For Aunt Hattie’s Place resident, first-time vote ‘counts for something’ -- Gazette.Net



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Even after having his wisdom teeth pulled, John Childs couldn’t contain his grin, or his pride for the white sticker proclaiming that he had voted in his first election.

Voting was an accomplishment for Childs, 18, who lives at Aunt Hattie's Place in Sandy Spring. Founded by Dr. Hattie N. Washington, the organization offers long-term group homes for abused, abandoned, and neglected teens and young men in foster care.

Childs, of Richmond, Va., said that he “got caught up in being a street member,” and was kicked out of his family’s home.

“I got put into the system,” he said. “My social worker put me in a children’s home but I got kicked out of there, so then they sent me here.”

That was four long years ago. He is now a senior at Sherwood High School, and has a part-time job at HomeGoods in Olney.

“Being here, in a group home, is the best option I have had,” he said. “It is a safe environment, and it keeps me out of trouble.”

Childs was thrilled to vote for the first time, having just turned 18 at the end of October.

Reno Lucas, Aunt Hattie’s Place house manager, helped him register, and offered guidance during the election process.

Childs watched both conventions and all of the debates, and did follow up research and fact-checking.

Lucas said because these young men often have trust issues, it was important for Childs to make his own decisions.

“When these kids meet someone new, they study them and make judgments based on their observations,” Lucas said. “They have to form their own opinions, since they trust no one more than they trust themselves. That is what he did with the candidates.”

On election day, Childs realized he had lost his wallet, fearing that he would be unable to vote without identification. He was relieved to learn that identification was not necessary to vote in Maryland.

Lucas took him to his polling place, at Sherwood High School, where he cast his vote for Barack Obama.

“I voted for him because he has changed so much in a little bit of time, and I think that he will make even more changes the longer he is in office,” Childs said. “I was a little scared, but it felt good to vote, and to know my opinion counts for something.”

Lucas said that Childs is the only resident to have his own room, complete with a television and video games.

“John has earned these privileges by doing well in school and leading by example,” he said.

Childs said that four years ago, he could not have envisioned himself as a productive, voting member of society.

“Back then, I never looked in the future,” he said.

While he is hesitant to look too far ahead, Childs plans to attend college after he graduates in June.

thogan@gazette.net