Robert Bolling, CEO, ChildSavers
Soon I will enter my seventh decade of life. I am thinking a lot about legacy. What will I leave for the future of our community’s children’s? Well this story is one outline of my gift. It hovers around three years: 2012, 1958 and 1996.
I stared out my office window on a warm sunny November day in 2012. Less than one month after becoming Chief Executive Officer at ChildSavers, a nearly century old nonprofit in the Church Hill neighborhood that provides mental health and child development services to vulnerable children. The grass on the back lawn remained green although the flowers and foliage had started to brown, some falling to the ground. Smelling the aroma of the black coffee warming my hands, I called my bride. Three rings and then the pick up:
“I am here for mission, believe me”, I say.
“I know Honey, but what’s wrong?”, she replies.
“Nothing. I am looking out my window at the downtown skyline, one of the best views in the city. And more, I work at a place full of a variety of beautiful paintings – a true art gallery. What could be better?
But I absolutely came here for mission!”, I smiled.
It’s now 1958. David Allen Bolling, Sr. and Evelyn Natalie Jones Bolling, parents of three young boys ages seven, six and four with another in the oven decided to search for a permanent home away from the Jackson Ward community decimated by the construction of Interstate 95.
By my birth, my parents had found the house that I would eventually grow up in in Church Hill. We moved in on May 30, thirty days into my young life. We were the third Black family on the block and within a year the community was nearly entirely Black. Surely my block had reached that milestone.
My parents went on to raise five boys and one girl (the youngest and as she says today “not the baby”) in this home. Mom and Dad made life better for us. Books, intellectual challenges, scouts, church and family – nuclear and extended – were steadfast.
My father was a certified nursing assistant at the Veterans’ Hospital located about seven miles from our home. He reported to work daily for the 7:30 am shift. We had no car, so most mornings he walked. He often made the return trip to be home by dinner at 6:00 pm. He did this for most of his thirty-seven-year career.
My mother worked inside the home until all the kids were adults, except on occasion when the family was cash-strapped. The local bakery at Miller & Rhoads department store, day work helped provide the extra income. This proud woman was active in the PTA and education and civil rights causes for most of my childhood. Well-read and a superb debater, in another time she could have easily become a lawyer. Later in life she got an associate degree and had a career at the IRS.
These hardworking, loving parents were my example.
Shift to 1996. My wife and I start our family with the adoption of five-year old twins. Beautiful children who completed us. Yet with all this joy came buried secrets from a past life for our children – neglect, abuse, family mental illnesses, detachment, and witness to deplorable things that no child should see or experience. Much of this was not initially apparent to us even though we had months of training and insights during the adoption process.
By age 15, my “daddy’s girl” started to change. The difference was incremental at first. She lost interest in favorites, school and sports. Neglecting to wash or groom. Discovering cigarettes hidden under the mattress with phones that we did not purchase coupled with large sums of money we had not given.
This escalated to running away and being returned by police; running again, sometimes gone for days or weeks. Then, the night. She became like the character from the movie, The Exorcist. We hospitalized her, followed by trial and error with therapists. Over the course of the next five years this pattern happened countless times. At one juncture she disappeared for two years.
Today life for her and for our family is much better. Our daughter is a proud mother of two of our grandchildren. Her twin, our son, watched all this transpire, and once asked, “What happened to my sister?” He too had challenges before graduating from college and becoming a father to our first grandchild, now an autistic five-year-old.
What I learned is that each of us comes with life experiences that help to frame who we are, and more importantly who we can be. Our daughter once told me that, we, her parents, were traditional and that she was different. She liked to experience life even when the consequences were adverse. Eye-opening, and profound. From that I learned to find the ‘good’ attributes and to celebrate the opportunities to grow.
These experiences drove me to ChildSavers, and still drive my passion for our work. My family had resources to eventually find the supports and services for our children and grandchildren. For those families served by ChildSavers, resources are far more limited. So I look out that window and find ways to deliver mission while enjoying the view and the artwork.