Lynn foster parents share successes, challenges

At age 43, Gary Zerola is a successful Boston criminal defense lawyer. His clients and colleagues alike describe him as tenacious, confident and focused in his practice. In his personal life, however, Zerola admits to coping with occasional bouts of anxiety – and “an overwhelming level of anxiety” whenever he?s faced with moving.That?s understandable. From when he was just 2 to age 14, he was placed in a dozen different foster homes, a traumatic experience that he said still haunts him.?My father walked out on my mother when she was just 24 or 25 and left her with seven children. I was the youngest,” Zerola said. “She got very sick after that,” he said, adding that it wasn?t long before the state intervened and took custody of him, his two brothers and four sisters.?We all got ripped away, lost everything we had ever known,” he said. “I remember all my stuff was put in a trash bag, and I was sitting in an office for hours, and then it?s ?Here ya go, this is your new house,?” Zerola said. He remembers being placed with families for varying lengths of time in Lynn, Everett, Malden and Revere.?My siblings were placed in more homes than I was. ? There is absolutely nothing good about bouncing around,” he said. “We always would temporarily stay with our maternal grandmother when in between homes, she was kind of the glue that held us kids together and kept us informed as to where the others were.?All of us were separated in different homes, but once in a while two of us landed in the same one – with no notice we would be seeing our siblings we hadn?t seen in years,” Zerola said.Foster home jackpotWhen Zerola was 14, his stroke of good fortune came “and I hit the foster home jackpot.” It stemmed from his sister Donna?s placement with a family five years earlier, in about 1980.Donna struck up a friendship with a classmate, Stacy Hollingsworth, and at the time Donna did not have a foster family. Stacy asked her mother, Mildred “Millie” Hollingsworth, if Donna could stay with their family. Mildred at the time was married to her first husband, David.?I said to Stacy, ?Well, she can stay for a couple of weeks until they find a place for her,? and she just never left,” the woman now known as Mildred Hollingsworth Bowes wryly observed during an interview at her neatly kept single-family home with an in-ground pool at 32 Range Ave., Lynn. “She stayed until she was 27.”After the death of her first husband, Mildred remarried, to attorney Robert Bowes. And with their respective biological children already raised – Mildred has a son, Chris – Mildred and Robert continued to take in foster children? so far nine and counting, as Robert, today, in his 80s, continues to work as counsel to the state Senate.It was about 1985 when Donna invited Gary to ride his bicycle over to the house one Sunday to go for a swim.?Millie sat me down and asked me if I needed a place to stay, and I moved in,” Zerola said. He remembers being apprehensive at first.?I didn?t talk much. I didn?t eat or drink. It took me awhile (to adjust),” he said, and to realize that what he had found, finally, is a permanent family. He found stability, guidance and role models in the people today he calls “Mom and Dad.”Zerola acknowledged others who helped him along the way, especially his Lynn Vocational Technical Institute electronics teacher Chris Speropoulos, “who literally dragged me to college.”?Teachers – to foster kids – take on a much more important role than just educating. And my teachers at Lynn Tech were critical to my survival and my staying out of trouble.”But he attributed all of his success today to Millie and Bob.?I wouldn?t be standing here today talking to you if it were not for what they have given me.”Zerola said it was Bowes who inspired him to become a lawyer. He earned his undergraduate and master?s degrees from Suffolk University and law degree from Suffolk Law, and he was a speaker at both his undergraduate and law school commencements.He lived in the Hollingsw

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