Stories

Putting faces on the work we do

The long history of Boys Home is rich with stories of boys who found themselves here, and went on to live productive, successful, happy lives. We’re proud of that tradition, and here we’ll share some of what our students and alumni have to say about their experience. And we’ll also tell you more about the values young men learn here along the way.


 

Supporting a Man of Honor

Rick Turner, resident 1965-69

After his parents underwent a painful divorce, Rick Turner came to live at Boys Home for several years. In his time here, he lived in Watkins cottage with 16 or 17 other boys. Rick doesn’t pretend that he enjoyed all of his time at Boys Home. He struggled in school, and he struggled being apart from his father and grandmother. But there were happy times too; like many young men, Rick enjoyed sports, especially baseball. One year his team went undefeated!

One memorable thing that Rick learned in his time at Boys Home was the value of good work ethic. Every day, the residents would participate in the work program, called “rack up.” The younger boys would pick up trash alongside the driveway, and the older boys would help with the mowing and landscaping on campus. The work program accomplished its goal; after leaving Boys Home, Rick was proud of his ability to work hard at a task and give it his all.

In 1986, Rick and his wife Gay moved from Texas back to Virginia.  When Gay suggested they move to Boys Home, he responded by saying “when Hell freezes over!” However, years later, he heard from a waitress at Cucci’s that Donnie Wheatley was the executive director. Having been at Boys Home with Mr. Wheatley, Rick knew him to be a man of honor and wanted to support him. He started by giving money, and later began hosting fundraisers for Boys Home in his home town of Tidewater. In 2014, Rick and Gay moved to Boys Home to teach HVAC classes as part of the Applied Trades program that Mr. Wheatley started.

As a teacher, Rick appreciates being able to work with the students on a daily basis. He does his best to show the value of learning practical skills, and to show the residents them that there is life after leaving Boys Home.

Rick Turner gets ready for his morning HVAC class

A Hug, or a Kick in the Pants?

Danny Cale, resident 1974 – 1980

Danny Cale is originally from Baltimore, but his mother moved the family to Covington after his father’s death. At that time, Danny was 14 years old. Upon his mother’s death when he was 16, Danny came to live at Boys Home. 

As an eighth-grade student, Danny was unable to write his name or read. For two summers, he attended Summer Literacy Program at the McGuffey Reading Center in Charlottesville. The center is and continues to be the oldest university-based reading center in the country. Danny, who had previously found reasons to not attend school, was now ready to change that trajectory. He became an honor roll student and earned academic awards while at Boys Home.

After a successful career with several companies, Danny decided to return to Boys Home. In his time here, he has been a house parent, support services coordinator, team leader, and maintenance worker. He is currently the maintenance supervisor and an instructor for the Applied Trades home wiring class. Although he won’t admit to being “anything special,” Danny is a great teacher, mentor, and friend to many students. From his unexpected talents (Danny is a talented chess player and also ranked 13th in the world at Call of Duty: Ghosts), to his knowledge of wiring and home repair, to his down-to-earth honesty, it’s no wonder the boys look up to him.

In talking about the Boys Home student population, Danny is insistent that “our kids are like any other kids.” Like any other kids, Boys Home students need love, support, and guidance. And, sometimes, they need some tough love! Danny dishes out both, saying, “I know when a kid needs a hug, and I know when a kid needs a kick in the pants. I do both of those things with love in my heart.”

Danny Cale receives a certificate of recognition for 15 consecutive years of service at Boys Home.

Lessons Learned at Boys Home

Bobby Trice, Boys Home resident 1985 -1993

When Bobby Trice was a child, his father brought a couple jars of jelly home from his job at a jelly factory every week, because the family couldn’t afford dessert. The rundown apartment the family lived in smelled like cigarette smoke, and cockroaches lived in the walls. Eventually, his father stopped bringing home jelly, and food became scarce. The police brought Bobby home three times for playing in traffic, throwing rocks at cars, and smashing a car window with a brick. Realizing the family was struggling, the pastor from Bobby’s church started providing them with food and clothing from the food pantry and clothing closet at the church. Eventually, he connected the family to Boys Home, and Bobby arrived 2 months after his 6th birthday.

