said Richie. "This ref's uniform looks pretty goofy, and the parents and coaches are a problem. There is always some adult standing over me and yelling during the breaks."

Why, then, did he persist so long in trying to gain accreditation? Was it only to please Esther and Josh?

"Not really. I want a car someday. I work from 8:30 to 2:30 on Saturdays and get paid $9 an hour. It's pretty weird getting a check in the mail," said Richie.

He wants a Honda Civic.
"Esther invests my money for me. In my investments, I have part of the company. As the company grows, so will my money. Whatever percentage of the company I have, I'll have that much of their growth."

From gang member wanna-be to young man with a portfolio, Richie was a dervish of change.

The tutoring had begun to take effect. In his new school, he held his own in high school math. There were no more fistfights.

And every Saturday morning, Richie worked as a referee.
As the October soccer match progressed, Richie tried to talk up one of the coaches.

"Didn't you tie these guys in an earlier game?"
The game-riveted coach ignored the remark. And Richie let the snub slide, an act of restraint that would have been unthinkable just a year or two earlier.

As action moved down the field, a small woolly dog darted onto a vacant section of the grass racing wildly between an idle goalie and the two sweepers. Richie laughed out loud.

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