Randy Caban is the “pied piper” of Kids FEAST at The Salvation Army New Bedford Corps Community Center. The confident, well-spoken freshman at New Bedford High School shows no signs of the severe bullying or medical issues that prompted his family to leave Puerto Rico for Massachusetts.
In Caguas, PR, Luz Caban and her husband, Juan Carlos had a happy life with two healthy children. When bullies at school targeted Randy, the effects were so severe, Luz took him to see a doctor. Only then was it discovered that her young son had a bone in his forehead that was growing like a tumor.
When doctors at home told her there was nothing they could do for her son, Luz moved her family north so that Randy could be seen at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. Caban’s sister works for The Salvation Army in Caguas.
“My sister looked up The Salvation Army in New Bedford,” Luz explains as the family prepared to come live with family in the area. She describes how Major BethEllen Parkhurst greeted them when they arrived in January 2012. “When we got here, she was waiting for us. Immediately, she treated us like family. Ever since that day, she has given us whatever we needed.”
“When I first came, Major Parkhurst asked me, ‘Do you have a coat?’ It was cold.” Luz smiles, “I said no. She got me one right away. I only had $600. In two months, I would have spent that on food for my family. I couldn’t get benefits. They provided food, clothes. If not for The Salvation Army, I don’t know where I’d be. ”
Beyond the offers of transportation to Boston for Randy’s appointments, the family received referrals to other agencies that could help. And the Cabans were invited to church services at the New Bedford Corps.
“Going to church here is…” Luz begins. 14-year old Randy interrupts his mother, “Wonderful!” The whole family attends.
Another blessing has been the Kids FEAST program, which stands for Food, Enrichment, Arts, Spiritual Development and Teaching. On Tuesdays at 3:00pm, about 30 children pour in, some transported by the van, others walk who live closeby. Homework is the first priority and volunteers hover around, keeping students focused and providing help.
Randy and his little sister, Ruby, 10, attend the program. This year, Randy has stepped up to be a leader and the younger children flock to him as soon as he arrives. A few minutes later, a boy comes and says, “Hey, Randy, these kids are bullying me.” Randy finds the group Jeremias is referring to and says “you need to let him play too.” When they pick teams for a basketball game, Randy makes sure Jeremias is on his team.
“The one problem I have with this program” Randy relates, “is it only happens one day a week. We need to have this every day for the kids.”
Randy’s health continues to improve. Luz beams, “We prayed and prayed and God answered.” The bone is no longer growing and the doctors are holding off on surgery for now. “I don’t know what I would have done if it weren’t for The Salvation Army.”