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Dr. Ahr: ‘Goodbye’ to Camillus by the Bay

Published Sunday, June 17, 2012 5:00 pm

June 17, 2012

by Dr. Paul R. Ahr, President & CEO, Camillus House

Father's Day fills me with memories of both my own childhood and that of my sons, Tom and Andy. This year, Father's Day coincides with the many activities associated with moving to the new Camillus House site, all of which call to mind a move our little family made 40 years ago.

In August 1972, I was discharged from active duty at the US Naval Hospital in Oakland, CA and moved to Boston, MA to begin my work as a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Mental Health Administration at Harvard Medical School.

Tom and Andy spent the day before the move at the base child care center while their mother supervised the packing of all we owned. I picked them up at the end of my work day and returned to our tiny apartment, now a maze of sealed boxes, in some places standing six feet high. A narrow passageway led from the front door, through the living room to the bathroom and bedrooms.

Still an infant, Andy was unfazed by the changes. At age 2, Tom was bewildered and a little frightened by the transformation of the only home he knew into that cardboard canyon. Happily, we had left unsealed a box containing his most favorite things, and his delight in their familiarity alleviated his anxiety.

Later that evening I drove mother and sons to the San Francisco airport for their "red eye" flight home to NJ. Two days later my brother Denis and I set out by car to catch up with the moving van that carried our treasures East.

When I came back from out of town last Monday to an office filled with sealed boxes, I immediately thought of Tom and our move 40 years ago. And when my furniture and boxes were delivered to our new offices on Friday, my thoughts shifted to the staff whom I will work alongside at this new location. For many their responsibilities, routines and relationships will change. Hopefully, we have left within their reach enough of their most familiar things to make the transitions easy.

We drove West across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge one last time that night on our way to the airport. At the San Francisco end, the iconic Union 76 sign shone brightly against the dark nighttime sky. "Goodbye San Srancisco" Tom called out as we sped by, big words almost perfectly pronounced by a sleepy little boy.

Just as "The City by the Bay" has continued to thrive, so will Camillus House continue to thrive. But when I last set eyes on our historic downtown shelter, I will once again know how Tom felt 40 years ago, when I say “Goodbye” to Camillus by the Bay.

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Serving the South Florida community since 1960, Camillus House is a non-profit organization that provides humanitarian services to men, women and children who are poor and homeless.