Eric and Mike Hoitsma

Eric Hoitsma, seated, with his brother, Mike, at the Carmelite Home for Boys in the 1990s.

I lived at Carmelite from 1991 to 2000, from when I was 9 to 18 years old. I graduated from Clark High School while at the home.

My three brothers and I all lived in the home during that decade at some point. For a short time, we were all there at the same time.

We were all taken away from our parents in 1987 when I was 5. We went from foster home to foster home until we each ended up at the Carmelite home. We all enjoyed our time there. I liked it better than being at a foster home for sure. When I first got there, it was more of an orphanage since it housed kids who lost their parents or were from abusive homes.

There were three levels of kids. We had about 15-18 kids, I think, in each group when I was there. The IC’s were the young ones from 6 years old, I believe, to 9 or 10. Then the IB’s were around middle school age and the IA’s were high schoolers.

I learned to ride my first bike living there, at the age of 13, when someone donated a bunch of bikes. Every week we would do activities like going to the YMCA, swimming or playing outdoor soccer, going to the movies, Cubs/Sox/Bulls games, and going to the Friar Tucks arcade. They sent us to Camp Lawrence every summer and we loved it. I would never have gotten the chance to do a fraction of what I did here if I was at home with my family.

One of the best ways to describe my experience there is that it was like being at a summer camp because we always had fun. And your parents weren’t around so you could get into trouble and mischief without any real consequences. We did have house parents and nuns around and it felt like a big family. We always had each other’s back when others would mess with us like at a park or at school. We looked up to the older kids and I remember the younger kids looking up to me when I was in the IA group. The house parents almost seemed like parents to us since we learned how to be men from watching how they handled themselves.

The nuns would take us to Great America every summer. They would give us spending money so we could buy souvenirs and food. It was cool to walk around Great America with the whole home there - 45 boys and a dozen house parents. Walking around the park you would see a few people you knew in each line and all around the park at each turn.

Once the home sold to the Diocese of Gary in 1998, the name changed to St Joseph Home for Boys and it turned in to an institution instead of a home. The love that the nuns brought were gone and the kids went from being orphaned and abused kids to troubled kids, which changed the whole dynamic of the place. I was sad to see the changes and even sadder that I wasn’t able to go back there when I got older to volunteer my time since the place closed years ago. I always wanted to go back and become a house parent or volunteer as a tutor.

The place made a big impact in my life. I loved interacting with the younger kids since they looked up to us.

I always did well in school since the nuns made sure we did our homework in ‘Study Time’ as soon as we had our after school snack. I learned how to be a well-rounded person and how to deal with all sorts of people, attitudes, and cultures living in that home with all the different boys. I saw firsthand how some kids came from poverty worse than mine. Some took advantage of the opportunities the Carmelite offered and became successful parents and got good jobs and others just went back to what their lives were before.

I think about that place every day. I remember the first week I left the home. I missed it. I cried myself to sleep a couple times that week. I missed the friends I made. I missed everything about the place. There was always somebody to talk to, or hang out with and joke around with or play basketball in the gym with. I learned a lot about people and myself living there. ALL of my good childhood memories are from there. That is why I made the facebook page and website. I know I wasn’t the only one who loved that place.

Since leaving the home in 2000, I went to college in Evansville for a semester, then joined the Army National Guard as a military police officer. I was deployed in 2005 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I started school in 2000 and worked full-time ever since and took school part-time until 2011 when I graduated with my bachelor's degree in finance from Indiana University Northwest. I started working at my current job in Inside Sales at Arcelormittal in 2011 and last year got my MBA degree from IUN also. I have 3 kids and have been married for 11 years. I own a home in Munster and I have a rental property we own.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the great start I got at the Carmelite Home in those important development years of middle and high school.

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Ed has been with The Times since January 2014. He previously covered government affairs for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers in Florida. Prior to Scripps, he was with the Chicago Regional Bureau of Copley News Service.