It is the children no one else will claim who end up here, in an old farmhouse in Sonoma County, California, north of San Francisco. For a few months or years, some of the youngest of those with AIDS live and play in the heart of California's wine country, among blackberry brambles and apple orchards and rolling hills of grass. Here, each child has an adoptive mother and father and a place to call home for the rest of his or her life.
Starcross Community, a group of Catholic lay monastics, administers this unconventional hospice for HIV children on their Christmas tree farm. Members spend their days training others to care for their AIDS children at home, assisting a sister program in Romania, or helping the children do their homework or to feed the cats. When a child is sick, they spend many days in the rocking chair with him or her, and many nights rubbing backs or scratching itchy sores to offer what comfort they can.
January 15, 1993, marked the two-year anniversary of Starcross' launching of Casa Speranta in Romania, a hospice for children with AIDS there. Taking action as soon as the world learned of Ceausescu's orphan prisons, Starcross founder Brother Tolbert McCarroll established an apartment for several children. Many of them had never been touched save for twice-daily diaper changes, and had never been fed except for mush through a bottle. Now the program has a hospital and six foster-home apartments and is completely Romanian administered.