German Leon left his home to join the army when he was just 18 years old. Now 53, Mr. Leon has been displaced from his family for over 22 years. Until today, that is.
On Friday December 4th, Mr. Leon and his care team huddled together and waited for his sister to arrive. After weeks of searching, Gateway’s staff discovered a connection to Mr. Leon’s family through Facebook. 22 years’ estrangement later, the room was quiet with anticipation. Mr. Leon looked down and fiddled with his jacket’s zipper, looking up occasionally to ask how far away his sister was.
“Not long now …” said Tonya Boose, Gateway’s Sr. Programs Director, “The drive from South Carolina takes a while.”
“This day came faster than I expected…” German thought out loud. The whole room beamed.
For the next hour, Gateway and VA staff who knew Mr. Leon sat together and exchanged loving stories about him. German laughed along shyly–his mind clearly occupied elsewhere as he waited for his long lost family member to arrive.
Finally, German’s sister was brought upstairs to Mr. Leon’s dorm room where he waited. Staff gathered round and watched as the two exchanged hugs and hellos. What does one say after two decades’ separation?
German’s sister pulled a small laminated ID out of her wallet and showed it to the group.
“That’s you!” she exclaimed to Mr. Leon, “Can you believe you were ever so young?”
The ID pictured a younger and skinnier German Leon from his days serving in the army.
“How did you get this?” he asked.
“Our mother saved everything.” she said.
“What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get home?” Tonya asked.
“Sleep probably. Relax,” said German Leon, “I won’t have to worry about being cold anymore.”
“Everything is going to be okay.” said his sister.
The group gathered Mr. Leon’s 3 suitcases, brought them downstairs, and loaded them into his sister’s car. Final goodbyes were said before the two got into her car to drive away.
“Thank you for everything,” said Mr. Leon to his care team, “You all have helped me so much.”
We are so proud to have been a part of this incredible story. Congratulations Mr. Leon! We wish you the very best.