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The Cottage

Life in a Group Home for Teens

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Terri shares stories from her time in a group home for teens. Learn what it's like for kids in a group home as she describes her experiences.

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They told me it was a nice place, that there were Shetland ponies and lots of room. That it'd be like a private school dorm where there would be people my age, lots of activities, and that I'd like it there.

I don't remember if they told me the name ahead of time but I remember the huge sign that read Elks-Aidmore Children's Home. It was written in fancy blue scroll against a white backdrop and there was uncut grass behind it as we rounded the curve. There were individual little "houses" (cottages) divided between gender and age, a tennis court, game room, administration building, pool, trails, and lots of room to walk. It was owned by the local Elks Lodge and a big, booming man named Milton oversaw the large staff who supervised us for better or worse.

There was Ron, a handsome staffer, later accused of child molestation; Ginger, who had cerebral palsy; Maxine, a twenty-something with long, flowing curly hair. The others I can't remember.

There was a piano in the main room of our cottage and a big living room where we had dorm meetings when everyone would go around the room and tell you what was wrong with you but never what was right. The hallway was tiled and there were bedrooms up and down the hall and offices and a nurse's station in between. The large dining room seated young girls on long wooden benches as we passed bowls of food to one another on a long brown table. The kitchen was where we prepared our own meals, each of us taking turns depending on the week. Some of us had KP duty, cleaning up the mounds of dishes and pots and pans before heading off to one activity or another or just back to our rooms to dream, write letters, cut or dye our hair, or play our radios too loud.

One time one of the teenage residents and I painted a deck bright red earning some money in the summer sun that beat down on our backs as we later argued about who did what and how much. Another time my roommate Melody caught me reading her diary and told everyone about it. I thought she didn't like me so I read her diary to see if she did, which after that was a moot point. We had posters all over our walls of John Schneider, Shawn Cassidy, different rock and TV. stars, and we shared a small bathroom which had been made frilly for us girls.

No one ever talked about why we were there, only when we were leaving and how. Everyone dreamed there parents would pick them up one day and tell them they could magically come home.

Orabelle had been there ten years and she was 17. She and her roommate, Teresa, got kicked out one night after the staff caught them in bed together.

My friend Kelly and I faked being sick but the staff rubbed Vapor Rub all over us and made us stay in bed during school time.

    We laid there for a few minutes in silence until Kelly said, "Terri?"
    "Yeah?" I said, slowly turning her way.
    "That shit burns doesn't it?" she asked, laughing.
    "Yes!" I exclaimed and we raced to the bathroom to scrub it off then hurriedly went back to bed.

One resident, Serena, had an older sister who was killed in a car accident while she was living there. I remember how quiet Serena became after that and how the staff wanted her to bounce back so quickly after a brief period of hugs and kisses they handed out gingerly and hesitantly.

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