Girls in state detention center help orphans in Kenya

Chris Bergeron

Like lots of teenagers, the three girls in pink shirts go to school, hang out after class and wonder about their futures.

Nicole H. spent 7 weeks learning to play African drums and watches "Intervention" at night. Amanda likes Miley Cyrus, cheers for the Celtics and thinks about becoming a cosmetologist. In her free time, Nicole L. enjoys reading about lovestruck vampires in the "Twilight" novels.

Unlike others their age, they live behind locked doors with 12 other young women in custody of the Department of Youth Services at the Zara Cisco Brough Center in Westborough.

They were among 15 residents Friday who donated $2,000 they earned making glass-beaded bracelets to an orphanage in Kenya.

To protect the girls' privacy, the MetroWest Daily News agreed not to use their family names or specify their crimes and sentences.

The young women, whose ages range from 13 to 20, are receiving treatment through the Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps' Fay A. Rotenberg School in the Westborough facility. A staff member said they had been sentenced for crimes including assault, theft, prostitution and drug abuse.

Pounding on Ghanian tribal drums, Nicole H. and four others greeted Bishop Peter Kimemia who is raising money to build an orphanage in Naivasha, Kenya.

He gave a slide show of unfinished wood and stone buildings and the young orphans his church cares for.

After the bishop noted the $2,000 donation would help feed and educate abandoned children, Amanda later said, "making these bracelets definitely had a good impact on me."

"Usually I think about myself. I don't think about other peoples' struggles. I should try and consider it more," said the 16-year-old from western Massachusetts.

The girls made the bracelets, which are decorated with silver angel charms embossed with the words, "Hope," "Faith" or "Love," as part of a project organized by longtime volunteer Gail Holland of the United Youth in Crisis Ministry and Nashoba Grace Church.

She said the program and ministry helps "rehabilitate the girls by getting them to focus inward and provide a way to look beyond themselves."

During an emotional ceremony, Kimemia told the girls, "Everyone has hope in their lives. I believe by what you have done, you have helped these orphans," he said. "God is good. God loves you. We love you."

Pausing on a slide of a sad-eyed orphan, the bishop said, "See this child's eyes? He is begging for your support."

Seeing the child, Nicole H. leaned toward Holland and whispered, "I want to go there. I want to help."

Turning in her seat, Holland replied, "You've got to get out of here first. I'll go with you."

Kimemia said he needs to raise $20,000 to finish several buildings so the orphans can enjoy "health and support like other kids."

Addressing the audience, Holland said the orphans, like the girls in the program, faced overwhelming difficulties that could be overcome with support and love.

"You are a lot like them. They need a place to be loved," she said. "They have come from broken homes and so have you. These kids have addictions and compulsive behaviors just like you."

Several girls appeared deep in thought. Others nodded to themselves or their neighbors.

Nicole H. later said the orphans' stories "really hit me because they're so real" but disagreed with the connection between their situations and her own. "We did things to be there," she said.

However, Nicole H. stressed getting involved to help other people set in motion "a never-ending cycle" of good deeds and kindness.

Asked about her plans, Amanda said she wanted to work with kids or study cosmetology "but I don't know how to get there."

She said her time in the program "has helped me but I hate to admit it."

While learning to accept responsibility for her actions, Amanda expressed hope outsiders would not stereotype participants in the program. "People need to be open-minded and see the struggles people go through," she said.

Nicole L. said raising money for Kenyan orphans made her feel good but stressed the need for continuing support and self-direction.

"You get motivated but you've still got obstacles. Sometimes people fall back in their old patterns," said the 16-year-old from Boston.

Choosing her words carefully, Nicole L. said messages of religious faith and personal affection were nice but she really needed "somebody to believe in me."

"Everybody tells you Jesus loves you. You want people to believe in you. It feels good to know you can overcome these problems," she said. "You have to believe in yourself. That makes you motivated. It makes you want to give back and reach out."

The MetroWest Daily News