By Tom Reardon, November 2020 issue
The heart is an amazing organ. It can break then heal only to break again. It can beat so fast you feel as if it will explode out of your body or swell to an unimaginable size and when it finds another heart to bond with, it is miraculous. Yes, a heart is an amazing thing and in an undisclosable Tempe location, there is an organization whose heart is incomparable to any other in our state.
Mulligan’s Manor is a non-profit group home in Arizona that specializes in helping LGBTQ+ youth who are in foster care. Their primary goal is to support youth who have experienced trauma and need individual attention. The facility is a family home with House Parents who are on-site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Currently, 13,307 kids ages 0-17, and 1,009 young adults ages 18-21 are in the Arizona foster care system. In a study entitled, “LGBTQ Youth in Unstable Housing and Foster Care” by Laura Baams, Ph.D., Bianca D.M. Wilson, Ph.D., and Stephen T. Russell, Ph.D., just under 900,000 students in California between the ages of 10 and 18 were surveyed and the numbers reflected that 30.4% of youth 10-18 in foster care identified as LGBTQ+.
If the numbers in Arizona are even half that high, that means that there is a significant LGBTQ+ youth population in our current foster care system, and at Mulligan’s Manor, there are only eight beds available at any given time. This represents only 0.2% of the possible need and remember that is only if Arizona numbers are half has high as California.
We cannot disclose the exact location because we live in a world where people who live in fear, ignorance, and hate will go there and attempt to destroy what co-founders Jenny Diaz and Chuck Hawkins have lovingly, and sometimes painfully, built and nurtured since 2011. This fact alone is heartbreaking, but the truth of the matter is even worse: Mulligan’s Manor is in trouble.
Mulligan’s Manor finances are a matter of public record and things are not good. According to Hawkins, a 63-year-old military veteran who spent an astounding 19 of his 33 years serving our country in combat, due to COVID-19, the group home is about $40,000 behind where they need to be for this year and he’s not sure how that shortfall is going to be made up.
A talker, Hawkins has no problem sharing the story of Mulligan’s Manor, but it is one that he almost did not have a role in.
When Diaz, who is also his wife, told him that she wanted to open a group home for LGBTQ+ youth because she had found out they were exposed to highly traumatic experiences prior to entering the foster care system, he initially didn’t want any part of it. In fact, it caused him to move out of their house and the two have not lived under the same roof since. One day, though, Diaz called Hawkins and told him she needed some help.
“She (Diaz) said, ‘I have a kid who needs to be transported and my car is not big enough,’ so I said, ‘Okay, tell me what I have to do.’ She gave me the information and I drove down to county hospital to pick up this kid,” remembers Hawkins, who is built similarly to a pit bull terrier in that he looks as if you could not knock him over if you tried.
Hawkins proceeds to share a story that would make almost anyone cry.
The child he was picking up at Maricopa County Hospital had been severely injured by his father for coming out as transgender, according to Hawkins. At first, the hospital staff seemed to be extremely cautious as they regarded Hawkins as he waited to meet the boy he was picking up. A sheriff and a hospital security guard came and sat with Hawkins as he waited which caused his post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from years of combat to begin to flare up.
After about 45 minutes, a now irate Hawkins went back up to the nurse’s station to ask what was going on, but this time, he was asked again why he was there.
“My wife asked me to come pick up a young man. I’m from Mulligan’s Manor,” said Hawkins.
The hospital staff person quickly apologized and led Hawkins back to a room with a curtain around it.
“Inside this room, I could see there was water and a little bit of blood on the floor and there was a ruckus going on behind the curtain. As I pulled the curtain back, I could see that they were holding this kid down to water pick his wounds to clean the wounds out and this kid was fighting them. They were trying to hold him down and when I saw that, my PTSD just triggered, and I let out a drill instructor’s voice and said, ‘What in the blankety blank blank are you doing to this kid?’ and everyone stopped what they were doing and the kid even looked at me. The doctor asked who I was, and I explained to him why I was there. I went over to the kid and said, ‘Are you ok?’ and he said, ‘I’m scared,’” says Hawkins and his voice is clearly beginning to waver as we talked on the phone. He continued:
“I looked at that kid and I said, ‘Well, it looks to me like they are trying to patch you up and as soon as they patch you up, you can come with me. And don’t worry, nobody is going to hurt you. Anyone that tries to hurt you is going to have to come through me.’ So I held this kid’s hands and they put 236 staples in this young man’s back because his father had found out that he wanted to be a girl and tied him to a tree and took a bull whip to him.”
Hawkins took the boy to Mulligan’s Manor and ended up staying there with him for three straight days because of how scared he was that his father was going to come for him. Hawkins was the only one who the boy would let change his bandages or put salve on his back.
“I’ve been there ever since. After about six months, he was able to talk about it. Was able to socialize with other people because we let him be who he wanted to be. I learned a lot of things then. To me, it is about letting the kids be who they want to be, and they have to learn to do it safely. During those three days, I made a pledge to myself that I will do the best I can and that I will never take a dime from Mulligan’s Manor and if Mulligan’s Manor needs it and I can’t provide it, I will go find it,” says Hawkins.
In the years since Hawkins came around to the mission of Mulligan’s Manor, countless children have come through their doors. Many of the children, now adults, return for holidays and some act as mentors to subsequent residents. Some also still reach out to Hawkins or “Mr. Chuck” or “Papa Chuck” as he is called when they need help and this year has seen those calls multiply due to the pandemic and our current economic climate.
Currently, Mulligan’s Manor can also use some help. Hawkins is fond of saying, “I’ll take anything. Heck, I’ll take a pair of socks,” but the reality is that there is a need for not only cold hard cash, but also help. The children and young adults who reside at Mulligan’s Manor need mentors, clothing, and access to healthcare that is not always covered by funds from the state. In fact, according to Hawkins and Diaz, the state only provides about 60% of the costs of keeping the house going.
Hawkins, whose title is Chief Operating Officer, continues to take no money from the home and Diaz, also 63, is the Chief Executive Officer and resident Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), only takes $1.83 per week in order to qualify for workman’s comp if that need should ever arise. They do have other staff who work at the house, but they are proud of that just under 99 cents of every dollar that comes into their coffers goes directly to the kids and that includes what they pay their staff. Find another 501c3 that can boast that type of percentage of how their funds are allocated and then you will know of two who can honestly make that claim.
If some aspects of Mulligan’s Manor seem to be too good to be true, it is only because you may be looking at how amazing Diaz and Hawkins are to be doing what they do. It is a large, comfortable home in the East Valley and it even has a pool, but it is far from perfect. As you drive up, it is apparent which house in the neighborhood is a group home if you know what you are looking for and that is not an insult in any way. The interior is inviting and even warm, but it also is the home of teenagers who are dealing with some heavy-duty trauma. There is anger and hurt and pain, but also love, healing and budding pride.
It is still, though, a hard place to be and it can take a toll on even the most weathered warrior.
“I want to retire, but Mulligan’s Manor is important to me,” says Hawkins who has some serious health concerns he is privately facing.
Diaz echoed the same sentiment, but the question remains. What will come of Mulligan’s Manor if we, as a community, do not step up and support it? Diaz and Hawkins will not be here forever to fight this fight and provide a haven for these kids. This heart needs to continue to beat for those who need the love it so generously provides.