Thanks to Place of Hope, three abused children now have a new lease on life.

Parents aren’t supposed to beat and rape their children.

However, for 21-year-old David M.* that was his reality.

As the sixth of eight children (five boys and three girls), David grew up in Riviera Beach. He and his two younger sisters – Valerie and Sarah – lived with their parents in their grandmother’s house.

“We got whipped like you wouldn’t believe,” said David. “Even my sister Sarah at 7 or 8-years-old, she got whipped really bad[ly] with a belt by both my mother and my father. He would beat us in the tub [when we were] buck naked.”

“My house parents [at Place of Hope] were great role models,” said David. “Without them, I wouldn’t know how to treat my own kids.

The children had no formal schooling and weren’t allowed to play.

“We were home schooled,” said David. “If we we didn’t clean the house, we weren’t allowed to play for several months. Like, we would get whipped if we were caught playing.”

But the abuse went on for years and didn’t stop there.

“It was worse for my sisters, though, because they got sexually abused. When I was 15, Sarah, who was nine at the time, came to me crying on the front porch of my grandmother’s house. She was uncontrollable, telling me she was touched by our father and didn’t know why that was happening. At that point, there was no way I couldn’t do anything.”

David told his grandmother, who reported it to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF). However, when DCF representatives came to the home to individually interview the children, they lied.

“The three of us were too scared to tell the truth,” said David. “We knew our parents would find out and there would be consequences.”

Even though David lied to DCF, his father still kicked him out of the house. At that point, David was 16 years old.

“I went to live with my oldest sister Balinda on 45th Street in West Palm Beach,” said David. “She had also been abused, but was not happy that I told on our parents because she thought our parents could do no wrong. It’s all psychological – people that are abused feel guilty about telling. That’s the way we were raised – our parents didn’t want us talking about what happened at home. If anyone did, they were an outlaw to the family.”

However, two Riviera Beach detectives followed up with David and asked them to tell his story. It was then that he told them everything that had been going on in his grandmother’s house.

“It felt awesome to tell the truth to someone because I knew my sisters would be safe,” he said.

David and his sisters were then asked to give their testimonies before a judge.

“When I testified in court, I looked straight into my father’s eyes,” recalled David, “and my mother was still trying to console him.”

Testifying proved to be more difficult for David’s younger sister.

“My sister Valerie, who was 14 at that point, she completely lost her mind. I had to carry her out of the courtroom, and the paramedics had to put her to sleep. [The abuse] was so traumatic for her and she, to this day, won’t talk about it.”

Although the children’s parents didn’t end up going to jail, they did lose their parental rights.

A New Beginning

“David is a unique, grateful, and focused young man. He’s an exceptional person. You can look into his eyes and see how real he is and how God has his hands on him and his sisters.” Charles Bender, Founding CEO Place of Hope

As a result, David and his sisters were court-ordered to begin living at Place of Hope, a non-profit Christian organization with campuses in Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens, and West Palm Beach which provides support and services for children and families traumatized by abuse and neglect.

It was here that David and his siblings began their long road to recovery from the physical and emotional abuse they had endured for so many years.

Place of Hope hires qualified families to be foster parents to the children the organization serves. The families live in one of several family cottages which are located in a safe and serene gated neighborhood with no more than six children assigned to a family.

Although Valerie and Sarah were placed with another family, David was still able to see them often. For him, Place of Hope provided the love, support, and structure he and his sisters so desperately needed.

“Mr. Jim and his wife were one of the families I stayed with,” said David. “I was really close to him and he was amazing. [He was] an older gentleman who played basketball and football with us. When a kid did something wrong, he had pre-typed papers pertaining to whatever the kid did – lying or stealing – and the kids would copy the paper and then Jim would talk to them afterwards about whatever it was they did wrong. They couldn’t do anything until the paper was completed, but it wasn’t negative, it was a positive way to discipline kids and teach them.”

David lived with five other children, and Jim and his wife “cooked every meal for us and had to make lunches for six kids every day.” Although Jim had to leave for health reasons, another couple, John and Debbie, stepped in to provide foster care for David and his five housemates.

