Family Goes Forward with Grace

Hartford Courant
December 21, 2006,0,5940902.column?coll=hc-utility-local

This is an opportunity for us to step up for a girl who's got a shot at a new beginning.

It won't change the fact that she is a child who gave birth to a child - the victim, police say, of repeated rape by her pastor.

Or that the members of the church she was once part of have abandoned her.

But maybe it will restore her faith in people.

Or maybe it will make her eyes twinkle the way those who know her say they used to - "before."

Most likely, it'll just make us feel better. But whatever the reason, I found myself back at the apartment I last visited in July, this time invited by Carol Coburn.

The family was moving, the executive director of the Coalition to Strengthen the Sheldon/Charter Oak Neighborhood called to tell me. And wouldn't it be nice if we could get enough donations to make the place just so before they move in? (They need beds and a toaster oven and a bunch of other stuff Coburn will be happy to tell you about if you call her: 860-509-3705 or 860-558-6304.)

If I had it my way, members of the church would be the ones to do right by this family. But I stopped hoping they would after I asked one of the parishioners how she'd feel if the courts found Modesto Reyes guilty of impregnating an 11-year-old.

She just shrugged. "Everyone makes mistakes," she said.

So, it's up to us.

The little girl wasn't home; she was out working on a school project due the next day. But the rest of the family was: her mother, her younger sister and brother, her uncle, and in the middle of them all, the baby.

The girl's uncle, whom I'm not naming to protect her identity, wanted to be clear. He appreciates the help; already the Salvation Army has come through for the family. "We're blessed," he says.

But he's not looking for charity, and he doesn't want anyone to think that he's taking advantage of his niece's misfortune. He has supported this family at the expense of starting one of his own, and will continue to do so.

"We're simple people," he says.

Actually, there is nothing simple about this family's extraordinary capacity for acceptance and grace and the kind of indescribable forgiveness you'd think would go flying out the window when they were betrayed by a man they once trusted.

Serenity - that's what I felt in that living room while the uncle and I spoke about what life has been like for the family since the baby was born seven months ago.

He's not angry. In fact, when Reyes' wife asked him if he hated her, he said no. He meant it, he says. And it doesn't bother him - really, he says, when he notices my stunned reaction - that even with DNA tests that say with 99 percent certainty that Reyes is the baby's father, the pastor's faithful parishioners still refuse to believe he impregnated the girl.

It hasn't been easy, allowing his niece to be the child she is while teaching her to be the mother she has suddenly become. That's why he welcomes the fresh start, though not for the reasons you might think.

They aren't running away from the reality they've found themselves in. What they are fleeing, he said, is a neighborhood with the kind of dangerous distractions - drugs and violence - that he fears could one day tempt a vulnerable young girl.

Nothing can change the past. But there is still hope for the future - his niece's and her child's.

The way he figures it, the little boy sleeping soundly by his feet was born to unmask a deceptive man. And now that that's done, it's time to move forward.

"We're going to raise him to be a good man," he says.

Helen Ubiņas' column appears on Thursdays and Sundays. She can be reached at



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