Bobby had a difficult time adjusting to life at Boys Home, where he was the youngest by at least two years. Some of the other boys picked on him, while others chose to look after him. Eventually, he settled in and excelled in sports and academics.

After completing the 8th grade, Bobby’s family situation had stabilized, and he returned home to start high school. However, he got involved with a group of kids in his neighborhood, which led to a series of poor choices. Over the next few years, school became an afterthought until he was three years behind his peers. He returned to Boys Home for a few months, but Boys Home sent him home again.

Bobby realized he needed to make a change when things at home took a turn for the worse. His neighbor was arrested on felony drug charges, his other neighbor was murdered, and a friend had been sentenced to life in prison at the age of 17. Realizing that he didn’t want that kind of life, Bobby’s early lessons from Boys Home began to resonate. The value of respect, discipline, and work ethic he had learned as a child began to make more sense. He enrolled in night school to finish his GED. A month later he enlisted in the Army to be a Combat Medic.

Twenty years later, he retired as a Master Sergeant, husband, father, college graduate, licensed nurse, and highly decorated combat veteran. Upon retiring, he returned to Boys Home as the Director for Support Services.

Bobby Trice receives the Certificate of the Purple Heart from Colonel Paul Linkenhoker.

Athletics as Opportunity at Boys Home

Mike Nunnally, Boys Home resident 1956-1963

When he was 12, Mike Nunnally became a ward of the state of Virginia and was sent to Boys Home. His mother and stepfather were abusive, his biological father was absent, and a foster care placement hadn’t worked out. Boys Home was the next option.

Mike describes Boys Home in 1956 as being fueled by competition. He says there were always kids playing sports in the field, and the cottages were so serious about the annual Christmas decoration contest that his cottage acted out a live nativity scene one year!

Luckily, in that sort of environment, Mike was a natural athlete. He joined in the competition, playing on the basketball and baseball teams while at Boys Home. Many older students were accomplished athletes, and Mike looked up to them as they went on to play college sports. Without a family support system to count on after high school, college sports provided an opportunity that he may not have had otherwise. “Athletics were a stepping stone to a future where I had control over my life,” he says. After his time at Boys Home, Mike attended Bridgewater College and worked as a teacher and coach in Loudon County for over 30 years. He returned to Boys Home to coach the basketball team in 2018.

Being back at Boys Home as the basketball coach has been both a challenge and a labor of love. “I love these guys,” Mike says. He recognizes that our students have many similar problems, challenges, and growing to do that he had at their age. But he also knows with fairness, honesty, and consistency, every child can live up to or exceed expectations.

Mike (L) and his son Pete (R) in front of the dining hall, summer 2019

Mike also writes a blog with stories from his life. Read more here.

 

Unexpected Opportunities at Boys Home

Chad Whitmer, Boys Home resident 1999 – 2004

Chad Whitmer never expected to remain at Boys Home for five years. When he arrived in 1999, his probation officer told him he would spend 30 days being evaluated before returning home. However, Chad quickly realized that Boys Home provided him with opportunities he wouldn’t have access to at home. For the first time, he had the structure he needed to do well in school. Also, he learned to take responsibility for his decisions, good or bad. Outside of school, he was able to participate in various leadership roles on campus, basketball, and Boy Scouts, eventually earning the rank of Eagle Scout. Chad remained at Boys Home until graduating from high school in 2004.

After high school, Chad attended Liberty University and joined the Army Reserves. While working on his degree in psychology, he completed two tours of duty in Iraq. His time overseas helped him realize he wanted to give back to the place that gave him so much. Upon returning, he worked first as a houseparent, and eventually in his current position as Associate Director of Program. Chad is married with two daughters and a son, and he recently completed a master’s degree in divinity from Rawlings Divinity School at Liberty University.

Chad Whitmer, L, and Teresa Johnson, R, present Ms. Kelly Calhoun with a certificate of appreciation for fifteen years of service at Boys Home.