By late last week, Stacy Eastwood knew what a difference her boy was making.
She’d watched on social media as people read about his journey, how he was rescued from an attic five years ago and became a whole boy. She read comments from strangers on the Govi’s Army Facebook page who said Govi had inspired them and given them hope that good can overcome evil.
“I think people connected with him,” said Eastwood, who with her husband, Joe Eastwood, adopted Govi and his two sisters and have guided them through the past several years. “I just had a ton of response. People would say that Govi will always be in their thoughts and prayers.”
Some wanted to know if they could help the family. One father wrote that he had two daughters who would like to baby-sit for the Eastwoods. Others had questions, such as how she knew play therapy would work for Govi or how the family copes.
Officials at CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates — were measuring Govi’s inspiration in a different way. People were calling, posting on social media sites and asking more about the agency that helps hundreds of children each year in Jackson, Johnson and Wyandotte counties. And some wanted to know how they could volunteer for the organization, which was one of the agencies that helped Govi, a boy with Down syndrome, after he was rescued in August 2010.
Sparked by a three-day series in The Star detailing Govi’s journey, they wanted to help other vulnerable children, said Lois Rice, executive director of CASA of Johnson and Wyandotte Counties. On Thursday, nine of those people who called Rice’s office attended an informational meeting for potential volunteers hosted by CASA.
CASA in Jackson County also saw people reach out.
“I think sometimes people get the idea that abused children are never going to be whole,” Rice said. “His story and all of the support Govi was able to receive shows how that’s not the case.
“If a child who suffered years of severe abuse and neglect can come out of it in such a positive manner, that gives hope that even more children can thrive … and break that cycle.”
Johnson County deputies found a malnourished Govi in his mother’s attic on a mid-August day in 2010. Family members had called authorities after a family member saw the boy, who was a few weeks shy of his seventh birthday, home alone the day before with just a bowl of water in front of him.
Rachel Perez, Govi’s biological mother, stashed him in the attic when deputies showed up at her duplex to check on him. When they took her to jail on outstanding traffic warrants, Govi was left alone in the hot attic with no food or water for at least nine hours. A physician later said that the malnourished boy, who weighed 17 pounds, wouldn’t have lasted 24 hours in the attic.
“I thought of him so many times over the years,” one woman wrote on social media last week, “and wondered what his name was, if he lived and, if so, what happened to him.”
Govi, now 12 and a fifth-grader, lives in the Northland with his two sisters, Stacy and Joe Eastwood, and their sons, Spencer and Tucker. The family has land with horses and chickens and plenty of chores for the five children.
For advocates and members of the community, Govi’s survival and condition today as a happy and healthy boy gives hope, said Emily van Schenkhof, deputy director of Missouri KidsFirst.
“I think it absolutely shows that children have such incredible resilience,” van Schenkhof said. “And they are able to overcome things that we as adults don’t think anyone can overcome.”
In the five years since Govi’s rescue, Kansas City has seen several other shocking cases of child abuse.
Children locked away or chained up. Starved by their parents. Beaten. Deprived of simple things like sunlight. A hug. Love.
The stories never get easier to take. And all people can do is read the headlines, one after the other, and hope that these nameless, faceless children survive and somehow start to heal.
But rarely do we ever know what becomes of them or what it takes for them to regain some of what they’ve lost.
Govi’s story, advocates say, is a reminder that everyone needs to do more to rescue children from abusive situations.
“Thousands of children in our community every day are living lives where they are not safe,” said Rice, of CASA. “And where they are not nurtured, protected or cared for.”
Added van Schenkhof: “If we keep our eyes alert to what’s around us, we can save a child.”
It’s one of the things Stacy Eastwood hoped people would realize after hearing Govi’s story.
“I guarantee you, every day we see a little child who needs help,” she said. “And we don’t know. … If Govi had not been found that day, there wouldn’t be this story of hope.”
Or the realization through him that kids can heal with unconditional love and a community of people.
“These little people, are our — mine and your — future,” Eastwood said. “It’s almost like you have a bunch of broken-spirited kids who grow up, and how do you expect them to grow and be productive citizens? That’s not going to happen. It’s not.”
They need to be loved and guided and helped, Eastwood said. And they need to know that it’s OK for them to have gone through what they’ve gone through.
“It’s OK if they feel bad, if they feel sad,” she said. “They just have to know it wasn’t their fault and we’ll get through it. Let them know you’re going to be there. You’re going to be there. And you stick with what you say.”