Ernesto: Homeward Bound

Today’s post is from our Volunteer Coordinator, Bec Cranford.  She recalls one fo the first clients she heped translate for at the Gateway Center:

With a trash bag of belongings in one hand, and his cane holding his balance in the other Ernesto inched through the doors of the Gateway. The elderly man spoke little English, did not possess identification, and could not remember much about the past few weeks. He sat quietly in our client engagement center waiting to get a place to rest for the evening.  Tears rolled down his leathered face.  Ernesto could not remember where he resided before his arrival to Atlanta. He could not even recall how he got to Gateway, sometimes thinking he was currently in Miami or Charlotte. He suffered a major head injury as a result of a work related fall. He said his coworkers left him for dead.

Caseworkers, coordinators, and partner agencies worked around the clock to help Ernesto. He would remember bits and pieces of his story occasionally and share them with anyone who would listen. It was very difficult to track down family or friends, but he remained confident that we could help him. Each day, Gateway would spend time with him double checking parts of his story and looking for leads to locate his family. We called hospitals, police stations, and post offices. Everything appeared to be a dead end.

He never lost hope. He smiled at everyone with tenderness and called us “hermenitas” or “hermanos.” We really believed he meant it. He knew we were his brothers and little sisters, and that we could get him assistance. We worked with translators and specialists. We partnered with many agencies.  One day he recalled the name of a hotel where he had stayed during an extended work project in Charlotte. We searched the internet for hours. We located something similar, and called the number listed. They had no record of his stay. We thought it was another setback. We told him about Charlotte.

Ernesto appeared to jump if not for his cane tying him to the ground when we expressed the possibility of returning to Charlotte. Our directors and case managers worked tirelessly to fill in the missing pieces.  Ernesto leaned on his cane and on my shoulder as we walked out to the bus stop one day. He suddenly recalled a name. The news became the breakthrough we needed. Now we had a name and a potential address. Our C.O.O. made calls to an agency in Charlotte who agreed to house Ernesto while he located his family. Every time we mentioned Charlotte to Ernesto he would grin from ear to ear and ask me, “When can I go home?”

We were able to get Ernesto back to his precious Charlotte; a place where he could receive healthcare, a place where he had community, and a place where hope glimmered. He was slowly recalling his friends, family, church community and the time period before his accident. He regained some mobility in his arm, and his eyes seemed to hold new light.

Ernesto gathered his belongings and boarded the Greyhound to Charlotte, thanks to the efforts of Gateway. He smiled from his window and say “Gracias, Hermanos.”

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