Bolzana, Italy. Wikimedia Commons

The House in the Hills

On the outskirts of Bolzano, Italy, in some rooms offered by the parish, three educators take care of youngsters in difficulty, from the end of classes until the evening.
Roberto Vivarelli

In the suburb of Oltrisarco, on the outskirts of Bolzano, they all know her. On the streets, in the park, in the shops, everyone used to point at Evelyn, a girl in junior high school. Wherever she went, she would draw attention to herself using any means at her disposal, resorting even to scenes of panic, just to make herself the center of attention. The social services didn’t know what to do about it, so, as often happens now when there are impossible cases in the area, they took Evelyn to “Puntoliberatutti,” the hospice that operates in some rooms belonging to the parish. “At first she drove us mad,” says the director, Laura Tedde. “In the first months, we discovered that the only way to calm her down during her frequent moments of crisis was to put her in the car and drive around the town with her, chatting together and looking at the scenery. In this way, she felt important, sensing that she was at the center of a privileged relationship. What won her over at first was the fact that we were not shocked by her behavior and were always ready to take her back again.” This acceptance at Puntoliberatutti included her parents, too, making it possible for them to renew their relationship, which had become one of conflict. Today, Evelyn is doing much better at school; the scenes of panic are only a memory of the past. People in the area still point at her, but only to show how she has changed. No one was ever able to “deal with her,” and the end of her story boosted the credibility of the Hospice, creating many openings for it in the area’s social service offerings.

Albanian youngsters
Four years ago, in the course of her work, Milena Schibuola was informed of a group of Albanian youngsters who had been found under the bridge in Bolzano. In those days, she was in charge of admission for foreign children in the school. These youngsters had come to Italy without their parents, and were living as best they could. This was a phenomenon unknown up to that time in the wealthy region of Alto Adige. Milena tells us, “The most obvious fact was that they needed a home and someone to help them build a future for themselves. I knew that my humanity and our experience could give form to a precise ambit. I thought, God gives each of us the task of being pioneers of hope. This conviction gave rise to the Puntoliberatutti Hospice. I have to say it was relatively easy. I looked at the people in the Movement who had already done something similar, so as to learn from them, and I got other friends from my community involved. I also asked around in all the communities to find someone professionally qualified who could help support this enterprise. I was pleasantly surprised to find Laura who had the courage to leave her town, Pesaro, and come to work with us. As I said, it was relatively easy, because we were building together and because each of us responded to God with his own abilities and dedication.”

Amidst numerous difficulties and obstacles, the Hospice has today become a reality. Last September, after a trial period of two years, it was at last officially inaugurated in the course of the Youth Happening. This time, many politicians and professionals in the sector, who at first had been very skeptical about the center, were present. They were amazed to see and hear the experiences narrated by Milena, Laura, and Mario Dupuis, a friend from Padua invited to talk about the “Opera Edimar,” an initiative in the same field that, along with Fr Giussani’s book The Risk of Education, is the inspiration for Puntoliberatutti.

Adults and GS [Students’ Youth] youngsters together
The Hospice has the use of 1200 square feet of room space, always clean and tidy, decorated by a group of friends and equipped with games and books. All this is also thanks to help from the Company of Works. At present there are 13 young people that the social services have assigned to the Hospice. Once classes are over for the day, these are brought in and cared for from lunch until evening. Under the guidance of Laura, the director and the “mother,” there are three regular educators (Claudia, Giorgio and Cinzia), a volunteer cook, Arianna, and a group of adults–teachers and workers, photographers and grandparents–who offer their services free of charge, fetching the children from school and taking them home and driving them on their monthly outings. A young family in the community has offered to take in two girls with great difficulties, and they are in the process of fostering them so as to guarantee them educational and affective stability. Alongside the volunteers, the GS youngsters in the local high schools go to the Hospice for caritativa [charitable work] on Tuesday afternoons.

Laura says, “The experience of growth over these first two years has taught us that what builds is offering the youngsters a sure point of reference, accepting the person as a whole, with all the problems that follow them, first and foremost that of the family. The social services department often indicates one aspect–more often than not difficulties in school–but that problem is a symptom of a much greater need. We take charge of the person as a whole.”

Results and method
Take the story of A., a young immigrant boy: while still in junior high school he already had a string of accusations to answer for theft and physical assault on his classmates. The school had already practically closed its doors to him. After a year at Puntoliberatutti, he not only changed in his way of relating to others, but seemed to have a different face. He has begun to take school seriously, and after school he no longer goes around stealing, but rushes to the Hospice and waits for it to open for lunch.

These results and method amazed the social services department, and they called a meeting of all the social workers of the town to hear and learn about the methods used in this center that, though it is not part of its “institutional” competence, manages to help not only the youngsters but their parents, too. One mother, who has quite a dramatic history behind her, began to get involved in the center, helping out with the cleaning and the cooking. At the center, she found help in her troubled relationship with social services. She, too, has found an aim and a commitment in life.