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

So, of course, when her girls came to their senses this Thanksgiving about Richie, Esther was not shocked, only relieved.

Her daughters, on the other hand, sounded surprised with themselves.
"To be honest, my sister and I talked later, and we both thought it was one of the best Thanksgivings we've ever had," said Carol.

For his part, Richie is happy with Josh and Esther. He does not want to return to his mother.

"When the family broke up, I was mad at my mother," said Richie. "She was always saying, 'Nothing will ever break us up. Your dad already tried, but it's not going to happen.' . . . Even if she cleaned up, I'm old enough to choose. My brother and sister might have to go back because they're younger. I would stay with Josh and Esther. I'm scared that it will all happen again.

"It's quiet here. There is not that much trouble around. The people are better, friendlier."

Richie's ordeal continues to unfold. Sheets of depression cover him periodically. And the gated community where he lives, while safe, is unforgiving.

Though he ditched rap for Nirvana, rock 'n' roll did not give him a passport to life in a neighborhood of expensive golf courses. Mi Vida Loca was about fists; uptown kids use their words.

He was told at summer camp that his father must have been a real loser to let him grow up in a crack house. On a trip back East, his host, a neighbor boy, informed the other kids that Richie was only hanging around because he had nowhere else to go.

"They're just lame," responded Richie.
He may never wear his Izods as gracefully as the others. And Richie's teenage years--and all the problems of adolescence--are closing in on Josh and Esther like a set of flashing red lights in the rearview mirror.

Yet they express no regrets.
And the stress over the past three years?
What of it, ask the foster parents.

Esther and Josh are certainly not blase. No, they have chosen to overcome all obstacles.

"Despite 10 years on the Homeless Shelter board, I never saw anyone who was poor, or on drugs, or on welfare," said Esther. "So I had no idea how difficult this would be. But it has been worth every ounce of heartache and sweat. We love Richie."

Esther has attempted to be less random, less impulsive in her approach to problems. It hasn't always been easy.

At one point, Richie's tutor threatened to quit unless Esther started paying attention to the boy's homework. So Esther buckled down.

Carol observed that she has never known her mother to be so focused.
"The entire family has a short attention span," said Carol. "But she is different with Richie."

Esther no longer speaks so smugly in global terms about drug addiction and feral children of the teeming underclass. Instead, she has concerned herself with one boy. She wants to know if Richie has enough friends; can she get him to his soccer game on time?

Knowing her own rooted fears regarding money, Esther closed down her business and went to work inside a Fortune 500 company. She does not want to face again the kind of financial wobble she lived through from 1991 to '93. She wants a steady paycheck as she raises Richie.

Esther Gould changed her entire life to save Richie Blandon's.
Richie's little brother, John, was at the Goldsteins' during Thanksgiving because his foster mother has contracted breast cancer. She was operated on two days before the holiday. John's foster parents will probably not be able to keep him.

Dr. Goldstein suggested that he and Esther take John in and raise him.
Like Esther's biological daughters, Richie thought it was his best Thanksgiving. Ever.

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