Finding Home At Boys & Girls Haven

Jim Shields, Boys & Girls Haven chief development officer, stands with one of the horses from the organization’s equine program.

Jim Shields, Boys & Girls Haven chief development officer, stands with one of the horses from the organization’s equine program.

By ANGIE FENTON
Managing Editor
The Voice-Tribune

Jim Shields’ earliest memory is harrowing. “I was being molested in the back of a pick-up truck,” he said. “I was lonely – alone – in a house with three siblings, my mother and whatever companion she had at the time, and it was a longing for not what I was in.”

Decades later, Shields has been able to use the painful memories from his childhood as a powerful way to connect with abused and neglected kids at Boys & Girls Haven, where he serves as the chief development officer. “I can tell them I understand,” he said.

The non-profit organization was started in 1950 by Father James C. Maloney who saw a need to provide homes, stability, education and care to neglected and abused boys. Today, Boys & Girls Haven, 2301 Goldsmith Lane in Louisville, offers services to young men and women. The mission “is to shelter, heal, and teach young people to become productive and healthy members of our community.” Shields, who was conceived after his mother hitchhiked to escape an abusive home and was raped by four men, is proof that is possible.

Upon discovering she was pregnant after the sexual assault, Shields’ mother – who was 19 – sought an abortion, but Roe v. Wade was being waged through the court system. “She tried to abort me, but no one would touch her,” he said matter-of-factly.

For years, Shields and his younger siblings suffered abuse and neglect. Food was scarce. Violence was not.

They endured a stepfather who thought nothing of using horse whips, belt buckles and his fists to beat the children, which he did often until he was murdered after an altercation while trying to sell his car to a stranger. “I was 12 when that happened and Mom disappeared into the bottle,” Shields recalled.

Desperate to survive and to assist his two brothers and sister, Shields turned to violence. “My protective instincts took over really heavily.”

It started with a bully who targeted one of Shields’ younger brothers. “I was already ‘that scum kid.’ Dirty. No money. Picked on.”

So, Shields beat up the school bully, which opened him up to other bullies. Soon, he was fighting at school and battling his mother’s latest boyfriend at home. “The one thing I was proud of – I am proud of – I never picked on the weak,” he said. “Only bullies.”

Shields was kicked out of school and taken from his mother’s Pennsylvania home by the state, where he bounced from foster home to foster home, eventually winding up in the care of Carol and Gary Schroengost. “For the first time in my life I felt like I belonged,” Shields said.

Today, decades later, Shields has found the home he’s always wanted with his wife, Lisa, and their children. “That family that I longed for as a kid, I know that will never happen,” he said, his voice quivering for a moment, “but I’ve created that for my own kids so they don’t ever have to know what that feels like.”

Shields is committed to doing his part to help the children served at Boys & Girls Haven feel like they’re part of a family, too.

“I get to stand in the gap and tell those who don’t have that (that) they can have – but you have to do the work and you have a choice,” he said. “I live for those moments when you can say to a kiddo, ‘Here’s the situation and you have a choice (on how you will react). I really want to help these kids. For me, it’s a privilege because I understand.”

The History Of Boys & Girls Haven

While a chaplain at Ormsby Village, a Louisville-area juvenile institution, Father James C. Maloney saw firsthand the problems of high school-aged boys who lacked proper home and educational opportunities. He saw boys who were unloved, unwanted and terribly in need of understanding and patient care. His heart – and his head – responded, and the idea of Boys Haven was born. Today, Boys & Girls Haven serves both young men and young women through a variety of campus based and community based programming.

How You Can Help

After public funding, it still takes $21 to provide one day of care for one child. Whether you want to donate, volunteer, become a foster parent or simply learn more about Boys & Girls Haven, go to www.boyshaven.org or call 502.458.1171.

Contact Angie Fenton at angie@voice-tribune.com.