Place of Hope Cottage Homes

“My house parents were great role models,” said David. “Without them, I wouldn’t know how to treat my own kids. With my biological parents, you had to earn love, but you really could never earn it. With these foster parents, you didn’t have to earn their love. Mr. Johnny and Ms. Debbie – they had a son and the way they treated him was the same way they treated us. I asked them a lot of questions about being parents and how they raised their son. They told me that they showed him how to make good choices – the right way to live – but that as their son grew up, they let him make mistakes and they were able to talk to him about those mistakes and then help him through them.”

However, it wasn’t just his house parents that proved to be invaluable role models and mentors.

“I had a lot of anger and hatred towards my biological parents,” said David. “The more I stayed at Place of Hope, the more I went from the darkness to the light.”

“One of the employees at Place of Hope, Al, was the main person who really shaped me and made me into the person I am today,” said David. “He’s one of the handymen that works there. It went from us talking about politics to him praying for me and giving me advice. Most of the time it was what I didn’t want to hear, but that’s what drew me to him. He wasn’t telling me what to do, but what God put on his heart.”

“And he always had time for me. And that’s why I liked Place of Hope – they gave him that platform. At other places, they probably would have told me I was slowing Al up and keeping him from doing his job. But Place of Hope really encouraged that kind of mentoring. And Al never hesitated – he was always there for me.”

In addition to Al, Place of Hope connected David with another mentor – Doug Avdellas, a successful entrepreneur who owns his own personnel screening business.

“Mr. Doug is an incredible guy,” said David. “We started playing basketball together and he’s the type of person who does more living than talking – leading by example. He said that he was able to go on vacation because of the decisions he made when he was my age.”

Because of Place of Hope, David was even able to knock one of the items off of his bucket list.

“Place of Hope makes kids’ wildest dreams a reality,” he said. “I always wanted to fly airplanes and they gave me that opportunity through an organization called Young Eagles. The pilot let me fly the plane a little, and we even landed the plane on the water! It was incredible.”

A Brighter Future

David is now 21 years old and lives on his own, working full-time as a security officer in West Palm Beach. Thanks to financial aid from the state of Florida, he also attends a local college and soon hopes to earn his associate’s degree. In addition, David has applied to the police academy and dreams of becoming a police officer in the near future so he “will be able to protect people.”

“I want to eventually get into stopping human trafficking and really doing something about that,” he said.

The care and support Place of Hope provided had a profound impact on him.

“I had a lot of anger and hatred towards my biological parents,” said David. “The more I stayed at Place of Hope, the more I went from the darkness to the light. Place of Hope is where I really felt loved. I want to eventually have a family, but I want to respect my kids and have them respect me.”

Place of Hope’s Founding CEO, Charles Bender, could not be more proud of David and the choices he’s made, especially in light of what he went through.

“Cases like David are very familiar and, unfortunately, we’re seeing them with more frequency,” said Bender. “I’ve been running Place of Hope for 18 years, and the situations that these kids are walking through is just unbelievable.”

“David is a unique, grateful, and focused young man. He’s an exceptional person. You can look into his eyes and see how real he is and how God has his hands on him and his sisters. For someone to experience that kind of trauma at such a young age and then turn his life around is really amazing. David understands that God impacted his life and is using him to impact others on a grander scale.”

In addition, both of David’ younger sisters were permanently adopted by a local family and are doing well, a trend that David hopes will continue.

“Time heals all wounds,” he said. “My sister [Valerie] is going to college next year. I go to church, volunteer with their youth program, try to live the good life, and set a good example. Jesus is hope, right?”

If you would like to learn more about Place of Hope or make a donation, please visit https://www.placeofhope.com.

*The names of the children in this story have been changed to protect their identities.

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A native New Englander, Crisafi earned his bachelor of science degree in film from Boston University before moving to Los Angeles, CA where he worked in development for several producers at 20th Century Fox and then Sony Pictures. He and his wife, Piper, began a family and then headed back east to her native North Palm Beach, FL. When not writing, Crisafi spends his time teaching film and television, journalism, and technology to middle school students at The Benjamin School and embarking on various film projects.