Jay Dickens is 6 years old. One day recently his mother, Dominie, was doing school work with him, and Jay wondered why his father, a Comcast employee, wasn't working from home, as so many people are now doing.
"I explained to him that it is dangerous out there," Dominie said last week, "but that he is needed to ensure the hospitals and other places have phone service and internet service because a lot of Moms and Dads are now working from home. He said, I love him; I don't want him hurt.' I told him to draw what he felt."
He drew a heart, which has become a symbol for honoring essential workers who must venture out into the world at a time when the coronavirus has led to a shutdown of many things. Heart is something in no short supply in this family.
Givon Dickens, 18, will graduate from Xavier this year. Brandon, 20, is a 2017 grad and a junior at Curry College in Milton, Mass., where he is a communications major. The Dickenses have another biological child, Breaunna, 25. Jay is adopted as is his sister Connie.
Givon will attend Rhode Island College and pursue social work.
"I guess it is true when it is said that kids do what they see at home. We were a foster family for a while before adopting Connie and Jay," Dominie said. "I would say we had over 15 kids come through our home."
The impetus for becoming a foster family came from Breaunna.
"We took the [biological] kids to Great Adventure Lodge, and one morning we went down to Johnny Rockets for breakfast," Dominie said. "We passed by tables with pictures of children and their stories, and how they would love to be adopted. Breaunna said 'Why can't we take one of these kids,' and my husband told them there were kids in Connecticut that needed help, too. Brandon said, 'We should take one,' and Givon said it was a good idea.
"When we returned home we thought they forgot about it until I got a call from DCF at work that scared me, but it was to tell me that Breaunna contacted them about us being a foster family and things just got better from there.
"All three promised to help with the kids that were taken into our home, and to this day they still help. When Breaunna shops, she buys Connie and Jay's favorite cereal. Brandon calls and checks in every single day and Givon leaves school, rushes to pick up Jay from school, and when he has something to get done after school he gives us a heads up so my husband or I will get him."
Last November Dominie was at the State Capitol Building in Hartford to receive a 2019 Parental Recognition Involvement Award. She was nominated by Joseph O. Goodwin School in East Hartford.
"I am on the PTO and work with the school social worker and their outreach program to assist families who lived in shelters by collecting donations such as clothes, food, school supplies, etc.," said Dominie, the Business Operations Manager for Global Digital Content at ESPN. "For instance, when they have Thanksgiving pies on sale, when I sell at work I ask if people would like to buy an additional pie for donation so I started the 'buy one, give one' so those who can't afford to have Thanksgiving get a start. Christmas, when everyone is shopping, I ask them to shop through Amazon and donate one item (they can donate more) to the Christmas program at Joseph O Goodwin School."
The effects of the coronavirus have been felt close to home. Dominie's cousin Hamish Hayden is a doctor at a hospital in Jamaica, three relatives are nurses in the New York City region and two more have hospital-related jobs.
"All three nurses seems to be truly depressed, tired, but hold strong to their faith because that is all we know and how we were brought up," Dominie said. "I send the prayers that I get from Xavier to them. Angela posted a video while in her driveway crying because she didn't want to go in the house. She explained how bad it was in the hospitals and how the nurses and doctors are struggling to stay awake but always try to stay positive around their patients."
Dominie also said she has an aunt who has been diagnosed with cancer. She brings her food, but does not go into her condo see her. She leaves the food at the door many times.
Social distancing is necessary but it doesn't make it easy.
Xavier High School is a private, Catholic all-boys high school in Middletown, CT. It is a Xaverian Brothers Sponsored School.