Camille and Michael began adopting children with special needs in 1986. At that point they had no idea their kindness would grow over four decades to a family of 88 and develop into a foundation to help those with special needs and their families.
LAAH: What exactly is it that you do?
Camille: I am a mother and caregiver to children with disabilities and the co-founder of the Possible Dream Foundation. For over 30 years my husband Michael and I have adopted or been the legal guardians to children with special needs, with both physical and neurological conditions – 88 in total. We would take in children who were too medically fragile for the families or hospitals to care for, often serving as their last hope, and allowing these children to live meaningful and independent lives. About 15 of the children were even left on my doorstep as infants by overwhelmed parents.
The foundation serves as support for the cost of housing, feeding, and caring for adopted Geraldi children. It also provides job training for disabled adults, connections to community resources, therapeutic rehabilitation or hospice care for people with special-needs, and education for parents in care of special-needs children, especially with early intervention, physical and speech therapy, and patterning. People would fly from all over the world to meet me for my non-conventional, hands-on training.
LAAH: When did you start and why do you do it? What is the motivation or passion that keeps you going?
Camille: I have naturally been a caregiver my entire life. I was a nurse for about 17 years taking care of sick children – and had already adopted multiple children before I left the hospital – and that is how Michael and I met, he a doctor. We fell in love, started a family of our own and then adopted the first child, Darlene, in 1986. I was so lucky to have a husband who let me follow my dreams and never said no. Within 10 years our family was already at 31 people and counting! I always wanted a large family, but had no idea the size and scope our foundation would reach when we adopted Darlene.
LAAH: Do you feel that what you have done so far has made a difference? If so, can you explain how?
Camille: I know I have made a difference in these children’s lives! Many came to me with such serious disabilities they were believed to die within a few months, but with the attention, care and stability my volunteers and I provide they have survived.
I think the best example is with my most recent child, Isabella. Isabella was born addicted to cocaine because her birth mother was a severe drug addict. Most social workers in the Miami area know me so they gave me a call the day Isabella was born and I went straight to the hospital. The mother obviously could not take her daughter home, and truthfully didn’t want the child even if she could, and most people don’t want drug addicted babies because they cry around the clock and never sleep, so she went home with me. I quickly realized that Isabella wasn’t visually tracking anything, and she wasn’t responding to any voices. I remember telling Mike, “I don’t think this baby can hear or see!”
I spent so much time over the next months and years stimulating and patterning Isabella. The brain grows 600 times its birth size in the first year so constant and consistent patterning will work and improve every part of the brain, even of a drug-addicted baby. Twenty-four hours a day Isabella was stimulated by myself, volunteers and even grandparents from the foster grandparent program I started to rock boarder babies.
I remember it was summer time and we were all outside when all the sudden Isabella’s eyes moved when I walked by and I saw her smile. I never cried so much as I did that day! Isabella is now almost nine (Christmas Eve baby), lives with me and is home schooled. Isabella didn’t come to us to die; she came to us for protection and now lives a normal little-girl life.
LAAH: Who are your allies and supporters in this enterprise?
Camille: Over the years we’ve had various support systems from families and churches. There is one family that donates every Christmas and another woman who has donated $100 each month since she saw our story on TV about 25 years ago. She actually came to our home to meet us a few years ago and it was so beautiful to finally meet the woman who has blessed us so. We also set up a sponsorship program when I was regularly taking in babies in the ‘90s and early 2000s and at times one baby would have multiple family sponsors. However, today few people support us monetarily. All of those cute babies have now grown up and it is difficult to admit, but adult special needs individuals are truly shunned from society.
LAAH: Do you have plans to grow your involvement, to expand the scope of your project? If so, can you elaborate on these plans?
Camille: I am now 68 and Michael has preceded me in exiting this earth. After a year a fighting he passed from the cancer mesothelioma on March 8, 2016. It was devastating for us all, but he was a fighter. Mike cared for the children and even continued to practice at his doctor’s office up until a few months before he passed.
As I age, I can’t expect those around me – my two biological daughters and my volunteers and employees – to take over at the scale I did and give up as much of their time. For now we are enjoying the company of and loving the children we already have, providing the best life we can for them.
LAAH: Tell us a little more about Michael’s passing.
Camille: Michael was diagnosed 15 months before his passing and in that time he received so much love from our children. There were always at least six kids with us when he went in for chemotherapy. They would each bring something to do, like Spiderman movies on their portable DVD player or crossword puzzles, to help Michael keep his mind off his treatment. When the point came that he was unable to make it upstairs to the bedroom and he had to sleep on the couch, the children took it upon themselves to take shifts to be there with him at all times. Sometimes people ask, “what’s in it for us?” That right there! Their love! It was obvious how much Michael loved his children and they gave it right back when he needed it the most.
I never allow myself to cry in front of the children – that’s what showers are for. But the children still think of Michael and feel his presence. One time we were outside and when the wind blew Angelica, who is 23 and has Down syndrome, said, “shhh that’s daddy talking to us.”
LAAH: Like anything in life worth working for there must be difficulties and struggles too. Can you share with us what have been your greatest challenges?
Camille: Over the years was have faced more struggles than you could believe. We were vandalized by neighbors who were not supportive of our mission; our home was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 more recently our home in Hayesville, NC was struck by lightning and burned to the ground, but as a gift from God our entire family was away at camp when that happened. However, the greatest challenge we’ve faced is Michael’s passing and learning to live every day without his presence.
LAAH: How can people help you?
Camille: As a physician Michael could have lived a luxurious life of yachts and travel, but he cared so much for the kids that he gave most of his salary to the Possible Dream Foundation and was the primary supporter. Since his passing, funds have been tight. With 25 children still under our care, it is not a cheap task and we humbly and gratefully accept donations at our website at: http://possibledream.org/
LAAH: Would like to share a video with us?
Camille: We haven’t been featured in a video in years, but this is one of our favorites from 60 Minutes.
LAAH: Is there anything you would like to point out for our readers?
Camille: Here are a few resources that I’d love to point people toward.
You can read about the children I specifically mentioned, as well as the others on the Meet their family page.
You can learn more about mesothelioma, the cancer that took Michael away from us here.
A great, thoughtful TEDx Talk about people with disabilities and how they are viewed by society.
The Life As A Human team thanks Camille, Michael and the Possible Dream Foundation for the amazing (understatement) work they have done and are doing to help those with special needs, and for giving us this interview. If you know Camille or anyone at the Possible Dream Foundation, please leave them a comment. We know they would love to hear from you. If you are in a position to help with support, please do so.
All Photos Are © Possible Dream Foundation