Vickroy: His future looks bright despite dark past
Donna Vickroy email@example.com | (708) 633-5982 February 29, 2012 8:28PM
Samuel Coreas, an orphan from El Salvador who is studying English at DePaul University, enjoys some lunch with John Shattuck, international representative for corporate in-kind donations for Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, at Moretti's Ristorante in Chicago, IL on Friday February 24, 2012. He was an orphan in an NPH facility, which is where Shattuck met him, and now he spends some weekends with Shattuck and his family. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 2, 2012 8:29AM
No matter how bad you think your childhood was, I doubt it can compare to the early years of Samuel Antonio Jimenez Coreas.
After his mother failed to sell him, his father threw him in a landfill near their home in Santa Ana, El Salvador.
Samuel was only 2 months old when a stranger picking through the trash found him. The baby had a stomach infection, reason enough to get rid of him in a country where people were so poor that another mouth to feed, especially one that required medical care, was considered a burden.
Lucky for Samuel, his new caregiver, Jorge, owned a bakery. The man took the infant to the hospital, paid for his medical care and then took him home.
There he stayed for a while — then came the robbery, the shooting and the subsequent years of living in the street.
Let’s pause to point out that this story has a happy ending. Samuel is 22 today and his future looks bright. He is a student in DePaul University’s English Language Academy, a full-time, intensive English language program that prepares international students for the rigors of American university learning. When he finishes the program, Samuel hopes to enroll in a business or medical college and then bring his new-found skills back to El Salvador.
Samuel met John Shattuck, Frankfort father of two, through the organization Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos. The nonprofit group cares for orphans and abandoned children in nine Third World countries. Shattuck sits on the board of the American funding arm of the organization. He also sponsors five children in El Salvador. He met Samuel on one of his many trips to the country.
Samuel is staying with another board member on Chicago’s North Side while he attends school. But he spent last weekend visiting Shattuck and his family in the southwest suburbs. They attended a basketball game at Lincoln-Way East High School to watch Shattuck’s eighth-grade son, Trey, play in the pep band.
Over lunch one day, Samuel stoically told his story.
“I had a good family — it was just not with my parents,” he said.
Samuel used to accompany Jorge on bread deliveries. One day on their rounds a group of bandits approached. They shot Jorge seven times, one of the bullets grazed Samuel’s head. They also stole the truck’s inventory.
Barely alive, Jorge managed to drive the child to the nearest hospital, crashing near the entrance before he died. The boy was tended to and then released in the care of Jorge’s brother.
But life was hardly perfect then either. Samuel admits he was a “bad” kid, even if he was only 4 and 5 years old.
“I was wild, I stole things, I destroyed things,” he recalled.
Finally, the man left Samuel at an orphanage from which Samuel promptly ran away, thus embarking on a yearslong adventure of living on the streets.
During that time, he found work on the local fruit trucks, packing produce in bags, loading them onto the trucks and helping with deliveries to neighboring Honduras and Guatemala. There were lots of other kids, most of them older, who survived in a similar fashion.
It is because of these older kids that Samuel does not harbor any anger or bitterness about his early years. Lots of kids in his world endured a rough childhood. Many had a worse story to tell.
Samuel knows all this because his story has been pieced together by researchers at the orphanage that eventually became his home, the place where he earned an education and learned how to thrive in society. In 1999, Father William Wasson opened the NPH facility in Santa Ana. Samuel was one of 14 kids scooped off the streets and brought there. Today, more than 400 children live in the orphanage.
“We were a family,” Samuel said. It was his first real home, where he felt loved and cared for, where he developed a need to give back
He also had a reunion, of sorts, with his parents during this time. They apologized for their earlier behavior. But Samuel wasn’t certain it they were sorry for what they did or sorry because the boy now had an education and could conceivably get a job, maybe make some money.
Either way, he says, he doesn’t think about them much. He doesn’t feel mad or sad or anything, really. He chooses instead to focus on the people who did look after him.
A family, he says, is people who care about you, whether you’re born into that or find it elsewhere along the way.