First House Parents

Shelter changes volunteer couples' lives

Bob and Mary Dalton reading to children at Samaritan House.

We hadn’t seen Dusty for almost a year, but we felt we had to rescue him. We drove to the crisis center for children to pick him up and take him home. Dusty, who was only two years old then, came bouncing around the corner. We couldn’t believe his reaction when he saw us. “Bob! Mary!” After all that time, he still remembered us. And he knew our names! It touched our hearts. We wanted him as our son.
But you see, we already had a family. Our four children were grown and off at college. We never imagined we would adopt a child. I was 49 and Bob was 53 years old when we brought Dusty into our family.

We first met him when we served as “house parents” at Samaritan House back in 1987. I was once a school teacher and Bob worked as a building contractor. We decided to spend our time volunteering. For one year we lived with homeless men, women and families to help them rebuild their lives. Before we started our new mission, Bob had talked about being a foreign missionary. I wasn’t too excited about the idea. Then we decided to take a tour of the new Samaritan House that just opened. We were already volunteering and excited to see the new building. When we reached the third floor, the tour guide pointed to an attached apartment they hoped to fill. She told us Bishop Evans had planned to live there to work with families but died before it was finished. They were looking for a couple to move in. My next thought was, “That could be us!” I thought it would be a better fit for us than a foreign mission. Bob agreed, and we moved in March 18, 1987.

When we started, there were more than 180 residents. We worked hard to welcome new families, mentor them through struggles and help with their needs. We did a lot of things every family has to do. We supervised during chores, helped with the after school program, oversaw the playroom, picked up groceries, drove families, and organized the clothing program and Christmas events. It made me realize that caring for the homeless should be done in much the same way as you would raise your family. You can’t simply feel sorry for them and give them clothes to put on their back, food in their belly, a bed to sleep in and a roof over their head. We saw their needs and gave them the love and discipline of a family, just as we tried to give our own children.

It was then that Dusty made his way into our hearts. He was everyone’s favorite. Always friendly and the first kid to do things, like somersaults. Dusty was the first in the playroom and the last to leave because his mom was never there.

I often rubbed his dry skin with Eucerin and tucked him in at night. We found out he was placed in a crisis center. We were asked to be foster parents until the situation “got straightened out” but it never did. That’s how we became “mom” and “dad” to Dusty. He’s married now and has three children of his own. We couldn’t be more proud.

After we moved on as house parents, Samaritan House continued to be a part of our family. For 10 more years we served at the shelter and loved to watch it grow. The folks at Catholic Charities asked us to share our story with you, and we thought you’d like to hear how a small part of its history changed our lives.

God bless you,

Mary Dalton